As I left Palo Verde I saw more Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along the long dirt road back to civilisation. They are such elegant birds that I decided to post another shot. In flight that long tail divides and opens out, hence the name. They like to perch and dart out after flying insects in true flycatcher fashion, so actually they are quite easy to photograph perched.
My plan today was to drive up to Arenal Volcano National Park which is popular with birders as most of the 850 species identified in Costa Rica can be found within the park's borders. However I had discovered that I had left my camera battery charger at El Bosque Hotel in Monteverde, so would stay the night there & move on to Arenal early the following day.
As soon as I arrived, checked in & put my spare batteries on charge I went for a walk around the grounds, picking up a good shots of a Yellow-crowned Euphonia and a Buff-throated Saltator .....
.... and another Golden-olive Woodpecker. I asked the friendly family staff at the desk to book me a guide for a 6 am start in the morning, had a great meal at an Italian restaraunt around the corner and retired to bed.
At first light my young guide was there and we just stayed in the locality picking up what birds were to be found around and about the hotel. I think he was a bit concerned that I was a serious birder and photographer as he was used to a more casual clientele. Many general tourists in Costa Rica like to take in the birds and wildlife but are not dedicated birders like me. Anyway he knew his birds and was good at spotting them.
In the dim early morning light we picked up lots of small birds, the only ones I will post are the Mountain Elaenia and the Yellow-bellied Elaenia as they were new ones for me. Also a Black & White Warbler as it's the only photo I got of this one. None of them were good shots in such dim light, but worthy of record.
As the light improved so did the birds, I was delighted with this Grey-headed Chachalaca, it may not be rare or elusive but the pair here were the only ones I saw on the trip. They resemble a small turkey, especially when the tail is raised and spread. It is always interesting to see large birds up in relatively slender trees which don't appear strong enough to bear the weight, but the birds obviously know what they are doing.
I was equally delighted to capture these images of a Keel-billed Toucan. I had seen them plenty of times before but never managed to get a photograph and was beginning to believe that would elude me. These shots are not technically great because the rain had returned and the light was poor again, also after a bit of chasing and calling we got the bird directly overhead which is never good for photography. But I was happy to get anything because as you can see they are very colourful and spectacular Toucans.
As we walked deeper through the forest trail we came across a Motmot. I had seen several around here but had carelessly assumed ithey were the same Turquoise-browed Motmots that I had seen and photographed many times before, but my guide said "Blue-crowned Motmot". I immediately realised my mistake. Slightly different tail and colouring. This is a different species, much harder to see than its Turquoise-browed cousin, being a bird of dense forest, not one to sit out in the open. So, I was very pleased to get a really nice photograph of a new, beautiful and quite elusive bird.
After breakfast with the guide, which was included in the very reasonable price, I packed the car and set off for Arenal. Arenal is Costa Rica's most active volcano, in 1968 it erupted, devastating two small towns killing 87 people. It still emits lava and is subject to regular minor eruptions. It provides much of Costa Rica's energy from wind, geothermal and hydro-electric power plants The National Park encompasses 19 separate reserves with a wealth of bio-diversity. The down side is that it rains a lot up here, there is a short dry season from february to April but the staff at Arenal Lodge told me it rains 365 days of the year. Most guests staying at the lodge never get to see the top of the Volano as it is almost always hidden by cloud. I was quite lucky in that as I approached I did get a brief glimpse, albeit from some distance away, which I photographed & post here. That was the one and only time I saw it.
I drove to Arenal Observatory Lodge, the only one located inside the boundary of the National Park. These places love to promote their exclusive and luxurious image and online rates start at well over $100 dollars per night. I just went through security and discovered they had a separate accommodation building which was only $80, you won't find this on their website or Booking.com. Anyway I was happy to take one night here. In truth it is quite beautiful and well run, my cheap room with so-called shared bathroom facilities was still the best I had anywhere in Costa Rica, big and very well equipped with magnificent views. The Lodge has 270 acres of primary rainforest fitted with well-marked trails, 400 acres of reforestation projects, and 200 acres of farm land. Every day, resident naturalists lead complimentary walks along these trails. Some of the trails lead to waterfalls and a hanging bridge. It was $80 well spent.
On approaching the Lodge I picked up this nice Broad-winged Hawk, and right outside my room I spotted a Blue-throated Goldentail feeding a flowering bush. It's a nice little hummingbird sometimes known as the Blue-throated sapphire.
Here is the view over Arenal Lake from the veranda of my hotel room. In another direction you could see the Volcano, if the cloud ever lifted that is, which it rarely does.
In the morning I watched the birds attracted to fruit feeders outside the dining room, these included the imposing Montezuma's Oropendola. quite a large and spectacular bird. The male makes an unforgettable babbling/gurgling song which I was fortunate to hear, very sonorous.
Another regular at the feeders was the Red-legged Honeycreeper, a familiar bird that I had seen and photographed before...
...but I believe this Paserini's Tanager was a new species for me. Identical in appearance to Cherie's Tanager which I had recorded, but in this area it is considered a separate species.
You may observe that all of these photographs were taken in pouring rain. It was quite relentless and I thought that it might rule out the guided walk, but at 8:30 it brightened up a little and the walk was on.
We were about fifteen plus the guide and of course it was not specifically for birders, I was perhaps the only dedicated birder there although most people are pleased to see the exotic or colourful species. This Summer Tanager for example was admired by all. It is actually not a true Tanager but is related to the Cardinal family.
The Variable Seedeater however did not attract much interest, being black not red, but I think it makes a nice image on the end of this fern-like branch.
I spotted another Crested Guan in a tree by the forest trail, it was duly admired by the group. The star of the forest show however was the Lesser Anteater observed clinging to a treetrunk, where it sleeps most of the day. Its proper name is Tamandua, and this is the Northen species. It eats around 9000 ants and termites every day, spending most of its time in trees where it uses a large claw to tear off the bark to expose insects and break into their nests, to scoop them up with its long sticky tongue. An interesting animal. We were also shown a deadly Fer-de-Lance snake, highly venomous. It was coiled tightly around the stem of a low plant but unfortunately I could not get a photo with my long lens.
After emerging from the forest I captured this handsome male Black-cheeked Woodpecker in the gardens..
...and the last bird that I photographed on this trip was a female Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, another lifer appropriately. It was in an ornamental tree on the way out of Arenal Lodge from where I drove back to San Jose and the Aeropuerto Hotel, in good time for tomorrow's flight back to Gatwick and then home to Malaga.
List of Birds Photographed and seen to follow.