It must be said that if I ever hear that song again it'll be too soon, although spontaneous outbursts of the ditty were entirely forgiveable (for a day at least) as we touched down at San Jose in the evening of March 1st, after a two long flights and a stopover in Newark, New Joisey, where we ogled the Manhattan skyline, Ring Billed, Laughing and American Herring Gulls plusTurkey Vultures while financially assisting Uncle Sam's breweries and scoffing chilli dogs.
Once in Costa Rica, we picked up a Suzuki Gran Vitara from the excellent Dollar Car Hire, and drove up to the Hotel Arilapa in Alajuela in time for a few hours kip.
I think we all slept fitfully, like kids waiting for Father Xmas to arrive - mainly down to the white noise of the Itiquis river under our chalet, the promise of birds to come and the scurrying of roaches on the floor.
By 5.30am we were up and out to bird the hotel's gardens, some 20 minutes before usable light, but in time to catch a great big black Tarantula type wandering around our front door.
Then it started - the lovely rich song of Rufous Naped Wrens, zippity Tropical Kingbirds, Steely Vented Hummers, Blue and White Swallows imitating Serins on the wires above, Inca Doves, Hoffman's Woodpeckers, Squirrel Cuckoos, yankee winterers like Rose Breasted Grozzas, Baltimore Orioles, Tennessee and Yellow Warblers, and Broad Winged Hawks and Crimson Fronted Parakeets overhead.
A stunning Blue Crowned Motmot watched us from the phone wires, and a Yellow Green Vireo sang from the bamboo stands - all bog standard garden birds in Costa Rica, but tremendously exciting for a European slowly baking in the rising temperatures of a tropical blue sky day.
After a quick brekkie we paid up and pulled out, heading west to Carara National Park and the Tarcoles area, where we would stay for three nights at Cerro Lodge.
Trops took the wheel (and heroically held onto it for the whole trip - well done Mr T), while we climbed into the hills on the D3, stopped for a coffee and raptor watch at La Casita Del Cape - loadsa TVs, Black Vulture, Short Tailed Hawk - before dropping down the Pacific slope, hitting the dirt track to Cerro by 11am.
The area of dry farmland, trees and the Tarcoles river was amazing for birds, although I couldn't work out why no one was having a cooling dip in the Tarcoles River, until I had a squint over the railings of the bridge.
After a restorative Imperial beer at the lodge, we headed down to the Tarcoles estuary mouth and mangroves in sweltering conditions.
It didn't seem to bother the birds too much - huge Scarlet Macaws flapped by raucously, while Magnificent Frigatebirds cruised the coast.
Turquoise Browed Motmots watched us from the trees as Mangrove Hawks (or Common Black Hawk, depending on your splitting propensities) circled over the cruise boats which take tourists out to play with the crocodiles etc.
A Salmon Bellied Racer here, lunging with incredible speed at a dozy Iguana was the only snake we saw on the whole trip - this was disappointing, but given the highly venomous nature of many of CR's sizzlies, probably just as well as we can't be trusted with sea bean (of which there were many on the beach) let alone a Fer De Lance.
The mangroves around the now disappeared Tarcoles Lodge were superb - Rufous Browed Peppershrike, Yellow Throated Vireo, Panama Flycatcher and wonderful, wonderful Prothonotary Warblers, were just some of the highlights.
The Prothonotarys were coming down to bath in a muddy pool of water in the darkest depths of the mangroves, but they still shone brighter than a mercury vapour bulb as they squabbled with Tennessee Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes strutted about nearby.
One of a host of unforgettable moments from this trip.
The nearby beach, past the old soccer field, was none too shabby either - Laughing Falcon and Stripe Headed Sparrow just behind the dark, debris strewn sand, then I got my chance to paddle in the wide, blue green sweep of the Pacific for the first time.
Not sure what Bazzo is doing in the foreground of this next pic - perhaps he was overcome by the majesty of the Pacific, or maybe he'd dropped something.
This seaside ramble was of course days before Costa Rica went on tsunami red alert - we were high in the hills long before the biblical-scale devastation unleashed itself on Japan, but left CR unscathed - I'm still trying to get my head round that particular nightmare.
A few waders had a touch of the familiar - Grey Plover, Sanderling and Turnstone, and instantly recognisable raptors like Osprey, rubbed shoulders with the decidedly scruffier Yellow Headed Caracaras.
Plenty of Royal Terns were offshore, with egrets, Anhingas and Neotropical Cormorants dotted around calmer corners.
Snags and bits of flotsam and jetsam on the beach were attractive resting spots for Mangrove Swallows, and on the track down to Tarcoles we had Lesser Swallow Tailed Swift, a variety of ground doves, hummers, herons and wintering wood warblers.
