Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
to begin to share news of our wonderful trip? By the time we left Costa
Rica behind on our eleventh morning, we had amassed an impressive 369
avian species and various and sundry other critters such as crocodiles,
Poison Dart frogs, Agouti, Lizards, Iguanas, Howler and Capuchin Monkeys,
Brahma Bulls, trucks full of pigs, donkeys carrying water cans, festive
wooden ox carts, and more flowers than the Rose Bowl Parade.
Did we love Costa Rica? You bet! Are we already dreaming of our next trip?
In Santo Domingo the lovely Hotel Bougainvillea rested among lush sprawling
gardens where Rafa Campos, our guide, initiated us into Costa Rican bird
life as we were refreshed by cool breezes which eventually sent some of us
for our jackets! A gorgeous Ferruginous Pygmy Owl perched revealing first
his sleepy eyes and then the spots on the back of his head. Blue and white
Swallows surfed the air over a pink Puy tree. We got Hoffman's Woodpeckers
near blue Hydrangea bushes with blossoms the size of soccer balls, Tennessee
Warblers flew in the African Tulip trees above impatience plants in every
color imaginable as we ambled paths to a waterfall which splashed into a
small pool. Brick walls covered with flowering vines attracted Parrots and
Tanagers, and we stayed in the gardens until dark clouds loomed over half
the blue sky and sent us in to the first of many delicious Costa Rican meals.
Breakfast on Day Two found us before a splendid array of tropical
fruits which reminded some of us of the buffets at the Asa Wright Center
in Trinidad. Pineapple, Papaya, Mango, and Melon filled platters beside
fresh breads as our cups brimmed with delicious café con leche.
Poas Volcano National Park, our destination, loomed in the distance
as white clouds, resembling an eruption, blew off to one side. Lush
terraced farms filled with ecologically planned shade-grown coffee,
sugar cane, and acres of ferns grown beneath black netting lined the
road. Charred black earth revealed areas of "controlled burn".
Small cement houses with fences and barred windows bore pyramids of
yellow and green striped watermelons stacked on the gleaming ceramic-tiled
The road to the Park was up steep hills dotted with grazing cows accompanied
by flocks of cattle egrets and blooming trees. A colorful ox-cart,
with bright flowers painted on its huge wooden wheels mired in a ditch
while a farmer and his sons struggled to dislodge it.
We left the sun below us and rose into the mist held in place with
tall shaggy Aspen trees. As we climbed, tattered scarves of moisture
drifted past and coalesced until only the road edges were visible about
the cauldron of cloud. The Volcano was so thickly shrouded that Rafa
nixed a trip to the top due to poor visibility and as we drifted through
the drizzle it became easy to believe that this area gets 200 inches
of rain annually. Soon sun came out and we enjoyed views of the Yellow-thighed
Finch, a dark bird who looked as if he'd pulled on two puffy yellow
Froot Loops as garters!
Stained glass window at the Hotel
down the road, between cinnamon-brown banks of earth covered with white-trunked
Varablanca, Mexican Alder trees, we arrived at LaPaz Waterfall Gardens,
where open-walled dining rooms welcomed hummers to feeders as we lunched
on a soup of rice sweetened with cinnamon and raisins, beef and beans,
salads, fruit and cakes. Their famous hummingbird plaza lured us below
where we had dozens of new hummers at close range, where Bill snapped
away with his huge lens.
Further down the road, we stopped at a thundering waterfall which
plunged into a bouldered pool enticing tiny Torrent Tyrannulets and
an American Dipper.
At a roadside stop, where a pet tarantula prowled his owner's hands,
we added more hummers and tanagers to our list and further along, beside
a little lake, Rafa climbed a boulder while we viewed a perched Laughing
Falcon. Selva Verde Lodge welcomed us for a two-night stay, and we
wheeled our luggage along a raised labyrinth of tropical-wood walkways,
so polished they gave the sense of walking on someone's fine furniture.
At sunset, we explored the suspension bridge over a wide river, then
entered the screened dining hall for a buffet dinner. At bird list
time, Rafa told us Costa Rica ( Rich Coast), bordered by two oceans,
located between Nicaragua and Panama, is about the size of West Virginia,
21,000 square miles.
By the end of our second day, we had fifteen hummers, about one-third
of Costa Rica's fifty-two species. Our next day would bring us to La
Selva Biological Research Station and our biggest total day of one
hundred and fifteen species. Stay tuned for next month's Garden of
Eden Part Two.
Over Dutchess, April
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
Three and Four
Black jungle night gave way to the tip-toeing dawn as we awakened to a rainforest
alarm clock: John pounding on the wall connecting our four cabin rooms! After
breakfast laced with tropical fruit, we headed out early to the road entering
La Selva Biological Research Station where dozens of new species fluttered
into the area in only one hour's time. Bright Keel-billed Toucans, like escapees
from Froot Loops boxes, vied with twenty-five squawking White-crowned Parrots
for our attention. Rafa was thrilled to find the elusive Pied Puff Bird,
so rare he said we'd only get to see it once every ten years!
Off to La Selva, peopled with scientists and college students from all over
the world immersed in ecology projects. Seven species of venomous snakes
slithered to mind as they had us fill out registration forms noting our next-of-kin!
When a question arose about which safety measures to use when spotting a
snake, Bud quipped, "Stop, drop and roll!" Luckily, our visit proved
snake-free and, by not leaning on trees, we also avoided the stinging ants
the size of a Chap-stick.
Undulating beneath our feet, another suspension bridge carried us
over a rushing stream to a Balsa tree which sifted puffy seeds around
us like a silent snowfall. Howler monkeys roared near us, five-foot
Iguanas sprawled in treetops and electric Blue Morpho butterflies plied
the air as we viewed Woodcreepers, Trogons, and Hummers.
Tiny enough to sit on a nickel, bright red Poison Arrow Frogs folded their
blue legs. Although cute as a button, this amphibian's venomous skin was
used by natives in their hunt.
"Who-cooks-for-you?" echoed through the forest, bringing us a sense
of home; however, it emanated not from our Barred Owl but the Short-billed Pigeon.
A Golden Orb Spider, three inches across, hung on her web beside the well-maintained
cement trail, as a giant Shredded Wheat Biscuit hanging immobile in a tree proved
to be a Three-toed Sloth.
Eric, our La Selva guide, led us to the vacated nest of the Great Tinamou
where we cradled a large eggshell in Robins' egg blue. Elsewhere in the forest,
the reclusive Tinamou made an appearance as we tiptoed by.
This day brought us an astonishing 115 species, our largest one-day count
of the trip. Back at Selva Verde Lodge, a delightful Marimba band serenaded
us through dinner as we toasted Chet through yet another tropical birthday.
Afterwards, heading back to our cabins with instructions to watch for snakes
on the lower pathways, we traveled pack-like in a quivering circle of flashlight
beams. Under knotted mosquito netting draped overhead, we drifted off to
the sound of rain thrumming on the roof.
This free-flying Yellow-naped Parrot returns to
this tree for its cup of food and feeds itself.
sun on Day Four found us beside the river at Selva Verde Lodge where
our stealthy walk brought us a rich reward: Bare-faced Tiger-Herons
and two glorious Sun Bitterns prowling the rocks for fish and frogs.
When the bitterns opened their wings to hop from rock to rock, their
splendid patterns of chestnut, white and black flashed in the light.
Clusters of people lent a carnival atmosphere to the boat landing on the
Sarapiqui ( sara PEEK ee) River as we scrambled aboard our shaded craft for
a tranquil two-hour glide through the jungle. Dancing in the reflected light
from Rafa's spotting mirror was a bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler, a first
for several. Posed atop a river stump shone the Amazon Kingfisher, shimmering
iridescent blue-green in the sun. Majestic trees arched overhead, some filled
with screeching black Monkeys leaping along branches or swinging by their
tails. Bright butterflies flitted daintily over the water, sometimes chased
by the jet-pilot maneuvers of Mangrove Swallows. Five little brown Long-nose
Sac-wing Bats siestaed on a trunk as Green Iguanas and Basilisk Lizards basked
in the sun, mimicking the lichen on the gnarled tree roots.
Fallen trees hosted groups of Cattle Egrets and Anhingas, also called Water
Turkeys or Snakebirds, as a Cinnamon Becard splashed in its bath with sunlight
through its feathers. The return trip, at higher speed, sent arcs of shining
water off the bow, bathing us in a fine spray.
