The Resplendent Quetzal was our goal for this trip, but we knew
its sightings are becoming rarer. (Photo
Departing Costa Rica in April 2001, we vowed to return to
this land of beautiful people, magnificent scenery and wildlife, and
gracious living. Working
again with Marco Madrigal at Costa
Rica Expeditions (CRE), a birding
itinerary was set up with our friend Charlie Gomez (more
about the Lyons first trip with Charlie) as our guide. Niño Morales was our great driver, and much more.
He was Charlie’s right hand and a fine spotter as well as
“fix-it” man. By the
end of the two-week tour we were more like a happy extended family than
a traveling group with a guide and driver.
Every one of us went home with a basket filled with memories. Click here to learn more about those in the
May 1, 2003 Hotel
By 6:15 p.m. everyone had arrived at
the Hotel Bougainvillea in Heredia, a suburb of San Jose, CR.
It is a lovely hotel with outstanding grounds,
especially for birding. The
interior is decorated with stained glass windows and pre-Columbian
artifacts collected by the owner. Guide
Charlie Gomez called that evening with instructions for the next day.
He was winding down a tour with only one night at home to spend
with his family, wash clothes and re-pack his gear.
May 2, 2003
Charlie and driver Niño Morales
arrived a bit before 7 a.m. Eagerly
anticipating their arrival, all eight of us were birding in the front
garden of the hotel. After
hugs and greetings all around, we headed in to a delicious
buffet breakfast. We
noticed that Charlie had added a few silver strands to his jet-black
hair as well as a pair of reading glasses to his shirt pocket.
Charlie noticed that Mary and I had lost weight.
We were impressed he remembered that much about us because it had
been two years since we last traveled together.
By 8 a.m. we were loaded
into our large comfortable bus with all the luggage and equipment and
heading toward Cartago, the city that had served as the colonial
Specifically, our stop
was to visit the national cathedral which is the Basilica
de Nuestra Senora de
Los Angeles, built in honor of La
Costa Rica's patron saint.
Shrine of La Virgen de Los Angeles
The church is built over the rock where the tiny stone image of a
black Virgin first appeared to Juana Pereira, a poor mestizo woman who
was gathering wood, on August 2, 1635.
The faithful and hopeful come to the holy water that flows from a
spring behind the basilica. Every year on Aug. 2, all roads lead to Cartago as thousands
of walking pilgrims from all over Central America gather at the shrine
for the Day of Our Lady of the Angels.
Charlie told us about
making that pilgrimage with his wife in the year 2000.
The architecture is reminiscent of cathedrals all over Latin
America with the interior being paneled in beautiful native woods.
We visited the Shrine of La Negrita and then went to the spring
to partake of the healing waters. And
we actually began our birding at the cathedral because there were
Red-billed Pigeons all over the grounds.
Crocodile petroglyph at Guayabo.
Back on the bus, we made
our way toward the city of Turrialba and on to Guayabo
Archaeological Monument The ancient indigenous city of Guayabo covers about 37 acres, and
is a seemingly well-preserved archeological site. Uncharted until late in the 19th century, the
majority of the ruins have yet to be excavated.
Diggings have uncovered roadways, walls, foundations of circular,
elevated structures, aqueducts still carrying clear fresh water, patios
and ponds, stairways and many individual items such as monoliths and
What is believed to the central square at Guayabo.
of the most interesting stones was somewhat circular with what
looked like a spider web chiseled into it.
No one know exactly what it is or what it was used for; however
there is some speculation that it is a map of the heavens.
The spider-web petroglyph.
still-forested area around the archeological site is in the very rich
premontane rain forest life zone and includes a part of the Guayabo
River canyon. The low trees around the site make bird watching easy and
exciting; and in addition, at almost any time of year there are several
species of orchids in bloom. A
picnic lunch was accompanied by birding and the first toucan was spotted
not far away.
Returning to Turrialba we
headed through rolling hills covered with coffee fincas (farms)
until we arrived at our home for the next three nights, Rancho
Naturalista. The owner,
Dona Cathy Erb was in residence, which gave us the opportunity to meet
and chat with this lovely lady. Located
at 3,000 feet elevation, Rancho is a great place to bird.
The main lodge houses several guest rooms, a lounge, the dining
room and kitchen as well as a wonderful veranda from which to see a
multitude of birds. There
are also four cabins available. Since
it is located on 125 acres there are many trails in the forest and open
pasture areas. Horseback riding is available.
