10 December 1994


Dear Friends and Family,


This year seemed to pass pretty quickly! We've now been in Rochester 8.5 years, and in our house for 4.5 years. The house still feels like new, although it's beginning to need its first maintenance work (painting, staining, carpets cleaned, etc.). Eileen has done a great job with the gardens, which now surround the house and have a nice mixture of annuals and perennials. She has really been enjoying gardening and is starting to do more work indoors as well. One particularly exciting project has been to grow native ferns from spores; right now she has about 8 species that have produced gametophytes under artifical lights.


Eileen finished substitute teaching in the spring and decided not to return this fall. My job at Kodak is about the same; nearly all my time is spent developing computer simulations that can be used to design and evaluate photographic systems. This is challenging and interesting work. I am now team leader for a very ambitious project that will occupy essentially all my time for at least the next four years. I think that Kodak is starting to turn around under the leadership of George Fisher, the new CEO we got from Motorola. It will still take a few years to see the effects of what he is doing, but he seems to be doing the right things.


Last year we had a lovely Christmas in Charlottesville. We explored several Civil War battlefields near Chancellorsville (Eileen has read innumerable books on the Civil War, and has visited many of the battlefields). On our way home, we drove a bit out of the way and came through Delaware, so that Eileen could bag her 48th state. On our Pacific Northwest trip, tentatively scheduled for 1996, we'll both complete our lists (Washington for both of us, Oregon for Eileen).


As usual, we took a few weekends in January to print enlargements from our best shots. I had a case of shingles, which was painful but apparenly not nearly as bad as it can get. I lost one day of work, but otherwise got a lot done at work because I couldn't attend any meetings for a while! I may plan to develop shingles every year. Because we spend so much time in the field from April to October (typically every weekend except one or two), we have a lot of catching up to do in the winter. We spend much of our free time in the winter sorting slides, printing enlargements, researching trips, reading, renting movies, etc. (we recently have started working our way through a number of the John Wayne movies; they're really quite good, with plot, and character development, and other things often absent in modern films).


Our big trip for the year was to Costa Rica for 26 days starting in late February -- what a blast! We went with three of our friends from CalTech, Jim and Ellen Strauss and John Parmeter (now at Sandia National Laboratories). Enclosed is an account of the trip that Eileen wrote.


Our "local" field work started in April with migratory songbird censusing for the Nature Conservancy, and a trip to the inland pine barrens near Rome, NY. In May we again took up the challenge of adding to our list of native flowers photographed in the Northeast. We began the year at 331 species, and hoped to reach 400 by the end of the year. We had good luck in early May at the northern end of the Allegheny Mts., adding 6 species, including the particularly lovely long-spurred violet. We took our traditional May trip to Pt. Pelee for spring bird migration; as is so often the case, it was wet camping and the migration was unspectacular. The first trip we ever took was the best, and we've kept returning for six years or so hoping for another weekend that good! In May we also planted several flats of seedlings in the garden (Eileen raises these indoors to get a head start).   


Over Memorial Day we visited Algonquin Provincial Park. Despite the abundant blackflies, we had a great time. Highlights were long close views of a pair of courting spruce grouse (only our second encounter ever with this species), about a dozen moose, and fragrant cliff fern. The latter is a very uncommon northern species that we had never seen before; it is a remarkably elegant and distinct fern that grows on acidic cliff faces. In June we did warbler mapping in Letchworth State Park; this involves hiking trails and noting the location of singing males on topographic maps. This year we found the first yellow-bellied flycatcher ever in the park. We also censused small white lady's slippers in Bergen Swamp. Our first two trips to the southwest Adirondacks (of a total of about a dozen trips for the year) were uneventful but enjoyable. We called barred owl into our campsite, saw a probable weasel while spotlighting at night, and did some fine canoeing.


We visited the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario in both June and July this year, seeing the usual outstanding selection of ferns and orchids. Particularly memorable were several stands of 50-100 showy lady's slippers in bloom in cedar swamps, four species of horsetails (one rare, two uncommon) growing along a 100-yard stretch of trail, two new twayblade orchids (in leaf only; we will have to try to see them in bloom next year), and a spectacular fern assemblage including male, hart's-tongue, and northern holly ferns.


Over Fourth of July week we took a 10-day trip to the Great Smokies; I had been there twice before, Eileen never. We stopped in Charlottesville on the way down to see my Mom and brother Chris. We drove the length of  the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkways (about 570 miles total), looking for new plants along the way. Our total list of native plants in bloom was 77 species, of which slightly over half were new to our photographic list! This percentage was so high because we had not been so far south before, while still being in the region covered by our list (we chose to use the Northeast as defined in our favorite wildflower guide (Newcomb's), for which the southern boundary just includes the Smokies). Some of our favorite plants were Canada and turk's-cap lilies, creeping bluets, filmy and climbing ferns, two species of twayblade orchids, mountain spleenwort, and little gray polypody. The weather tended to foggy and rainy, so we did not have much luck photographing scenery. We spent one day hiking to and from Ramsay Cascades; this trail is the best one in the park for seeing the large trees for which the Smokies are famous. The Smokies contain the richest forests in the North American continent, and it is a humbling experience to walk beneath the giant hemlocks and tulip-trees along the upper reaches of the trail. The drive home through Kentucky was interesting.


