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 Post subject: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 18th, 2014, 8:13 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 10:14 pm
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Location: San Antonio, TX
I had about 10 days in Costa Rica this August. It wasn't a hardcore birding trip nor herping trip, but I did manage a few lifers.
We only saw 153 species of which 18 were lifers.

So here's just a few of the pics, taken in the order that I took them -

Around the place we stayed near Aguas Zarcas -

Here's the scourge of the Neotropical forests - the Red-throated Ant-Tanager (female)

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Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (stupid name for a hummer, IMHO)

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lousy backlit Palm Tanager -

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Groove-billed Ani

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One of the neatest of the neotropical raptors - Laughing Falcon

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Tropical Pewees were everywhere, and were the first lifer of the trip -

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We saw lots of little black grassquit/seedeater things, which are a pain in the a$$ to ID.

Blue-black Grassquit is one of the easier ones due to its sheen -

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This was the Thick-billed Seedfinch from the same spot -

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Got a new woodpecker after some frustrating ID attempts of this bird. We finally figured out this was a hybrid Hoffman's x Red-crowned Woodpecker which apparently occur in this region of CR. Saw some 100% Hoffman's later.

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Actually got some parakeet photos this trip, which is unusual. These things never sit still anywhere in photo range. This is Orange-throated Parakeet -

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Black-cheeked Woodpeckers were also common -

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We saw a lot of juvenile birds, like this juvenile Gray-crowned Yellowthroat -

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Piratic Flycatcher -

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and the somewhat similar, but bigger Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

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This Boat-billed Heron was hunting along the edge of a pond at night -

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I stalked this little White-breasted Wood Wren for 20 minutes to get this crappy shot -

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We saw quite a few Gray Hawks -

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Passerini's Tanagers were very common -

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I love woodcreepers, I don't know why. This is the Streak-headed Woodcreeper -

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We spent a morning up the highlands looking for Quetzals but failed. We didn't want to do the Monteverde "guide points out the quetzal they've been watching for three weeks" thing, so we decided if we didn't find one ourselves, we would be fine.

We did get a couple of lifers, including this Yellowish Flycatcher -

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One of the things we had been disappointed about so far was our inability to find anywhere with hummingbird feeders. We stopped on the way down out of the mountains at a roadside restaurant/tourist spot and when we walked onto the deck there were a dozen hummingbird feeders and hundreds of hummingbirds. We were looking for some lunch so this would be perfect. The owner (a german lady) came over and informed us that (even though there wasn't a soul around) there would be a $10 per head entrance fee, even if we were going to eat lunch. We thought that was BS, but we begrudgingly agreed and said we would pay the fee with our lunch bill. So we sat at a table. Soon we were surrounded by at least 6 species of hummers including a lifer for me (White-tailed Emerald). Soon however, the cook came out and told us the menu consisted of left over Spaghetti.....and that was all they had. We said, "no thanks" and walked out. So I did get a few minutes at their feeders and a new hummer for free. I felt vindicated.

I did get a photo of a female and male Green-crowned Brilliant before we walked out -

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and a Violet Saberwing

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_____________________________________________

After a few days in the foothills and mountains, we decided to make a run up to Caño Negro on the Nicaragua border. This is an area of grassland with some large grassy lakes. There is a Wildlife Refuge in this area as well that is a popular birding spot in season. However, we were well out of season and we didn't see a single tourist or birder or anyone non-locals up there. We had a couple of target birds in this area, Green Ibis and Nicaraguan Grackle. I know it is just a grackle, but there are only 6 extant grackle species (at least the "real" Quiscalus grackles), and we've seen 5 of them so knocking off the last one would be a sort of birding milestone for us. Both the grackle and the ibis have fairly restricted ranges and can be difficult to find. Plus, I knew the grasslands would have some different herps than I had been seeing in the forested areas where we had been so far.

