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First let me add our condolances also. FWIW I am assured your mother was somewhere close to you, sharing the wonders of Costa Rica alongside.


And your TR cannot came at better timing, as in next month our joint adventure with @michael-ibk will have to be finalised as itinerary. Of course, BdC is on our list. 


Photos are exquisite, as always, thus our confidence in gear will hopefully got us close to yours. Looking forward to the rest of the report, and if anythng, I am enjoying the style of your writting ... slow, peaceful, like a good mug of Tico coffee very early in the morning.

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@Tdgraves, @Kitsafari, @offshorebirder, @pomkiwi, @AmyT, @Dave Williams, @Atdahl, @xelas and everyone else:


I sincerely am touched by your very thoughtful comments -- just another reason to love Safaritalk even more.  I really appreciate your following along.  Thank you for your support.


AmyT, more coatis coming up.  I, too, think they are very cute.  But....check out those claws before you get any ideas of trying to stash one away in your carry-on bag for the return trip home.

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As breakfast concluded, I noticed a flash of yellow and black across the lodge grounds.  Black-mandibled Toucans (formerly called Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and now, evidently, Yellow-throated Toucan – it’s getting hard to keep up).  I went off to investigate and discovered that the fruits of one of a nearby palm tree had started to ripen.  Finally! 


I love the behavior of these birds, the largest of the toucan species found in Costa Rica.  One individual performed the typical routine for me perfectly.  It flew into the tree and perched on top of a spray of berries and then looked around, first in one direction, and then, slowly turning its head 180 degrees, toward the other direction, as if it were taking stock of its surroundings.





Then, it fixed its eyes downward, setting its sights on one particular piece of fruit, and quickly plucked it.








With the fruit lodged in the tip of its long beak, it then tossed the berry in the air and leaned its head back to catch it in its throat.






And then it would begin the ritual anew.






Edited by Alexander33
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I could have stayed with the toucans longer, but it was fast approaching mid-morning by now, and our neighbors had come back and reported that the squirrel monkeys were still frolicking on the Golfo Dulce Trail.  I did not want to miss this opportunity.


The Central American Squirrel Monkey, found only on the southern Pacific side of Costa Rica and in a corner of northern Panama, is endangered due to habitat loss in its restricted range.  It is the smallest and, I think, the cutest of the four monkey species in Costa Rica.  Its eyes give it a constant look of curiosity.


We hiked the trail to its intersection with the Trogon Trail and, almost as if on cue, heard the familiar rustling sound of leaves from the top of the trees: the squirrel monkeys were still there.  Most were in the very tops of the trees, but a few were bold enough to come down low, almost to eye level, so we focused on those few for the best looks we could get.








We had seen a small troop of squirrel monkeys on our first full evening last year, and I had no idea at the time that there was anything special about them.  Because evening had been fast approaching, I didn’t try taking decent photographs of them, thinking I would have other opportunities.  That would be a mistake I regretted, so I felt absolved to have another opportunity this time around. 


We were fortunate enough to see another, smaller troop on our last morning at Bosque del Cabo as well.


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That afternoon, we set out on a segment of the Golfo Dulce Trail to pursue reports of a nesting Pale-billed Woodpecker and a pair of Fiery-billed Aracaris that had been inspecting a nearby snag for a possible nest sight.  Although we saw an Aracari flying over the forest from a nearby part of the reserved called the Tropical Garden, there was no activity at the snag where our neighbors had seen them, and despite regular monitoring for the remainder of our stay, we did not find them.  They must have selected an alternative location to start this year’s brood.


However, I was gratified to see that the Pale-billed Woodpecker had returned to its home in the smaller snag down the trail. The angle wasn’t the best, and, not wanting to disturb their nesting activity, we did not stay long, but we were happy with our discovery. 





We had seen a Pale-billed Woodpecker just once during our weeklong stay last year, but this year we came across these large, striking woodpeckers almost every day.


Another Pale-billed Woodpecker





The Lineated Woodpecker looks similar to the Pale-billed, but it is a tad smaller and the males have black and white streaking through their cheeks, whereas the male Pale-billeds have solid red heads and crests.  (And, of course, the Pale-billed Wiodpecker has a .... pale bill. The bill of the Lineated is thinner and a dark brownish-gray color). Aside from different “knocking” sounds, these two woodpecker species are found in slightly different habitats. 


