Land of the Resplendent Quetzal

Trip Start Jul 18, 2009
Trip End Aug 03, 2009

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Cloud Forest is a type of rain forest but is characterised not unsurprisingly by a lot of low-level cloud cover at canopy level. They have lots of moss covering the trees and for this reason they are also called mossy forests. We had booked a guided trip around the park and were lucky enough to get Oscar who was absolutely brilliant. Almost immediately we came across some White-faced monkeys who annoyed at our presence started to lob branches down at us and also urinate. Apparently monkey urine smells dreadfully so I was pleased his aim wasn't too good although a large branch did end up dangerously close. A large bird in the trees with distinctive red legs and blue beak heralded a Black Guan, this turkey like bird is often called the tree turkey as it was caught and eaten by the Quakers when they first arrived in this area in the 1950s. The Quakers came here after they had objected to the draft and they founded a cheese factory and Friends School.

There were lots of hummingbirds in the forest and although we were to see the Violet Sabrewing at the feeders it was a thrill to see one of these birds singing its heart out in the trees of the forest. Oscar was incredible at positioning his spotting scope so we were able to view this beautiful bird in its natural surroundings.

We were just following Oscar through the trail when we saw a White–nosed Coati climbing around one of the outhouses. A strange animal with a shovel nosed snout and often found during the day foraging for food. He came quite close to us and appeared to be completely at ease with humans so near. The coati is a member of the racoon family and this was probably a lone male as females tend to travel in larger groups

We walked down to the waterfall where Oscar was able to find for us a hummingbird that we wouldn't see at the feeders. This particular hummingbird has an incredibly long beak for its size and the longest beak of any bird when taken into relation to its body length. It is called the Sword-Billed Hummingbird and has evolved so that it can get the nectar of the funnel shaped flowers of the passion flower. Having such a long beak has its limitations and this hummingbird has to preen itself with its feet.

Oscar took us back to the beginning of the trail and asked whether we had time to see a snake he had spotted a few days before. Snakes often remain in the same place for days particularly after eating and he was confident that it would still be there. Positioning his spotting scope perfectly as always, Oscar picked up the yellow striped snake far up in the tree. It turned out that it was another kind of pit viper, the Side Striped Pit Viper with emerald colouring and a distinctive yellow stripe down its side.

We then stopped at the aptly named Hummingbird Gallery an area at the entrance to the forest where a number of sugar feeders have been put up and where there is an incredible amount of hummingbirds buzzing to and fro. The feeders attract quite a few different kinds including the previously mentioned Violet Sabrewing the biggest of them all. We also saw the Green Violetear, Copper Headed Emerald Elvira, Green-crowned Brilliant as well as other beautiful species of this tiny bird.

Then Oscar heard that they might be a Quetzal in the area and did we have any more time to follow him. Did we have any more time? I think so. Now the Resplendent Quetzal is known as one of the most beautiful birds in the world. We were not going to miss this opportunity particularly as it was rare to see one at this time of year. So we followed Oscar as he sped away on his motorcycle, struggling to keep up with him on the rough road and he took us to an area about two minutes from our hotel.

First he showed us an Emerald Toucanet nest where we were able to see this beautiful bird up close feeding on berries and insects. Then he spotted it, a juvenile Quetzal high up in an avocado tree a few yards down the road. The plumage of this amazing bird has made it considered the most beautiful in the world.  It has  a green body that shows iridescence from green-gold to blue-violet and a red breast. Breeding males have long twin tail feathers that can form a train over three feet long. The Quetzal that we saw was a juvenile male so he didn’t have the tail feathers and as per usual with birds he was rather a long way away and the wrong way of the light. However, seeing one of these endangered birds however far away was thrill enough for me.

By now quite a large crowd had gathered at the site along with guides with spotting scopes and binoculars.  Oscar then called us over saying that one of the Quaker women had an orphaned sloth and would we like to have a look at it? Of course we would and so we crossed the road to find this incredible little creature eating flowers, wrapped in a knitted blanket. I must admit it was a lot sweeter than the adult varieties that are a little creepy looking. This was like a little furry bear. If that wasn’t enough excitement there was even a hairy porcupine up a tree! Not that you could see it that well but it was still exciting to see these animals and all in such close proximity.

Lunch was nachos once again in the Tree House in Santa Elena and then we decided to visit the Frog Pond a frog centre in the town for a guided tour around the frog enclosures that exhibited all the main frog varieties of Costa Rica.  Everything from the Cane Toad that was bought to Australia from Costa Rica to the beautiful glass frog whose body is so opaque you can its organs. Our young female guide was very good and extremely knowledgeable about the frogs, she told us that it was beeter to come in the evening as then the whole place comes alive as these little creatures really get going.

That night we did a night tour at the Monteverde Ecology Centre. The most amazing thing was the noise of the crickets, it was almost deafening.  Our guide was Henry and after the wonders of Oscar in the morning he really couldn’t compete. It was interesting and we were lucky enough to see an owl hiding in the trees and a hairy porcupine running through the branches. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) the large tarantula wasn’t home and I was a little disappointed not to see more things, but we did see a couple of other spiders that were quite big. There were lots of bats swooping through the canopy in the gloom but it was difficult to see. Strange insects kept landing on us as we walked the trail and some had the most amazing iridescence and we did see a large stick insect. One of the weirdest insects we saw were the glow worms whose green LED lighting caused by a chemical reaction in their bodies flickered around the forest.  Another strange sights was a  salamander peeping out of its hole and I was surprised to learn that Costa Rica has forty three species of this animal and contains nine percent of the world's population!
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