Okay, okay, before I go any further here's a link to Ron Jackson's video footage of the Lesser Scaup at Marshside, just for all you duck freaks.
And very dapper it is too - I may even have a look at it tomorrow if I get a chance.
Hard to be sure, but it may just be the dozing moulty brown and grey lump I couldn't wake up at Nels on February 27th (pic on this blog entry from then), which has now morphed into a quality bird.
Then again it may not.
Just goes to prove the old adage: "If you ever see a funny-looking sleeping duck, poke it with a stick".
Anyway, back to my neotropical reverie....I left us packing our bags at Cerro Lodge, dusting the milk toads out of our billies and getting on the road to the world-renowned La Selva Biological Station on Costa Rica's Caribbean slope, run by the excellent Organization for Tropical Studies.
However two things stood between us and our La Selva goal; one good, one bad.
The good one was Braulio Carrillo National Park (more on that shortly), the bad was the road system that took us "round" the outskirts of San Jose.
To describe the road network around the capital as enigmatic would be putting it kindly - a city the size of Liverpool with a maze of streets stretching on in an infinity of "completely lost" and no directional signs to speak of missus.
One minute you could be following a bustling three lane artery, and seconds later, without deviation from the route, you'd be pulling up in a dusty barrio trying to get directions from a street dog or confused cockerel.
Actually it was quite entertaining.
By the third time we had to navigate the place.
So, for anyone who may have to tackle the roads in San Jose soon, here's the most helpful and accurate map of the street system I could find.
Have this one on me - and good luck.
We emerged 28 days later, broken men, but still determined to get to La Selva - not even the closure of Route 32, the only road over the hills (for a mercifully short period of time) could stop us.
We got to Braulio Carrillo at noon - a stunning reserve of deep, pristine rainforest on steep, steamy slopes above the roar of the mountain highway. Dark and wild, dripping wet and stuffed with towering trees, astonishing mosses, see-through butterflies, bromeliads and passiflora.
We did the site twice - once on the way and then having left La Selva, and each time we were rewarded. The Sendero Las Palmas trail from the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station was brilliant.
Three Toed Sloth in the trees above the entrance (such is the frenetic lifestyle of the sloth, that this individual was in exactly the same branch in the canopy three days later - tough life), and superb butterflies and orchid-types nearer the road.
The birds were pretty amazing too - Buff Rumped Warbler, Blue Dacnis, Spot Breasted Antbird, Bicoloured and Immaculate Antbird, Golden Browed Chlorophonia, Black Headed Nightingale Thrush, Green Hermit, Collared Forest Falcon and White Throated Shrike Tanager were the highlights in a procession of stonkers.
Tough to bird - much craning back to observe stuff in the canopy a million miles above you, or squinting into the darkness of the undergrowth, but so worth it.
Seconds after taking that shot, and naturally having put my camera away, a dazzling Green Hermit hummer swept in to feed on this passiflora, before being spooked by a Collared Forest Falcon, which perched up momentarily to glare at us. Wow.
Refreshed by the Braulio experience we pushed on to La Selva, where we stayed for three nights - March 4-6 - amongst the enthusiastic, scientifically-minded students and jawdropping forests stuffed with wildlife.
An incredible place - friendly and helpful staff, and birds everywhere.
Even the lack of a bar could be overcome by a quick sneak down to the local licoreria a few clicks away, when the excellent director Deedre McClearn wasn't showing us her orchids, and offering a cold one or two.
For the next two or three days we hammered the trails, day and night, scoring heavily and getting kinda spooked deep in the forest in the dead of night, when Great Potoos and Crested and Mottled Owls roared, growled and harrumphed out of a forest canopy illuminated only by our headtorches - we never saw any of 'em, but top marks to Trops for snapping this Kinkajou as it wandered over the "Stone Bridge" the wobbly suspension span that crosses the Sarapiqui one night.
And double top marks to Neill for his patience with the MP3 player in the depths of the scary night-time forest.
The gardens around the cabins were fairly special too - bursting with birds and animals - Great Curassow and Crested Guans (thanx for the "big bird" shots Trops) often popped by at dusk.
Garden birds around the cabins and dining rooms of La Selva are that bit classier than elsewhere - Passerini's Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Short Billed Pigeon, Chestnut Sided Warblers and Rufous Tailed Hummers fought for the attention against an army of different flycatchers.
Peccaries foraged around the cabins (Helpful hint #157 - always bird where the peccaries are, they snuffle up fallen seeds etc dispersed by feeding flocks, even if they are bad tempered weasels, so point you to the birds), and each day brought us more goodies - Russet Antshrike, roosting Vermiculated Screech Owl, Mississippi Kite (nice one Neill), Green Ibis (ditto), Broad Billed Motmot and Slaty-Tailed and Violaceous Trogon.
So much variety - everywhere you looked there was a bird, beastie or plant deserving of your attention, whether it be the frequent visits by Chestnut Mandibled Toucans and Collared Aracaris, or just a passing Howler Monkey, off to do something cool.
