Friday, June 28, 2013

Costa Rica - Day 4 (Part 2) - March 19, 2013

Before heading out on the trail myself and one other person from our group had reserved a horse back ride for the afternoon, so after we were done hiking the trail we went to meet our guide. The guide, a teen boy, spoke no English, so communication was limited to hand signals and some attempted Spanish. No instructions were given, but I knew enough about how to ride a horse that I was able to survive the experience. My friend got the white horse and I got the brown one, and off we went down the road with the guide getting the horses to move forward when necessary. Of course my horse enjoyed walking so close to the edge of the road that I often thought the horse was going to stumble and toss me into the ditch! I quickly learned how to "steer" the horse away from the edge, but as soon as I stopped "steering" the horse was right back at the brink of disaster. We took binoculars with us on the ride in case we saw something interesting, and I am sure glad we made that decision! During our ride I spotted our lifer Acorn Woodpecker! We stopped the horses immediately and turned them around to gawk at the Woodpeckers (I think they were nesting). Birding by horse is definitely the way to go in my opinion because you don't have the noise of a car, and you can cover quite a bit of ground without much effort. A horse is also easier to turn around quickly in a small space so you don't miss any birds like you might if you were in a car and had to find a place to turn around. However, one word of warning for those who decide to go horseback riding in the tropics at high elevation: WEAR SUNSCREEN. Both my friend and I were nicely sunburned in the hour that we were out on the horses. We definitely underestimated the power of thinner atmosphere and low latitude. In the forest it isn't as important to remember the sunscreen because of the dense vegetation which creates much shade.

The trail was very steep in some parts and I thought the horses were about to slip and fall at some point. Luckily they are naturally 4-wheel drive and did just fine.

The view is even better from a horse. 

After our horseback riding adventure we jumped in the car and headed back up the treacherous, steep, dirt road and onto the main highway to go on a search for gasoline and other supplies such as water and snacks. I was excited to find the same delicious "Tropical" brand juice no matter where we went in the country. There were different flavors available, but I stuck to the one that looked the best. The ingredients contained nothing artificial including no artificial colors, and the price was pretty darn good for a large bottle that lasted me at least 2 days if not more.

Best juice ever!

Getting gas in your car in Costa Rica can be an interesting experience. There are always random people hanging out around the station, much like in the US. Pumps are all full-service, and if you can't see the numbers on the pump, and don't speak Spanish, it can be a challenge to figure out how much to pay, or even if you are getting ripped off. This is where having passengers in the backseat to read off the numbers on the pump is very helpful. Things become even more challenging if you are paying in US dollars and don't know the exchange rate the station is using. We also discovered that sometimes we didn't receive our full change back at places such as gas stations because they didn't have coins in small enough denominations in order to make the change down to the last colone.
On the way back to the lodge we also stopped at a roadside stand that sold basically every snack possible. The open air shop was so full of stuff that it was difficult to choose what to purchase. There were potato chips of every kind possible, tortilla chips, banana chips, candy, fruit, cold drinks, cakes, muffins, cheese, etc etc. Every single feasible place to hang or place a product was used. I ended up getting a few honey and sesame snacks for our long birding walks, and a bag of Plantain Chips. I had every intention of taking a photo of the chips, but they were so habit-forming that by the time I thought if it, they were eaten!

Sidenote: At some point during the afternoon we noticed the trout  in the lodge ponds behaving in a bizarre manner. They would all school together and swim in a tight circle. They did this every day at about the same time, and it was not because they were just fed or anything like that. Any ideas as to what they were doing would be appreciated!
Trout behaving strangely.
When we got back to the lodge there was still some daylight left and a few hours until dinner time, so we took a little drive down the road where we had ridden the horses to refind the Acorn Woodpeckers for those who did not partake in the horseback riding. We were successful in finding the woodpeckers, so we continued on a little further down the road and parked the car and walked when we felt it necessary. We were able to add a few more species to our list by doing this, and while we were looking for sparrows in some vegetation that was right outside my backseat window, a Yellow-bellied Siskin landed at a seep a few feet from me to take a drink. Unfortunately, the car was still running preventing me from being very steady when I took the shot and the lighting was becoming poor, but I was able to get one shot of this awesome bird!
Yellow-bellied Siskin
Then we hit the JACKPOT! Male and female Resplendent Quetzals! The light was fading fast as the sun dipped behind the mountain peaks, but these birds were active and out in the open! I took many shots of them, focusing on the male, and was able to get a few shots that aren't great, but at least prove that I saw these much sought-after birds. While we were watching the Quetzals, an Emerald Toucanet showed up for a short time. We later learned that the Emerald Toucanet is a threat to the Quetzals because they are natural predators and will destroy the Quetzal's nests.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal
After watching the Quetzals until it got too dark and the mist started settling into the valley, we went back to the lodge for a delicious dinner and a few rousing games of pool. I was also able to sneak in a photo shoot with the moon. It is so much easier to get a great photo of the moon in the thin, clear air.

The Moon from Trogon Lodge.

On to day 5!

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