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Costa Rica Cloud Forests – 2011 – Part 3

December 1, 2011

Tropical Butterfly

            On Day 4, after another sumptuous breakfast, we saw a new bird from our front porch – Lifer #3 –  a Rufous-capped Warbler – thanks to Phil’s watchful eye. This was the day we would venture to a new cloud forest – the Santa Elena Reserve, which was opened in 1992 and is a community-managed conservation project now run by the Santa Elena High School Board, and apparently serves as an educational field trip site. It is a bit higher than Monteverde Reserve, and is on the west (Pacific) side of the continental divide, and is usually covered in mist. It’s hard to imagine that the road getting there was rougher than the one to Monteverde, but it was!

The cloud forest habitat there was similar to Monteverde Reserve, and the trails were equally well-constructed – concrete grids and gravel/rock edged by boards sunken in the ground. Signage was also good with lovely depictions of animals and birds soldered in metal. We walked on several trails and managed to see Brown-hooded Parrots, a Yellow-thighed Finch and several Three-striped Warblers. We also found LIFER #4, a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush and LIFER #5, a Collared Redstart. We also added a new mammal to our list. (Yes, we also keep a mammal life list.) We thought it was a reddish brown squirrel with very small ears, but it looked more like our North American martin with a furry tail. After consulting our mammal field guide, we identified it as a Montane Squirrel, common in that area. After hiking on the trails all morning, we enjoyed our picnic lunch of Monteverde cheese, rice cakes and crackers.

We drove slowly back down the road watching for open country/grassland birds along the way, and saw Band-tailed Pigeons, Rufous-collared Sparrows and Yellow-faced Grassquits to add to our trip list. Along the roadsides, I noticed a 6-foot tall flowering plant that was very similar to our Blue Porterweed, only it was purple. We also saw it planted in gardens as a butterfly attractor. We went back to our cabina for a snack and a rest – eating the last of our delicious cheese from the Monteverde Dairy. Then we did our usual afternoon thing – went back up to Café Colibri for tea and hummers, walked on a trail again at Monteverde Reserve, and added a Spangle-cheeked Tanager to our trip list.

The tanagers are a family of  over 300 species of New World birds that inhabit Middle, Central, and South America with a very few species in North America and the Caribbean. In our experience, they are the kind birds you most often see on your first trips to the tropics. They are everywhere – and what a joy they are –mainly because of their spectacular colors, though some can be pretty drab. The Spangle-cheeked Tanager, however, is anything but drab. It reminds me somewhat of a Painted Bunting, with its reddish-orange belly, green rump and dark blue wings. And the spangles! All around the cheek and back of the neck are the silvery spots of color like tiny sequins making it look spangley. When you go to the tropics, you most definitely will see tanagers.

Back at Arco Iris Lodge, we walked to town and found a restaurant that had been recommended by our Lonely Planet guide – the Mirabella. And again I had a typical Costa Rican meal – another casado – my plate of beans and rice, salad, plantains with a big piece of fish this time; and we also had fruit drinks – strawberry and tamarindo. Then we walked around town a while, home to read and write and to bed. The weather had been chilly and we used an extra blanket. There was certainly a welcome contrast between this coolness and the heat and humidity of the rain forests.

Resplendent Quetzal

Day 5 we were up early – 5:30am – and breakfasted at 6:30 – the usual array of lovely fruits, breads, beans and rice, etc. Some of the fruits were pineapple, mango, papaya (my favorite), lady-finger bananas, and watermelon.  They juice every kind of fruit imaginable – only we couldn’t always tell what the fruits were and it didn’t matter. They were sweet and good. And the eggs were huge and orange – from the Arco Iris chickens. Like staying on a farm!

We drove back up to Monteverde to walk on more of their trails.    We had seen the most sought-after bird of this area, the Respendent Quetzal, when we were there in 2008, but this time of year they are silent and almost impossible to see. We walked on the Sendero Quebrada Cuecha until we got near the river area, birding all the way – hearing, but not seeing many birds – then back on the Sendero Tosi. We did see birds we’d seen before, but mainly just enjoyed being in this magical cloud forest and taking pictures.

Children's Eternal Rain Forest

We drove back on the “Burma Road” to the Dairy and drank fruity milkshakes and ate cheese, crackers and apples for lunch. On the way back to Santa Elena, we stopped at the 3rd of our cloud forest reserves – Bosque Eterno de los Ninos, “The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest”. This reserve consists of 82 square miles. Lonely Planet says, “it dwarfs both the Monteverde and Santa Elena Reserves.” Children from 44 countries donated their coins to raise the money needed to preserve this forest that is used extensively by researchers and has limited accessibility to the general public.

We hiked on only one of the trails and were amazed to see such a different habitat than we’d been in  the past several days. The area was east of the continental divide and much drier – different vegetation and no mosses or other wet-loving plants. It looked strange after having been in forests dripping with moisture. The birds were different also and we found another new one – LIFER #6 – a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. We also found a Gray-headed Chachalaca up in a tree in the parking area, new for the trip.

When we got back to Arco Iris, Phil spotted an Emerald Toucanet in a tree near our porch, and our very own Blue-crowned Motmot. After a rest, we drove back up the Burma Road! Again! Phil was so good to do that – driving a difficult car with a sensitive clutch on difficult roads, with me back-seat driving all the way! We went again to watch the feeders at Café Colibri for the last time and were rewarded with a new hummer – LIFER #7 – the Stripe-tailed Hummingbird. We would miss our afternoons with the hummers at the Café Colibri.

We had dinner at a restaurant recommended by the staff at our lodge – Mar y Tierra – Sea and Land – Beef and Fish. It was located on a second-floor overlooking the street. We both had another casado only this time with loads of delicious rice done in a different way – more flavorings and yellow – and with shrimp – dozens of small ones. It was fun looking down at the pedestrians, the people on bicycles, an ATV with a baby in front of a dad – no one with helmets, buses, a loud-speaker truck announcing something we were never able to identify, church bells ringing, horns tooting, motorcycles zipping through the traffic, taxis jockeying for position – mayhem amid chaos.

We walked home and our bed with blankets felt good. We would re-visit the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest again tomorrow morning to search for the fabled Three-wattled Bellbirds.


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  1. Diane permalink

    You speak and I form wonderful pictures in my mind. Great adventure I get to go on!

  2. Marge permalink

    A great reminder of the wonderful wet, muddy tropical rain forest, the brilliant and different birds, the terrific food, almost impossible roads and unforgettable trip to Costa Rica over 20 years ago. Looking forward to the next episode!

  3. Sarah permalink

    Ann, Wonderful article! Great writing and so enjoyable to read! I want to go there. WWW trip, someday???? xo, Sarah

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