Deeper into the trails away from the river, Blue Jean Frogs lived in the micro-world of the leaf litter (don't ask Trops how he got this shot);
White Collared Manakins snapped at each other in several leks, and gorgeous Long Tailed Tyrant flycatchers (google 'em, they're superb) sat high in the trees.
Visitors to La Selva get a free guided walk on their first morning, and luckily Edguardo (I hope I got that right), who led our three hour stroll was a keen birder - picking up many species from the infinity of "squeaks" and "clicks" that emanated from the vegetation.
The man took us to a Rufous Motmot nesting territory - what is not to like about him?
Very impressive and very helpful.
Even the approach track to the station was quality birding all the way - Black Cheeked Woodpecker, Chestnut Headed Woodpecker, Blue Chested Goldentail etc etc....
One morning deep, deep into the trees, and as the temperature soared, we reached the zip wire crossing at the Sarapiqui river - Neill and Trops naturally tried to kill themselves on this rustic white-knuckle ride above crocodile-infested waters, but instead of watching my 'scope plop down into the green flow, I birded the trail above the river.
The dense vegetation and steep slopes meant I couldn't see much, and the first three gaps in the trees where I could look to the other side of the water drew a blank.
But at the fourth gap - man oh man...
A Sunbittern stood on the opposite bank, occasionally preening before getting really funky and proving how good its camouflage really is - what a bird!
And sorry about this folks, but I can't resist that "wing-eye" shot again....
While I was ogling the Sunbittern, Bazzo scored with two Great Green Macaws, and although the screams of Trops and Neill spooked the Sunbittern momentarily as they hauled themselves back across the river on the zip ropes toute suite, it came out for them a short while later.
I guess it's easy to fall into a stream-of-birding-consciousness rapture about a place like La Selva (I know I just have), but it really was magnificent, looked after by folk who clearly care deeply about what they do (education and conservation) - if you don't believe me, ask the Smoky Jungle Frog that lived outside our cabin - big as a rugby ball and capable of taking a 20 inch snake - mean!
And if you doubt his word, all you need to know is if La Selva is good enough for this Double Crested Basilisk (or Jesus Christ Lizard 'cos it can run across water - and it does!), then it is certainly good enough for you and I.
(another great shot from Trops - ta buddy).
Right, that's enough blathering for tonight, hope someone out there is finding these trip accounts interesting. Next stop the Cerro Del Muerte range, Braulio Carrillo and La Selva lists follow.
Thanks to all at La Selva for their help and assistance - even three square meals a day! (but please, open a bar soon).
BRAULIO CARRILLO LIST:
Buff Rumped Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Black Faced Grosbeak, Blue Dacnis, Spot Breasted Antbird, Bicoloured Antbird, Immaculate Antbird, Golden Browed Chlorophonia, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Tawny Crowned Euphonia, Green Honeycreeper, Black Headed Nightingale Thrush, Rufous Winged Tanager, Black and Yellow Tanager, White Shouldered Tanager, Rufous Winged Woodpecker, Common Tody Flycatcher, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Purple Crowned Fairy, Chestnut Headed Oropendola, Montezuma's Oropendola, Bay Headed Tanager, Green Hermit, Collared Forest Falcon, Slaty Spinetail, Ruddy Woodcreeper, White Throated Shrike Tanager, Streak Headed Woodcreeper, Olive Tanager, Plain Xenops, Tawny Crowned Tanager, Streak Crowned Antwren, Emerald Tanager, White Collared Swift, Short Tailed Hawk.
LA SELVA LIST:
Mealy Parrot, Green Honeycreeper, Crested Guan, Chestnut Mandibilled Toucan, Collared Aracari, Pale Billed Woodpecker, Great Curassow, Passerini's Tanager, Blue Grey Tanager, Bananaquit, Common Pauraque, Short Tailed NIghtjar, Snowy Egret, Palm Tanager, Grey Headed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Streak Headed Woodcreeper, House Wren, Clay Coloured Robin, Lineated Woodpecker, Common Tody Flycatcher, Red Throated Ant Tanager, Black Cheeked Woodpecker, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Streak Breasted Wren, Chestnut Headed Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Golden Hooded Tanager, Bright Rumped Attila, Crimson Collared Tanager, Black Headed Saltator, Social Flycatcher, Thick Billed Seedeater, White Ringed Flycatcher, Spot Crowned Euphonia, Orange Chinned Parakeet, Grey Rumped Swift, Rufous Tailed Hummingbird, Long Tailed Tyrant, Rufous Mourner, Golden Winged Warbler, Summer Tanager, Orange BIlled Sparrow, Band Tailed Barbthroat, White Collared Manakin, Wedge Billed Woodcreeper, Black Throated Trogon, Rufous Motmot, Broad BIlled Motmot, Keel Billed Toucan, