Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Crippling Birding in the Talamancas: Paraiso del Quetzales

Fiery-throated Hummingbird. What is there to say about such a crippler? About such facemelt? I have nothing to add.

One of the benefits of planning a group trip is you pretty much get to decide where you bird. While I planned much of this trip on my own, there were certainly limitations which you are familiar with; time and money. Most of the places we stayed were relatively cheap for Costa Rica, but I decided to splurge and do a night at Paraiso del Quetzales in the Talamanca Mountains. Renowned as one of the better high-elevation birding sites with almost-guaranteed Resplendent Quetzals (a must-see bird, obviously) on the property, at about $75 per person for one night it was the most expensive lodging of the trip. That said, that includes access to fantastic birding opportunities, soul-fulfilling hummingbird views, dinner, breakfast, and a guided tour focusing on (but not at all limited to) tracking down quetzals. So while steep for a budget birder, the value cannot be argued. The cabinas are simple and clean, and the whole place has a pretty relaxed vibe...until you hit a mixed flock and the mierda hits the fan.

We arrived right before sunset and were completely blown away by the hummingbird show. We were in a daze. The birding only got better the next morning. We were there for less than 24 hours, but I'll have to split up the photographs into a couple different posts.

Green Violet-Ear is abundant at higher elevation sites in the Talamancas, one of the relatively few hummingbird species that seem equally common at feeding stations and in the field. Aside from their abundance, this might be attributed to the fact that they are a lekking species and are very loud singers.

And if you are wondering if they landed on my hand, yes. Yes they did.

Large-footed Finch was easy to find on the grounds here. They are not quite as brave as the hummingbirds and Yellow-thighed Finches, but it would be difficult to bird this spot for very long without picking up this handsome species.

Yellow-thighed Finches are so funny looking...completely dull aside from you know what. They even come to nectar feeders! Note the Fiery-thoated Hummingbird lurking in the background.

Ruddy Treerunners were in multiple mixed flocks we encountered here. I reckon they are to be expected. Yet another Costa Rican species that stumped me the first (and second, and third) time I saw them.

My lifer Yellow-winged Vireo!!! I was completely groggy and already in a daze of lifers-to-be when this bird popped up in front of me at dawn. Surprised I got any usable images.

When I look at this species, I think it belongs in the United States. It's got that economy of style thing going, kind of like a Solitary Vireo with broken spectacles. However, I don't think this bird will ever make it to the ABA Area...but I will mention that when I saw this bird I had not seen a new species of vireo in over ten years. Great success!

Magnificent Hummingbirds made a big impression on me at an early age. Shortly after I started birding, I went with my family to southeast Arizona. I did have an inkling of some of the fantastic birds there, but did not know what to expect at all, being hella young and being there in early spring. Magnificent Hummingbirds (which we ran into at Madera Canyon) made a huge impression on me. I could not get over their size, and the unfathomable colors they project in the right light. They still hold a special place in my heart.

Of course, there was the time I was working in Josephine Canyon (that's on the other side of the Santa Ritas, southeast of Madera) and came upon a cougar on the trail. The cat/potential Seagull Steve-slayer wandered off down the trail, unfortunately in the direction I had to go. As I followed the cougar very nervously and talking to myself very loudly to warn the cat I was coming, I suddenly heard a loud WHOOOOOSHHHHHUMMMMMMMM inches behind my head. It scared the fucking shit out of me. I whipped around in horror to find a male Magnificent Hummingbird hovering at eye level, which of course had come to investigate my red hat. How embarrassing.

Magnificent Hummingbird is actually the only hummingbird species expected in both Arizona and Costa Rica.

You can literally pet hummingbirds here. Facemelting ones. Here is a Fiery-throated expressing it's love of sugar water and hatred for rival hummingbirds.

Ochraceous Wren! Had to use the field guide for this one, total brainbird. In real life lighting, they are very richly colored, their name suits them much better than what you see here. Aside from the trails at El Paraiso, we also had them up the canyon from El Toucanet Lodge, which is a mid-elevation site to the northwest.

The cabina I stayed in. Make sure to make use of the extra blankets when you are there, it gets cold as fuck at night! And yes, I did hear Dusky Nightjar there.


  1. I just about spit my coffee out at that cougar story. Hilarious. And that yellow-thighed thingamajig is amazing, took me a second to actually find the yellow thighs for some dumb reason.

    1. The mountain lion/magnificent hummingbird thing was good times. I knew it would make a good story. I forgot to mention the mountain lion was making all kinds of crazy sounds before I saw it, I thought it was yelling illegal immigrants at first (equally, if not more likely on that trail).

  2. I love all the face-melting images Steve! The Cougar story? I would have fainted.

    1. That one was the first one I've seen outside of a car. Nerve-wracking for sure, but looking forward to seeing more.

  3. I'm sorry I missed this didn't realize that you did a post on the Talamancas at the same time. Great photos.