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Monthly Archives: May 2017

A MAGICAL TRIP TO ARENAL OBSERVATORY LODGE

We waited a long time to visit Arenal Volcano and see the special wildlife there.  In the distant past we stayed near Arenal when the volcano was erupting every hour and a half and digital cameras hadn’t been invented.  Now quiet, the geologists say Arenal can be safely approached and hiked for about the next 400 years.  the road to arenlaThat should work.  The Arenal Observatory Lodge is 1.7 miles from the volcano.   Presumably wildlife chased away 10 years ago by the lava have returned.

Arenal cast its spell before we even got to the hotel.  Our first view of the volcano was shrouded in hazy rain and looked like King Kong lived there and we were the first to discover it.  DSC_6155 gray-headed chachalacaApproaching the hotel on pebbled roads, we saw gray-headed chachalacas Arenal Lodge entranceand a melodious blackbird, new birds for us.  Welcome to Arenal!

But after all, we were in Costa Rica and it rained very hard as we checked in.  As we learned, however, rain seems to be an afternoon-evening thing.  Mornings are typically sunny and wonderful.  An ordinary person can’t explain this but everybody knows it.  The rainy season arrives abut the end of May and this rain was a warm-up.

at the volcano

Drapers at Arenal

As promised, the morning came with a world class view of “our” volcano.  The Lodge is fabulous and we met interesting people from Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Los Angeles and Canada.   We came for these experiences and hoped to see wonderful birds and other creatures.  A pair of great curassows awaited us at a nice feeder we could see from an observation deck.  These are large birds, unmistakable and unique.  North America has nothing close.

I’m not going to describe all the details of how we saw the birds…….I’ll mostly show them to you.  The Arenal experience is a living wonder for birders and nature lovers.  As a bonus, other delightful animals included the iconic Costa Rican red-eyed leaf frog.

2nd leaf frog

Iconic red-eyed leaf frog…on a leaf

We went down to a frog pond at 9 pm and found several frogs (called ranas here) and got some beautiful photos.  The star of the frog show defies belief.  The red-eyed leaf frog is a symbol of Costa Rica.  The rain earlier in the evening brought them out, along with a little poisonous snake.poisonous toadcrested guanwhite-necked jacobin

I went the first night and Arlyne came with me the second night.

As another bonus, the next day we saw a poisonous toad that looked as menacing as anything I’ve ever seen.

We chased the white-necked Jacobin (large hummingbird) around some flowers until finally capturing a photo.  Brilliant.

Crested guans saw us but didn’t seem perturbed.

green honeycreeper (f)

a favorite of mine – lime green

Red-legged honeycreepers started showing up mid-morning.  Picturesque little guys for sure.  As a surprise, a yellow-crowned euphonia showed up briefly followed by one of my favorites, a female green honeycreeper.  This lime-colored bird was the jewel of the morning.  In the early afternoon, we saw two golden-hooded tanagers.  Sometimes lucky photographic “accidents” can happen and the two tanagers created one!  Great Stuff!  I never saw this coming.  I don’t know if these two birds were fighting, playing, showing off or what.  I caught them as I was photographing another bird.  What luck!  Don’t try this, I’m a semi-professional.

red-legged honeycreeper

a very acrobatic bird this guy

yellow-crowned euphonia

 

 

 

 

 

 

tanager acrobatics

Thanks for following us around Costa Rica…………wait until next time!!

The Drapers

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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

Costa Rica Renewed

I want to take a step back and talk about Costa Rica.  We’ve seen quite a bit this trip and have plans for more. We haven’t been here for eight years and our view is a bit different.  We’ve been fortunate to stay at Arlyne’s brother’s house in Puntarenas and with friends (Ronald and Tere) in Alajuela.  We’ve hired an Uber driver for much of our travels in CR, we’ve been driven about by friends and family and we’ve transitioned to driving her brother’s car sometimes.  Haven’t rented a car yet and probably won’t.  The Beeche family isn’t exactly the Mafia but you get the idea.

Costa Rica is a green world, with gardens, pastures, mountains, jungles, farms, fruit and volcanic slopes, all in varying shades of green.  With the possible exception of San Jose, the capital, Costa Rica attracts and catches the eye everywhere.  As I tell everyone here, it’s all normal and routine to you but special and exotic to us no matter what it is, a tree, a restaurant, a highway a river.  I not only married a Costa Rican woman, I married a family, a country, and a culture……a kingdom of riches.  Rich coast indeed.  Sitting as it is, straddling the volcanic “ring of fire”, Costa Rica must have had a turbulent prehistory.  The early volcanic fires still show themselves in the wonderfully colorful green, red and yellow bird life.  Even many iguanas come in various hues of green and yellow-green.  It has been said (Henry Miller) that a destination is not a place, it’s a new way of seeing things.  Henry, in Costa Rica, I have both.

toucan

A wonderful welcome to Costa Rica

Our first tour was to Volcan Irazu.  Irazu is more or less dormant now and even has a little store at the top.  Visitors can walk along the edge of one of the two or three craters that formed from early eruptions.  People from all over the world come here to feel the magic.

