Monday, May 27, 2013

Costa Rica 2013 Part 2

our Almonds and Corals "pavilion"
Watching hoards of tourists clamber on and off several Greyhound sized tour buses from various points in Costa Rica at Caño Blanco, we were grateful for our “just right” comfortable private tour bus and our dedicated driver, Didier.

Blue Morpho opened and closed
Today would be a longer travel day consisting mainly of roadside birding. The gravel road that lead from Caño Blanco eventually turned into a paved road near Siquirres. From Squirres we headed toward Puerto Limón, a coastal city of approximately 60,000 inhabitants with two port terminals. Large shipping docks and the port's ability to anchor cruise ships appeared to be its economic base. Culturally, the city boasts a thriving Afro-Caribbean population, the result of a large influx of Jamaican laborers imported to work on a late nineteenth-century railroad project. For decades Costa Rica had refused to acknowledge Afro-Caribbeans as citizens which resulted in a travel ban that had restricted their movements outside the Limón province. Finally, in 1948, they were were recognized as citizens and the ban was lifted. However, with several generations having established deep local family ties and roots, many Afro-Caribbean people chose to remain in the region explaining its present day Jamaican flavor.
Following a late lunch at the Soda and Restaurant Toro Mocho outside Puerto Limón, we continued on major roads that closely skirted coastal Caribbean lowlands. The predominate agricultural crop was quite evident - banana plantations were everywhere. And while most of Costa Rica enjoys a wet and dry season, this section of the Limón province tends to be wet all year round. And as with most sea level environments, the temperature remained quite warm with high humidity.
Bird-wise our roadside birding produced Magnificent Frigatebird, White-tailed Kite, Common Black-Hawk, Gray-rumped Swift, Long-tailed Tyrant, Mangrove Swallow, Passerini’s Tanager, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and Bronzed Cowbird. Of course several of the larger waders (Egrets, Herons) were plentiful. During a rest stop at a gas station a Black-throated Trogon pair were observed by some reminding everyone that you never leave the bus without your binoculars!
Near the town of Hotel Creek we intersected with a smaller paved road that led us through the popular tourist town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (simply Puerto Viejo to the locals). Principally a surfing community due to some of the most consistent and recurring biggest waves in Costa Rica, the narrow main street was dotted with small shops, cafes, and B and B’s that catered to surfers. For the most part the town seemed like a throwback to the 60’s hippies culture. Quite colorful and eclectic.
Between Puerto Viejo and the next small town of Manzanillo are some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches. Playa Chiquita, Playa Negra and Punta Uva just to name a few. Visitors and locals in Manzanillo appeared to have more vehicles sporting kayaks than surfboards, another popular sport. The entire town is within the boundaries of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge.

commons area outside hotel reception/office
Late in the afternoon we pulled into the Almonds and Corals Hotel car park, our day’s end destination where we would spend the next few days and nights exploring the hotel’s trails and surrounding birding opportunities.

exterior of typical "pavilion"
lighted walkways felt like an airport runway
Our accommodations, referred to as “pavilions”, consisted of raised private huts on stilts with thatched roofs surround by jungle. Appointed with “rustic luxury” all the huts were connected by a series of wooden walkways which lead to and from the hotel’s office, a large central meeting facility, and the restaurant/bar. Rooms, decorated with a Caribbean flair, were decked out with highly polished wood floors, bright linens, canopy beds, hammocks, small refrigerator, and private bath and a Jacuzzi.
After settling into our rooms we made our way to the bar for happy hour following by a run through of the daily checklist in the hotel's large meeting hall. Then on to an evening meal (buffet style) in the open air thatched roof restaurant.

male Mantled Howler
Before daylight the next morning we were reminded of our jungle environment when a couple of Mantled Howler Monkey troops made their presence known. Howlers range from the south of Mexico, southern Guatemala southward through Central America reaching the west coast of Colombia and Ecuador. Howlers are known for their distinct loud and raucous calls. Heard at a distance they can deceptively seem closer than they actually are. When situated right overhead, their early morning monkey business chorus negates the need for an alarm clock.