In late July we had a nice visit with my Dad and friends in Vermont, where we photographed our 400th species (tuberous water lily) from a boat. Our last new additions to the list were in August in the Adirondacks; we finished the year with 406 species. Most of our August weekends were devoted to canoeing.


Over Labor Day we again visited Algonquin Provincial Park for our traditional wolf weekend. This was the sixth time in seven years we have made this trip, and it was one of our best trips ever. We heard wolves magnificantly each night! It is such a thrilling experience to get up at 3:00 in the morning (well, that part's not really thrilling), to drive along a deserted road to a boggy area ringed with low mountains, to break the absolute silence with howls that echo from the hills, and to listen to the replies under the stars, sometimes with an aurora borealis shimmering overhead!  The weekend was rounded out with great views of interacting beavers, a stunning display of bright pink water smartweed, and a mouse that exploded from under a fern frond when I turned it over!


Most of September was spent searching for new fern species in our favorite Adirondack camping area, the western Moose River Plains. A published study from the northwest Adirondacks, that spanned 30 years, a circle of radius 30 miles, and elevations from 1000 - 4000 feet had a list of  29 ferns and 14 fern allies (fern allies include some very interesting plants like horsetails, quillworts, and spikemosses). Our area can be contained in a circle of radius 4 miles, and varies in elevation from about 1800 to 3800 feet. We had been casually noting ferns in the area for a few years, and in August compiled a tentative list of 24 ferns and 10 fern alllies. In September we relocated and confirmed all these species, and systematically sought out other species that we thought might occur. We added 4 ferns and 2 fern allies in this fashion, bringing our total to within 1 fern and 2 fern alllies of  the published work.


The camping season finished in October, with a last trip to see the golden tamaracks. We had one of the nicest late falls ever in Rochester; the first real snow did not fall until just before Thanksgiving, and the weather was dry and warm, permitting us to do the fall yardwork in greater comfort than usual. We chopped up a huge quantity of leaves for compost, filling our homemade 7x7x3-foot compost bin (which we call the "leaf corral") with densely packed leaf shreds. Eileen will use the compost next year in her gardens.


In November we took a few trips to Niagara Falls for gulls; it was the second poor year in a row for both numbers and species. We spent Thanksgiving in Charlottesville, sorting through all our fluorescent minerals with an ultraviolet light (fluorescent minerals emit visible light when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, like "black light" posters). Most of these Mom, Chris, and I collected in Franklin, NJ in the early seventies. Now we are preparing for our next trip, the fourth and last in our series of sequential trips to the Mountain West (trip 1 was to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier; trip 2 to Wyoming and Colorado; trip 3 to Utah and the Arizona Strip). On this one-month trip, after staying in El Paso with Eileen's folks for Christmas, we will visit a number of locations in the portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado below (south and east) of the Colorado River. Eileen visited a few of these locations as a child (South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert), but otherwise it will be new territory for both of us.


Costa Rica Trip


Eileen L. Keelan


26 February - 13 March 1994


Costa Rica is a Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.  Comparable in size to West Virginia,  it is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, with 855 species of birds (all of North America north of Mexico has about the same number), over 8,000 species of plants, including 1700 orchids, and 237 species of mammals, among them monkeys, jaguars, and humpback whales.  And for butterfly fanciers, there are more species in Costa Rica than on the entire African continent.   No wonder, then, that it is a naturalist's dream to visit this tropical paradise.  It is also an increasingly popular winter destination for birders in quest of additional species of birds to expand their life lists--and it doesn't hurt that the prime birding season in Costa Rica offers a warm, and extremely pleasant escape from the arctic conditions of northern winters!


For all these reasons, we happily anticipated an excursion to Costa Rica, eager to experience as much as we could of the astonishing variety of plants and animals.  One could easily devote months or years to studying the natural history of this country; we had three and a half weeks to absorb as much as we could.  Though we were tantalized by the wealth of flora and fauna, our primary focus was on the birds, and we planned the itinerary to sample each of Costa Rica's various habitat types in order to maximize the glorious possibilities.  Our companions on this trip were our friends Jim and Ellen Strauss from California, and John Parmeter from New Mexico; we had not all been together since we had all lived in California.