Barva Volcano stood against blue sky, its head in the clouds on this gorgeous
75 degree day. Corrugated roofs, in bright silver or rust, stood above flamboyant
Bougainvillea rambling up walls and clotheslines. Dotting the countryside,
herds of Brahma Bulls lolled in the sun. Hearts of Palm Trees only four feet
tall, which would later yield their succulent flavor to our salad plates,
shared the savannah with mighty Puy (poo-ee) trees, which resembled enormous
pink parasols ninety feet wide stuck in the earth to await a Brobdingnagian
hand. Rescuicio River water, stained brown by chemicals from the volcano,
led us to a stop where three Masked Tityras sat above our heads so near we
had to back up to focus. Then began a thrilling time in two wild Hummingbird
gardens, where those of us who delight in the lovely Ruby-throated, were
astonished to amass dozens of new rainbow-like species flitting around us
like neon fairies.
At this place, we added Violet-crowned Wood Nymph, Black-crested Coquette
and the rare Snow-cap. Over the sunny road, two Swallow-tailed Kites and
two White Hawks soared in the blue.
Lunch was festive on a charming open-air verandah where we enjoyed
delicious Casado of rice, beans and vegetables served with a choice
of meat or fish by our waiter who had arresting gray eyes. Rafa encouraged
us totry frosty drinks made from the Paw-Paw plant, and we immediately
got hooked on its smooth sweetness. Binnie shared the first of many
rum cake desserts which were nibbled in eager taste tests. We threaded
our way through crowded streets to stop long enough to have the family
of our genial driver, Henry, wave to us.
Past huge maple-like Jacamaranda trees, and Golden Showers trees with drooping
grape-like clusters of yellow flowers, we bumped over rocky mountain roads
past kettles of TV's (Turkey Vultures) and Black Vultures at eye level as
we climbed. Orotina, a festive city, surrounded a busy park, where, thanks
to Rafa's friend, we located the exact tree which held three spectacular
Black and White Owls on one branch! As if that weren't enough, this same
park held the Oriole tree which supported no less than thirteen Orioles on
its bare limbs. Another sloth and her baby snoozed above as the streets filled
with the Fruit Festival Harvest Parade sending music, drums and costumed
folk throughout the town.
From the bridge over the Tarcoles River, we viewed a Purple Gallinule, Scarlet
Macaws, Muscovy Ducks, Jacana,, Summer Tanagers and Lesser Night Hawks as
the setting sun dropped behind a long blue cloud, disappeared and then re-emerged
from beneath, a glowing disc of fire. Down a dusty hill beside a creek we
arrived at the lovely Villa Lapas ( local name for Macaw) where we donned
green ID bracelets granting us lavish guest privileges. Another open-air
dining room with patio and wide open grill cooking area let us enjoy beautiful
views of the jungle and river as we feasted.
Morning would come early with a 4:15 wake-up call to get traveling before
Next installment: Carara National Park, only home of the Fiery-billed Aracari.
Over Dutchess, May
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
Carara & Tempisque
River, Days 5&6
Footsteps crunched along in the darkness outside my screen. "Are you
up yet?" Binnie said, "It's 4:15." It seemed I had just crawled
into bed. That's one of the great things about being on a trip with Binnie:
she rouses our troops before the crack of dawn. She even knocked on the doors
of a few groggy strangers whose cabins were in our compound. The rush was
on: would we beat other groups to Carara National Park where numbers of entering
guests are limited? Dawn found us at the same Tarcoles River Bridge where
the sun had left us in a blazing farewell just a few hours before. Slow-moving
crocodiles plied the shining water as herons and stilts pecked along the
shore below the dawn-lit wings of Scarlet Macaws.
Carara National Park heated up quickly into the eighties as each step
kicked up dust poufs on the trail. We were thrilled to find an elusive
species: two male Spine-tailed Manakins, tail feathers like flexible
ice tongs, performing their mysterious mating dance by gracefully rising
and dropping vertically as if lifted and lowered by an invisible geyser.
