Sunday, July 28, 2013

Birding the Mountain of Death

We had Volcano Hummingbirds at a number of sites on this trip, but they were most numerous and cooperative at Cerro de la Muerte. 

Onward we birded. After El Paraiso, we birded other sites in the Talamancas with only moderate success. Then war began within our once-happy ranks. We could not decide if we should take our puny, underpowered rental car (ironically called a "Swift", it was punishingly weak) down the steep, winding road to San Gerardo de Dota, otherwise known as The Promised Land. Eventually, the car proved its worthlessness over and over again so we decided against it. Dipper Dan and I would return some days later in a SUV, and we were both happy that we did not attempt to tackle the road with the wimpy Swift.

After spending a rainy night in an uncomfortable bed at La Georgina, we decided to try to barge the Swift up El Cerro de la Muerte, the tallest peak in Costa Rica at over 11,000 feet. Why? To get Volcano Junco, of course. Although our guidebook warned against driving up the mountain without 4-wheel drive, we made it up without mishap. The fog enveloped us, and the search was on.

What a pleasant bird to have holding down the mountaintops. Males in different populations of Volcano Hummingbird have different colored gorgets; I think there are three populations in Costa Rica that can be told apart by the males' throat color.

Volcano Hummingbird is actually a Selasphorus hummingbird, which is the same genus as our beloved Broad-tailed, Rufous, Allen's and Calliope Hummingbirds. Nice to see a somewhat familiar looking bird down there, although none of the northern Selasphorus possess such a short bill.

Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers are one of the main ingredients of high elevation flocks. Their bold head patterns are a lot more striking than their lower-elevation Common cousins.

What a strange bird. Reminds me of some of the huge, exotic-looking finches down there.

Dipper Dan adopts an unexpectedly awkward, sasquatch-like gait while lurching through the foggy Paramo in search of the day's target bird, Volcano Junco. 

Jose, a guide at Paraiso del Quetzales, told us the exact place to go where we would be guaranteed to find the Junco of the Volcano. As you can see, Jose knows exactly what he is fucking talking about. At the promised intersection, the juncos showed themselves.

It was nice to be stalking a species that were not masters of skulk. We all got great looks at this highly-localized bird, which is only found above treeline at certain sites in Costa Rica and Panama.

The juncos were in constant need of delicious berries. You show me berries, I show you juncos.

A female Slaty Flowerpiercer. These things are everywhere in the higher altitudes of the Talamancas. Can you believe this is a type of finch? Look at that really is shaped that way for piercing flowers. Craziness. Darwin would have loved this bird.

A nice little stop south of El Cerro is Villa Mills, where this Black-capped Flycatcher was brutally crushed. An easy, relatively open space to bird, it made for a mellow side-stop on our way down to San Isidro. A number of Timberline Wrens were vocalizing here.

This is what a "confiding" bird looks like, in case you are wondering.

Are you at a high elevation? You will find Blue-and-white Swallows. Are you at a low elevation? I will show you Blue-and-white Swallows. Photographed at Villa Mills.

As we descended from the Talamancas down into the new and wonderful realms of the South Pacific Slope, we saw our first Swallow-tailed Kites of the trip. I'm still looking forward to seeing them up close some day. Next stop: Talari Mountain Lodge!

When there is no internet, no tv, but plenty of alcohol, conditions are perfect for playing "Pocket", the simplest and greatest game in the world that leads to a whole rainbow of bizarre and humiliating acts. Here Frank is forced to wear filthy, fungus-ridden boots on his hands for an extended period of time. This is in a room at La Georgina, a birding site/restaurant/place to stay downslope from El Cerro. We didn't have much luck in terms of birds, amenities, or comfort, but it was cheap and had easy access to a lot of food and a shitload of strange (but usually tasty) Tico candy.


  1. I would like to know more about "Pocket."

    Also, there is so much crushing in this post that it hurts.

    1. It's best to learn as you play. It's the same idea as "shithead" and "asshole" except with no cards and slightly more strategy.

      The species diversity that high was pitiful, but the birding was of a quality high and fine.

  2. I just want to give a shout out to Mr. Nelson Briefer. You show me Pocket, I will show you girls sobbing Happy Birthday while laying in a busy mountain highway.

    1. You show me a filthy bunk bed, I will show you how hard it is to put your clothes on underneath it.

  3. I know a dog named Pocket. When I asked her mom how she got the name she said it was a long story. I thought that was bullshit, but now I have to wonder...

    Are you ever going to run out of this shit? Wasn't Costa Rica SO three seasons ago??

    1. Less than halfway through the trip FJ. So much pura vida over here.