The river moved slowly in the shade beneath the dense, overhanging vegetation, barely disturbing the water-lilies floating on its surface.  A slender, rail-like bird stepped rapidly from leaf to leaf, stabbing at insects, supporting itself easily on extremely long-toed feet. Its head and neck were black, its body chestnut, and it had a bright yellow bill and frontal shield: our first northern jacana of the trip!  We sat in the boat, our binoculars momentarily unnecessary, sipping cold drinks, and marvelling at the great views of such an exciting bird.  Already that day we had seen bare-throated tiger-heron, mantled howler monkey, jesus christ lizard (which "skips" across the water's surace), as well as three species of toucan, all from the comfort of a stable, flat-bottomed boat, complete with local guide and a cooler stocked with soft drinks.


We were birding in Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  It was the first stop of our long-awaited, first real "foreign" trip (we've done some traveling in both Canada and Mexico).  We had arrived in the park that morning, via a five-passenger plane and a 30-minute flight.  Jim spotted a snowy cotinga flying above the treetops as we landed.  Upon arrival, we'd been whisked across the canal to the lodge where we had reservations, and ushered into breakfast.  This meal, like all of them during our two-day stay here, was served family-style:  the guests were seated at long tables and helped themselves from serving dishes placed within reach.   The food was delicious and the menus were varied, though they nearly always included gallo pinto, a rice and bean dish that seems to be a staple of Costa Rican cuisine, and some form of bananas--baked, fried, frittered, sweet, salted--you name it, they had figured out how to do it to a banana.


After breakfast, we headed down the canal to the Tortuguero River for the first boat trip  of our stay--in our two days, we took a total of three half-day boat trips and saw such birds at sungrebe, squirrel cuckoo, semiplumbeous hawk, boat-bolled heron, and green and rufous kingfisher (we saw all  the New World kingfishers on this trip).  But the most unusual boat trip was one we took at night; the guide spotlighted several species roosting that we would not otherwise have seen:  agami heron,  American pygmy kingfisher, great potoo, and gray-necked wood rail.  In addition to the birds, he also showed us a kinkajou, a short-legged, monkey-like member of the raccoon family.  We also went by boat from the lodge to the park headquarters,  where we set off on a  muddy hiking trail that wound through the hot, humid forest, and went for a short distance along the beach before turning back into the forest for the return part of the loop.  We heard the loud roar of a troop of howler monkeys up in the trees and from the beach located a laughing falcon in a distant treetop.  Jim brought a slaty antshrike into view by tape recording its call and playing it back to the bird. On the hike we went through a lek of white-collared manakins.


We did some birding on the grounds and trails surrounding the lodge and had nice looks at a lineated woodpecker and argued about which species of forest falcon nearly beheaded us when it swooped low over the trail.  After each bout of birding, whether by foot or by boat, we sat around with cold drinks and tallied up the bird lists.  Ellen had prepared in advance a 20-page check-list of Costa Rican birds, with one column for each of the days of the trip. This was a big help in tallying up what was seen each day. 


We enjoyed the notion that we had nothing to do all day but haul our binoculars around and look for exotic birds and butterflies, orchids and monkeys.  This casual attitude extended to the lodge as well.  For example, there was this notice in the brochure: " We have never had a problem with theft from the rooms. Therefore, we do not use room keys...If you do accidentally lock a room, tell us and we'll open if for you."  Another piece of advice read:  "On a few minutes notice, we will be happy to take you across to the beach at no charge.  Please leave clear information as to when you want to be picked up so that we know when to keep an eye out for you.  When you get back to the river, jump up and down, wave your arms and shout.  Be patient and persistent; eventually we'll notice you and come to get you."


Arrangements had gone very smoothly thus far.  Brian had done an enormous amount of planning and organization before we left the United States, sent numerous letters and faxes, done more planning, written more letters.  Everything was orchestrated down to the last detail.  Still, we had kept in mind the warnings in guidebooks that, even with reservations, even with reservations and deposits, things could still go awry.  However, from our vast experience of several days,  we could see that the hours would be filled with life birds, not problems; that we had no more pressing decisions to make than whether to tally the bird list before or after dinner; that in fact, we had nothing more tedious to do than the bird list itself.  While this remained essentially true for the remainder of the trip, we were disabused of that last idea as soon as we arrived back at the airport in San Jose and attempted to zoom in and pick up the rental car, which we would drive to our next destination, Vivero Salsipuedes.


Zoom, we learned, was a word that could not be used, in any connection whatsoever, with the rental car.  In what turned out to be a sort of comedy of errors (which certainly wasn't amusing at the time), we spent several hours at the airport trying to untangle the most complicated set of arrangements under which we'd ever tried to rent a vehicle.  Still, we eventually drove away in what appeared, at first, to be a normal car.


Vivero Salsipuedes 


We were following a heron-like bird along the rocky riverbed, hoping to get a better view.   At last,  it was out in the open when we flushed it again; it hopped up onto a boulder, then flew low over the ground, displaying the gorgeous concentric pattern on its wings that is visible only in flight.  We were thrilled by our first view of a sunbittern, an aptly named life bird that was the primary goal of the hike and that we were to see only one more time on the trip.  Even the rain that began after we reached the river could not dampen our enthusiasm now.