Royal Flycatchers moved by their low-hanging nest over the trail leading
to the Fiery-Billed Aracari (Ara KHAR ee) which nests only here. Rafa,
our guide, found the lek ( forest area where birds gather for mating
displays) of the Orange-collared Manakin. In groups of three or four,
we silently bushwhacked into a deeper glade for the treat of seeing
several orange puff-balls flit between branches. A thin layer of green
lace sent dappled shade around us as we hiked under Saman trees bedecked
in salmon-pink flowers and Kapok trees raining fluffy seed-heads. Tiny
tumbleweeds the size of apples gamboled beside our boots. Rustling
sounds in the leaf litter alerted us to the scurrying shuffle of a
pre-historic looking creature, a Nine-banded Armadillo, searching for
brunch. Under a Guanacaste, the national tree of Costa Rica, a shaded
area became an impromptu rest stop as we checked the logs for snakes
and scorpions before sitting down. Our high-tech jungle guide, Rafa,
whipped out his electronic Global Positioning System and determined
we were some nine degrees north of the Equator and 2000 miles from
Manhattan. (Wouldn't Bogart have loved one on the African Queen?) Then
Rafa called Henry on the cell phone to have our bus waiting at the
trailhead for our ride back for lunch and siesta.
Inside the entrapped heat of the Villa's black net Butterfly House,
several species of butterflies, including the satiny Blue Morpho, quivered
over jungle plants and fruit, giving us good close-ups of these delicate
aerialists. Outside, Chet found a kettle of Magnificent Frigatebirds
high overhead, diminished by the distance into specks. An afternoon
drive brought us to a river emptying into the Pacific where John said
the Pelicans and Frigatebirds sliding by in formation reminded him
of a squadron of fighter pilots. It was hot here among the cacti and
we were grateful for every bit of shade as Rafa focused the scope on
a low tree containing a perched Screech Owl. I was given strict instructions
that I must tell the following: that the reason everyone was whooping
with laughter as I backed away from the scope was that I was now sporting
a half-circle of Prickly-Pear Cactus on my backside! Luckily Carrie
did a quick thorn-ectomy with her tweezers and I was good as new. But
don't think I've heard the last of it yet!
Over a little stream, the Pygmy Kingfisher sat very close to us in
a bush beside a yellow flowering tree giving us our tiniest Kingfisher
of our trip. Near the Villa Lapas stood a tall bare tree with its few
branches skyward like a storm-whipped umbrella. At the top, two White-Tailed
kites stood guard like royal sentinels welcoming us home for dinner.
Darkness fell swiftly as we met for Owling. We drove up the bumpy road
from the Villa with the headlights off as Rafa swept the jungle with
the powerful spotlight. A Pauraque (pa ROCKY), a brown bird in the
Nightjar family, is often found in the road at night, and tonight was
no exception. The approach of the vehicle sent them into bushes in
a flutter of white-speckled wings.
Day 6 began with a Bare-faced Tiger Heron beside his nest on a huge
branch. Rough-hewn planks lifted us over the stream behind the hotel
to an area filled with several squawking kingfishers, Amazon, Ringed
and Green, circling overhead. Rare for Costa Rica, a bright Painted
Bunting dove into the woods nearby. Reserva Biologica Carara signs
led us into the rainforest where Rafa was thrilled to find an Army
Ant swarm in an unusual place. Several varieties of Antbirds, happy
for this moving river of insects, feasted their way onto our checklists:
Dotted-winged Antwren, Black-hooded Antshrike, Bay-headed Antthrush,
Chestnut-backed Antbird. Rafa explained that the power of an Army Ant
swarm is not to be diverted. He said if they march toward houses, people
just move out for a time. When they return after the ants leave, there
are no bugs, no roaches, no mice: the ants have devoured all. The jungle
version of the Orkin Man.