As we turned south of the main highway onto the narrow, bumpy dirt road that leads 20 km down to the lakes, we slowed to scan some groups of feeding herons/egrets and other roadside birds. As Che'ree scanned one side of the road I casually looked up the road, and my eyes stopped at the distinctive morph a feeding bird that has haunted me for over 20 years. I have been in this bird's range in several places at the north and south ends of its range and have looked in good habitat over and over again and failed. But 100 yards up the road, I saw this -

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I actually cut Che'ree off in mid sentence as she was telling me what she was seeing to say "Oh my god, its a frickin' Jabiru" (I may not have said "frickin'" :lol:). We drove stealthily down the road towards it stopping periodically, making sure we got a good look in case it flew. Turns out Jabirus aren't that shy and it let us pull up pretty much right next to it.

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We actually spotted a couple of others further along, but much further away. This was the best bird of the trip, and maybe the best critter of the trip for me! Any other birds we would find today would be simple icing on the cake.

As it turns out, we did find some other really good birds in the Caño Negro area. As we drove along the flooded grassy areas, the number of Northern Jacanas was astounding. They were everywhere screaming, fighting, squabbling, and chasing each other around. It was quite a sight and although I 've been to places where jacanas were common, I've never seen anything like this area. It must have been the breeding season or the beginning of it?

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We did see a couple "hunkered down" on what appeared to be nests

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Another bird we saw a lot of which has consistently avoided my camera lens for the last 20 years was the Mangrove Swallow. I did get a photo, but hardly a great one.

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As we drove along we saw lots of birds and stopped periodically to walk or scan areas along the road. At one stop, I was investigating a group of grackles carefully (Great-tailed :( ) and Che'ree was looking at a group of Whistling Ducks with young on her side when she said "wait, these young whistling ducks look strange. Those aren't whistlers...they're some kind of shorebird." I love shorebirds so this immediately piqued my interest so I turned and scanned where she was looking and ......holy crap - Double-striped Thick-knees! This bird wasn't a lifer, but we'd only seen it once before in southern Mexico from a distance. These were much closer and easier to see, and besides, Burhinids are cool birds!

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I spotted a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron on the side of the road at one stop -

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and I also managed a couple more parrot pictures. This Red-fronted Parrotlet didn't think I could see him I guess in the shade of this palm tree so he didn't fly off screaming like they normally do -

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and a little further along I saw a couple of parakeets fly down into a ditch perpendicular to the road. I realized that they wouldn't be able to see me and if I stalked up slowly with the camera I might get a shot before they did their typical parakeet response of screaming and flying north into Nicaragua at the speed of sound. Strangely, I think I caught them totally off guard. They were feeding on seed heads of grasses and when I walked up I think they were so surprised to see me 10 feet away looking down on them, they flew up onto a wooden post while they gathered their toughts I guess. This gave the the only opportunity I've ever had to get any semblance of a photo of an Aratinga parakeet. These are Olive-throated Parakeets -

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We finally got to the small town of Caño Negro and drove around the seemingly deserted streets. We found a small restaurant and stopped to see if we could get some lunch and the owner/cook? came out and met us and welcomed us in. While we were sitting waiting I saw what I thought at first was a chicken walking around the grass at the edge of the garden. I looked again and realized it was a "neotropical swamp chicken" - the Gray-necked Wood-Rail -

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After lunch, we drove around town until we found what served as the "office" of the Wildlife Refuge and we went in and talked to the guys in there. They told us the only way to see the refuge at this time of year was by boat since the whole surrounding area was flooded. They suggested a guide name Juan Antonio and told us where he lived. They also suggested a few places to look for the grackle on our way out of Caño Negro and mentioned that it was also a good spot for White-necked Crakes. We made a note and headed over to Juan Antonio's house.
When we arrived, there was only a woman by herself there. She told us to wait a few minutes and she would call him. We waited outside the house near her hummingbird feeder and while we waited a Bronzy Hermit (lifer!) flew up for a brief look. Soon an older gentlemen came walking down the street and introduced himself as Juan Antonio, we agreed on a price for a two hour tour and he walked us down to his boat.

The boat tour was amazing. HIGHLY recommended to anyone interested in birds, herps or any wildlife viewing in this area. It was cool and worth the pitance we paid (I forget, maybe $30 for two people for a two hour tour?). He told us that seeing some of our targets was a bit harder during the wet season since stuff moves out to the surrounding grasslands, but he thought we would see some stuff.