Michael Snow, our guide and host for two full days of birding on the Atlantic slope, in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains, had led us down a steep path to the Madre Dios River.  We walked slowly, at birder pace, stopping often to look at such birds as bay wren, boat-billed flycatcher, blue-black grassquit, and scarlet-rumped tanager.  The weather was hot and humid and we drank gallons of water and cold sour-orange juice, made from the fruit of trees growing in Michael's yard. 


Michael lived on a small farm, mostly secondary forest in various stages of regrowth.  During our stay, he led us on hikes along a network of roads and trails where we found such specialties as bat falcon, white-breasted wood wren, violaceous trogon, red-capped manakin, and the ultimate skulker,  black-faced antthrush.  We swiftly became familiar with oropendolas that built huge nests in colonies in bare trees and made unusual noises while displaying.  We enjoyed the interaction between two chestnut-backed antbirds in the bushes near the house.  Late one afternoon, we spotted a slaty-tailed trogon and at night, we heard black and white owl, least pygmy owl, and great tinamous.  Among the non-avian species we saw here were the fascinating leaf-cutter ants and some very fancy butterflies, including the incredible blue morpho.


The accomodations here, while not four-star, were certainly adequate.  The house had a kitchen where the two members of Michael's staff prepared meals, that, if becoming familiar, were still very good; two bedrooms for guests; and a bathroom shared by residents and guests.  The three residents assumed some rather unconventional living arrangements, involving a tent and a bottle of vodka, when guests arrived.  Meals were served on the veranda, with a view of orchids growing in the yard, mountains in the distance, and the opportunity to keep an eye out for more birds, such as white-crowned parrots.


Puerto Viejo


Pale-vented pigeon, purple-throated fruitcrow, plain wren, long-billed gnatwren, red-throated ant-tanager:  these were some of the species that so delighted us as we birded from the dirt road between our lodge and the small town of Manzanillo.  Here too, we heard the grunts and roars of  the howler monkeys.  We had left Vivero Salsipuedes in the morning of the eighth day of our trip, stopping in the crowded, busy town of Limon for such essentials as gasoline, bottled water, and gatorade.  When we arrived at the Miraflores Lodge, we encountered the first glitch in our well-laid plans, but, fortunately, it was a small one:  they had rented out one of the rooms reserved for us, but they promised that a private room with shower would be available "soon".  "Soon"  does not mean the same thing in Costa Rica as it does elsewhere, so after lunch, we headed out birding toward Manzanillo. 


By the time we had birded our way back to the lodge, it was near dinner time, we were hot and dusty and looking forward to showers.  However, the electricity was out, a not unusual occurence, which meant that there was no running water; so, after receiving a recomendation for dinner from our hostess, we went to Cooky's French Restaurant.  It was a small, open-air place, where, perhaps not coincidently, our lodge hostess moonlighted as a waitress!  Huge banana leaves served as placemats, and through the kitchen we could see Cooky toss vegetable scraps right out the window as he prepared the dishes -- there's nothing like having your compost pile convenient to the kitchen.  The delicious meals concluded with chocolate crepes for dessert and we enjoyed the place enough that we returned the next evening.


After more birding along the road next morning (well-refreshed, since the electricity was back on when we returned from dinner, and we were able to enjoy showers) and seeing banded-backed wren, white-collared seedeater, red-legged honeycreeper, and olive-crowned yellowthroat, we drove to Cahuita National Park where we hoped to see a variety of forest species.  Here we had our first car troubles, only a portent of things to come.


Once we'd weathered the near-fiasco of merely trying to rent the vehicle (which, by the way, had actually been reserved in advance and paid for in entirety before we even arrived in country, for whatever that's worth, which apparently is nothing)  we hadn't experienced any real problems beyond the odd item falling off the car now and then:  a couple of door handles, ashtrays, etc.  True, the seatbelts in the backseat did not work, but that is to be expected when the buckles and the clips are not of the same type.  Probably the worst thing from a birder's point of view, was the fact that the front seat passenger door handle had wasted no time breaking off; the unfortunate birder in the front seat was at the mercy of someone else to let him or her out.  At best, this arrangement was inconvenient.  At worst, when an unexpected and exciting new bird was spotted, and the occupants exploded out of the car in a frenzy to locate it, there was always one poor trapped birder left behind, beating on the windows as a gentle reminder that someone was falling down on the job.  (At one point, Brian forgot that it was his turn to let me out; he trotted off down the road, enthusiastically gesturing back over his shoulder for me to hurry up and join him.)


