Although we’ve had a few bumps, our first 24 hours in Costa Rica have been pretty amazing thanks to our parrot and mot-mot alarm clock and a beautiful day spent in Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja.
We awoke at 4:45 am Sunday morning to the squawking chatter of white-fronted parrots and the familiar “whoop-whoop” of the blue-crowned mot-mot. Nothing like new birds to get me out of bed in a flash.
At first light, we were out the door, watching hundreds of parrots fly back and forth in the trees surrounding our cabina. We spent about an hour birding along the road at the finca where we are staying, enjoying sparkling hummingbirds, playful kiskadees and the extremely loud parrots.
Our hosts made us a tasty desayuno typico (typical breakfast) of eggs, gallo pinto (beans and rice), and avocado, which we gobbled up so we could get on the road to Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja (but not before shaking a tiny scorpion out of our bedspread – seriously).
The park is named for one of several volcanic peaks that lie within its boundaries, but it is famous for its geothermal activity. Mud pots, fumaroles, boiling water pots, and thermal springs dot the forest landscape fueled by the surrounding volcanoes. On our way into the park, a troop of seven white-faced capachin monkeys crossed the road one by one in front of our car.
Once at the park, we embarked on a short 3km loop hike that winds its way through beautiful primary, aka old growth, dry tropical forest passing each of these geothermal wonders. As you near each one, the signature sulfur smell permeates the air and you are blasted by hot steam–a real treat when it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity already.
Most of our fellow foreign tourists were there to see the vents, boiling mud and hot lakes that range between 192 and 248 degrees. For us, the geothermal activity in the middle of the forest, as opposed to Yellowstone-like moonscapes, was unforgettable but the birds, the birds!, were spectacular.
The mountains of Parque Rincon are situated perfectly for birds, where the Pacific and Caribbean slope ecosystems meet. We started out with a flock of noisy orange-fronted parakeets darting in an out of the trees in an open field. Once in the forest, we began hearing an ethereal duet and searching for the birds responsible for it. It didn’t take long to spot a pair of long-tailed manakins sitting on a branch next to each other, their red caps shining in the filtered sunlight singing in unison. We watched them for several minutes and were just about to head down the trail when Alex spotted a keel-billed toucan about 20 feet off the trail.
I moved down the trail a bit to get a better look and spotted a second toucan, just below the first in the same tree. They sat there scanning the forest and occasionally eating berries, their rainbow colored bills lit up by the sun, at times appearing almost translucent. We gawked at them for at least 20 minutes while listening to the manakins sing from the other side of the trail.
By this time, we were hot and exhausted. Although we hadn’t actually hiked very far all day, the heat and humidity had worn us out. We made our way back to the park headquarters (two tiny shacks and a dirt and rock parking lot), sated by a beautiful day of hiking and birding.
Two-day bird list: White-fronted parrot, White-throated magpie jay, house sparrow, Clay colored robin, Blue-gray tanager, Blue-crowned mot-mot, Common yellowthroat, Black vulture, Turkey vulture, Red-billed pigeon, Cinnamon hummingbird, Greater kisskidee, Turquoise-browed mot-mot, Crested caracara, White-tipped dove, Keel-billed toucan, Long-tailed manakin, Great tinamou, Red-legged honeycreeper, Hoffman’s woodpecker, Sulfur-bellied flycatcher, Orange-fronted parakeet, Ruddy woodcreeper, Barred woodcreeper, Rufous-capped warbler, Gray hawk, Slaty-breasted tinamou.
Other wildlife: White-faced capuchin monkeys, agoutis, iguana