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Serendipity Drives the Magic Bus: A Day at Cope's

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Serendipity was our best traveling companion on this trip. She had an excellent assistant in guide Mario Cordoba, who is always ready with a Plan B should things fall through. We had been scheduled to visit a butterfly garden that also attracts myriad hummingbirds, but upon arriving there, we found the caretaker nowhere in evidence, and a rather large mastiff cross barking vigorously, circling our bus, and eager to show us the door. 

I briefly considered unleashing my Dog Whisperer charm on him, but I knew Mario would never let me off the bus. 
It didn't take Mario long to deploy Plan B, and we headed for Cope's place. (say it CO-pay.)

The first bird who greeted us was an olive-backed euphonia, busy building a nest in an old oropendola nest Cope had hung from an eave. A very good omen in this peaceable kingdom. 

Cope is an extraordinary natural history artist who started out by making death studies of road and window-killed birds and animals. Hey, I did that too, for years. I felt an immediate kinship with him, which deepened as I looked at his gorgeous pencil and watercolor studies. He's a great photographer as well, and he knows where all the cool stuff lives.

He's created a little paradise for birds and birdwatchers in his yard. Simple, but highly effective. He's got a two-sided blind in which people can sit quietly and observe hummingbirds, oropendolas, tanagers, finches, even rails! at the feeders just outside in a small clearing. He's made pools and plantings and snags and perches that offer perfect photo-ops. Here's part of our happy group in the lean-to.

 Photo by Jenny Minton

Here, we got great shots and looks at some elusive species, including blue-chested hummingbird

crowned wood-nymph (this is a little hen)

violet-headed hummingbird (why do they call it that?)

 the ubiquitous rufous-tailed hummingbird

 here feeding naturally...

Cope brings a reptile guide for Betty.

 photo by Jenny Minton

I think we all melted simultaneously when Cope's beautiful, poised daughter Alina emerged from the studio with a gray snail-eater coiled companionably in her little hand.

photo by Jenny Minton

This slender but powerfully-jawed snake was placid and calm. I'm guessing it uses those strong boxy jaws to crush snail shells before swallowing them?

Meanwhile, the Passerini tanagers dazzled us at the banana feeder. Their rumps are so brilliant that they cornfuse my camera. It doesn't know what to do with a red that bright.

Cope's place is the best I've found for photographing the exquisite white-necked jacobin, who always reminds me of an elegantly dressed waiter.

Hummingbird eyelids work like human eyelids, closing from the top down instead of the bottom up like most birds'.

But their tongues don't...their long hyoid bones wrap around the back of their skull and shoot the tongue way out beyond the bill tip.

All the while, a gorgeous but comical gray-necked wood rail danced on and offstage, making me laugh with delight every time it appeared. I don't know by what provenance we have been given a wood rail that's not in the least shy and incredibly gaudy, with lipstick-pink legs and the most marvelous shading from gray to rust to olive to ebony...but we have, and I love them.

 It curtsied in the most amusing way on its hot lava legs

 and I wondered what the world would do without birds in all their splendor. Surely, as Roger Peterson said, they are "the most vivid expression of life."

It was at Cope's that I made my favorite hummingbird image of the trip--a blue-chested hummingbird pausing in mid-air for a split second that will enchant me forever. 

 Thank you, Cope, for all the beauty you have packed into your backyard sanctuary. An inspiration and lesson for us all. Visit him when you're in Costa Rica!

Cope Arte's website


Serendipity hangs out a lot with Synchronicity. I totally rely on these two in my life, and they never let me down. Obviously they roused that dog to scare you off, knowing that you would have a better time at Cope's. What a wonderful, magical day! Thank you for sharing it with us!

Posted by Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 3:53 AM

Fantastic pictures, Julie. You've gotta love a bird with the name "euphonia"!

Do hummingbird wings pivot On a point? The movement in that last photo looks different than I imagined it would!

I just love to read your blog entries for so many reasons-today's being those lovely hummingbirds! I had no idea there were so many. Your last photo of the one in flight looking at you is stunning. Thank you for sharing with us.


Posted by Gail Spratley March 10, 2015 at 1:53 PM

Oh pardon me? Those rail photos? Do I get to share a planet with all that?

One of my favorite places in Costa Rica, and certainly one of my favorite people. I have only been there afternoon in October, but I will be retrying this December and I am totally looking forward to it. Thanks for the reminder.

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