As you saw in the last blog (and again here), Volcan Turrialba is active and can be seen from the 11,000 foot summit of Irazu.  It takes my breath away.  Actually, Volcan Poas could now take my breath away permanently with its poisonous gases.

DSC_5446

Aileen and Arlyne on the edge of Irazu

turrialba view

Volcan Turrialba

 

 

 

 

 

 

After decending Irazu, we visited two very old churches and a coffee farm.  older Irazu craterEverything we saw was suitable for framing so we took lots of pictures.  This seems the time to talk about……..

Costa Rican Food.  The national breakfast is coffee, two eggs, mixed rice and beans (gallo pinto, aka “spotted chicken”), and fruit (papaya, mango, bananas, plantains, DSC_5990 typical breakfastpineapple, and/or watermelon).  There are other fruit varieties here that are not regular fare for norteamericanos.  We really like guanabana.

For lunch, customers ask what “natural” drinks are available.  Most of the fruit listed above is made into drinks and smoothies.  Shrimp is very popular everywhere.  Yuca (especially fried, for me) is wonderful.  Fabulous soups seem to be available only at cafes above the really low end, which can be found all over the country.  For those who like meat, there is beef, chicken, pork and tongue in various dishes.  Costa Rica, with a few exceptions, does not really “relish” hot sauce.

For dinner, virtually every restaurant in the western part of CR is an outdoor covered patio affair.  If it’s raining, even torrentially, no one has a problem.  It rains virtually every afternoon starting between 2 and 3 pm.  In the dry season, maybe not every day.  It stops at around 6 or 7.  Everytime.

Bailey bridge

Roads, Highways and “Other”.  Most roads, even small ones, are filled with traffic of large trucks, large buses, small buses, vans, cars, motorcycles, scooters, motorized bikes, bicycles, animals, and pedestrians.  One yellow caution sign we saw near the Tarcoles river warned of crocodiles crossing the road.  I did run over a small iguana last evening in the rain.sugar cane field

We’ve been on freeways, major highways, small community roads, true “back” roads and nice tollwaynumerous dirt roads. We’ve been on farm roads through private pineapple and sugar cane fields that stretched into the distance.  Ask our friend Aileen…..we forded several rivers in our friend Rafa’s 4-wheel drive.  After all, he’s a rancher.  I have home movies to prove it.

New roads in Costa Rica have helped with workday traffic but not much.  CR has a traffic problem and doesn’t have a solution.  There is talk of a contract with a Chinese company to build a new road but it’s a long way off, if at all.  We even saw and drove over a couple on Bailey bridges, portable, prefab bridges developed for WW II military use.  I think these were put in place in Costa Rica in the 50’s or 60’s as part of foreign aid.

Rafa’s Farm.  Arlyne’s family, particularly her younger brother in San Diego, has a long-time friend here.  Rafael (Rafa) Oreamuno is a landowner, rancher (mostly cattle and cattle feed), a commercial pilot, grower of limes and general entrepreneur.  Rafa has several employees who are constantly working.  He has taken a 125 year old ranch house and a large tract of land and made a very successful business, several in fact.  His son, Rafa Jr., operates a lime juice factory and bottling operation at the ranch.  Rafa has a runway and three or four hangers on the ranch, where he keeps his airplanes and rents space out to an aircraft

DSC_7423

two-seat gyro something….

mechanic.  He has a unique small rotary wing 2-seat aircraft that only an engineer can figure out.  I hope to take a flight next time I go to his ranch.  Rafa’s ranch has sleeping facilities for at least eight people, being a current and former working ranch house.

A major attraction of Rafa’s farm is bird life.  Incredibly, we’ve seen 30 species of birds there, including a lot of parrots.  We added six brand new ones to our list right on his property.  We’ve discussed having commercial birding trips DSC_7269 iguana with mangemake a stop at his ranch.  It could happen.  Rose-throated becards nest near his patio.

DSC_7467 red-fronted parrotlet

red-fronted parottlet

Yellow-naped parrots roost in his yard.  Red-fronted parrotlets hang out there too.  We saw a dozen yellow-headed caracaras in one of his pastures.  A wonderful little pond on his “back 40” has lapwings, jacanas, kingfishers and flycatchers. Iguanas like his whole farm, especially his mangos.

NEXT:  Much more birding and traveling in Costa Rica, including La Paz Waterfall Gardens and The Observatory Lodge at Arenal.

