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They Say You Can Never Go Back (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 3

12/16/2020 - 12/19/2020


San Jose, CR to Paraiso Quetzal Lodge


This is the first in a series of three blog posts covering my trip to Costa Rica. This is the third time I have been to Costa Rica. It is a beautiful place full of friendly people. As far as vacations go, I like to run under what I call the "Big World" policy; meaning, it is a big world with lots of places to see, and there is little reason to revisit the same place twice. This trip is a bit different. I went back to where I had been before. I lost all my photos from the first half of my last trip to Costa Rica. I came back to get some of them back. Which brings us to the title of the post. Amazingly, I did re-see a lot of the species I photographed before, and, in some instances, the opportunities were better. There were quite a few species I did not re-find, though. There were 14 species that were new for me in Costa Rica; 6 of which were species I had not seen anywhere before. Every trip is different. You just have to enjoy it for what it is and not what you remember it having been before.


A quick word about travelling during the pandemic. Costa Rica is killing it. Of the lodges and restaurants we visited on this trip, all lodges and most restaurants required you to: have your temperature taken, wash your hands, and wear a mask while not actively eating or drinking. A couple restaurants did not take our temperature, and only one restaurant did not take our temperature nor require us to wash our hands. I will say that we did spend all our time up in the mountains and away from the more touristy beach areas. So, depending on where you go, your mileage may vary. Our experience was very rewarding and very safe. Our dealings with other tourists in airports and on the plane were not as reassuring.


Now, about that trip....


Carmen and I started this trip the same way we start every trip out-of-country. You arrive and then spend the night in the city you landed in. This gives us a chance to have luggage catch-up if it was lost along the way. It also gives us a chance to catch-up on our itinerary if we are delayed. For San Jose, this means a night at the Bougainvillea Hotel. It is a nice hotel located about 11 km from the airport. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and a nice place to do a little birding during some downtime. While the grounds were very birdy, most of the birds were in the tops of the trees. I had a hard time finding cooperative subjects. There were also a couple wedding groups doing photographs, etc. on the grounds, and that complicated things.

We left the hotel after lunch the next day and started the drive to Paraiso Quetzal Lodge. Partly cloudy skies gave way to heavy fog, strong mist, and cloudy skies as we moved up in altitude. We arrived midday and went through the safety protocols. After checking in, we headed to our cabin. This is where I should note that I did not bring anything other than my birding camera. I did not want to deal with hauling extra gear this trip. The main purpose of this trip was to photograph some birds and relax. The reason I bring this up is because the view out of the cabin window was amazing. We could see across the valley out a huge window that spanned most of the front of the cabin. Sadly, I do not have a picture to share. Strike one against being lazy. We spent some time birding around the cabin in the drizzle. Near the cabin, we had Volcano Hummingbird, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Sooty Thrush, Wilson's Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher. Not bad for a few minutes of wet birding.


There were a few reasons for returning to this lodge. 1) I wanted to do their night trip, again. I was hoping to photograph Bare-shanked Screech-Owl and Dusky Nightjar. I was also hoping to see Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. 2) This is the best place I know of to see Fiery-throated Hummingbird. 3) They have a great quetzal program. The lodge partners with local farmers to help provide habitat for the quetzal. In turn, the farmers let the lodge and local guides know where the birds are currently being seen, and they get a cut of the money from the tours. It is a win-win for everyone.


Well, December is not a good time to look for owls. The lodge was not currently offering the tour. On the other hand, the hummingbirds were plentiful during the rain. We saw: Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Talamanca Hummingbird, Lesser Violetear, and Volcano Hummingbird A couple Slaty Flowerpiercers made an appearance, too.


As for the quetzals, well, I got my best looks ever at Resplendent Quetzal. I had so much fun the first morning, I went back a second morning.

On the first morning, there was even a surprise visit by a Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch.


Between quetzal tours and rain showers, we enjoyed time hiking the grounds and dining at the restaurant. The food was great. We love the peppermint lemonades, and the baked plantain was really good, too. As always, I was on the lookout for birds to photograph. The grounds here are great for casual birding. We saw a lot of the usual suspects: Sooty-capped Chlorospingus, Collared Redstart, Sooty Thrush, Mountain Thrush, Clay-colored Thrush, and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush. The number of Ruddy Treerunners was a bit unexpected, though.


It was nice to run across a very cooperative Broad-winged Hawk while walking around one afternoon.


Both of the Silky-Flycatchers can be found here. I even managed to photograph the Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher, which was a life bird, for me. The Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers remind us of crickets when they call.


The most surprising bird here was one of the most colorful. I expected to photograph this bird later in the trip. After learning that there was some feeding on berries in the mornings near one of the cabins, I made sure to get up and look for them. I found about a dozen Golden-browed Chlorophonia feeding that morning. I was so happy to have had a chance to photograph them here; as they were not being seen where I hoped to find them later in the trip. They are gorgeous birds.


With that, our time here was done. The hikes to the waterfalls nearly did me in. (Yeah, I should have taken a second camera... next time.) But the birding and food was great. The staff here were amazing. Sure, it is cold up here; especially at night. I could not imagine visiting this area without staying here, though.


Next stop - Talamanca Nature Reserve.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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