The Pale-billed Woodpecker is a forest bird, and, indeed, all of the ones we saw were on the trails, deep in the forest. On the other hand, the Lineated Woodpecker is more often found in open areas. 


We had not seen the Lineated Woodpecker on our last trip, but this year we discovered a pair that had taken over a dead tree on the cliff right by our cabin.  We watched them over the course of our stay.  They spent a number of days busily excavating a hole near the top of the snag.  By the time we left, the female was securely ensconced in her new family home.




We found another nesting site off the property in a tree situated between the main road and open pasture.  This bird is a male, as he sports red plumage below the black and white lines through his cheeks.  In the female, this area is all black.



Edited by Alexander33
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We were walking back toward the Tropical Garden when I heard J. take a deep inward breath behind me.  I turned around, and saw that he had stopped, frozen on the trail, and was staring blankly ahead, his eyes downcast.


“What?  What’s wrong?” I asked.


Very slowly and very quietly he was able to utter, “Snake.”  


Let’s just say J. and snakes are not friends.  


“What?  Where?” I asked, walking back toward him, only for him to suck his breath in again.


“There,” he said, pointing toward the trail.


“Where?”  I looked all over, and all I saw were tree roots penetrating the trail.  Except, it turned out, one of those roots, just inches from the spot I had walked past, started to move.


Yep, a snake, and it wasn’t little, either – about 4 ½ to 5 feet in length.  It had crossed the trail, but the latter half was still sticking out across it when I, looking up and forward and in every direction but down, walked right by it, not once but twice, without even noticing it.















We later identified it as a Tropical Bird-eating Snake, fortunately non-venomous.  I have read the snake, though harmless, can be irritable and aggressive, but this one couldn’t have cared less about either of us.  It was just out hunting for its first meal of the evening, likely a small bird or eggs.


After that, however, I found myself scanning the trail in front of me a lot more carefully.  (For those of you who may slightly be freaking out, the dry season is your friend.  Having now spent an aggregate of 3 weeks in Costa Rica, between last year’s trip and this one, this is the only snake of any size that we encountered).




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Slimy and scaly turned to cute and fuzzy in the Tropical Garden, when we found a band of coatis climbing a palm tree, their chosen roost for the night. 













These omnivorous mammals are related to the raccoon, but they are even cuter, in my opinion – and probably feistier.  The bands one encounters will be maternal, as mature males tend to remain solitary or stay in very small groups of just 2 to 3 individuals.


I hadn’t been very satisfied with my photographs of the coatis on our last trip, but the antics they displayed in interacting with one another, and peering out at us between palm fronds, made for much improved photo ops.



As the last light of day finally waned, we paused at the gorge separating the Tropical Garden from the main lodge grounds, spying a bat (ID thoughts, anyone?) underneath a large leaf, no doubt anxious to begin its evening rounds, and then finally crossed the suspension bridge back to civilization. 









After a slow start, Bosque del Cabo had really delivered today.  We were exhilarated with the diversity of our sightings, exhausted from so much trekking, and still a bit shell-shocked after that snake encounter.


Fortunately, we had to pass right by the bar on the way to our cabin.  Maria, our bartender almost every night, took a good hard look at us as we ambled in.  She paused, her eyes growing just a little bit larger, and then, without a word, as if she could read our minds, just began pouring our glasses of wine…..


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18 hours ago, xelas said:

And your TR cannot came at better timing, as in next month our joint adventure with @michael-ibk will have to be finalised as itinerary. Of course, BdC is on our list. 




I will anxiously await news of your final itinerary.  As you know, I've only been there in January, but from Philip's blog, it's my understanding that Bosque del Cabo has had some great sightings this summer, not the least of which were very intimate sightings of a female puma on multiple occasions as well as tamandua (lesser anteater). I've yet to see either. ☹️

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@Alexander33 in fact the itinerary is already set up, only bookings to be done, and as BdC is a centerpoint of our trip, it has been booked already. 


I am counting heavily on Michael's luck with finding big cats, so who knows, we might be able to find one ourselves.

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thank you for your moving introduction @Alexander33 and forgive my geography but hope you are not affected by the floods! greatly enjoying your report

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Thanks so much for your kind comment.