No sooner had we gotten
settled than Charlie had us out on the trail leading to the
“Hummingbird Pools.” A
short way into the forest there is a deep ravine where a stream creates
five separate shallow pools. Late
in the afternoon, hummers and other small birds come to drink and bathe.
Several rustic benches have been placed in an advantageous
viewing spot so we comfortably situated ourselves with binoculars to
wait and watch. Using his
laser light, Charlie designated numbers for each of the pools so that
when the birds began to arrive, all he had to say was, “Snowcap –
pool number 2” or “Purple-crowned Fairy – pool number 5.”
We sat entranced by the activity of so many small birds until
finally it was too dark to see them any longer.
Hurriedly we retraced our steps to our cabins in order to get a
quick shower before dinner. Our
list of birds for the first day would have to wait till after dinner.
The comfortable lounge at Rancho Naturalista
The main lodge at Rancho Naturalista
Birding can work up an
appetite so we were ready for our delicious evening meal served family
style in the dining room. All
of our meals at Rancho Naturalista were outstanding.
Would you believe that we had bread pudding one morning along
with “normal” breakfast fare??
Our usual routine with
Charlie was to reserve 30 minutes before the evening meal for drinks and
reviewing all the birds we had seen during the day.
However, there were occasions when we had to wait till after
dinner to mark our lists. (Usually it was because we had lingered in the
field too long.) So after
dinner we gathered in the lounge.
There was no doubt who was leading this birdwatching trip.
we started the review, I presented each participant as well as Charlie
and Niño with a special T-shirt. The
front of the shirt depicts 101 migratory birds.
Keith Hansen did the original painting for the 1997 International
Migratory Bird Day. When
this shirt first appeared it was such a hit that it is still available.
After purchasing the shirts for all in our group,
I arranged to have the name of our trip silk screened on the
A misty morning dawns over the valley as seen from the upper deck
of the lodge.
May 3, 2003 Rancho
Up at 5 a.m., which is
our usual way to begin the day when we are “Chasing Birds with
Charlie” in Costa Rica. By
5:30 we were on the second story balcony of the main house for coffee
and early morning bird watching. The
staff puts nectar in hummer feeders as well as cooked rice and bananas
on platform feeders and the birds come!
We added new hummers right and left as well as many other
species. A special treat
was a colony of Montezuma Oropendolas nesting in a huge tree next to the
balcony. Oropendolas are
fascinating birds and the males look as if they are falling out of the
tree every time they call.
Above, a variety of hummingbirds
and, below, blue-gray tanagers and a guan photographed at the feeders in
After a 6:30 breakfast ,
we were on the trail by 8 a.m. A
short distance up the main trail we stopped at a shelter in the forest
where five hummer feeders are located.
Each morning very early a staffer comes up with gallons of nectar
to fill the feeders for the day. There
were hummers buzzing around everywhere.
At times they would come so close that you could feel the whirr
of their wings! It was an
Heading out into an open
pasture area, the vistas opened up and we could see the Talamanca
Mountains. The horses were
grazing here and birds were in the trees that grew randomly in the
pasture. The morning passed quickly as we birded the secondary growth
forest. Before we knew it
the time had come to return for lunch and a bit of a rest.
Out on a different trail
at 2:30 p.m. What a delight
as we headed into primary growth. Three
hours passed very quickly and it was time for a quick shower before
gathering for a drink and dinner. Our
list marking gave us 14 different species of hummers today along with a
multitude of other birds as well.
A few of us went out
after dinner to look for owls but even though we heard them answering
Charlie’s calls, we never did see any.
By 9, we were falling into bed exhausted but happy.
May 4, 2003 Rancho
Up at 5 a.m. and on the
balcony at 5:30 a.m. - we were
getting good at this drill. I
was beginning to get pretty adept at recognizing the different hummers
without having to resort to the book.
They are the most amazing little creatures I’ve ever seen.
I could sit and watch them all day long.
On the trail again at 8
a.m., we cut directly through the pasture and kept on going through
primary forest as we wound out way up to a vantage point where the view
was spectacular and a small shelter had been erected.
It was quite a climb, although it didn’t stress us that much
because we were birding all the way.
Coming down was tough on my bad knees but we took it slowly,
again stopping for birds and got down to the lodge just in time for
another delicious lunch.
Overlooking the mountains and pastures.
At 3 p.m., we were on the
trail again but only Dick, Gloria, Jim and I were with Charlie.
The others decided to do some “independent study.”
It was a hard push on a new trail but very profitable from the
standpoint of birds, especially the Great Tinamou that Dick flushed near
the end of our journey.
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