Toucan in flight

Costa Rica Day 5 – Toucan Trees and Wild Dreams Coming True

Recap: We’re four episodes down in this spellbinding birding travelogue from Costa Rica, and Sandy has survived at least two nocturnal mishaps with his photography gear. The good news is that he’s none the worse for it. In fact, as Day 5 in Costa Rica dawns, he’s acquired some character. And a big, fat list of lifers! Coming up: What one can do, toucan do better!

After two back-to-back living nightmares of memory card-related drama, I enjoy a good night’s sleep. I am up by 6:30, and get out of the cabin, stepping into the early morning mist. Today is an easy-paced day. We are to spend the first half at Edward’s deck, then drive down to San Gerardo de Dota, 5 hours away. We have a feeling that we have got everything we could from Edward’s place and decided to start a little late after spending some time to check out the feeders we found on our way down the night before. 

While I wait for the others, I am charmed by a few wildflowers. Orlando walks over and tells me that he found a tree full of toucans. I follow him into the mist, but by the time I get there, the toucans are gone. We walk back and I pause underneath the tree on which we saw the iguana the day before. The iguana is still there. But there are many more on a dead tree right next to it. I return to the lodge to find Murukesh, Pranav, and Subha ready. We get into the van and Orlando drives us to the cafeteria. 

The British family and the kids are there, and so are the cat, the second dog, and Ericka. We ask Ericka if the pets belong to her. She informs us that each of these animals has been left behind by the guests at the lodge and they have been taking care of them. The puppy is called Chiquito (little one) and the cat, Mantequilla (butter). We can’t but admire her penchant for nomenclature as well as her compassion. Murukesh ambles around trying to get some shots of the iguana when he notices a huge snake drop from one of the trees next to the cafeteria into the valley below. However, we cannot get a better look or any shots of it. 

After filling up on breakfast, we amble about the cafeteria. There’s a loud squawking outside and we step out to see one of the critically endangered Great Green Macaws (Ara ambiguus) land on a tree right next to us. It stays there for a bit and takes off.  Our moods already lifted, and we head down the slope to get to the second feeder. Suddenly Pranav says, “Toucans, toucans!” They are everywhere, on every tree — Keel-billed Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) and Yellow-throated Toucans (Ramphastos ambiguus). We feast again, this time with our cameras. There’s a pair of Scarlet Macaws as well, flying in circles around us.   

Around 9:00 AM, we head back to the lodges and load our luggage into the Toyota. Once again, Orlando lugs us up to the cafeteria and we thank Ericka for the wonderful hospitality. Having said our goodbyes, we drive down to El Pizote.

The feeder is abuzz with the usual suspects. I notice something on the floor around the feeder that is again a throwback to my childhood. There are ant-lion pits everywhere and I cannot recall when I have last seen one.  Edward sits with us and shows us some videos on his mobile of him and his friends driving his dirt bike on some godawful dirt roads. We shoot honeycreepers, oropendolas, euphonias, and orioles for an hour or so and decide we should pack up. We have a long drive of around 5 hours to get to our final resort at San Gerardo de Dota. 

As we get up to leave, Sergio calls out to us from near the house. He points to a small bird perched on a branch to the right of the house. We point our cameras to it and Murukesh hisses excitedly, “Trogon!” 

This is surreal. Edward had quashed any hopes we had of seeing this bird when we had asked him about it a couple of days ago. This Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) has no reason for being here based on birding common sense. Yet, it is right in front of us, sitting on a picture-perfect branch. We creep closer and closer, and it doesn’t budge from the perch. It just moves its tiny little head from left to right, surveying the landscape with its beautiful yellow-ringed eyes. We get close enough to get frame-filling shots and decide to not trouble it further. After a few minutes, its mate too arrives and the pair frolic around for a bit, finally disappearing into the woods. 

I look at Murukesh and whisper: “I’ve never had a trip like this, where every target species just lands on your lap! I don’t know what I have done to deserve this!” He replies, “We are good people, that’s why!” 

As a parting gesture, Edward takes us down to the river and shows us a Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) and a bunch of Mangrove Swallows (Tachycineta albilinea). There is also a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) on a barge, and we also catch a couple of Yellow-throated Toucans flying across the river. Finally, we all get together, take a group photo, and leave, thanking Edward for the most productive couple of days of birding. The day is bright and the country roads are empty.  