A few minutes into the trip we got great looks at another Bare-throated Tiger-Heron -

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Although there are 5 species of Kingfishers here, we "only" saw three (Ringed, Green and Amazon). Here's one of the many Amazons we got close to -

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We saw four species of pigeon/dove, including nice looks at this Pale-vented Pigeon (normally a shy species in my experience) -

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We got up close and personal with a few other archosaur descendents as well - Spectacled Caiman -

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We pulled up right next to a clump of trees with nesting Anhingas right at eye level -

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Even though I didn't get any decent pics, we saw one of my favorite neotropical raptors, the Black-collared Hawk. These hawks are really stunning in life and books nor photos (particularly this one) don't do them justice.

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We saw several Black-headed Trogons, including this curious male -

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Juan Antonio was surprised when I spotted this Lineated Woodpecker drilling on a wooden post in the lake, since they are typically a forest bird. It let us get quite close. -

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After searching around for a long time, Juan Antonio was getting concerned that we weren't going to get the Ibis or the Grackle. He said the grackles move away from the lake during the wet season and told us we would have better luck along the road we drove in on. But the ibis he said we would probably have to find on this boat trip. Unlike a lot of ibises, the Green Ibis is a bird of heavily wooded areas along lakes and streams. I had been scanning back into the dense tangled forests all day for them. But Juan Antonio started slowing down whenever we got to the edge of someone's cleared property on the edge of the lake, scanning their lawns. This seemed odd to me, but he was the expert. We checked lawn after lawn after lawn and forest clearing after forest clearing to no avail. Finally as we are getting back towards the dock, he pulls over towards a lawn area and we scan and .....nothing. But as we are about to pull out, out of the corner of my eye, I see the distinctive silhoutted morph of an ibis walking in the shadows on the forest floor. We pull in close and he starts making a strange noise and the ibis responds by flying up into a dense tree, giving us the briefest of looks before it flies off into a clearing. OK, lifer. Not a great sighting, but a lifer all the same. About 5 minutes later we are moving along at a faster pace to get back to the dock when I happen to spot this guy walking on the edge of the swamp - Green Ibis, and in plain view this time! It is really a weird, stumpy legged ibis.

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We got back to the dock around 5 and walked back up to the vehicle. As we walked back I found this Northern Jacana feeding in the mowed grass at the edge of the basketball court in the city park....such shy and elusive birds :lol:

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And at his house, we got nice looks at my favorite of the tityras - Black-crowned Tityra

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So now we thanked (and tipped) Juan Antonio and headed back north to the dirt road to do some herping in the grasslands as we moved our way back towards our hotel.

(Editorial note - the next series of events actually occured on two different nights in the Caño Negro area, but for the sake of expediency I will treat it as one evening).

We made it to the suggested spot to look for grackles, but the only grackles around were Great-taileds. We did however, see a lot of the White-bellied Crakes foraging on and next to the road in the marsh. Our final count was 24 birds in an area of less than 1/2 km of road where we walked!

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The crakes were making a few calls and as I had my recording gear out for frogs, I tried to capture it but couldn't. Finally I got to a spot where there were two crakes making an absolute fuss right next to the road under a big mass of flattened grass. I only saw them briefly, but everytime I walked over there they let out their calls really loud -



I stood there a few minutes quietly watching them until finally in the dim light, I spotted the reason for their excitement. They had two tiny black fuzzy chicks wandering around their nest -

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Eventually it got too dark for that so I started listening for an recording frogs. Che'ree was walking along listening for owls. I kept hearing an odd "owl-like" sound but I couldn't pin down where/what it was. Finally after recording frogs for about 10 minutes, I looked down the road to see Che'ree waving to me in the dark. I walked over and sitting in a dead tree right over the road was the source of the strange sound - a Great Potoo -

