Monday, January 6, 2020

The Hunt for Tody, it takes a lot of Cojones


There is always a bird out there taunting me.  The nemesis bird, big and small vex us all.  It seems no where is safe from the nemeses.  So goes the story of Tody

The 2019 version of the New Year's family trip was going to Costa Rica instead of St Martin for the obvious reason that our house was gone and for two additional  reasons.  First, my son, Tyko bought me a Costa Rican bird guide as a gift. I figured it was an omen.  Secondly, Suncountry as cheap
and direct flights to Liberia.  It was difficult to find accommodation on short notice but we found two rooms at the small Finca Verde Lodge.  It was neither nature hotel nor much of anything.  It was out of the way, in the forest featured only four rooms and it must be birdy, I assumed
As I suspected the flight south on Suncountry was late.  It wasn’t for the lack of a plane.  A bad snowstorm was coming and the area around the airport was coated in freezing rain. Driving to the airport took cajones, big ones.  I peered over a rather slick and steep hill on Danvers Avenue north of the MSP airport and it was like looking into a abyss, but inch by inch, I slid the truck down and then crossing the Minnesota River cars were all over the highway.  People passed the first six car pile up and tried to drive fast.  Behind us, someone was sideways on the bridge.  Luckily, we got through but a flight attendant didn’t and our departure was pushed back well over an hour..  Such are the joys of travel.  We’d get there when we got there and although I was worried about finding our tiny hotel in the dark, I guess we’d get there too, when we got there.  Even if it was tomorrow.     
There are five things that one needs for a stress-free and happy trip.  First, the airlines need to fly on-time and safely.  One’s luggage needs to arrive, and you need to pack the correct items.  Then, you need your local transportation, you can't spend the entire trip at the airport.  Forth, you need your hotel or at least a hotel.  Finally, you need some food, eventually.  Well, on this trip, we had some of these.  Is 2 out of 5 not bad?  How about just one?
As a person who packs light, packing is usually easy.  Often the question is whether to bring a towel or not to bring a towel, but this is a different sort of trip.  The night before departure, our son Allwin checked up the weather report.  Liberia, Costa Rica is the driest place in Costa Rica and it is firmly in dry season.  I had my rain forest gear packed—camera rain guards, dry bag, rain coat, rain hiking hat, and assorted smaller waterproof bags, zip locks and such.  I scratched my head, as my carry-on was tight on space, and at the hotel in Minneapolis, I rechecked the weather, dry skies ahead for as far as we could see.  So, I throw out the raincoat, the second coat, then the dry bag and seeing I could squeeze in a bathrobe, I through it all out.  Then somehow, I forget to put all but a two shirts back in.  Now, I’m ready (except for not knowing I forgot to pack many shirts)
 Our 9 AM departure time slides as we realize something or someone is missing, first, to 10 and then 11, we board. then we got two flight attendants that show, one goes and the other stays, that takes thirty minutes to sort out, then we got to de-ice.  We leave three hours late.  It is a safe flight.  So, we land safely, get through customs and I hunt for Hertz.  Hertz is always the best?  I find the guy.  “My Daniel.  I got good news and bad news for you.  We no longer have a car for you, but these guys over here, do.  They have just the car.”     
It turns out they did for $600 more money and the Tucson becomes a Prius, which becomes a Tucson again.  No deals there.  The guy gave me a card to call so I could get a better rate next time.  What can you do?  I can complain to Hertz.  They aren’t going to help.  We needed a car.  It was late, the family was starving and we still had a couple of hours to drive in the dark, maybe only forty five miles but the traffic in Liberia is awful we are warned.  We headed out.   We found our hotel, the Finca Verde Lodge, in Bijaqua, on the slopes of the Tenorio Volcano.  We creep up a dark and rutted road to a sign that is painted on an old satellite dish.
It turns out they have a small restaurant, it looks open and for a moment we look saved.  Then it starts to rain outside, not just a gentle rain but big ole fat rain, the potholes are soon large puddles.  “This is the dry season?”  I ask the members of the family.  We walk in and look to check in at the bar.  "Daniel..."  The woman makes a face.  "Mr. Allwin..."  She has my middle name for some reason.  Jorge, the manager happens to be there, she motions him over. he makes a face.
“What is your name?”  he asks me again looking confused in very Spanish English.  He sighs.  “Well, I got some bad news for you.  We didn’t think you were coming.  You didn’t answer my email.”  I show him my Travelocity booking number.  He motions that away
I put my hand to my face.  I play with my phone, turning it on to foreign charges.  I know I didn’t get an email, I got a hotels.com message to confirm, which I had actually done that (I thought it was to confirm two rooms), but then I missed the second one.  I was in the RV somewhere in Texas.  I hadn’t been on hotels.com since November.  Now the rain isn’t bothering me so much, since we apparently don’t have a room.  Then Jorge’s eyes light up as the woman (probably his sister) says something to him coming from the back.  “I have good news and bad news for you.  We have no rooms tonight, but tomorrow, lots of room.”  Thinking now we will be sleeping in the car or at the open-air café, I look back at my annoyed family.  I could at least bundle myself in my rain coat except that it is in a bag in the back of our truck in Minneapolis. 
Luckily, it turned out that was just the bad news, he had some cabin he knew of where we could stay at for the first night.  So, we followed him down the hill and shockingly were invited in to two not so bad rooms.  We had to trudge through the mud a little, but it worked.  We came back, and ordered food, and went to sleep hoping the rain was an anomaly.  It wasn’t.  It turns out, Liberia is in a whole different climate than just a little ways up here.  The weather report up in Bijagua?  Rain, with chances of thunderstorms, followed by more rain, heavy rain, intermittent with thick fog followed by mist with occasional rain.  The room was dry and I awoke to the something noisy outside.  I suspected howler monkeys, but just couldn’t see them, as I couldn’t even see the chairs outside, it was that foggy.  Then I noticed my lack of basically anything clothing related save my bathrobe.  I put in on, walked out and sat down.  Then I took it off, no one could see me anyhow.  I let the drizzle cool my idiocy.  I go to a rainforest and I talk myself out of bringing rain gear.  Olaf is the stupidest man in the universe.  I see a flash of yellow, then a song.  It is a kiskadee, or maybe a boat-billed flycatcher, the first I have, the second, I need.  The bird is perched somewhere, I can’t even see the line of hedge it is perched on.  I hear unidentified parrots flying over.  I look in my guidebook.  Six species could be here.  At least the monkeys are identifiable.  Nothing sounds like howlers.  I walk in and go back to bed.  No use birding, the weather had me beaten.  We eventually get organized, have breakfast, watch the rain intensify, and lode up the car with our stuff.  We drive into the village to see what is available.  The answer is little.  No umbrellas, and only emergency rain ponchos and garbage bags.  We load up on both.  We drive around, find a French hotel with a nice restaurant up the hill which surprisingly had rooms, I see a few birds which quiets the spirit and we go check in.
After that, some surprising things happened.  First, the life at the hotel improved, our rooms at Finca Verde were not as nice as the one night.  But after two nights, they upgraded us to the one really nice room they had.  We gave that to the kids.  Secondly, the rain…ah the rain.  Bad weather and Olaf is like red wine and red meat.  I checked the report again and it looked horrid but then something odd happened.  The weather gods gave us a break.  The fog parted, the rain ended, and the weather forecasts proved wrong.  The sun even came out.  I never took my rain poncho even out of the bag it came in.  Even the day we went to the very wet St. Elaena Preserve on the next volcano, Arenal, a place it always rains, but it didn’t.
It became an odd trip, as everyone, everyone looked at us odd that we were staying for eight nights in Bijagua.  From the waitstaff to the managers of the hotels, to other tourists, everyone asked the same question.  Eight nights, here?  I seemed birdy and there were some trails assuming the weather held.
    The second morning my daughter learned a valuable life lesson about shoes in the tropics or even for the desert.  One must always check what is in your shoes before you put them on.  I’ve had mice, scorpions, and my daughter, now, three-inch spiders.
A scream went out in the rainforest as we were readying for our first hike.  “There is something in my show”, Lauren said pulling out her foot in a bit of a panic.  She looked in shock.  We laughed and then a realization.