Strangler Figs, long woody climbing vines, gradually kill the host
tree, taking years to complete the process. Carara had many and we
viewed them from the forest floor and the canopy. A welcome lunch cooled
us with Bea Lemonade and Chet's favorite: Rum Cake. Vast fields of
squash plants flourished in the sun as we headed to bluffs and a Gibraltar-like
peninsula jutting into the Pacific. To our right, hilltops pushed their
lacy fringe of trees into the horizon. The bowl of a huge quarry, empty
of its wealth, yawned beside us. The Tempisque River surged under several
boats at the pier, where we passed ahead of the ferry crowds into our
own launch for our cruise upriver to Rancho Humo. From 92 degrees on
the sunny pier to cool and breezy on our shaded boat, we moved along
the miles of Mangrove trees supporting all manner of shorebirds. A
spectacular sight greeted us: three Willets, 30 Spotted Sandpipers,
2 Snowy Egrets and an astonishing 34 Whimbrels, prompting John to say "I've
had 1 or 2 Whimbrels in my whole life and now 34 in one tree!" As
the boat surged along, shorebirds, startled by the sound, lifted off
their perches and filled the air with wings. Gorgeous Roseate Spoonbills
spread their pink feathers against the wind with the deep greens of
jungle trees as a backdrop. Off in the distance, we could see the terra-cotta
tiles of Rancho Humo cresting a hilltop. Our home for the next two
days, it would be the base for more adventures.
Over Dutchess, June
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
4 - Costa Rica Laguna Mataredunda, Day 7
Rafa slipped into the opening of
a single leaf of the "poor man's umbrella"
the boundless expanse of land and river, we watched dawn slice through
clouds in a wash of gold. As the sun climbed over the dark mountains,
rays of light picked out first the higher areas, then illuminated pockets
lower down on the valley floor, as if soft lamps were being turned
on, one by one, in a vast room.
Saddleback mountains covered in beige grasses gave way to steep palisades
and broad vistas of greenery lit by shining water. Small flocks of egrets
lifted away upstream, as a few distant cattle grazed. Rancho Humo's dining
room, encircled with glass, sat on a hilltop in the broad valley. A cone
of terra cotta roof tiles topped the glass circle, and the unremitting quality
of the pummeling wind set the tiles a-dancing with a relentless clatter of
castanets. I found myself wondering if the architect had considered the wind
in his design, or if they just ran out of Crazy Glue.
After just a short ride we came eye-to-eye with a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in
a tree just inches from the bus window. The dry season had evaporated waterways
in Palo Verde National Park, so we detoured past rolling hills covered in
gold velvet to Laguna Mataredunda for shorebirds. And, boy, did we ever get
shorebirds! By the hundreds! From the breezy shade of beautiful yellow and
pink flowered puy (poo-ee) trees, we gazed out on a shimmering array: Roseate
Spoonbills, Avocets, Stilts, White and Glossy Ibis, Herons and huge Jabiru
storks with eight-foot wingspans.
This lagoon flickered richly with shorebirds feeding in the shallows. Hummingbirds
darted overhead in the flowers as we lounged on the tree roots which sprawled
outward for many yards. The pleasant coolness here made it a joy to bird
in the midst of such abundance.
How many birds make a kettle? The eternal question surfaced again, to be
most elegantly answered by over a thousand Wood Storks swirling in a vortex
before an up-welling of cumulus clouds. Breathtaking!
Cattle wandered near enough that Rafa whipped out his red bandana in a Toreador
routine while a few people hummed the music of "Carmen." African
Bees (the bad uns) droned in and out of a tree hole as we gave them
wide berth. Several fishermen waded into the water dragging a long net in
a swath. After a short while, it was laden with leaping fish, and they slowly
pulled it to the baskets waiting on shore. Hours in this place passed like
minutes, and soon it was time to head back for lunch. Back through the rolling
hills we drove. Many cattle gates impeded our progress, and as our guide
leapt out to open each, Bud called "Hey, Rafa!, Get EZ Pass!"
Back at our aerie on the hill in the midst of what we thought of as the "Serengeti" we
noted huge clouds of smoke obscuring the distant mountains. A farmer's "controlled
burn" run amok? When asked, the innkeeper sadly reported the fire already
had burned for a week, and had consumed many hundreds of acres. It was too
far to be a danger to our inn, and indeed we had been here twenty-four hours
before a wind-shift on the other side of the ridge had now made it visible
All aboard again for another ride up the Tempisque River. Before we left
the mooring, Carrie's hat took flight and landed "Ka-sploosh" in
the black mud on shore. Fascinated, we watched a helpful Costa Rican maneuver
a long branch under it and in a swing worthy of Tiger Woods, arc her hat,
bedecked with mud, overhead to safety, amidst our cheers.