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We drove slowly back through the marsh/grassland area watching and listening (and recording some frogs en route). Up ahead on the powerlines we spotted the distinct morph of an owl and we slowly approached, rolling along as imperceptibly as we could in the car. Finally when we got close, we went into owl spotting mode. Our system is simple and well practiced. I hold the flashlight on the owl while Che'ree looks at it through binoculars (she is a big owl lover) and then we switch and I look while she holds the light. This system has worked well for us for years all over the world. So I hold the light and she looks. Suddenly the owl dives down into the long grass at the side of the road and just stays down there! She had gotten a good look and let me scan the grass for it but I couldn't find it. To add insult to injury, she could see it well from where she was sitting. Finally it seemed to go deeper into the grass and disappear. But the final blow to me was when she told me what it was - Striped Owl! The striped owl has been a curse bird for us for about 20 years. Everytime we get down into its range we make a special effort to herp at night in grassland areas to look for this owl (it is restricted to grasslands). We have spent dozens of nights hunting for this beast and although we have seen other owls, we've never managed to find a Striped. Well, at least one of us got a decent look?

A few miles further down the road, we spot another owl. After the crushing blow of me missing the Striped Owl, she let me look first this time. Of course, it wasn't a Striped but a Vermiculated Screech-Owl. Now this was a lifer for me, but it was no Striped Owl. And of course, this owl sat there while we looked at it and took photos for a good 10 minutes until we got bored and moved on. (I actually have problems with this ID. It doesn't look Vermiculated enough and the facial disk border is a bit dark to be Vermiculated to me, but Vermiculated is the only screech-owl in this area according to the guides)

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So I missed a couple of wanted birds, but I will say that for anyone going to Costa Rica, yes the rainforests and cloudforests are cool, but the grasslands and marshes up by Cano Negro are well worth a visit. We drove up there twice from near Aguas Zarcas and drove back that night. It was an easy day trip and well worth it.

____________________________________________________

After doing the mountains and foothills and grasslands for a few days, we decided to try and make a trip to the lowlands of the Atlantic coast and after a bit of reading we decided to visit the Nature Pavilion near Sarapiqui. Technically a birding place, it does have a nice patch of secondary rainforest with some nice trails which were very herp rich as well.

The Nature Pavilion (formerly Sarapiqui Eco-observatory) is a facility run by a Costa Rican man and his son. His son has a degree in ecotourism (or something similar) from the US and is very interesting to talk to. The hardest thing about being at this place was that the bird feeding stations at the main building are so amazing, it is hard to pull yourself away to go into the forest. I shot a lot of bird shots here because it was easy!

Around the front of the building are some feeders where they put out fruit, and this attracted some amazing birds -

the ubiquitous Blue-gray Tanager -

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the ugliest (?) of the Euphonias, the Olive-backed Euphonia -

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and another trash species, the Great Kiskadee

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But not all the birds are common, drab, or easy to see species. There are some real gems as well like this Golden-hooded Tanager

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Blue Dacnis -

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Black-faced Grosbeak -

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Green Honeycreeper

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and the striking Crimson-collared Tanager

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Around the other side of the house they had a group of hummingbird feeders that were simply overrun with hummers.

The most common species was the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird -

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and the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer again -

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Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (lifer!)

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occasionally the big beautiful White-necked Jacobin would fight its way in

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and we had a few appearances of a ifer, the Purple-crowned Fairy -

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We eventually did get away from the feeders and down into the forest trails, where we got some more good birds, including

Blue-black Grosbeak -

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and the amazing Rufous-tailed Jacamar (lifer) -

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and I got a blurry shot of the beautiful little Bay Wren -

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I made another trip down the trail, but this time I put on my macro lens only because I was having a difficult time getting a decent photo of these abundant but uncooperative little buggers -

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This means I didn't have the reach for any bird shots, so of course I saw some cool birds and had to make do :

Sunbittern -

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Long-billed Hermit -

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________________________________________________________

Anyway, that's my most of my interesting bird shots from Costa Rica. Thanks for your patience if you actually made it this far!
Herping shots coming in a post on the main forum of course.....eventually.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 21st, 2014, 6:01 pm 
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Joined: March 16th, 2011, 11:28 am
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Location: New Jersey
Man, I've got to do Cano Negro. The Jabiru, the Crakes, the Thick-knees and Jacanas and Green Ibis - awesome!

