A real volcano!

Trip Start Feb 14, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Cartago,
Saturday, February 15, 2003

Waking up just before dawn here was
a magical experience which perhaps can only happen once to a birdwatcher. I was
probably woken by the very first bird calls, but a few minutes later there were
large numbers of birds from a number of different species making a lot of noise
- and none of them sounded anything like birds we had heard before. Daylight
arrived quickly and I stepped out onto the balcony. Despite an honourable
intention of being lazy and sleeping ‘til lunch time, Julie soon joined me and we
identified our first bird in a new continent - appropriately Costa Rica’s
national bird, Clay-coloured Robin. We then spent a long time identifying Great
Kiskadee, a pair of which were visiting the Lodge’s Garden and our third bird
was one of our target species, a stunning male Snowy Cotinga, in the trees in
the thermal resort.

After a pleasant breakfast we decided to take a walk
in the village, noting the similarity of some of the local hirundines to Sand
Martins and spotting a few more common species as we walked. On the main street
we bumped into an American ornithology student who was studying in the area. He
confirmed our Common Pauraque and the likelihood of Snowy Cotinga, and spotted a
flock of White-crowned Parrots and then took us back up the street to the
junction with the road to Orosi Lodge and showed us a Green-breasted Mango on a
nest, on the telegraph wires. We had walked right past it.

Arranging a
hire car for a day in Orosi had proved difficult so the Lodge arranged a taxi
for us, as we wanted to visit the Irazu Volcano, Costa Rica’s highest. Carlos
arrived with his pick-up at 9 a.m. and took us around for the rest of the day,
probably for less than the cost of a day’s car rental.

On the drive up
the volcano, as we passed through the Cartago/Paraiso area we saw our 19th
species (ignoring a few that got away) and the first one that was even vaguely
familiar - a Black-shouldered Kite.

The summit of the volcano is over
3400 metres above sea level and the road goes right to the top. I was surprised
to experience some symptoms of altitude sickness (slight shortness of breath,
mild headache), despite having spent many hours in the gym concentrating on
cardio-vascular equipment in the preceding months. 20-a-day Julie was unaffected.
We had hoped to find Volcano Junco here but were disappointed. However, Volcano
Hummingbird, Scintillant Hummingbird and Yellow-billed Cacique were quite easy
to find (mostly in the vegetation at the back of the area overlooking the crater lake), although
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager took some work before we were certain of its

NB - the air at this altitude is very clear. Use
high-factor sun block and wear a hat. I didn’t and got sunburn on the top of
my head.

After the drive down we invited Carlos to have lunch with us.
He understood that we were interested in birds and took us through Orosi, on the
road to Tapanti National Park, to the Albergue de Montana, situated in a
delightful riverside spot. On Carlos’ recommendation we ordered the trout
(delicious) and then noticed that the restaurant had a bird table. Although it
was frequently deserted, the table had some excellent visitors, with Blue Grey,
Red-rumped and Silver-throated Tanagers and a Buff-throated Saltator all present
together, and a Chestnut-headed Oropendula visiting several times.

only a couple of hours of daylight left, Carlos then drove us to the Tapanti
National Park and agreed to wait until we returned. We followed the main track
and then the Sendero Oropendula. Although there weren’t many birds about, what
we did identify was good quality, with a Black Guan, a Violet-headed
Hummingbird, a probable female Black-throated Green Warbler and best of all a
Scaled Antpitta. By the time we got back to the car it had been dark for 20
minutes and we had been accompanied by hundreds of fireflies. On the drive back
to Orosi Lodge, Carlos caught two nightjars on the road, in his headlights. One
was clearly Common Pauraque but the second appeared smaller and showed no
obvious white on wings or tail when flushed. It remains a mystery.

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