Tag Archives: San Gerardo de Dota

Day 19 – San Gerardo to Alturas: ¿Quetzal?

Thursday 9 March 2023 – In Spanish, “¿Qué tal?” is a friendly greeting, meaning, among other things, “what’s up?”.  In our case today, what was up was us and when we were up was 0430. The reason? We had to meet a guide at 0515.  Yup – we were looking for wildlife again.

Specifically, we wanted to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Well, more Jane than me, to be honest; at that time in the morning what I wanted was more sleep.  However, the chance to see one of these birds wasn’t going to present itself again, and the chance to do so was the reason for our precipitous plunge into the San Gerardo valley; for the Resplendent Quetzal can be found here, if you get your timing right – and we were in Quetzal season.

Accordingly, at 0515 our guide, Marco, turned up and we set off in his 4×4 back up the trail we’d driven down last night – somewhat more rapidly than I would have done, if I am to be honest.

The morning was rain-free, thank goodness.

Marco cautioned us to stay close to him as he might move quickly to get to a vantage point to see something.  He also made sure that we had phones with us, not, to be sure, so that he could contact us in extremis, but so that he could set up photos with them using his spotter scope.

As the day lightened, it became clear (unsurprisingly) that in our quest for the Quetzal We Were Not Alone.

There were several groups, mostly accompanied by guides all of whom were communicating with each other, often over radio, about what could be seen and where. In total, I’d say there were about 40 people all trying to see the same species.

What followed was a typical Birder morning. Here, in 15 seconds, is a summary of our movements for the next 150 minutes, over a range of about three miles.

So, did we see a Quetzal?  Was it easy?  Was it quickly achieved?

Yes. No. No.

The first excitement was a group of Black Guans.  There being nothing else even remotely Resplendent to be seen, we spent some minutes and several frames on capturing them.

Marco proved to be extremely adept at getting mobile phone camera images through a spotter scope.  To give you some idea of what he could achieve, his image, using Jane’s phone, is on the left, mine, achieved with my Big Lens (10-400mm zoom for you  camera buffs out there) is on the right.

There was also a frisson when someone spotted an Emerald Toucanet, a small bird Jane had particularly wanted to see because it’s such a weird construction, like a Finch has had a Toucan beak bolted in Photoshop.  Here’s a good photo of one, courtesy of Flickr – see what I mean?

Emerald Toucanet

They’re serious creatures, though, and a major predator of Quetzal chicks, apparently.  They’re bastards, same as all Toucans.

To give you some idea of the frustrations and disappointments of birding, here are the results we got in trying to photograph this elusive bird.

I still have difficulty seeing it even in the spotter image.  Here it is closer up.

As ever, with my shocking eyesight, all I ever saw was a flicker of movement as the little fucker flew away, never to be seen again.

I busied myself with getting a photo of a Big-Footed Finch, which was stamping around in the leaf litter to disturb insects to eat.

It’s not a big bird, but since it was only about six feet away, even I couldn’t miss it.

Marco spent a lot of time looking for a Quetzal

even going so far as to mimic its call to try to lure one into some kind of visual contact.

Eventually, reports of a sighting filtered through and we raced along to where it had been seen.  Courtesy of lots of patient explanation from Jane and Marco, I eventually set eye on my first (male) Quetzal.

It’s there, right in the middle of your picture.  Honest.

It was creating a nest.  I even got some really crappy video of it pecking away at the tree. (This was about 0630, by the way, so we’d been looking for an hour or so.)

For a while, as we belted up and down the track, I began to despair of ever actually getting a decent photo of one of these damned things, because of a combination of my poor eyesight and the talent these benighted creature have for positioning themselves with leaves or twigs in the way, or against the light.

We did see some, though, even though the little buggers kept adopting the wrong pose, such as facing away from the camera,

or with bright light behind them, or sometimes both, dammit.

Jane and Marco were getting some success with her phone and his spotter.

and finally – finally! – one settled facing me where I could see it and take photos before it fucked off again.

Resplendent is such a good word, isn’t it?  The male grows those long tail feathers every year; the female doesn’t have that extravagant braggadocio. Here’s a female from Jane/Marco

and this is the best I could do

although – hah hah! – I accidentally took a photo of this female as she tried to get out of my shot.

We covered three and a half miles over two hours in our quest for these photos, sometimes in a car, sometimes at a run, more often than not at a standstill saying “where are you, you little bugger?” But it was ultimately very satisfactory, some might even say worth getting up at 0430 for.

It’s interesting to note the “shot silk” effect of the bird’s colour. As the angle changes, so does the colour you see.  For example, we saw long tail feathers of blue, but over the bar in the restaurant

they’re green.

Oh, how we feasted after our successful hunt! Well, avocado toasts and a cup of tea, anyway. Marco mentioned that Lauraceas had a garden just down the road and so we popped down there to see what we could see.

Jane also managed to get some video of a Volcano Hummingbird – no mean feat as, like other hummingbirds, it doesn’t hang about much.

But then it was time to leave the delightful scene by the stream

and head off to our next destination, Villas Alturas, in Domenical on the Pacific (west) Coast.

Of course, the first thing we had to do was to get out of the San Gerardo valley.  But it was not cloudy or raining, and six or so miles to get back to Route 2 only took us about half an hour.

However, when we got there, we discovered that we were well back into the clouds… and rain…

and roadworks! with steaming freshly-laid asphalt, which didn’t help speed the journey.

We eventually turned off Route 2 and once again had some pleasant countryside to drive through

before a final, very bumpy, half-mile up a track to the Villas.

However, once we were checked in, we discovered that we had a villa with a great view

to be seen from a delightful balcony.

We had gin and tonic for the fridge and some peanuts, the freezer already had ice in it and so we made ourselves at home with mucho gusto, as they say in these here parts.  The food in the restaurant is good, the service willing (albeit a little patchy), and they’ll do our laundry for us for $16. And, delightfully, we have nothing to do for 36 hours.

So, it’s now 1400 on Friday 10th March and you are up to date with the holiday travels for the moment.  We move on tomorrow, but have a few more delightful days of nothing organised until all of a sudden it gets serious again.  You’ll just have to keep checking back in to see what, if anything, has been worth reporting. For now, cheers!

Day 18 – Aquiares to San Gerardo. Interesting times

Wednesday 8 March 2023All we had to do today was to get ourselves from Aquiares to San Gerardo de Dota, about a three-hour drive. Once there, we could relax for the rest of the day. Simple, no?

Simple, yes. Also, interesting, almost entirely in a good way.  Almost.

We had the usual Hacienda breakfast – Gallo Pinto, fried eggs, coffee.  We tried the honey-processed coffee for a change and, although it didn’t have the farmyard aroma that so struck Jane, it didn’t frankly have the depth of flavour that we liked.

No matter, we had a nice view as we sat on the terrace overlooking the garden

although the clouds were fairly low.  We were joined (at a distance) by three Chacalacas

and I have to say that the fog lent the “Tree of Life” (a Ceiba tree) a very striking appearance as it overlooked the coffee factory.

As we exited the Hacienda to load the car, we heard a real commotion emanating from the trees near the car.

Toucans were gathered and shouting their fool heads off – we don’t know why, but are prepared to bet that it was with evil intent, because they’re bastards. Keel-billed Bastards at that, so we’d at last got reasonably close to them in the wild.

The route we followed started going up in the rather steep fashion that Costa Rican road designers quite frequently favour

but the surface was good and we eventually found ourselves among some really pleasant countryside.

However it soon became clear that we were on a very up-and-downy route, which invariably involves an encounter with a large, heavy and slow lorry, with its consequent tailback.

Under these circumstances, there’s nothing to be done apart from awaiting one’s chance to overtake in due course. We weren’t in a hurry and so it wasn’t too irksome. Once we did get past, we were treated to some lovely views

across what, it was increasingly clear, was agricultural land, with various kinds of materials used (we guessed) as shading for whatever was being grown there.

We passed through the town of Cervantes, which was tight in places

and gave us the chance to appreciate the arcane beauty of the local wiring systems.

We skirted the significant and not particularly attractive conurbation that is Cartago, and joined Route 2, which is the southern segment of the Pan-American Highway (locally in Central America known as the Inter-American Highway) that traverses Costa Rica, and therefore means that there is a significant number of huge trucks among the oncoming traffic. We passed wind turbines as we breasted one hill

and the attractive bits of scenery continued to make the journey interesting and pleasant – certainly the most enjoyable drive whilst we’ve been here, for me.

There’s a local habit of using old satellite dishes as advertising boards which is rather picturesque.

It became clear that we were quite high up in the hills

as we encountered fog from the clouds we were entering.

By this stage, we’d done all but about six miles of the 70-odd mile journey and it had taken us barely over two hours.  The reason that the overall journey time would be nearer three hours was soon borne in on us as we turned off the perfectly decent, if somewhat busy Route 2 on to

the trail leading down into the San Gerardo valley. The Pura Aventura materials had prepared us for it to be twisty and steep, but had given us the impression that the road surface was OK.

This was true for about the first mile. Then it became, in places, quite dramatically not true, a state of affairs hardly improved by the driving rain and thick cloud that enveloped us on occasion as we descended with, in at least the driver’s case, buttocks firmly clenched.

There were some great views on offer

but I have to say that I was greatly relieved to get to the bottom with car, dignity and sphincters intact, and to arrive at Lauraceas Lodge and check in.

The sense of relief at survival of those last miles was heightened when we got to our accommodation.  It was to be for only one night but it was quite something –

the best (of course!) of 4 cabins, large and roomy and all to ourselves with (praise be!) a kettle and mugs for the making of the well-earned cup of Twinings Earl Grey tea that we awarded ourselves. After a stiff drink and a late lunch at the Lodge restaurant, of course.

So, why, you might reasonably ask, had we subjected ourselves to this final descent? Well, you’d better tune back in tomorrow to find out, hadn’t you?