Fortunately, I live in Dallas, well inland from the hurricane and flooding that our coastal friends are enduring.  It's a very dire situation down there, though. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. 

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During our remaining days, we would see the other monkey species as well.  The Mantled Howler Monkeys, which we had heard most mornings but not yet glimpsed, were suddenly less camera shy.  If anything is emblematic of the tropical rainforests of the Americas, it is the tremendously loud call of the howler monkeys.











And, finally, one morning the White-faced Capuchins decided to put in an appearance.  To me, these are the most expressive and photogenic of the monkeys.  Each individual readily seems to display a unique personality.









This one appeared to have some kind of skin ailment that affected most his tail.





I'd like to be able to claim that this one is an example of "artistic blur" intentionally meant to "convey movement," but, uh, no, it's just blurry.





Oh, speaking of monkeys: In my haste the other night, I forgot to post one other squirrel monkey photo:





Overall, though, our monkey sightings this year were not as good a last’s, and I think the main reason for that is the lack of fruit.  But, where there was fruit, there were monkeys.  On our last morning, near a large tree with ripening fruit at the entrance to the Titi Trail, we were able to stand in one place and see all four monkey species at the same time.  (At Bosque del Cabo, when you manage to do this on the same hike, they call that something – not “a quadruple,” but some term like that, which escapes me at the moment.  Any of you BdC alums recall what it is?)



Late one afternoon, we were with the birding guide, Carlos, off property when he spied this Three-toed Sloth feeding in a tree by the side of the road.





This is the best sloth photo I’ve been able to manage so far, and that’s not saying much.  I feel confident that someday I will get the opportunity to photograph a sloth in good light and in the lower limbs of a tree.  Someday…..


And, just because it doesn’t really fit into the narrative anywhere else, we also spied this female Green Kingfisher on the same outing. 




These kingfishers have a very widespread range in the Americas.  I’ve seen them in far south Texas (the very northernmost part of their range, where they can manage to generate some excitement) as well as way down in the Pantanal, where they are very common.


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During the early afternoon hours, as well as at dusk after we had finished our afternoon hike, we lounged around the cabin, splayed out on the chaises longues on the deck overlooking the ocean.  Even then, there were things to see.


One evening, a Crested Caracara came in to the road leading to the main lodge building and ignored us completely as it engaged in a dust bath.





These striking birds of prey also occur at home in Texas.  I think I mentioned in my report from last year that, in Costa Rica, I tend to be quite bad about spending much time with creatures that we can see at home. 


An adult nine-banded armadillo, scrounging through the undergrowth outside our cabin one pitch-black evening just before dinner, elicited similar disdain from me, although I will confess that the amount of noise it suddenly made, coming from some unknown source in the jungle, scared the hell out of me for a moment until he was thoughtful enough to show himself to me.


Not found at home is the Crested Caracara’s smaller relative, the Yellow-headed Caracara.  These were quite common this time around, flying into the lodge grounds in search of small rodents, I suppose, and, interestingly, perching on the rocks on the beach at the bottom of the Pacific Trail, scanning the shore for crustaceans and the like.








We stayed in the same cabin as we had last year (Lapa) because of its great view, not to mention its proximity to the bar.  On our previous visit, our neighbors had been photography enthusiasts, too, and we would alert one another when something of interest appeared on the grounds.  Whenever I heard a barrage of curse words emanating from their deck, I knew it could mean only one thing: the Cherrie’s Tanagers had made another appearance.


These vexing little things posed quite the challenge, although this time around, I think I finally managed to get a few passable shots of them on our last morning.


Male Cherrie's Tanager





Female Cherrie's Tanager




The Cherrie’s Tanager is endemic to the southwestern part of Costa Rica and northern Panama.  On the Caribbean side, the Passerini’s Tanager is almost identical.  The only way to distinguish the two species visually is through the female.  The female Cherrie’s has some rose-colored markings on her breast; the female Passerini’s does not and appears a little more dull in coloration.  We would see the Passerini's Tanager during the second half of our trip at Rancho Naturalista.  (They all looked exactly the same to me).



And when things got really slow, the red passionflower vines were always available for some attention.





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I mentioned before that one of the benefits of a return visit to a favorite place is that it allows for a more intimate experience.  Changes from one year to the next, which a first-time visitor would never notice, become apparent. 