Hey, something IS in the shoe, it doesn’t want to come out

That is a really BIG spider!  Yuck!

Lessons learned and with nothing else to do.  We started a slow search for birds especially, the hunt for tody, the tody motmot, a bird that I’ve searched for in Belize twice, Honduras, once, and well, let me put it this way: I have seen more jaguars, more ocelots, more poisonous snakes, slept on more docks, and been rescued more by Francis Ford Copula than I’ve seen tody motmots.  In Costa Rica, they are found only around three volcanoes, the two that Bijagua sits in between, and another farther northwest.  It was one of three birds I really wanted to see.  The aracari wasn’t even a lifer bird.  I had seen one on the steps of a pyramid but had run out of film twenty years earlier, the resplendent quetzal would be something very lucky to find the single day we would be visiting its habitat a three-hour drive away.
Luckily, the local trails we hiked in were prime tody habitat, so I just pretended to be hiking.  But as the week went on one thing became clear, I was seeing a steady diet of lifer birds, but not tody.  I listened, I called, I even used payback a little but nothing.   I wanted to find toucans but none of them appeared.  We got lucky and got a reservation  at the French place for New Years eve, that was nice.  January 1 night?  Crackers and peanut butter.  Nothing was open or at least open and had food.  Then a got a desired photo, a collared aracari, then it seems, they were everywhere, even the local feeder
one amigo at the feeder


then two and would you believe three?
how about four?
five?  

