Birding Without Borders

Day 112: Resplendent Birding

Costa Rica’s highlands offer up an iconic bird.

April 22, 2015, Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica — I stayed last night at Rancho Naturalista, one of Costa Rica’s first (and still most specialized) birding lodges, in the Caribbean foothills. Roy and I were up early to stake out a moth feeder at dawn. Next to the cabins is a white sheet next to a bright light which, during the night, attracts all kinds of moths. First thing in the morning, the sheet is swarmed by forest birds looking for a quick breakfast. We watched Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, Brown Jays, White-breasted Wood-Wrens, a Canada Warbler, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher picking off moths—one of the Brown Jays caught one the size of my fist! The specialty bird here is the Tawny-chested Flycatcher, a rare bird in Costa Rica which, today, showed up about a half hour after dawn.

The energetic manager of Rancho Naturalista, Lisa Erb, insisted on personally showing us a couple of good birds near the lodge after breakfast. Johan, Roy and I jumped in her SUV and went tearing off to find a Paint-billed Crake and, a while later, a Sunbittern, which Johan spotted sitting on its nest! It was a wonderful morning. Lisa started Rancho in the mid-80s, before birding lodges became anything like the phenomenon they are today, with her long blonde hair, red cowboy boots, and ever-ready smile. It’s a beautiful place, and nearly criminal to spend only a couple of hours there—I hope to return someday to explore the area better.

After a quick lunch, Johan, Roy and I headed for the cooler highlands of Cerro de la Muerte, south of San Jose. The mountains straddling the Costa Rica/Panama border hold a major concentration of endemic birds—about 40 species. The first stop we made this afternoon was for the Timberline Wren and Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher, but I got a bit distracted when a shimmering flash of green and red swooped across the road. A male Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica’s most iconic bird, perched right in front of us! I just had time to admire its three-foot-long tail streamers before the iridescent bird swooped around the corner and out of sight. When I wandered around the corner a minute later, it was peering out from a nest hole. (Resplendent Quetzals nest inside large tree cavities.) Shazam! You can’t go birding in Costa Rica without seeing a quetzal, so we are resting easy tonight.

New birds today: 21

Year list: 2190

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