You wouldn't mind sharing the name of the roadside spaghetti slinging place so that I don't end up going there on my next trip, would you? I can't believe the nerve!

I think your Crimson-collared Grosbeak is actually a Crimson-collared Tanager. Nice shot, and great series of photos.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2014, 3:20 am 
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Location: San Antonio, TX
cbernz wrote:
I think your Crimson-collared Grosbeak is actually a Crimson-collared Tanager.


Oops. :oops: I always confuse those two species names.
That also drew my attention to the fact that:
A. Green Honeyeater isn't a real bird...but if it was it would live in Australia or New Guinea somewhere. I meant Green Honeycreeper.
B. The picture posted under it wasn't a Green Honeyeater or a Green Honeycreeper, it was the Bronze-tailed Plumeteleer again.

OK, I think it is (mostly) fixed now, until I find the next error.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2014, 3:28 am 
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cbernz wrote:
Man, I've got to do Cano Negro. The Jabiru, the Crakes, the Thick-knees and Jacanas and Green Ibis - awesome!


It is a really neat area. I will certainly go back on my next trip to CR if it is feasible.

Quote:
You wouldn't mind sharing the name of the roadside spaghetti slinging place so that I don't end up going there on my next trip, would you? I can't believe the nerve!


The place was called Catarata del Toro ( http://www.catarata-del-toro.com/ ). It was a neat looking place and if it hadn't been for the negativity of our interaction with the one person, I would say it would be a good place to stop. Maybe in the tourist season the experience would have been more positive.
I just think that if you are going to have a restaurant, people shouldn't have to pay to come into your restaurant for the privilege of buying lunch.
And if you do have a restaurant but don't have food, why not let prospective clients know by closing until you have food!


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2014, 5:26 am 
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Yeah, that's pretty lame to charge a fee on top of making you buy food, especially considering many of those places are already overpriced. On my last trip, we had good success at La Georgina Restaurant, on the road down from Cerro de la Muerte. We stopped there between meals while the staff were cleaning the tables, and nobody bothered us while we watched the hummingbird feeders (although I think I ended up buying a small pastry or something just so I didn't feel too guilty).


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2014, 4:00 pm 
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Hot damn, these are nice! Thanks for posting all these. I can't name a favorite but the little laugher is cool as hell..;)

:Mark


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 22nd, 2014, 4:14 pm 
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chrish wrote:

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I dig it. :beer:

~Bree


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2014, 3:12 pm 
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Gee, Chris,
Fantastic.

Do you recommend a particular field guide for that area?


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2014, 4:09 pm 
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Great post and great trip. So many of those birds would be targets for me if I go back to CR again. Loved the stork, boat-billed, ibis, sunbittern and potoo the best.

Andy


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2014, 4:11 pm 
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BillMcGighan wrote:
Gee, Chris,
Fantastic.

Do you recommend a particular field guide for that area?


Bill it is pretty much between http://www.amazon.com/The-Birds-Costa-R ... 080147373X and http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Birds-Costa ... costa+rica


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2014, 4:34 pm 
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Thanks, Andy


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 23rd, 2014, 9:12 pm 
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Andy Avram wrote:
BillMcGighan wrote:
Gee, Chris,
Fantastic.

Do you recommend a particular field guide for that area?


Bill it is pretty much between http://www.amazon.com/The-Birds-Costa-R ... 080147373X and http://www.amazon.com/Guide-Birds-Costa ... costa+rica



I have the Garrigues guide because it is from 2007 while the Stiles guide has slightly better plates and text, it is significantly heavier and almost 20 years older. The Garriuges guide is a fine field guide for a trip to CR.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: October 24th, 2014, 6:31 am 
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Very good, thanks.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: November 6th, 2014, 12:23 pm 
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Enjoyed reading through this. Thanks for posting.


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 Post subject: Re: Costa Rica Birds - Aug 2014 - 70 photos, get a drink
PostPosted: November 25th, 2014, 10:13 am 
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Looks like a great trip! Nice variety of birds. Great job on the woodcreeper, I have yet to see one down there. Love the shots of the jacamar,green honeycreeper, and great potoo too.
Roki


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