We got back to Cerro Lodge to enjoy a flock of Lesser Nighthawks in the gathering tropical dusk, before a torrential downpour, with lightning fracturing the night sky to the west.
Still great to get cool in the pool after a hard days birding'.
Once the rain stopped, Trops, Er Neill and I went owling with the aid of torches and tapes - we were confident after watching a Black and White Owl in the trees below the lodge over dinner, and managed good views (if lousy nightshots on my part) of at least two birds over the next two nights.
Cerro Lodge was a fine place to stay, even the novelty of outdoor ablutions, discreetly shielded by heliconias and bamboo was fun - troupes of hummingbirds held your towel mid-air while you showered, and macaws kept an eye on the toothpaste.
Okay, I made up that last bit, but Milk Frogs were frequent visitors, as was a GIANT Marine Toad, toxic beasties you definitely wouldn't shove in a matchbox, even if it was a great big reinforced one.
The gardens were buzzing with birds - Turquoise Browed Motmot, and the great and common yet seriously characterful Rufous Naped Wren, the latter even engaging in a bit of jiggerypokery in the shrubbery.
Breakfasts were a treat - stunning view, hummers like this migrant Ruby Throated, Clay Coloured Robins, tanagers (including the female Summer here) and euphonias galore, with Scarlet Macaws flapping past over the trees.
Dawn walks down the dusty track heading south outside Cerro Lodge gave us real, genuine, wild Muscovy Duck (honest guv'nor), while Red Lored Parrots watched us, and Streaked Flycatchers competed for branches with Kingbirds, Brown Crested Flycatchers and Woodcreepers.
Both Montezuma's Oropendola and Chestnut Headed were far commoner here than in Mexico.
We were hoping for a chance of Southern Lapwing by scoping the Tarcoles floodplain from this track, but had no joy - ah well, you can't see everything.
Phew, just had to take a break there from the marathon blogging for a swift bit of Peroni therapy, before I tell you about Carara National Park, where we spent a whole jaw-dropping day.
Sitting comfortably?, then I'll carry on....
Carara National Park is just amazing - the Riverside Trail - which we hit first, just after the park opened at 8am, is widely touted as the best birding walk in Costa Rica.
This however, must be qualified with the caveat that wherever you go in this great country, local birders/naturalists refer to their patch as "the best in Costa Rica" - it doesn't matter really 'cos all the sites are brill.
The Riverside Trail runs through damp secondary forest for miles - progress is slow, because you are constantly stopping to gawp at birds, butterflies, plants etc.
Species we missed in Mexico popped up with regularlity alongside new specialties - Dot Winged Antwren, Black Capped Tody Flycatcher, Purple Crowned Fairy (the coolest hummer of them all???), Chestnut Backed Antbird, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Golden Crowned Spadebill, Black Hooded Antshrike, Northern Barred Woodcreeper etc etc - a real birders' dream.
Best of all was probably the Orange Collared Manakin lek close to the trail - gorgeous tubby little birds, obscured by vegetation, a digiscoper's nightmare, but a privilege to watch 'em - never thought I'd see a manakin, but we were to manage a further two species later in the trip.
The trees bristled with wintering warblers and feeding flocks stuffed with a variety of species, with hummers drawn round the heliconias - outlandish plants, who invented them?
And if you got hungry, you could always grab a banana.....
Golden Hooded Tanagers and Barred Antshrike, Dusky Antbird and Long Tailed Hermit popped out of the tangle of lush vegetation as we worked the trail for the best part of five hours.
White Nosed Coatimundis sniffed about in the undergrowth and tropical butterflies made me wonder if I'll ever look at a Cabbage White in quite the same way again.
The orange one is some kind of Heliconian, possibly Julia Heliconian, while the Monarch lookalike is a Queen. Superb insects.
With the forest heating up and the birds quietening down we drove up to the National Park HQ and did the forest trails there for the afternoon - still quiet, but we got Great Tinamou (a big railish/gamebirdy thing - it just looks like dinner), our first Basilisk lizards of the trip, American Pygmy Kingfisher and a wonderful Black Faced Antthrush scratching away in the deep forest floor debris, while infinitely long trails of leaf-cutter ants went about their business.
White Faced Capuchin Monkey here too. I like monkeys - give 'em a tin drum and I could watch 'em for hours.
As the day cooled down we headed up the Waterfall Road, which held more great birds - King Vultures overhead, Red Legged Honeycreeper, Cliff Swallow, Grey Capped Flycatcher - the list went on and on.