The Drapers, Bob and Arlyne

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Bird Lover

 

Costa Rica Adventure – Part 2

Introduction to My Thoughts.  When I was a kid, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs books about Tarzan of the Apes.  I read the comic books too.  I dreamed of life in the jungle.  Growing up in Arizona didn’t quite match up to the African jungle.

Here in Costa Rica, land of volcanos, exotic animals and primary jungle that hasn’t been disturbed by man for centuries, my little dream has been realized.

The birds here are colorful and have wonderful songs.  The other animals are truly exotic to us as well…….iguanas, iconic frogs, snakes, monkeys, coatis, tapirs and many more.  Arlyne and I have found remnants of historic (and prehistoric) Costa Rica in the places we’ve been and where we’re going. Volcanos are smoking, rivers and lakes have crocodiles and alligators, the birds are lit up like holiday lights.  I’ll never see a jaguar, an ocelot or a margay in the wild, but I’ve seen them here in near natural surroundings.  They are some of the planet’s most beautiful creatures.

Irazu Volcano.  We began our adventure with a trip to Irazu volcano, where delightful birds live their lives at 3432 meters (over 11,000 feet).  We loved Irazu, the now sleeping volcano, but were delighted to encounter three high-altitude birds, the volcano junco, the sooty thrush and the sooty-capped chlorospingus.  Some birds have straightforward descriptive names but others seem overcooked by long dead ornithologists.

We love to photograph birds in lush, photogenic, natural surroundings.  My historic first look at the iconic volcano junco at Irazu was on the rim of a picnic area trash can.  I didn’t have any problem with that and of course saw the little guy in better spots soon enough.

DSC_5471 sooty thrush-blog

DSC_5478 sooty-capped chlorospingus

a cute bird at the rim of the volcano

DSC_5428 volcano junco-3

iconic volcano junco at 11000 feet on Irazu

A highlight was seeing the Turrialba volcano in the distance, sending smoke and hot gases into the sky.  This active volcano is of course being monitored.

Turrialba volcano-blog

an active volcano we couldn’t visit

Nest-building.  I will likely never be able to show you all the birds we photographed but on our way back from Irazu, we had lunch at a coffee plantation/restaurant and spotted a pair of Passarini’s tanagers.  Only in Costa Rica would birds nest in a small bush next to the parking lot and a busy walkway.  The beautiful black and red male seemed totally

DSC_5544 Passerini's tanager (f)-blog

the female was very cool about the whole nesting process

DSC_5540 passerint's tanager-blog

this male was stressed out with nest building

stressed as he darted in and out of the bush, presumably making sure everything was ready, while the sweet female waited patiently across the path for him to tell her it was OK.  He eventually did, and then nervously perched on guard duty after she flew deep into the bush.  It was a memorable encounter.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge.  A couple of days later we drove up to the barrier that prevented us from going to the Poas volcano, which has been closed since we arrived due to poisonous gases from the crater.  Poas has been inactive since 1955 but has just awakened.  We took a fork in the road and stopped at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge. This facility could be termed a tourist trap by jaded visitors but wild birds and other animals are in beautifully designed natural enclosures because they have been rescued from illegal hunters, confiscated by the government or donated by their owners.

We birders know, of course, that wild birds love the surroundings and come here to live and nest.  We found several in the trees and gardens.  Dozens of hummingbirds darted and swirled through a large natural area that had only a few feeders.  We saw green

DSC_5885 green thorntail

this bird is a fast mover – lucky for us it has a white band

thorntails, green-crowned brilliants and black-bellied hummingbirds.  Although officially wild birds, they have become reasonably accustomed to humans.

It was here in La Paz Gardens that we were introduced to my first and probably only ocelot.  A jaguar also prowled a large enclosure.  Arlyne and I also met Tomas, a lovely margay.  He has been here for many years and responds to his name.

DSC_5735 ocelot-blog

You are just beautiful……..

The La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Wildlife Refuge, as its name implies, has five quite spectacular waterfalls, embedded deep in the jungle.  I was robust enough to take the steep, wet stone steps down to two of them.  It was here that my vision of Tarzan emerged.  I felt energized, even as I clambered back to the top level where I had started, sweating profusely from the world class humidity.

As Arlyne calls them, we saw several “free world” birds that love this neighborhood and raise their families here.  Even leaving a place like this (which I didn’t want to do) it’s

DSC_5776 La Paz waterfall

Tarzan’s abode…..

easy to search for a few more wild birds that hang out here.  We saw a swallow-tail kite, a Montezuma oropendula, and a Sulphur-bellied flycatcher (which has been seen frequently in Arizona).  Very cool!

More wildlife adventures awaited us as you will see in my next post.

Regards,

Bob and Arlyne Draper

Tarzan’s abode…..

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Bird Lover, Costa-Rica, Nature

 

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