They Say You Can Never Go Back (Part 3)

12/21/2020 - 12/27/2020


Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve and Spa


This is the final post in a series of three blog posts covering my trip to Costa Rica. This post covers our time at the Savegre Hotel.


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 my second time at Savegre. The previous time was in February. I have fond memories (if not photos) of my previous trip. There is a huge hill behind the hotel that meanders up for about 3/4 of a mile. It feels much longer as you hike up it. There are a number of trails located along the main road up. I hiked up this road the last time I was here and saw a lot of wonderful birds. I had point-blank views of Flame-throated Warbler, Tropical Parula, and even a Buffy Tuftedcheek. What a surprise that was. A Lineated Foliage-Gleaner even popped out for a bit. Throw in an amazing Resplendent Quetzal encounter at the top of the road, and it was a beautiful day. The grounds of the hotel were filled with hummingbirds; both White-throated Mountain-Gems and Scintillant Hummingbirds. Sulphur-winged Parakeets fed in the apple orchard. The forest nearby had Spotted Wood-Quail, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Black-cheeked Warbler, and a host of other birds. A local resident had setup fruit feeders on the hotel grounds and Blue-gray, Silvery-throated, and Spangle-cheeked Tanagers were stopping by. Across the road, was Batsu. Beautiful close shots of tanagers, including Flame-colored, and Golden-browed Cholorphonia. But, that was not this trip. And it was shortly after my visit here that I lost most of my photos from that trip. You can read a bit about it here.


This trip was amazing in its own way. It was a much different experience, though. First of all, we were going to be here over Christmas. We had not travelled all year. The pandemic was keeping us at bay. With the holidays, most of the family was itching to get together. We were not willing to risk that. So, we retreated to Costa Rica. It felt weird being in a hotel on Christmas. Not that we were gone for the holiday, but we were asking people to work on the holiday. That felt weird. Secondly, we are in the midst of winter for Costa Rica. While the rainy season had primarily passed (and the days were beautiful here), a lot of the birds were still wintering. This seems to manifest itself as altitudinal adjustments for a lot of birds. Or some sort of at least retreat from the area to elsewhere. Regardless, a lot of things just were not around or were way up the hill and not around the hotel grounds. This also meant that the chlorophonia were not being seen up at Batsu. Finally, the gentleman that had setup feeders at the hotel was gone. The area was fenced off and now consists of a private garden; no feeders. So, things change; like they always do.


Carmen had two interests here. 1) It is in the hotel's name: spa. 2) Exercise. This meant she wanted to hike every trail up the hill. She got through 2 and a 1/3 of them. I held her back on Los Robles. There are puma up there, and I did not want her hiking the trail alone. I am not in condition to try and spend 5 hours hiking the full trail. I'm not even sure I could do it in that time. I had a couple of interests myself. 1) Batsu - I wanted some setup shots. 2) Miriam's for lunch. A good cosado and shots of Acorn Woodpeckers and Flame-colored Tanagers. 3) Some relaxed birding to track down shots of several species: Flame-throated Warbler, Black-cheeked Warbler, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, White-throated Mountain-Gem, Scintillant Hummingbird, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, and Spotted Wood-Quail being high on the list. I even managed most of it. So, enough talk; let's get to the pictures.


The grounds of the hotel had plenty of Slaty Flowerpiercer around. Female White-throated Mountain-Gem and Scintillant Hummingbirds were easy finds. Sulphur-winged Parakeets did not frequent the orchard as much, though. I only found them one day. Given the time of year, apples were sparse and a bit old. There were also a lot of Tennessee Warbler about. Probably the most common bird, there. Flame-colored Tanager came by in the mornings, and Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher could be heard cricketing about in the bushes. A pair of Resplendent Quetzal even came by one day and fed up in the tree tops.


On our second morning, the rain set in. Or at least what qualified for rain during our time there. A strong mist fell while the sun peeked in-and-out of the clouds. Carmen had planned a hike that day, but we bailed on that and headed up to Batsu to shoot. The place is not oriented the best. You really need a strongly cloudy day to shoot up there. Otherwise, the birds are all strongly backlit. With the sun coming and going from behind the clouds, shooting was a bit tough at times. But, we were under cover and enjoyed a full day up there. We had the place to ourselves. Carmen relaxed and listened to audiobooks. I shot - a lot; even though it was a lot of the same thing. Blue-gray Tanager, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Flame-colored Tanager, Silvery-throated Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Tennessee Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Clay-colored Thrush, Acorn Woodpecker, and even a White-naped Brush-Finch (sans tail) all visited the feeders there.