Could there ever be five collared aracaris on a platform?  Yes, but the variegated squirrel said otherwise as the fifth landed it came and stole the banana.

then we got yellow-throated toucans

keel-billed toucans

We saw Lesson's motmot

Broad-billed motmot but no Tody

Between the lumps, the splits, the renames, it was overwhelming.  I'm still looking at photos.
What IS this?  Three-striped warbler in the field guide but it is now a Costa Rican warbler, who knew?

Gosh and then there were the butterflies....I just punted, it was 4th down and 70, in a real game I would have taken the safety...geez.
I posted this butterfly on an ID page and got laughed at as what I was thinking  wasn't even in the same end of the field guide.  It was a butterfly, but skippers are as close to swallowtails as where I was looking.  Funny thing, even the expert couldn't ID it as to a species, family....a Costa Rican butterfly guide would be needed except it seems, it would be a Nobel prize worthy project.

Then we have flycatchers....OMG
Kiskadee versus Social flycatcher versus Gray-capped versus rusty-margined?
Wait, they are white-ringed flycatchers.  White-ringed?
this is a gray-capped.  I identified both on the plane home.  The life list keeps giving

My wife wanted to see a quetzel before they go extinct, so we drove up into the highlands, three hours by bad roads.  We hiked in a preserve, but all we found was quick glances at small birds and poisonous snakes
Don't worry, this isn't a real Fer-de-lance, only a salmon-bellied racer, it won't kill you, they are pretty feisty though....there were other snakes, scary snakes, snakes in the trail.

So no quetzel...so we went to lunch.  I saw four individual birds sitting outside after lunch, all lifers and the only ones of the trip

Magenta-throated woodstar

Striped-tailed hummingbird

Silver-throated tanager

And then...he flew by, not a tody, but a male resplendent quetzel THE bird of Costa Rica
holy cow, the worst photo ever, but still identifiable...wow, four birds, four lifers, and an overpriced tourist lunch and we weren't even on a tour.  We voluntarily walked in.

We continued roaming around and seeing single birds that were representing lifer species
We saw a black cowled orioles



 Even pacific screech owls, we had two at this roost we stumbled upon when I was trying to point out a red-lored parrot seen clearly through a window above them.  My wife thought I was joking.  "Your showing us the owls correct?"  

"What Owls?"  It was a lucky parrot


the lucky parrot shot through a hole a foot above a hard to find owl

I saw a slate throated redstart, not a lifer, but still cool
 a slate tailed trogon (female) 
 A white collared manikin 

We had sloths over out cabin...
Everybody was trying to get in on the tourist dollars to see sloths 
I'm not sure how well that worked though.  I guess any body that stops is a bonus.

We had Capuchins raiding bananas
  
Howler monkeys waking us up, every morning at first light
and waterfalls

We floated the river for boat billed herons and bitterns.

No tody!  But we were seeing a tremendous variety of birds.  So the search for Tody continued on to the last day.  I went out early and grabbed a local guy who showed tourists the sloths, he seemed to know some about Tody, yea, close by, yes, we started 150 feet from where I woke up and then.....he whistled and then it answered, we got closer and closer it kept answering and then...IT RAINED!!!!!  We aren't so lucky as a mist or a passing shower, it hadn't rained this hard all week, and Manny went back to the cafe.  I followed, slipping on the the mud climbing out of the rivine.  I had breakfast, drank coffee and swore quietly.  SO CLOSE!!!!!  I finally walked out to the road and screamed.  Screaming helps sometimes.  The rain stopped.  Manny saw me walking back.  "You okay boss?  I heard a funny noise."  He asked.  "Go find Tody now."  He said and off we went, he whistled once and there it was.  Tody motmot

Lifer tody motmot

We fist bumped and he went back to work and then the family went out for the final hike.  I walked four hundred yards on the volcano to the north and then another tody flew in.


It was also there on the way back, another flew over my head, and then that evening, they called behind my bed, one was on the way to drinks, motmot here, motmot there, a tody motmot everywhere.  The way it goes.  One day's nemesis is another's trash bird.   It was time to go home, now that the birding gods were mocking me.

It took my seven days to get the photo of the lone long billed hermit feeding at a small group of flowers ever morning at 0830 over a river.  five mornings I could not get a shot and on the final morning I got a photo, one hard bird to get and even at this, it isn't that good of a photo.
\

It was a bit overwhelming.  63 lifer birds....and a great family trip.  It was a fun spontaneous trip, it seemed we got by at times on a wing and a prayer but no one died, just one awfully big spider in a shoe and some close encounters of the slithering kind.  I left some Costa Rica on the bone, so I'll be back.  Tody....?  Nemesis no more that bird.....I came I saw, and then I saw some more...oh well....even a bonus quetzel,  and even the Vikings won....life is GOOD

Olaf





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