Anyway, we had driven as far from the entrance station as it was possible to go, and gotten out to scan the Atlantic Ocean from the beach, and were enjoying the waves curling in against the shore.  A moment of panic ensued upon getting back into the vehicle and discovering that it would not start.  After the time-honored tradition of fiddling around under the hood for a while, it was discovered that there were loose battery connections.  The problem was remedied as well as any mechanic could have done by banging on them with a rock and we happily drove away.  We should have kept the rock.


At least we were compensated for the interruptions, by seeing an olive-backed euphonia, which required some diligent searching among the foliage, and a crowned wood nymph, a superb purple hummingbird with a green throat. Later in the day, above Bribri, we were pleased to see another wood nymph feeding repeatedly at some bright red heliconias; as well as long-tailed tyrant and, at a river crossing, our second sunbittern.


Braulio Carrillo


If you can imagine a number of species of birds occupying the trees and shrubs in your immediate vicinity, mingling with each other, calling back and forth, flipping from branch to branch, feeding actively, and, most importantly, not flying away, then you have a reasonable picture of a mixed feeding flock. Feeding flocks provide one of the great thrills of birding, almost an embarassment of riches in the form of birds, and all immediately available for one's viewing pleasure.  At Braulio Carrillo National Park, we lucked into the mother lode of feeding flocks.


The fun began after leaving Puerto Viejo.  We got up early, whacked at the car battery for abouth the eighteenth time, and took a farewell drive along the dirt road to Manzanillo, adding about five new birds, including black-throated wren and tropical gnatcatcher. We were also treated to a dawn chorus of howler monkeys.


Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo was established in 1978 in order to preserve 109,000 acres of primary forest.  It encompasses an area of rivers, canyons, and waterfalls, boasts dense vegetation, cool, misty conditions, steep, muddy trails, and some of Costa Rica's rarest and most restricted species of birds.  We reached the parking lot in mid-morning and were debating whether to take the main trail from the headquarters or to hunt for one of the more-difficult-to-find secondary trails, when one of the fabled feeding flocks was discovered in some trees facing a small look-out adjacent to the parking lot.  Black and yellow tanagers were so stunning that they hardly looked real. Other new species included brown-billed scythebill, russet antshrike, and cinnamon woodpecker.


This display only whetted our appetites for more exciting possibilities and we set off up the main trail in hopeful search.  We were not disappointed: we encountered a second huge feeding flock containing white-throated shrike-tanager, green honeycreeper, white-ruffed mannakin, and emerald and bay tanagers (we found about 10 species of tanagers that afternoon).


Southwest Costa Rica


John joined us at this point in the trip and we returned to San Jose to meet him.  We then headed for the alpine paramo of Cerro de la Muerte at about 11,000 feet elevation. Our first stop was one of the best, a private road for which we obtained permission and a key to enter, and where we saw golden-browed chlorophonia, flame-throated warbler, collared redstart, and black-and-yellow silky flycatcher.  Another side road yieded long-tailed silky flycatcher, buffy tufted-cheek, and black-billed nightingale-thrush. At the summit itself, despite fog, we saw volcano hummingbird, peg-billed finch, large-footed finch, and black-capped flycatcher.


The next day, we headed toward Golfito Refuge in the southwest corner of the country, stopping to look for birds near El Brujo, where we saw roadside hawk and yellow-crowned euphonia, and Punta Mala, where we found gray-headed chachalaca, orange-chinned parakeet, green-breasted mango, and long-billed starthroat.  We had the highest day list of the trip and nearly thirty new trip species.


At Golfito, we drove up a road to a microwave station and birded our way back down.  As if to balance out the previous day's high list, we saw few new birds today, but we did have a couple of good ones:  a black-hooded antshrike, and three white hawks which Brian spotted soaring overhead and which were a favorite bird for everyone.  A hoped-for bird, red-throated caracara, failed to put in an appearance.  However, we were very pleased to see some white-throated capuchin monkeys foraging actively in the trees,  and watched for a while as they hopped up and down on a limb, and broke off branches in a display that indicated they were not as pleased to see us.


Silver-throated tanager, scarlet-thighed dacnis, green hermit, and violet sabre-wing were some of the birds we enjoyed seeing at the Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces.  This garden, located in mid-elevation tropical rain forest along a spur ridge of the Coastal Range, near the Panamanian border, was established in 1963 by Robert and Catherine Wilson, and was transferred in 1973 to the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of United States and Costa Rican universities supporting tropical research.  It contains a rich collection of palms, ferns, bromeliads, and heliconias, as well as 220 species of birds, and a wide variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and an amazing three thousand-plus species of moths and butterflies.  A number of trails wind through the gardens; we took our time making our way around, pausing for closer examination of interesting plants or to study through binoculars such species as orange-billed nightingale-thrush, thick-billed euphonia and yellow-faced grass-quit .


