They Say You Can Never Go Back (Part 2)

12/19/2020 - 12/21/2020


Talamanca Nature Reserve


This is the second in a series of three blog posts covering my trip to Costa Rica. This post covers our time at Talamanca Nature Reserve.


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....


This was a new destination for us. Carmen picked it because it was near Chirripo. She wanted to get some exercise while on this trip, and I guess that means hiking in the mountains. Given my lack of physical conditioning, I was not overly excited about the idea of it. The place boasts 4,000 acres of land and trails. Much of that is either straight up or straight down; depending on your direction of travel. We arrived mid-afternoon on the 20th and quickly found out that we were the only guests for the next couple days. We had the whole place to ourselves. After safety protocols, including spraying our luggage with alcohol, we were shown to our riverside cabin. The room was really nice; nothing fancy, but it was nice.


We quickly got things settled and then walked the trail down to the river. The river here is beautiful. This was the first of three trips to this spot, and I will not bore you with three separate sets of photos. But it was a fun little location. The river and rocks are beautiful. No one around. We spent a half hour or so on our last visit; just sitting on the rocks and watching the water. The Black Phoebe was a constant at this location. On the first trip, there was also a Torrent Tyrannulet. On the last trip, a pair of American Dipper stopped by.


On the way to the river, we noticed several small ponds with tadpoles. I was not sure what we would find, but we decided to come back after dark to look for frogs. We found a lot of very tiny frogs that immediately disappeared after being spotted. The only thing we found to photograph was this large katydid.


There were a few reasons this place made it on the itinerary. 1) Carmen wanted to go. 2) The place was close to a couple birding locations I wanted to check out. 3) Well, we will get to that. All in all, the place was a pleasant surprise.


The birding in the mornings was good. Although photography was difficult. They have fruit feeders out front, but you are too close to them, and the sun backlights them pretty quickly. They would do better to move the feeders to the adjacent gardens. It is surprisingly warm here at this altitude. At about 5,000 feet, you did not even need a jacket here. As such, they had a lot of tanagers and other warmer climate species. Green Honeycreeper, Silvery-throated Tanager, Spot-crowned Euphonia (life bird), Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-rumped Tanager (a lump of Passerini's and Cherrie's Tanagers), Tennessee Warbler, Blue-gray Tanager, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, Baltimore Oriole, Lesson's Motmot, and Palm Tanger were all regulars at the feeders. A Bananaquit was busy building a nest near the feeders. The first night, we also had Blackburnian Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Red-faced Spinetail working through the trees around the feeders. The big surprise was the morning the Black-thighed Grosbeak (life bird) popped up in the trees behind the feeders shortly after a Rufous-breasted Wren (life bird) briefly hopped out of cover.


Birding around the cabin pulled in all kinds of other species, and I missed IDing a lot of it. Too high up and too quick a lot of times. Birding dense forest is tough. Photography is tough, too. We made one super-long, 4 hour hike up into the old growth forest. Birding on the hike was tough, too. Maybe because I thought I was dying.... We hit a few pockets of birds here and there. Canada Warbler was a nice find on the hike.

The best find was a small hummingbird deep in the old growth forest, shortly before we hit the turn-around point on our hike. A dark-green hummingbird came out to the path chittering and splashing into the water of a small creek we had just crossed. As it came back up from hitting the water (the bird was bathing), it was displaying these huge white flashes in its tail. Excitedly, I moved back down trail to look for it. It was out of sight, but I made a few squeaky noises, and it popped up onto a branch. (Note: this has never worked for me before, I do not expect it to ever work again, but I will keep trying anyway.) I managed a few very poor quality photos of the bird as it preened and then disappeared. Upon inspection, I had my lifer White-tailed Emerald. I am sure there is an easier way to see this bird.


Which pretty much brings us to my second reason for coming here. I wanted to check out a couple birding locations nearby. Unfortunately, I did not remember correctly where they were located. We went out to look for them one afternoon and did not find them. I got confused when we passed the trailhead for Chirripo National Park and turned around early on the road. I should have taken better notes during planning. My loss.


The third reason really panned out, though. It is not even really all that exciting, but the bird is spectacular. I was so excited to see that it was a regular at the feeders, as well. I dedicated a bit of time trying to get decent shots of this bird. They were very shy. Speckled Tanager may well be one of the most beautiful birds in the world.


On a non-birding note, the place was great, and we only covered a small portion of things to see here. There are 10 waterfalls located around the property. The hosts were awesome. One of our favorite things was the food. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served all day long at any time. There were no set hours. So, we could do what we wanted without being tied to a time table. The food was amazing. Some of the best we have had in Costa Rica. I will argue that they have the best peppermint lemonade I have had anywhere. I am not just saying that because I thought I was dying after getting back from the hike, either. The food and drinks really are that good here.


We left to head back to the other side of the Cerro de la Muerte but did not make it too far. While cruising downhill out of the mountain, I suddenly noticed that the car was out of gear. I popped it back into second (I was renting a stick shift) and noticed that it was still running a bit oddly. It did not take much longer to figure out that the clutch had gone out of the car. I had noticed earlier in the trip that it was making an odd noise at times. Luckily, there was a place to get off the road without too much hassle, and I had cell service. A few hours later, the rental agency had us a new car (an automatic). There were no real questions. When I drive in a foreign country, I always get full coverage insurance. Just for reasons like this. Pride wounded; we transferred luggage and headed on our way.


Next stop - Savegre


Thanks for reading,

Mike

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