On the way, we spot some primates on a tree and have our first glimpse of the Howler Monkeys, whose ruckus we had heard when were looking for owls in the woods at Guapiles. Murukesh spots something off with one of them and on closer examination we realize that it is a mother with a baby on her back. We head out once more and, a little ahead, we also see a tree full of Scarlet Macaws and stop to shoot them as well. Then we hit the highway. All along the way, we come across so many sights that are reminiscent of the streets in India. Three people crammed on top of two-wheelers, Suzuki Alto cars which were the entry-level cars for most in India till a few years ago, guava trees, and pineapple fields. 

We make a fuel stop, and again can’t help but notice that the gas stations too are so much like in India. You have people fill up the gas in your tank and you pay them, unlike in the US where you have to pump the gas yourself. We park beside the gas station and cross the road toward a small roadside juice shed. They have sugarcane juice and tender coconut juice on the menu. I pick a tender coconut juice which turns out to taste exactly like the ones I enjoyed in my childhood. Murukesh and Subha have hand-cranked-machine-pressed sugarcane juice and enjoy it as well.   

There is some kind of a parade happening in San Jose and many roads are blocked. Orlando suggests that we stop for lunch in the city so we don’t get delayed. The city looks quite modern and Orlando tells us that school and college education is free, except private schools. That is when he lets us know that his daughter is a medical doctor. He also has a son who is well-to-do.  We couldn’t but admire this down-to-earth man, who managed to give his children such stability in their lives, toiling away as a driver for several years! He pulls up at a mall and suggests that we use the place for a restroom break and lunch. We are a bit uncertain about that since we have been having food that is more local and not as commercial. However, in the interest of time, we decide to walk in. Orlando tells us he would find a parking lot and wait for us, and that he is not hungry. But as we walk in, he comes running and points to a board that says Nans and Curries. “Hindu Restaurant,” he says. We decide against it, just because it would probably take a lot of time, and settle on some comfort food, having found a smash burgers joint. 

The mall itself is very hip, with fashionably dressed youngsters ambling about. We can’t help but notice that some of the tech here is more advanced than even the US. For instance, the soda vending machines here are all touchscreen, and you swipe to pick your drink. We get a to-go for Orlando and walk back to the van, to resume our journey. 

Our next stop is to catch up with our trip organizer Magdalena, who spends some time with us after having driven an hour to meet us. We thank her for making this wonderful trip happen and continue toward the mountains. The roads turn steeper and steeper as we enter the cloud forest. There is plenty of traffic here, and we cannot spot any birds in the dense canopy. 

It is past sunset when we pull up at Suenos del Bosque (Forest Dreams), a much more commercial-looking property than the ones we have been used to. A cheerful girl who speaks excellent English directs us to the rooms and apologizes that the wi-fi is under repair. We go to our rooms and I have a hard time opening the door. Murukesh and Orlando join in to help me and finally, we find out that my door is a triple lock – we have to turn it *thrice* for the lock to open. The rooms are the most luxurious, including heaters and television, and overlook a small lake. There is a chill in the air and it feels like an early spring morning in the US. After a shower, we head over to the cafeteria for dinner. I pick tilapia in passion fruit sauce, and can’t help but feel that the food is a downgrade from Boca Tapada. The taste seems less authentic, and the menu does look catered to the palate of the tourists who prefer familiar comforts. We have an early start the next day and need a packed breakfast from the restaurant, as we are to go looking for the Resplendent Quetzals (Pharomachrus mocinno), probably one of the most sought-after species for birders who go to Costa Rica. The girl at the reception promises us some breakfast bags for the morning that we could pick up on our way. 

Back in the room, I start preparing my day pack for the most exciting day of our trip. I need a tripod, a rain poncho, cold weather jackets, and gloves, and have to make space in the memory cards. I do all that and it is almost 9:00 pm. I collapse into the bed, realizing that we are at the tail end of our wonderful trip. 

Despite the excitement, sleep comes to me on swift wings. 



  • Sandy

    Sandeep Somasekharan (or Sandy as friends call him) took his headlong plunge into photography with a three-megapixel Nikon point-and-shoot he purchased in 2003. The avid reader and an occasional scribbler started enjoying travel and nature more as he spent more time photographing. Meeting Beej in 2008 helped him channel his creative energies in the form of essays and nature photographs that he started publishing on the Green Ogre. Sandy loves to photograph birds and landscapes, and considers photography and writing as his meditation. He is an engineer by education, IT professional by vocation, and a hopeless dreamer since creation.

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