Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Costa Rica 2020 Part I: La Cinchona

Wow, we made it back just in time! Greetings from San Jose, California, which is now deep in the shadow of coronavirus. While things are increasingly tense here - and just now my daughter is screaming about a squirrel in the living room, which for some reason there actually is - I can at least say that the Costa Rica 2020 tour is in the bag, and it was brilliant. Joining me this time was the controversial Jacob Durrent, attention-seeking Flycatcher Jen, and the surprisingly dry-eyed but armadillo-adverse Stilt. I planned our route to visit some of the best inland areas north of San Jose (Costa Rica), and although we did not have time to get to all of them by any means it was GREAT SUCCESS. It's kind of daunting to think I have a duty to blog all of it but I can try!

We flew in to San Jose and immediately experienced our first logistical obstacle of the trip (the first actual obstacle was large and dumb pile of Envision Festival goers doing unnecessary yoga at our feet in LAX), which was getting our rental car from Hertz. The 4x4 I had reserved was not available and they tried to give me a sedan, which I napesed. After much waiting we were informed a 4x4 SUV was available and would be ready soon...then we were informed that it kept slipping into neutral by itself while in gear so that one was off the table. Finally we accepted an SUV that did not have 4x4 as I figured we would at least have good clearance to deal with shitty roads...this did work out fine, though it would not have if we had met with real rainy season weather. It was also a surprise to get in the car and find out it was a manual transmission, which I had not driven in about seven years. Luckily Jacob helped out with a lot of the driving and all the stalling I did when I drove was just funny for everybody (how embarrassing) instead of being catastrophic. The car was weak and grossly underpowered BUT our little Chery (that's right, not Chevy) did succeed in getting us everywhere we wanted to go.

Why did I tell you this rambling story of inconvenience that you almost surely don't care about? Because that is Geri's way, and we did our share of GERI BIRDING. In fact, almost this entire post is about Geri Birding!

Finally underway, we got to our first stop, the soda/mirador at La Cinchona. We had a great time here back in 2012 and it has only gotten better! Oh, I don't want that Silver-throated Tanager photo up at the top of this post to fool you...that photo was made possible by fruit. La Cinchona is all about GERI BIRDING (though the human food ain't bad either), and the geri was indeed top notch. Here is a Prong-billed Barbet/Black-headed Saltator combo.

Prong-billed Barbet is a weird bird. When you are the object of the barbet's smile, you aren't quite sure what to do with yourself.

Buff-throated Saltator, old friend. Trusty BTSA turned out to be the most common saltator of the trip.

And Scarlet-rumped Tanager was by far the most abundant tanager of the trip. Better post an obligatory photo now!

This bird, on the other hand, was gripping. My first lifer of the trip was this plump little crippler, Buff-fronted Quail-Dove. They have become very reliable at La Cinchona and did not disappoint during our visit. They weren't exactly confiding but we got some great looks. I needed some more quail-doves in my life and now I should be set for a while. As expected, these were the only ones of the trip and (sadly) the only quail-doves of any species we actually laid eyes on. Much unfinished quail-dove business have I.

Another crucial target bird here was the facemelting/ridiculous Red-headed Barbet, which we also did not see anywhere else. This is the first male I have ever seen and it was absolutely stunning. The Geri Gods smiled upon us that afternoon.

I think the first time I saw Violet Sabrewings was here in 2012. As it was back then, having these giant glowing hummingbirds whiz by inches away is great but not exactly comforting.

Black-bellied Hummingbird was lifer #2 for yours truly. These are only really reliable at a handful of sites so it was a pleasant surprise to have this single bird at our very first stop. Neither drab nor flamboyantly crippling, it's just a very nice hummingbird. Pura vida.

Both the bane and the bedrock of many cloud forest mixed flocks, Common Chlorospingus dropped in for some of the delicious Geri action.

The Northern Emerald Toucanets here are probably some of the most photographed birds south of the Rio Grande. Why? Because they get their geri on within a few feet of you and they are crushable by cell phone, if that's what one wished to do. They also happen to be terrific.

Crimson-collared Tanager is an arresting bird.

And the same case could be made for Blue-gray Tanager, but they are so freaking common it can be difficult to give them the credit they deserve.

Like the Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanagers struggle to be looked at. Whenever a Palm Tanager is in sight, there is invariably something more interesting to look at as well. Such is life for the Palm Tanager.

As expected in February, we also had a pleasant mix of neotropic migrants mixing in with the resident locals. Summer Tanager wishes it could participate in more geri birding on its migration routes.

This gluttonous Baltimore Oriole is acting like its never had a banana before. It's practically mantling the poor defenseless fruit.

I call this portrait "Tennessee Warbler With Banana".

Yes, I will even post a photo of the dreaded Clay-colored Thrush. They are brown. And very common. But not only is this a picture of a Clay-colored Thrush, it is a picture of a banana. This one is titled "Banana with Clay-colored Thrush".

Foreboding Black Guans were getting in on the feeder action too. You would think that such a large bird would not be attempting to feed on the same thing as a diminutive Tennessee Warbler, but you would be wrong.

Some other roadside stops on the way to Hotel Gavilan produced birds like Bat Falcon (above), Double-toothed Kite and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift.

That will do it for the first post! Much more to come. And if you are wondering, no, the squirrel is not still in the house.


  1. In my experience Palm Tanagers spend much of their time practically begging to be noticed. It's a little pathetic, but somewhat endearing. I try to make them feel better about themselves by taking a few photos.

    1. I'm sure this rare show of generosity is greatly appreciated.

  2. Keep posting ... this is like a virtual vacation (the only kind we can get for now.) My blood pressure is going down with every bird.

    1. Lowering blood pressure huh? I guess bird blogging is now a public service!

      I want to say there will be another post this week, but honestly there is a lot going on, and not in a good way.