land crab
Golden Eyelash Viper
Preceding breakfast, some of us managed a walk on a short boardwalk trail that lead from the restaurant through lowland brackish vegetation to the beach. Hundreds of colorful land crabs scurried into burrows while some of the larger ones remained topside long enough for photos. An arboreal Golden Eyelash Viper sat motionless along the boardwalk. Although its bright golden color was in sharp contrast with its surroundings, one could easily walk past this rather small snake without noticing. However, once seen, it was impossible to ignore. Its bright color was a helpful reminder that this was a venomous snake.

birding Almonds and Corals and Band-tailed Barbtail nest
Following breakfast we explored some of the lodge’s trails that lead through mesic forest habitat. We then hiked out to the main road and back. Repeated calls of a Central American Pygmy-Owl continued to taunt us without the bird ever showing itself. However, we found an active Band-tailed Barbthroat nest hung low over one of the trails.
By mid morning we boarded our bus for the short drive into Manzanilla searching the beach front along our route. Not much in the way of shorebirds save for some ubiquitous Spotted Sandpipers and a couple of Whimbrel. 

Restaurante Maxi and beach at Manzanillo
Lunch was at the Restaurante Maxi where the food, when it did eventually come, was excellent. We’d advise dining on the open air (yet covered) second story level which offered a nice breeze. And to be patient. Post lunch we hiked along the beach to the edge of town seeking a trail head that would lead us to an expansive view of the ocean near Punta Mona. Alas, to reach the trail head required crossing a small stream. It would have required wading thigh deep and some were understandably unwilling to get wet so we instead stuck to the beach.

view from Maxi's, fresh fish lunch and narrow but deep channel at the trail head
Back to Almonds and Corals for a bit of an afternoon lie down. A few relaxed in their rooms while others continued to hike the grounds before happy hour beckoned followed by our evening meal.
Notable birds for the day, aside form those already mentioned included: Tiny Hawk, Short-billed Pigeon, Long-billed Hermit, Striped-throated Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Collared Aracari, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Pale-billed Woodpecker, White-crowned Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Bat Falcon, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Cinnamon Becard, Band-backed Wren, Bay Wren, White-lined Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique. A Spectacled Owl was heard and seen by some after dark and early the next morning.
On Saturday the 16th we revisited a few of the lodge trails before breakfast then boarded our bus for a day’s outing of roadside birding as we worked our way toward the small border town of Sixaola on the Rio Sixaola, part of the boundary dividing Costa Rica and Panama.
lunch spot and adjacent open air market
Lunch in Bribri at a roadside cafe, “Delicias de Mi Tierra” which also served as a local bus stop, then we were off again to explore back roads that lead out of Sixaola, hopefully to find some forested areas. The landscape turned out to be somewhat disappointing with far more open areas due to clearing for agricultural fields than wooded areas to bird.

roadside birding outside Sixaola - Panama hills in the background
even the author consults his field guide from time to time
During this time we happened to notice more and more huge kettles of migrating raptors that we had seen the day before. Mainly Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks. A totally mesmerizing massive river of raptors flowing north. Occasionally we spotted other raptors mixed in like a Mississippi Kite, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle and the unmistakably large King Vulture.
Other birds on the day included some heard onlys: Great Tinamou, Little Tinamou, Laughing Falcon, and Black-striped Sparrow. Both heard and seen included Crested Guan, Roadside Hawk, Blue Ground-Dove, White-collared Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, Lineated Woodpecker, Red-lored Parrot, Dot-winged Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Gray-breasted Martin, Bananaquit, Shining Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit, White-collared Seedeater, and Chestnut-headed Oropendula.
Back to Almonds and Corals in time for happy hour, then to our daily ritual run-through of the day’s birds, followed by an evening meal. Meals were always well prepared and the attention by wait staff, even though it was buffet style serving, was exemplary. Then it was off to our “pavilion” to pack bags for the next day when we would depart Almonds and Corals. After over five days on the Caribbean coast we’ll leave behind the warm and humid lowland forests in exchange for somewhat cooler temperatures found on higher ground at a lodge we have long anticipated visiting: Rancho Naturalista.

large cool bug - no idea what kind
bats under Tod and Cindy's pavilion entryway
we felt like we were living in a jungle village
misting required umbrellas from time to time
comparing Marge to a coconut?

No comments:

Post a Comment