Thursday, May 23, 2013

Costa Rica - Day 3 (Part 2) - March 18, 2013

We finally got onto the main road that travels down the Pacific coastline and began our journey to Trogon Lodge. This lodge is situated in high elevation tropical rainforest near Cerro de la Muerte (Mountain of Death), so not only were we excited to get out of the HOT, high humidity of the Carara area, but we were also anxious to see some awesome hummingbirds! Of course, we continued to make semi-quick stops on the way and were able to pick up Gray-breasted Martin, Wandering Tattler, Roadside Hawk, 50+ Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Swallow-tailed Kites before reaching our lunchtime stop near San Isidro de El General at around 2pm.

Gulf of Nicoya/Pacific waters

Typical roadside fruit stand where we stopped to buy Mangos. Note: do not store ripe Mangos in a plastic bag in a hot car/trunk. You will never forget that horrid smell and it will come back to haunt you.

Typical highlands house and scenery

How do tall trucks navigate all the low-hanging wires? Get a guy to run around on top of them to lift the wires as the truck passes under them of course!

Juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird!

Frigatebirds had become somewhat of a nemesis bird for me, but on this day there were about 50 flying around. This was only a small portion of the sky.

Swallow-tailed Kite. I love how the accidental composition of this photo makes the bird look like it is flying above an alien atmosphere!

The restaurant we chose for lunch, Mirador Valle del General Restaurant, came highly recommended for birders and we were not disappointed! Not only was the food FANTASTIC, but the feeders, trails, and even the sky were definitely worth the stop. It was actually difficult to stay in our seats long enough to order our food due to all the "new" species we kept spotting out the window. Directly outside the window was a large wrap-around deck which overlooked the valley, mountain slopes, and town of San Isidro de El General. Eating was even more difficult because we were torn between the delicious food and not missing a single bird There was a lot of getting up and down from the table fairly quickly and I am surprised we managed to not spill a single drink (which is a great thing with all the expensive binoculars and cameras laying around).

My delicious porkchop, the best french fries I have ever tasted, and a small "salad". The drink was a freshly blended berry drink.

View from the deck of the restaurant
Once we were finished eating we spent quite a bit of time watching the fruit feeders that the restaurant maintains off the deck just for birder's enjoyment! We were able to see quite a few "new" species for the trip here. However, the best moment was when we discovered the THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of raptors migrating over the valley! There more birds in the sky then we could possibly comprehend. I was lucky enough to get a photo of at least a small portion of the migration by way of digi-binning (point-and shoot camera pressed up to my binoculars and zoomed all the way in). Unfortunately taking a video the same way did not work, so photos will have to do. It was the most amazing migration I have ever seen in my life and definitely one of the top moments of the entire trip!

Flame-colored Tanager

Those are not dust specks on your computer screen, they are thousands and thousands of raptors and a few vultures migrating high over San Isidro. 

Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Green-crowned Brilliant Hummingbird (female)

After enjoying the birds off the deck, we got directions to the trail that winds up and down the mountain below the restaurant. The grounds were somewhat landscaped around the restaurant itself with many beautiful flowers in full bloom.


Bird-of-paradise flower

We didn't get far down the trail before I spotted what I had at first thought was a small monkey. Then I realized it was a black phase squirrel! Not sure which squirrel species it was the black phase of, but it sure was adorable! It was all black with just a tiny white patch on the chest and a few white patches on the underbelly! Didn't get great photos of it because it was skittish and hidden behind leaves, but at least I was able to document its existence.
Black phase squirrel
Further along the trail we ran across two very interesting examples of how resourceful people can be when money is tight and/or products that we sometimes take for granted are not readily available.  The first was the use of a plastic soda bottle with the top cut off to make a protective cover for a light along the path. The second was creating a non-slip surface by nailing upside down soda/beer caps to planks of wood that would otherwise be slippery with all the moisture inherent to the region.

Soda bottle light cover
Bottle cap traction.
The trail was long and was slowly descending the mountain via twists and turns. We knew that going back up was not going to be much fun and we were correct. However, there was enough to stop and look at along the way that we were able to find plenty of good excuses to stop and catch our breath. I even found a Red-headed Barbet which was completely missed by all three of my traveling companions...much to their dismay...and a very pretty Cicada. When we got back to the restaurant I was able to try for some more photos of the Swallow-tailed Kites, we got our first looks at Golden-hooded Tanager, and the black squirrel reappeared for a photo shoot!


Swallow-tailed Kite from above

Swallow-tailed Kite from below

First Golden-hooded Tanager of the trip!
Black squirrel - just wanted to pet it!

Black squirrel!
We finally tore ourselves away from the restaurant and headed up the mountains. In order to descend into the valley where our lodge was, we first had to drive to almost the top of Cerro de la Muerte which is the highest point along the Costa Rican portion of the Pan-American Highway. The mountain itself tops out at 11,322 feet, but I estimated where we stopped the car to be about 10,000 ft. The name Cerro de la Muerte means "mountain of death" since many travelers (pre-highway times) would die if not properly prepared. It was quite difficult to breath at this elevation, and any excessive movement was not even attempted. Needless to say we only stayed long enough to take in the view. 

Highest point on the Costa Rican portion of the Pan-American Highway....overlooking the cloud tops.

No comments: