Setting off from Arenal, we were headed for Monteverde. It’s perhaps only 15-20km away, but a volcano and a large lake stand between them, so it was a 3 hour journey around them.
The first task was to find somewhere to set up camera traps again, and I eventually selected a stream in a steep valley. Glass-winged Butterflies, Blue Morphos, and even bigger butterflies were seen floating above me, then down on the stream, a dark looking heron caught my eye. I only had my pocket camera at this time, as I was already carrying the camera traps, but I managed a couple of very poor record shots. Then the ‘heron’ spread its wings, removing any need for me to consult the field guide. It was a spectacular Sun Bittern! This was another of those birds I’d wished to see but didn’t realistically expect to see. It went further upstream so I set up the camera traps and resolved to return again with the hope of reconnecting with the Sun Bittern. Two more visits proved fruitless, but no trip is wasted in Costa Rica, and many more interesting species were seen instead.
By the time this was all done it was nearly dark, so we headed out to explore at night. A Warszewitsch’s Frog was found fairly soon as we tip-toed our way through the networks of pathways formed by leaf-cutter ants. A stick insect almost as long as my forearm was attempting to straddle the gap between two tree trunks with amazing (if slow) dexterity. Large and so far unidentified spiders were found in or near their burrows, and then something I’d only ever seen before in Suffolk, the pits of Ant Lions. It was eventually possible to actually find one, and it was probably the one and only time that I can say that Britain had the bigger equivalent, for this particular Ant Lion was tiny. Wood Thrushes were found roosting by torchlight, and a never ending list of big and sometimes noisy invertebrates were seen. Next up was a very long Green Vine Snake, resembling a length of bright green garden hose strewn through a tree.
The next morning we were up very early for an explore of the Santa Elena Cloudforest. There was a constant mist in the air, which would turn to fine rain, and back to mist. Rainbows were a permanent feature throughout the day and even at night thanks to a bright moon. Throughout the morning we got wetter and wetter, but it is a cloud forest after all. An impressive Black Guan was the first bird seen on what was probably our hardest day for spotting so far. The foliage was incredibly dense, with up to 200 species of plant capable of growing on a single tree, some of them in turn playing host to others. Strangler Figs crept up trees, some of them completely consumed leaving vast empty columns of space inside the Strangler Fig, some of which were possible to get inside and look up to the distant light of day above, occasionally peered down on by the eyes of rodents or opossums that had taken up residence. After looking in plenty of burrows, an Orange-kneed Tarantula was eventually found. Collared Redstart was also photographed, but other new species seen were simply noted as it had become too wet and dark to use the camera.
Later in the day it brightened up, and good views were had of White-faced Capuchin and Agouti, and the weather seemed set to stay bright, so we headed downhill out of the mist and found Yellow-throated Euphonias, Blue-grey Tanagers, a stunning Blue-crowned Motmot, Baltimore Orioles, Tennessee Warbler, Hoffman’s Woodpecker and another Variegated Squirrel.
That night, another Blue-crowned Motmot was seen, this time frequently flying to its nest – very similar to that of a kingfisher. More Wood Thrushes in torchlight – I was yet to see one in the daylight! A species of Tarantula Hawk was found on a leaf, then a variety of ‘walking leaves’ were found, in the form of Leaf-mimic Katydids, total masters of disguise. An ultraviolet torch revealed a species of Centruroides Scorpion, with all but one disappearing before a crude photograph could be taken. Indistinguishable bats were all around us. More roosting birds – Orange-bellied Trogon and Swainson’s Thrush, and a Meadow Tree Frog finished off the night.
Next morning we were up for an early visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A similar habitat to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, but today not as wet, and just slightly less dark. The birds were much more active today, but it’s still a very difficult habitat in which to observe them. Slate-throated Redstart was the first bird of the day to be photographed, and then we bumped in to some people scoping a bird, and I’d already guessed that they must have found a Resplendent Quetzal. It was a male with long streamer-like tail feathers, distant but otherwise providing good views, once a position had been found that aligned multiple gaps in the canopy to enable looking a few trees deep in to the forest. The photos aren’t great, but I’d have been disappointed to come this far and not see a Quetzal, so I moved on, happy. Three-striped Warbler, Mottled Owl, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Violet Sabrewing, Bananaquit, Green Violetear, Purple-throated Mountain Gem, Common Chlorospingus, Black-faced Solitaire, Three-striped Warbler, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Prong-billed Barbet provided a spectacular mix of birds. Then we found our own Resplendent Quetzal, a female, even harder to view than the first male, but once that tiny viewing window had been found, it was much closer than the male. Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-eared Ground Sparrow, another Blue-crowned Motmot, a settled Blue Morpho and some White-fronted Parrots ended the day.