Thursday, January 16, 2014

Costa Rica - Day 9 (Part 1) - March 24, 2013

We awoke on our 9th day in Costa Rica very sad to be so close to the end of our trip. However, we had another whole day of adventures ahead of us so we packed up, said our goodbyes (hopefully not forever) to the owners of the Nature Pavilion, and headed back in the direction of San Jose. Our first stop was at the La Paz Waterfall which seems to be a popular place for both tourists and locals. We did not actually visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens because their entrance fee is outrageous, and we knew we could get some good birding in the area for free. The La Paz Waterfall reaches its final destination right alongside a main road which makes things tricky when people are focusing more on the waterfall then where they are going. There is also a souvenir vendor set up at one of the pull-off spots and a few guys wandering around hoping to get some cash from the tourists for watching their cars. There weren't too many visitors at 9am, so we were able to park close enough to the attraction to go exploring but still keep a close eye on the car. It was here that we finally found our American Dippers (4 of them!), along with a White Hawk, Ochareous Flycatcher, Torrent Tyranulet, and Slate-throated Redstart.

La Paz Waterfall
La Paz Waterfall - the experience

La Paz Waterfall - closer to the plunge pool

     After about a 1/2 hour of enjoying the waterfall, we decided to drive up and down the road looking for the famed Virgen del Socorro birding spot. Based on the descriptions we had of what the road looked like, and a little help from Google maps, we finally found a road that looked to be approximately in the right place and at least fit the description. The area had experienced a 6.1 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 8th, 2009 and suffered a lot of damage including the complete loss of some roads; therefore, we knew that finding the exact place we were looking for might not even be an option.
     The road we chose to explore off the main highway was at least wide enough for two vehicles to pass, but definitely not in good enough shape for a low-riding sedan. Next time we are renting an SUV. Nevertheless, we were determined to get down the road far enough to pull off and do some birding. The road was pretty steep as it traveled down into the lush gorge, and was riddled with a mixture of humongous potholes and large rocks or piles of rocks. At some point 3 of us got out and walked in front of the car, picking up loose rocks and throwing them in the potholes as needed. Yes, we did get some funny looks from the locals as they coasted by us on their motorbikes (apparently they only turn on the engines for up-hill travel), but we did what we had to do. 
     The effort was definitely worth it! As soon as we secured the car and started birding we were treated by many Swallow-tailed Kites soaring around the gorge catching insects for breakfast and eating them in the air. The area had the most butterflies we had seen the whole trip, and we did manage to see a few new bird species here such as Hepatic Tanager, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, Green Thorntail, and White-shoulder Tanager. We all agreed that we could have spent a whole day exploring this area, but unfortunately we were somewhat limited on time.  

Swallow-tailed Kite

Steep topography + rain = landslide!

At first I thought this was just a dead leaf hanging onto a live leaf in a strange manner. But then I saw the two pairs of antennae. 

Looks like an old bridge that may have been used pre-earthquake
Same spot as above, just different perspective

The best photo I was able to get of a Blue Morpho

Same butterfly, different poses

Looks a brand new bridge post-earthquake

Black Phoebe

     After spending about 1.5 hours here, we were more than ready to get some lunch. However, we first had to figure out how to get the car back up the road and onto the highway. It turned out that with all 4 of us in the car, it sat too low to have any hope of getting over all the rough spots. So 3 of us ended up getting out of the car and walking back up the steep road while acting as "spotters" for the driver. We were very lucky (and shocked) that we didn't lose any parts from under that car.

In the next post I will reveal our lunch destination and what we found there...stay tuned!

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