Crocodiles, replete with strength, lumbered off the riverbanks and slid their
sun-silvered hides into the water alongside us where we could see rows of
dragon-spikes aligned along their spines. Their smiles did little to dispel
a sense of human vulnerability beside such fierce power. Our boat was low
to the water, and the crocs were very near.
Safely back on the hill after dinner, we stood together in the strong wind
and watched the sun go down again over the vast and beautiful valley-- our
last night in the "Serengeti". The sky pulled its crimson robes
behind the mountains. While the horizon glowed, a white sliver of moon hung
above a bare tree. Just a few stars lit the indigo night.
Tomorrow we'd travel several hours to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, home of
the aptly-named Resplendent Quetzal. Join us for the next part of the story.
Over Dutchess, July
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
5- Monteverde Cloud Forest
The mists of Monteverde Cloud Forest called to us, luring us with
the promise of their hidden treasure: the exquisite Resplendent Quetzal
we each hoped to make our own. But before we could enter the clouds
of Monteverde, we traversed many miles of enchanted landscape: broad
savannahs, tiny farms, sprawling plantations and sunbaked hills.
I'd never seen grasses in so many colors. We drove through areas
where willowy spears waved in shades of red, yellow, beige, pink
and white. Almost leafless bushes bent under the weight of thin twigs
which gleamed in the sun like wands of copper wire.
The fierce-looking Spectacled Owl did not yield himself up easily.
We trekked through brush and woods alongside a cemetery guarded by
the Hound of the Baskervilles. Did he think we wanted to trespass
among the tombs? Our entire entourage filed past him not knowing
he would save his most ferocious complaints for Chuck, who was last.
Rafa had to backtrack and chase the dog into the cemetery where his
owner, still among the living, was gardening among the headstones.
We bounced our way over scanty footbridges spanning eroded gulches
into thicker woods where we almost lost Binnie in a briar patch.
When the owl fled deeper into the woods, we followed. At last, we
were rewarded with great looks at a huge, black and rather sullen
Spectacled Owl, until a cloud of mosquitos swarmed up to engulf us
like a Biblical plague. And the sound of swatting was heard in the
land. Rafa, allergic to bug repellent, was an easy meal for them,
and his legs soon looked like those childhood candies-on-a-paper-strip.
He whirled into a version of the Mexican Hat Dance, flailing at his
bitten limbs with his bandana, ! hissing a litany of words we never
learned in Spanish 101.
At a crossroads in town, Rafa and Henry spotted a friend in a passing
vehicle and stopped, bringing cars and trucks in all directions to
a standstill. Merry pleasantries were exchanged in the midst of halted
traffic without one impatiently blaring horn! Could it be that in
Costa Rica friendships are more valued than time schedules?
Sugar cane plantations sprawled beside the road, and horses grazed
in meadows while the sun sent cloud shadows over distant hills. Then
began the long, torturous climb up to Monteverde. Dust clouds rose
around the coach, as the motor growled in low gear. Shards of rock
like spear points thudded against the undercarriage as if we were
driving in a quarry. Small farms and orchards clustered near the
road and many homes sported bright laundry drying flat on the roofs.
Enormous blooming bushes in every color tumbled in wild profusion.
Amaryllis stood tall, bearing velvet trumpets. Century plants bore
blue-green clusters of sword blades. A little donkey stood in a doorway,
burdened with large milk cans. Each higher turn revealed another
gorgeous vista of the glittering ocean and cumulus clouds forming
soft mountains in the sky.
approach to Monteverde is lined with a plethora of B&B's and inns.
At last, early afternoon brought us to our beautiful hotel. Huge glass
walls of the dining room afforded us the view of five Tennessee Warblers
flitting in the trees as we gratefully sipped drinks of the naturally
sweet Tamirindo Fruit. Hearts of Palm salad, Casado Con Pollo, meat,
fish, fresh bread, fruit and ice cream were sumptuous treats which
revived us. After lunch, we climbed farther up the mountain to feeders
where new species of hummingbirds shimmered in the sun. We struggled
to learn their beautiful polysyllabic names: Magenta-throated Woodstar,
Green-crowned Brilliant, Copper-headed Emerald, Purple-throated Mountain-gem.