The return to San Isidro was not as uneventful as we might have hoped.  We had an auspicious start when we took a few minutes to add masked duck to our list of successes, but things went downhill fast when the car began to overheat.  Once we had adapted to the idiosyncracies of the vehicle, we had not had any major problems since the excitement occasioned by the battery failures, so one could argue that we were due.  Still, when Jim and Brian checked under the hood and discovered that the fan belt was off and sort of coiled around the engine like a chewed and twisted snake, it was difficult to muster the appropriate resignation.  We managed to limp back to El Brujo by coasting with the engine off on the downhills; if one were able to take an impartial view, it might have been interesting to note the direct correlation between driving with the engine on and the soaring temperature gauge--turn it off and the temperature dropped.  But we weren't and it wasn't.  At El Brujo, Jim and Ellen went off in search of a mechanic.  We stayed with the disabled vehicle and John expressed some concern about the vultures which circled overhead.


It was dark by the time we arrived at the hotel.  Jim and Ellen had rounded up a mechanic who had replaced the belts and welded some vital part back together; the temperature gauge was still over the top but apparently it was now malfunctioning -- we stopped to look under the hood several times, but the engine remained cool.  We tried to check one last time in the hotel parking lot, but now the hood release, obviously overworked, gave up the ghost, so we went up to our rooms, secretly hoping that the car would just quietly explode overnight and be done with it.


Over breakfast, a chance remark to our waiter elicited the information that there was an outlet of National Car Rental in town and we were able to make arrangements to exchange our old heap for one with different problems, without the bother of having to go back to San Jose, which raised our spirits a notch.  The air conditioning did not work, and though we considered it more of a necessity than a luxury considering the warm weather, we figured we'd learn to live without it as long as that was the only thing that was wrong.  It was not, of course, but we were blissfully unaware of what was in store as we set out for Manuel Antonio National Park.


Central Pacific Coast


      Manuel Antonio National Park


The trail began at a white-sand beach and ran steeply through forest and along rocky promontories from which we were able to spot brown boobies far off shore.  A rustling in the trees alerted us to the presence of capuchin monkeys and we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the rare squirrel monkey.  A coatimundi ambled into full view where it remained for several minutes while we had satisfying views; agoutis, long-legged, ungulate-like rodents, whose name refers to their grizzled coloration, also made an appearance.


Given our recent experiences, it probably does not come as much of a surprise to learn that we were faced with a flat tire when we returned to the parking lot.  We had to borrow a jack, since the one supplied with the car was not able to raise it high enough to change the tire, but eventually we were once again on our way.


      Carara National Park


Macaw alert!  We had gotten up early and driven to a bridge just north of the reserve in hopes of seeing the spectacular scarlet macaw.  Birding from the bridge was outstanding, and by the time we were through, we'd had first-rate views of thirty or so macaws flying past overhead -- these brilliant red, blue, and yellow birds with long, pointed wings and tail are unforgettable.  At the bridge, we also saw grison, a large and beatifully patterned gray, black and white weasel.


The hike from the reserve headquarters led past a lek of manakins, which we heard but did not see. Scarlet macaws were perched in the trees here, and a crested guan in the parking lot almost got John arrested. There were several signs along the trail stating "Keep The  Reserve Clean"; we were amused to come across one that read "Keep The Cleanlyness".  A second trail was even more productive, bird-wise, with Baird's and black-headed trogons, rufous-tailed jacamar, scaly-breasted hummingbird, plain xenops, and king vulture.


We'd had an extremely satisfying morning of birding but something seemed to be missing.  Ah, yes -- we needed to have car troubles in order to round out the day.  We decided that the fuss of finding a town with a service station that was not too far off our route, and then having to hang around waiting for the flat tire to be repaired and the bent rim fixed and the low spare tire refilled, ought to do the trick.  But these decisions are not up to us; once again, the fates intervened with far more mischief than we felt was truly required.


The tire situation was resolved more easily than we'd anticipated and we stopped for lunch afterward at a Chinese place; we ordered dishes from the menu with such English translations as "mixed food with chicken".  Thus fortified, we headed for our next destination, the Monteverde Cloud Forest. 


The dirt road to Monteverde is 35 km and we'd read estimates in the guide books of from two to four hours to drive the length of it. At about the six km point, we got out to look at a beautiful lesser ground cuckoo on the road-bank and discovered that diesel fuel was leaking from the car at an appalling rate, forming an ever-widening damp spot in the dirt road.  Jim and John hiked back one km to a public phone and contacted National Car Rental in San Jose and arranged to exchange vehicles yet again.  They also called for a taxi to take the rest of us on to our motel; the two of them were expected to remain with the car until the exchange was effected.


Off we went, in a taxi which had no suspension, not that it mattered much since it only traveled about three and half miles per hour.  We had to make an emergency stop for gas at a private farm.  With relief, we finally checked in at the hotel, where the electricity promptly went out, requiring us to stagger around the grounds in total darkness with all our stuff, trying to locate the cabins we'd been assigned, occasionally losing each other in the confusion.  But at least we were somewhere; our sympathies were back down the road with the intrepid, if cold, guardians of the junk heap we'd rented.