I had been very excited last year to discover a pair of Scarlet Macaws in their nesting hole in a tree overlooking the beach (photo below).


The Scarlet Macaw in nest from our first trip to Bosque del Cabo in 2016:





So, at our earliest opportunity, we made our way down the Pacific Trail, hopeful that the mates (they mate for life) had returned. 


The tree was imprinted in my mind, so I was surprised as I walked down the beach that I could not find it.  I retraced my steps, and then retraced them again.  Only then did I realize, with a sinking heart, that what I thought was a massive piece of driftwood which had roughly been jostled up on shore was, in fact, the tree I was looking for. 









Evidently the torrential rains the previous November had loosened the thin soils precariously securing the tree’s roots to the edge of the cliff until the whole thing came crashing down on the beach. 


To anyone else, it was just a dead tree.  But to us, it was the tree in which the Scarlet Macaws had nested, a special discovery that we would always remember.



Farther down the beach, I spotted a pair of macaws, one in dense foliage, but the other perched on a fairly open branch, right over the sand.  It let me approach more closely than I expected, and we spent a good while with it just admiring its exuberant plumage and obvious intelligence.





Eventually, the pair took to the air and flew down the beach, as far as the eye could see, until they finally disappeared beyond the horizon.  I wonder if they were the same mates we had seen last year, as discomfited as I by the sight of their nesting tree now lying dead on the beach?

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Fortunately, the dead tree in which the Scarlet Macaws had nested was the only real change we noticed at Bosque del Cabo.  Everything else – the wonderful variety of wildlife, the fantastic staff, the beautiful lodge grounds, the growing cacophony of the rainforest that greeted me at dawn as I sipped that rich Costa Rican coffee each morning, and, of course, that deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where we sat in our Adirondack chairs sipping wine and watching the sun set as we talked about our day and looked forward to the next – all that was very much the same as it had been before.


Well, except one thing.  On our last afternoon, as our bags were loaded into the vehicle to take us back to Puerto Jiménez, we felt a very different sensation. 


Last year we had been melancholy, as our vacation was coming to an end.  This year, however, we were only at the midpoint.  Rancho Naturalista and the Caribbean foothills, and an entirely different flora and fauna, were awaiting us, and we were upbeat.


We bade everyone a final farewell, telling them we would miss them and everything else about Bosque del Cabo.  Karen, the manager, smiled slyly and looked at me in the eye: “I have a feeling you will be back.” 


I have a feeling she’s right.

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On 03/09/2017 at 3:42 AM, Alexander33 said:

have a feeling she’s right.


Karen is probably right, you might even return before we got there :)!


I have noticed you have several photos with lower shutter speed, and also ISO below 1000. On purpose? Was the VR doing its job so good you could took photos at 1/250 sec regularly?

Did you used a flash to add some extra light?

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10 hours ago, xelas said:


Karen is probably right, you might even return before we got there :)!



I so wish that were true, but, alas, it's not in the plans, so you will just have to report back to me as to how things are there.



As to your first question, the answer ranges from "kind of" to "no."


When I'm hiking through the jungle, I've always got my camera set to Manual mode, Auto ISO with sensitivity settings turned on to 100-3200.....and my shutter speed set to 1/250  I've learned over time that, with Vibration Reduction turned on, I usually can manage a sharp shot at 1/250 -- if the subject is, for the most part, static.  Although I'm fairly comfortable at even 1/100, 1/250 is usually a safe bet.  So, in that respect, the 1/250 shutter speed would be "kind of" on purpose because I use it as my default setting in the jungle.


You know the forests of Costa Rica as well as, if not better than, I do, so many times, there is not enough light to obtain a proper exposure even at 1/250.  In these instances, the meter in my viewfinder will tell me that the shot is underexposed, and I will lower the shutter speed as necessary, even to 1/60, 1/30 if I have to.  Many times the shots don't turn out, but I know that with the D7200, going over ISO 3200 is not going to yield a result I'm pleased with, so I just take the chance.   That sloth shot, for example, was taken at 1/50, ISO 3200.  It's not great, but it's better than nothing.