Bromiliads hung in clusters, prompting Carrie to show us the delicate
beauties of the tiniest orchids with her magnifier. More Monteverde!
birds came into sight: Black-throated Nightingale-thrush, Keel-billed
Toucans, White-throated Spadebill with its black shoe-button eyes,
and the stunning White-throated Magpie-jay. Imagine a nineteen inch
Blue Jay with quail-like head plumes.
John studies tiny orchids through Carrie's magnifier.
(Special head ornament provided by Bud
as Chuck, Bonnie,
and Rosa look on)
That night we were lulled to sleep by the cheers of
devoted fans watching Costa Rica's Football Championships
on TV. In the morning, we would climb higher into the
Over Dutchess, January
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
6 - Higher Still in Monteverde Cloud Forest
mist swirled around us as we huddled against the chill. Here we were
so close to the Equator, yet the mountains lifted us into the high
layers of cool air. Raindrops splattered onto leaves making them
tremble and drip around us.. Monteverde's 7500 acres contain numerous
peaks reached only by foot. To make the moist trails safe, a system
of ingenious tic-tac-toe cement blocks, squares filled with earth,
lie underfoot. These create an undulating path of steps throughout
the forest hills. Now began our climb to the home of the Resplendent
Quetzal ( ket SAAL), a beautiful, endangered Trogon. Up twelve and
down six, up nine and down three, we ascended thousands of steps
in our quest for Quetzals. The towering canopy, 125 feet above our
heads, sported dense foliage and hanging vines which gave birds many
places to secret themselves. On we climbed, halting behind an alert
Rafa who froze at each bird call. When the sun broke through, it
permitted him the use of his mirror to spotlight creatures in the
foliage for us.
The Continental Divide of Costa Rica
Elfin forest is "pruned" to a
height of 10 feet by fierce winds.
higher by the Continental Divide, we stood with a sense of satisfaction
atop Costa Rica's backbone of rock where Pacific weather from the
west meets Caribbean humidity from the east. Strong gusts at the
crest of these 5000-foot mountains prune the trees to a height of
only 10 feet granting them the title of Elfin Forest.
The Quetzal was discovered and what a bird! An upright percher,
this 14-inch bird sports a lime green head, red belly, white tail
and long green-blue tail coverts which bring him to an impressive
39 inches! His mate, in subdued colors, sat nearby. Later, when he
posed in a smaller tree, sunlight cast him in shades of turquoise
as his tail wafted in the breeze like a chiffon scarf. An unforgettable
moment. Knowing the habitats for Quetzals are diminishing, I wondered
if my grandchildren would ever have the opportunity to view this
magnificent, endangered creature in the wild.
Clusters of birders and scopes gathered on the road to see yet
another endangered bird: the Three-Wattled Bellbird. This 12-inch,
white-hooded chestnut bird looks as if he has three wiggly pieces
of black licorice dangling from his bill. His call, sounding like
a child simultaneously plinking two piano keys, rang out over the
happy crowd. There are only three known colonies of these remaining
in the world: in Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. Debra, an ornithologist
who studies Bellbirds, listened to his call and determined he sang
with a Panamanian accent!
What sounded like rumbling, rolling thunder surprised us: we looked
up to bright blue above. Rafa smiled and said "That's the volcano
booming." Visions of Mount St. Helen's flashed through my head.
The noise didn't dismay Carrie-- she found more tiny, delicate orchids
for us to view. Black Guans sent their staccato "Brrrrttt" machine-gun
sounds through the forest to compete with the roars of Howler Monkeys
while in the underbrush, bristly pig Javalinas scurried away.
Binnie, Rosa, Chet
bridges hung suspended throughout the cloud forest in Monteverde.
Quivering beneath our footsteps, the wire bridges raised us to new
heights in the canopy. A sense of magic wafted around us as yellow
beams of sun filtered through this lofty greenery, highlighting these
birds who live in the forest "penthouse." Who can forget
our stunned joy when both a Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Spangle-cheeked
Tanager landed inches from us, too close for binoculars!