Well, they finally made it.  A fellow had driven out from San Jose with a new vehicle and a gas can; he refilled the leaking tank and had no qualms about driving it, leaving a trail of diesel fuel, back to the city.  It would not be long before we began to wonder if this "third" vehicle was actually the first one we'd had; we theorized that the rental place only had two of them and just kept exchanging them back and forth.  But this one had new and intriguing problems we had not experienced before so we knew the trade had been legitimate.  We had a respite from automobile antics, for a while, though, with two lovely days of exploring the Monteverde area primarily on foot.




In a departure from the weather of our days so far, this one was damp and cool, even cold.  It was dim in the forest where we were hiking; fog shrouded the trees and clung to us as we strained to see up into the canopy, sure that if we only tried hard enough, a resplendent quetzal would slowly take shape out of the  twilight mist and reveal itself to us in all its splendor.  (Of course, if success at birding depended on the intensity with which one tries, there would be none of those near misses or "jinx birds" every birdwatcher has in his repertoire of birding escapades!)  Still, as the afternoon light faded, we kept telling ourselves we'd hike just a few more yards, search just a few more minutes, before turning back.  We passed  a small group of people and greeted them with the universal birding phrase:  "Have you seen anything?"  "Well," they answered, with the studied nonchalance of the recently triumphant birder, "there's a pair of quetzals just up the trail."


The male quetzal is a brilliant green bird with a yellow bill, white tail, and crimson belly.  During the breeding season, it also sports incredibily long tail streamers; when the bird is perched  on a branch in its typical upright pose, with those streamers trailing down, they are displayed to their best effect.  Thanks to the tip from our fellow explorers, we were able to enjoy good, if neck-straining, views of a pair of these birds.  The resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Costa Rica, is not misnamed.


We spent two days hiking the trails at  the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.  The 26,000 acre-preserve is home to over 2,000 plant species and more than 320 species of birds.  In addition to the resplendent quetzal, we had the pleasure of seeing buff-fronted quail dove and hearing many eerie black-faced solitaire songs.  We made a couple of visits to the hummingbird feeders set up just outside the entrance to the preserve,  and were entertained by the dazzling array of hummers that darted in to feed:  green violet-ear, magenta-throated woodstar, coppery-headed emreald, purple-throated mountain gem.  When it came to naming hummingbirds, ornithologists pulled out all the stops!


From Monteverde, we also visited the nearby Bajo del Tigre Trail, where we saw red-billed pigeon, and the Santa Elena Forest Reserve where lineated foliage-gleaner, spangled-cheeked tanager, yellow-throated brush-finch, and yellow-thighed finch were the birds of the moment.  Driving back down the Monteverde Road we saw spotted-bellied bobwhite and stripe-headed sparrow.


Guanacaste Region


When we drove the "new" vehicle out on to the paved road from the rough, dirt road to Monteverde, Brian noted that the steering was kind of strange--the response seemed to lag behind the action of steering.  He explained that the dirt road was so bad that this steering problem hadn't been obvious until we reached the paved road.  Both he and Jim, who shared the driving responsibilities, adjusted well to this oddity.  Of course, that behavior had to be unlearned when they got back home.


We had a brief moment of panic that evening when we checked in at the motel; it appeared that something was leaking from the car.  However, it turned out to be only the air conditioner dripping, although what it had to drip about no one knows, since it didn't work all that well.  Even if it did, the vents inside the car would not stay adjusted; they just flipped straight downward blowing air to the floor.  Their position mimicked that of the driver's sideview mirror.


      Palo Verde


We left early in the morning to visit Palo Verde National Wildlife Refuge, which sometimes has concentrations of waterbirds. We hoped to find double-striped thick-knee and jabiru, an enormous stork, at this location, but were unsucessful; crane hawk was probably the best bird of the morning, but we also added streak-backed oriole and white-lored gnatcatcher to the list.


After lunch we looked for Lago Mata Redondo (the round killing lake), a remote lake that was supposed to be the last to dry up and thus have excellent birding, even now, in the dry season.  While still on the paved roads, we did spot a pair of thick-knees. Once on the dirt roads, we had difficulty following the directions in our guide book, and were only confused further when we tried asking some local people. Finally, as dusk approached, one man hopped on his motorcycle and led us to the gate leading to the correct road and left us there with more directions.  It took a bit of floundering around some fields, but we managed to end up at the lake, which was almost dry.  And there we saw our only jabiru, limpkin, and snail kite, as well as roseate spoonbill and wood storks.


Shortly after getting back on the main road, we discovered what else was wrong with our car.  With the gas gauge indicating two thirds full, we ran out of gas.  Brian and Jim hitched a ride to a gas station where they filled a former gatorade jug with a gallon of fuel and we drove the remainder of the way to our hotel without incident.