However, as you also know, the challenge with rainforests is that at one moment you can be in dense shade, and then a few steps later, you are in a more open area.  if I walk into an area that is less dense than where I've been, suddenly I've got a lot more light and could go with a faster shutter speed.  Doing so obviously would be more prudent, as it would allow me to get sharp photos of subjects with more movement that would otherwise be blurry at 1/250.


But you've just identified a weakness in the D7200 that never occurred to me until now.  Whereas the meter in my viewfinder tells me when a shot is underexposed (thereby reminding me to lower my shutter speed), it doesn't tell me what my ISO is and, thus, whether I've got enough light to increase my shutter speed.  Instead, it just tells me that, at 1/250, for example, I've got enough light for a proper exposure.  It doesn't tell me that my ISO at that particular moment is only at, say, 200 and that I could take it up to, say, 1000, and thereby get a faster shutter speed.  I just looked online, and the higher-end Nikons apparently do display the ISO in the viewfinder. I didn't know that.   I'll have to check our D750 for this.


Anyway, sometimes the situation is just too fluid to make adjustments quickly enough.  But, in looking over the shots I've posted, most of them with slower shutter speeds and low ISOs are just mistakes where I failed to increase the shutter speed when I could have.  That Yellow-headed Caracara on the beach (1/200, ISO 100 -- ridiculous) is a perfect example.  We had walked down to the beach through dense jungle, but once we were out on the open beach, I could have increased my shutter speed to 1/2000 or more.  I just forgot to, and my meter simply told me that I was properly exposed. So, in that sense, "no," it definitely was not on purpose.


I wish I could blame it all on my distracted state of mind during this particular trip, but I had one morning on our recent trip to Rwanda where most of my shots were at 1/200 or 1/250, many with ISOs of less than 1000.  We had walked into a very open area, and I just forgot to adjust.  There's one shot in particular that suffered from subject motion blur that could have turned out great if I had increased my shutter speed.  But that's what happens sometimes in the field when excitement overtakes you!  


Thank you for bringing this more to my attention.  


As to flash, the only time I used it on this trip was for the flowers.  On a few occasions, I tried using fill flash on birds, and even at -2, -3, I still got that dreaded "silver eye" effect, and the whole scene would just look "muddy":





I've definitely not mastered the use of flash, but I think the best way to incorporate it is to get it on a flash bracket with a diffuser like a Better Beamer, but you really need a tripod for that, and on 3-hour hikes through the hot, humid rainforest, I'm just not doing all that.  This guy we met at Rancho Naturalista did do that, and every time we saw him, his face said the same thing: "Not having fun."  


Edited by Alexander33
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Peter, thanks a lot for your extensive reply. We are using the same camera with same type of settings (M, AutoISO) only that I do leave it at 12800! That is because I prefer the grainy photo over the blurry one.


All great advices, only, do look again at "not showing the ISO in viewfinder" situation. It does show the intended ISO to be used, when half-pressing the shutter button. I will re-checked my statement with camera in hand, yet as our days on Scotland were very much the same re. dark grey clouds blocking the sun one minute then sun shines in full force the other, my brain was trying to follow the ISO situation in order to adjust the shutter speed, specially when shooting landscapes.


Not only is tripod heavy beast after 2nd hour into any hike, it also is not good at any "look, there is a bird" situation. Of course, when you find a quetzal on the branch, or when positioned in front of a hummers feeder, then it is a different story.


Looking forward to see what you have seen on at Rancho. Not going there ourselves.

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Rancho Naturalista


The only commercial flights out of Puerto Jiménez are to San José, and the drive from San José to Rancho Naturalista takes 2 ½ to 3 hours, so I decided to spend the night in San José, thus allowing us to stay at Bosque del Cabo until mid-afternoon and then putting us into Rancho Naturalista around the noon check-in time the next day, ensuring that we would have a full afternoon for exploration at Rancho.


I should have posted these aerial photos earlier, as they trace our flight from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez.  Since I didn't, I'm posting them in reverse order.  Just i-Phone shots, but they give a good idea of what the flight is like.




































Rather than stay near the airport, I opted to try Hotel Bougainvillea, which, from what I had seen advertised, seemed to be the starting and ending point for many organized birding and photography tours.  The hotel, located in Alajuela, a suburb of San José, has 10 acres of landscaped gardens, which we enjoyed for a few hours the next morning.


