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Solimar Siesta: Birding Costa Rica

Sunday, March 13, 2016

This is a picture of people having fun on the patio at Hacienda Solimar. I think we were waiting for lunch. A pleasant prospect, as all the food on the trip was delicious, fresh and abundant. We're relaxing. Not having to think about much of anything except moving from one awesome sight to the next. What a blast! That's the goal on these Costa Rica and South Africa trips I co-lead. Figure out a route, great places to go, great places to stay; (That's Main Guide Mario and Debbie from Holbrook Travel and our terrific driver Jimmy's genius); get people there and let Amazing Mother Nature do the rest. Dart around and direct attention, Vanna White style, to this and that and the other. (Zick's job). And oh, does Mother Nature come through for us.

Guanacaste is Costa Rica's cowboy country. It's comparatively dry, hot and scrubby, with low forest. That makes it easy to see birds and animals. This Harris' hawk looked at home against a brilliant blue sky. Mario took this shot for me out the bus window. 

Southern lapwings run around on stilty legs. What a beautiful bird! This one is checking for peregrines, I'm sure. 

A beautiful male green kingfisher was making a sound like two marbles clicking together for several minutes before any of us spotted him against the bank, just a pebble's throw away. 

A white-necked puffbird, a bulky giant-beaked Coraciiforme, sort of like a landbound kingfisher, subdues an enormous grasshopper. It masticated the insect for awhile, then gulped it down.

A pair of orange-fronted parakeets were sitting nervously beneath their nest, which was excavated in an enormous termite colony mound.  You can just see one of them directly beneath the black nest, framed in a rectangle of heavy limbs. The termite nest is made of frass, which the termites produce when they eat wood. When a parrot or trogon burrows into the nest, the termites simply wall off the birds' newly excavated nest chamber and go about their business. Nobody gets upset. It's pretty cool.

I witnessed an interesting phenomenon in this pair. Here they are, not displaying. Eyes dark, right? Maybe a dark-medium gray. 

Het up by our presence, they began displaying to each other. Look at their eyes now.  Probably best to click on the photo to see it well, and sharp. Suddenly their irides look white. Anyone who has lived with a parrot or macaw knows this look. It's when you're about to get bitten. When Charlie did it, I used to call it "pinning her eyes," or "pupils pinned." The pupil contracts down to a small dot, and the smaller that dot, the more likely I was to get bitten. It's a pretty dramatic difference in the appearance of the bird, isn't it?

It was hard to leave Solimar, so abundant and impressive was its avifauna. But we had to press on toward Villa Lapas, our lodge, one of my favorite places to stay. There, we are immersed in wildlife, can't get away from it. The landscaped grounds and nearby riverine forest are a strong attractant to all life forms. 

On the way, we saw a great gathering of birds at Caldera Bay. We pulled over and beheld more black terns than I've ever seen in my life, or ever expect to see going forward. And I've been on the North Dakota prairies, where they breed, for a week at a time for 12 Junes. But this was something else again. Black terns littered the beach, and floated like mosquitoes over the bay. It was stunning, astonishing. These are two halves of a panorama. I got tired of counting the preening flock when I got around 800. It hit me that there is so much yet to be learned about migration. Is this gathering of black terns in Caldera Bay in late February a known thing? How would one find out? And to think they're headed for prairie potholes in the Great Plains and Canada. It's humbling. Every darn one of them was preening, their heads and bills busy and moving. 

I can't convey the cloud of black terns the seethed over Caldera Bay with this photo, taken Feb. 24, 2016. Just trust me on this...there were thousands of black terns here. What a rush! 

You never know all that's going on with birds. Not even a particle of it. That's why traveling along the migratory route of "our" birds and seeing them on their wintering grounds is such a rush for me. It's as if I'm getting a privileged glimpse into their private lives.


Lovely trip and birds. As soon as a ship comes in, I'll sign up.

A decade ago we stayed at Lapa Rios. It's on the Osa Peninsula, further south. Spectacular. 1st certified ecolodge in CR. Check it out.(might be spensive).

Ack. I am not good at this. I am not Unknown, I am yr facebook friend Janet Hofmann.

Ack. I am not good at this. I am not Unknown, I am yr facebook friend Janet Hofmann.

Oh am I loving these Costa Rica blogs, my favorite place in the known (to me) world. (Hope my Panama friends don't hear me saying that.) I super-dig the lapwing photo with an eye to the sky! And reading your comment ("It's pretty cool") about the parakeets nesting in the termite mound and how they coexist, that's truer than first meets the eye. I've heard that termite nests are super-cooled structures, with the network of insulated passageways cooling the air within. Yes, Mother Nature is the coolest!! And nowhere is that more evident than in the tropics.

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