Great big Chestnut Mandibled Toucans were in the trees above, and Green Kingfisher hunted around the road bridge at the start of the road.
Birding nirvana maa-aaaan.
Pre-breakfast birding around Cerro Lodge on our last morning there gave us a distant, but fine Crane Hawk among the usual stonking tropical fare, including White Crowned Parrot, before we pulled out at 7.40am for an eventful drive up country to the La Selva Biological Station on the Caribbean slope.
Adios Cerro Lodge.
ARILAPA HOTEL GARDEN LIST:
Rufous Naped Wren, Clay Coloured Robin, Blue Grey Tanager, Brown Jay, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Smoky Brown Woodpecker, Yellow Warbler, Tropical Kingbird, Social Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Blue Crowned Motmot, Red Billed Pigeon, Steely Vented Hummingbird, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Blue and White Swallow, Baltimore Oriole, Short BIlled Pigeon, Yellow Green Vireo, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Buff Throated Saltator, Great Kiskadee, Inca Dove, House Wren, Summer Tanager, Tennessee Warbler, Crimson Fronted Parakeet, Great Tailed Grackle, Paltry Tyrannulet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Piratic Flycatcher, Turkey Vulture, Broad Winged Hawk, Rufous Tailed Hummingbird, Grayish Saltator, Chestnut Headed Oropendola.
White Winged Dove, Rufous Collared Sparrow, Feral Pigeon, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Short Tailed Hawk, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Great Blue Heron, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Cliff Swallow, Summer Tanager, Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Wood Stork, Green Heron, Orange Chinned Parakeet, Black Headed Tody Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Little Blue Heron, Northern Jacana, Magnificent Frigatebird, Canivet's Emerald, Scarlet Macaw, Brown Pelican, Groove Billed Ani, Grey Hawk, Orange Fronted Parakeet, Melodious Blackbird, Mangrove Swallow, Mangrove Black Hawk, Turquoise Browed Motmot, Green Kingfisher, Purple Martin, Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Laughing Gull, Anhinga, Northern Scrub Flycatcher, Neotropic Cormorant, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Mangrove Vireo, Panama Flycatcher, Yellow Throated Vireo, Osprey, White Ibis, Rufous Browed Peppershrike, Common Tody Flycatcher, Bare Throated Tiger Heron, Royal Tern, Stripe Headed Sparrow, Laughing Falcon, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Yellow Headed Caracara, Louisiana Heron, Crested Caracara, Rose Throated Becard, Turnstone, Northern Waterthrush, Ruddy Ground Dove, Lesser Swallow Tailed Swift, Collared Seedeater, Palm Tanager, Blue Black Grassquit, Yellow Faced Grassquit, Grey Crowned Yellowthroat, Plain Breasted Ground Dove, White Tipped Dove, Lesser Nighthawk, Black and White Owl, Montezuma's Oropendola, Clay Coloured Robin, Streaked Flycatcher, Red Billed PIgeon, Red Lored Parrot, Rufous Naped Wren, Snowy Egret, Violaceous Trogon, Yellow Warbler, Muscovy Duck, Lineated Woodpecker, Brown Crested Flycatcher, Black Necked Stilt, Chestnut Headed Oropendola, Great Kiskadee, Masked Tityra, Streak Headed Woodcreeper, Double Striped Thick Knee, White Crowned Parrot, Inca Dove, Scrub Euphonia, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Rufous Tailed Hummingbird, Summer Tanager, Dot Winged Antwren, Lesser Greenlet, Acadian Flycatcher, Long Tailed Woodcreeper, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Purple Crowned Fairy, Golden Hooded Tanager, Squirrel Cuckoo, Grey Headed Tanager, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Chestnut Backed Antbird, Grey Chested Dove, Orange Collared Manakin, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black Hooded Antshrike, Wedge Billed Woodcreeper, Yellow Olive Flycatcher, Golden Crowned Spadebill, Plain Xenops, Piratic Flycatcher, Long Tailed Hermit, Dusky Antbird, Ruddy Quail Dove, Eye Ringed Flatbill, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Great Tinamou, Buff Throated Foliage Gleaner, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Bay Headed Tanager, Black Faced Antthrush, Grey Capped Flycatcher, Red Legged Honeycreeper, Variable Seedeater, Yellow Throated Euphonia, King Vulture, Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Chestnut Mandibled Toucan, Yellow Crowned Euphonia, Grey Breasted Martin, White Collared Swift, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Cherrie's Tanager, Spot Crowned Euphonia, Crane Hawk, Barn Swallow.
Relax, that's it for today - the road to La Selva and various adventures therein follow shortly.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...