At 9:00 AM sharp, our van pulled up in front of the hotel to take us to Rancho Naturalista.  At this point, let me give thanks to @Atdahl for recommending Anywhere Costa Rica.  We used them for all our ground transportation, and they were great. Our drivers were all punctual, personable and professional. 


Although the distance between San José and Rancho Naturalista is only about 55 miles, the going is slow.  After getting through Cartago, we ascended into the mountains, over the “continental divide” and back down on the Caribbean side of the country, past sugar cane plantations and farms where ferns are raised for landscaping purposes.  We arrived at Rancho Naturalista in time for a late lunch.




Edited by Alexander33
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Rancho Naturalista is a 125-acre private reserve that formerly was an active plantation.  It consists of a main lodge with 3 units, all opening on to a balcony (one private).  There are also 8 other rooms in several casitas nearby.  The main lodge itself is a two-story Spanish ranch-style building that was formerly the seat of the plantation.



















Some of the local life, not too wild -- but very sweet.




The landscaped grounds are situated near the top of a low mountain, overlooking a bucolic valley, and the reserve itself ranges from 2,300 feet to 3,500 feet in elevation, depending upon where you are.  The most undisturbed parts are in the higher elevations, reached by way of the Mannakin Trail, which winds itself through moss-laden forests and trees covered in bromeliads up to an overlook called, quite simply, El Mirador.  A series of other trails winds through the reserve, some more challenging than others, but none are too formidable.  The Turrialba volcano, which was active as recently as last December, is visible from a distance.









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One of the things Rancho Naturalista is most famous for is this little guy:





There are about 15 different species of hummingbirds found at Rancho, but the Snowcap is the one that everyone wants to see.  Aside from being one of the smallest hummingbirds, it is also unusual in that its coloration is mainly an iridescent purplish-bronze instead of the more usual green, as in so many of the other hummingbird species.  But it’s the unmistakable white cap, which gives the Snowcap its name, that is the real standout.  The Snowcap is an uncommon hummingbird found only in the cloud forests on the Caribbean side from Honduras to Panama. Rancho Naturalista is reported to be the best place in Costa Rica to find this tiny jewel, and groups of hardcore birders come here from all over the world, in part to see the Snowcap.  Their reliability is well founded: we saw them nearly every day.





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Okay, I won’t lie.  It's been a rather hectic year, and I simply didn’t process as many photos as I originally had thought, so I need to do a little work on those before continuing.  I won't take too long -- promise.  


Ugh.  What was I thinking doing two trip reports at the same time? 


Bear with me, please!

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3 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

Ugh.  What was I thinking doing two trip reports at the same time? 


Where to go on your next trip ;) ?! Don't worry, we will wait patiently, admiring the Snowcap in the meantime :).

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One more Snowcap for good measure, just so you can see how tiny these flashes of iridescence are.






Edited by Alexander33
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While the Snowcap is the star of the show, over 15 species of hummingbirds are found at Rancho Naturalista.  This is close to half of all species found in Costa Rica.  One of the main differences between Bosque del Cabo and Ranco Naturalista, aside from the noticeably cooler temperatures, was the abundance of hummingbirds, which, oddly, are in scarce supply at Bosque, in spite of its abundance of other wildlife.  


The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was the most common hummingbird was encountered.








For some reason, female Green-breasted Mangoes were much more common than the males. In fact, it took a few days until we saw the male and I finally understood why they were called “green-breasted.”


Female Green-breasted Mango





Male Green-breasted Mango






Female Green Thorntails were also more evident than their male counterparts.









The White-necked Jacobins were the most aggressive and territorial of the hummingbirds, with perhaps only the Rufous-taileds in contention.  I love their blue heads.













But my favorite hummingbird of all was the Violet-crowned Woodnymph, just because the green iridescent throat of the male really popped when the light it just right.


Male Violet-crowned Woodnymph








Female Violet-crowned Woodnymph





One of our favorite pastimes during our stay was at the end of each day, when the light had grown too dim for photography.  We would pour ourselves a glass of wine and step out onto the second floor balcony, onto which our room opened. 


The balcony itself features a number of hummingbird feeders that are active all day, but particularly so in the early evenings, when the hummingbirds must feed in order to have sufficient energy to make it through the night.  The absolute feeding frenzy and acrobatic maneuvers of these iridescent gems was always a delight.



Edited by Alexander33
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