      Santa Rosa


An early start the next morning brought us to Santa Rosa National Park.  We didn't have much in the way of songbirds, but we did see a huge, five-foot snake, and Jim and Ellen saw a thicket tinamou.  Driving down a long, rough road that led to the beach we saw king vulture, rufous-capped warbler, and white-throated magpie-jay.  We went through some beautiful forests just before the beach, as well as some deserted mangroves.  We ate lunch with some enormous iguanas that looked like they might be man-eaters but that settled for bits of sandwich.


Birding around the grounds of the hotel in Canas was productive.  One morning we saw a banded wren building a nest.  Behind our room we discovered a black-headed trogon; we also saw a yellow-olive flycatcher and heard kiskadees calling all over the place. Gray-necked wood-rails called at night. A local resident told us that jaguar, ocelot, and puma had been known to occur along the path by the river.


La Selva


The La Selva Biological Station is maintained by The Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of academic institutions from Costa Rica, the United States, and Puerto Rico, promoting education and research in tropical biology; this protected area is adjacent to Braulio Carrillo National Park, and includes more than two thousand species of plants and four hundred species of birds.  We looked forward to our visit here, and after leaving Santa Rosa, we spent a day of driving and birding, with La Selva as our final destination.


One of our intermediate stops was at the Falls of La Virgen del Socorro.  Nearby, a dirt side road led down a hill; we parked at the top and let our binoculars lead us to the bottom.  Among the new things we had were:  crimson-collared and speckled tanagers; red-headed barbet; orange-billed sparrow; and torrent tyrannulet.


We checked in at our hotel that evening and did the bird list over dinner.  Strangely enough, there were no new car troubles to report;  the vehicle seemed to have reached a state of equilibrium.


Michael, our guide at Vivero Salsipuedes, had given us some recommendations on which trails to take at La Selva, and after a rather tortuous approach to the preserve, due to massive map-failure, and five hours spent filling out paperwork -- it seems they could save about half their rainforest by cutting back on paperwork, alone -- we were finally trotting along the trails, encountering such birds as great tinamou, olive-backed quail dove, rufous motmot, white-fronted nunbird, and rufous mourner.


The entry fee included lunch, so we returned to the headquarters building where the cafeteria is located, for a meal that included the ubiquitous rice and beans.  The day was quite warm and we appreciated the opportunity to get cold drinks from the machine near the office.  It required tokens, which could be obtained at the window for one hundred colones (approximately seventy cents).  The token turned out to be three American dimes, dabbed with paint!


The bird of the day was discovered late in the afternoon, by Brian.  We were hiking along near some of the experimental plots, when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.  A closer look, a call to binoculars, and soon everyone was exclaiming over three great currasows, two males and a female.  Later, back at the office, sipping cold drinks, and relaxing to the sound of keel-billed toucans calling from the nearby trees, John spotted two snowy contingas, soon to be joined by a third, in a bare tree behind the building.


The next day, having learned the correct route, we were able to hit the trails early.    We hiked all morning and saw black-throated trogon, black-crowned tityra, ornate hawk-eagle, ochre-bellied flycathcer, and slaty-backed forest falcon.  Brian finally saw a bay wren, a fairly common bird which had eluded him since the beginning of the trip.


We spent the afternoon attempting a repeat of the feeding flocks at Braulio Carrillo National Park, but, aside from a tufted flycatcher, not much was stirring, so we ventured down one of the other trails.  Jim spotted a raptor, probably a white hawk, just before it banked and disappeared.  Shortly afterward, John spotted a probable solitary eagle. These sightings kept us alert, hoping for more, and we ended the day with a swallow-tailed kite and a bat falcon, as well as a variety of tanagers.


Though it hardly seemed possible, our last birding day of the trip had arrived and we were heading back toward San Jose.  Another run down the road at La Virgen del Socorro yielded definite solitary eagles and green thorntail.  Violet-headed hummingbird was bird number four hundred for the trip.


Volcan Poas is one of the most active of the country's volcanos and our last stop of the trip.  At 9,500 feet of elevation, we no longer had to worry about overheating -- it was actually cold.  We hiked two trails, had a bird's-eye view of the volcanic crater, saw a highland tinamou, and added the last new bird of the trip, a slaty flower piercer.


The great theme of this trip has been, of course, birds.  But as I reread the account, there seems to be a secondary theme running through it, that of our many and varied vehicular misfortunes.  Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it did not run -- hence, all the difficulties.  Anyway, looking back, one might be tempted to claim that all the uproar only added to the sense of adventure, but one would probably be lying.  After all, a foreign birding trip filled with tropical birds, exotic plants, and the company of friends is all that we required to insure a fascinating, adventurous vacation.  As for the rent-a-wreck:  let it rust.