Waxy Heliconia plants, reminiscent of red lobster-claws threaded
together, hung from the trees. Hummingbirds are drawn to these little
cups for their nectar, perhaps one reason our hummer feeders are
scarlet. A researcher showed me how to press kapok leaf specimens,
which he studied for clues to the symbiotic relationships of ant
colonies in tree sap.
Carrie, Chuck and John found an Emerald Toucanet building a nest
outside our villa. Spotlighted in blazing sun, this bird pecked so
hard at the tree bark that he rained a shower of sawdust on us. For
fifteen minutes, he labored away just a few feet above our heads,
oblivious to our presence. I was struck by his dedication to task
as his head disappeared and reappeared in a flutter of dust the color
A visit in the morning to a Butterfly Garden would be part of the
farewell journey from Monteverde. This captivating cloud forest would
remain a touchstone of the trip.
Over Dutchess, March
Days in the Garden of Eden:
Rica March 21-31, 2001 by
7- Our Last Day in the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Farewell to the Garden of Eden. Our last full day in Costa Rica,
we said good-bye to the magnificent Monteverde Cloud Forest. Morning
mist engulfing the trees, moisture dripping from leaves into tiny
rivulets, pink impatiens tumbling in wild profusion along sunlit
trails, songs and beauties of birds beyond my imagination, were splendors
which, although left behind, would now be carried within. Descending
the Monteverde Mountain road is less ardous than climbing. And as
we first discovered in Trinidad, the exhilaration of rapid descent
sharpens the wit inherent in this group. We soon were giddy with
the excitement of clinging to roads carved on the mountains.
At The Butterfly Garden, we met the "bugman" host, who,
with humor reminiscent of George Carlin, taught the mysteries and
dangers of tropical insects, such as the Assassin Bug which transmits
the fatal Chagas disease, huge moths with tastebuds on their feet,
and Dragon Head bugs which are valued for certain dubious "medicinal" qualities.
He had found numerous Rufous-tailed Jacamars with piles of discarded
Blue Morpho wings beneath them, marking them a major predator of
the satin-winged butterflies. Huge cockroaches, which he prized for
their worldwide adaptability to climate changes over the millennia,
scampered across his hands. He emphasized the delicate link between
insect and bird populations as habitat changes wreak havoc on both
Awaiting us at the base of forty-one steps was the warm, moist
Butterfly House. A young Belgian woman showed us many varieties of
native butterflies, including the Stained Glass species sporting
clear wings with brightly colored segments. We then entered the huge
net aviary where we strolled while butterflies in every imagined
color and pattern swirled by like a tropical blizzard.
At the Butterfly Garden
Seated: Carrie, Binnie,
Elaine, Bonnie, Rosa, Ruth
Standing: Rafa, John,
Chet, Bill, Chuck, Bud, Peggy
Back on the road, Henry stopped when he spotted a rare Lesser Ground
Cuckoo strutting beside the road, giving us a full view of his blue
spectacles. On their way to market, people walked downhill with baskets
on their heads. As we left Monteverde behind, deep gorges and ravines
flattened out and broad green savannas appeared once again, bordered
in the distance by tawny mountains.
We stopped for lunch at a pizza place which made milkshakes worthy
of the title "Ambrosia of the Gods." What a vision to see
waitresses emerge with giant glasses of frosty drinks in pastel shades:
Mango, Blackberry, Banana, Orange and Pineapple. Imagine sipping
heaven through a straw.
Our farewell dinner was held in Le Chandelier Restaurant on a bustling
city street in San Jose. We were escorted through a gate into what
could have been a movie set. Hibiscus flowers, the size of dinner
plates, glowed with color. Gleaming tiled floors sprawled beneath
a chandelier huge enough to have held Errol Flynn brandishing a sword.
Subdued lighting created dark vaulted corners and shadowy hallways
which seemed to shelter a lurking Conquistador or two. Pirate gold
may have been cached nearby.
Tall tapers lit our castle-like dining room and flickered in the
silver chargers at each place. Wine glowed in crystal goblets and
stories of our adventures wafted around the table as we dined on
yet another magnificent Costa Rican dinner. A far cry from jungle
trails, splashing crocodiles, howler monkeys, languid iguanas, shimmering
hummers and mountain stairways, this elegant dinner served as a memorable
finale to our ten days of birding together in the Garden of Eden.
Over Dutchess, April