Below the feeders, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Melodious Blackbird, Large-footed Finch, Yellow-thighed Finch, and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush all stopped by. It was hard to get shots of most of them, though.

In the bushes around us, Scintillant Hummingbird, Mountain Elania, and Sooty-capped Clororspingus were busy feeding.

Back up the walkway, the hummingbird feeders and flowers were busy with Talamanca Hummingbird, Lesser Violetear, Scintillant Hummingbird, and White-throated Mountain-Gem; including a beautiful male. The Slaty Flowerpiercer were busy poking holes in the flowers, and the little Scintillants were cheating and feeding from the holes, too.

We even found a surprise Stripe-tailed Hummingbird up here.

After several checks, the Spotted Wood-Quail also made a brief appearance.


Lunch was a quick break to run up to Miriam's for a nice cansado (or "typical") for lunch. This is billed as the typical Costa Rican meal. A form of meat (the chicken was great), rice and beans, a piece of cheese, and fried plantain. There are a lot of variations on this theme, but this is pretty much the standard. The one served here is fantastic. What's better, is that you can eat out back (even if it is a little soggy with rainwater) and watch the birds come in to eat rice and bananas.


In spite of my grandiose plans, I only made it up the big hill twice, and I only hit the hotel trails a couple of mornings. It turns out that they have installed a huge overlook for the valley about 3/4 of the way up the hill. It provides a beautiful view of the surrounding farms and hills. The birding was better up the hill, and I found a lot of what I was looking for up here. Flame-throated Warbler were abundant but only close once. Carmen spotted me a cooperative, if somewhat-buried, Black Guan. Black-cheeked Warbler played hard-to-get. Yellow-winged Vireo and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper joined that game as well. Striped Xenops was amazingly cooperative. Collared Redstart are always cooperative, which is nice. Yellowish and Black-capped Flycatcher were fun, and the Black-faced Solitaire is as beautiful as its song. I finally managed to pish out a Yellow-thighed Finch for some quick shots. Quality shots of a Spangle-cheeked Tanager just were not going to happen, though.


We eventually hit our last day. In spite of two days of hiking up and then down the hill, we went on one last small hike over to the trails behind Suenos, the neighboring property. It was a fun morning. I pished out a Northern Emerald-Toucanet (that will never happen again). We found a singing Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, and I got pics of this cute Tufted Flycatcher.


In between all this, Carmen got her spa day and time to hike other trails around the hotel. We went on a long horseback ride across waist-high rivers, over hilly pastures, and up to a waterfall. We ate well at various restaurants; our favorite being Alma de Arbol. And, generally, we had a very relaxing and good time. The hotel and staff were very gracious; especially since they were working the holiday. The hotel even gave us a Christmas present of some chocolates and a couple jars of jam. In all, it was a great place to spend the holiday.


We headed back to San Jose and holed up in a hotel close to the airport, for our final night. In what is now officially a tradition (three times to make a tradition, right?), we headed to Delicias del Maiz for our final meal in Costa Rica. I think Carmen originally found the place on Yelp. The food is good; the peppermint lemonade is great. It's busier every time we go. The first year, it was near Christmas, and I remember being one of a few couples there. Spanish Christmas music was playing, bats were circling the light fixtures (it's an open-air restaurant), and geckos were crawling out from behind the pictures on the walls. We had cosados then and again this time. While the Christmas music was playing, there were no bats nor geckos this time. Instead, the house next door caught fire and filled the place with smoke. Thankfully, we were pretty much done eating. We wandered out into the rain-filled night accompanied by the staccato flashes of fire engine lights. A strange ending for the trip. Maybe traditions are bad; we'd received our warning.


There is still a lot of Costa Rica left for us to see. Even with our third trip here, we have covered remarkably little of a country that is the size of West Virginia. It is a big world, though, and we have covered very little of it, as well. I do not know if/when we will return. The pandemic may have something to say about that. Of the places we have looked at for our next vacation (Sumatra, Singapore, Australia, South Africa, Ecuador, Chile, and Trinidad and Tabago), all are either currently closed to foreign travel or the requirements for entry (such as a required quarantine period) make a couple week vacation impossible to consider. I know if we return to Costa Rica that much will be different. You cannot go back to the way things were. But, I could come back to the amazing birding, the generous and nice people, good food, and an amazingly beautiful country. Time will tell.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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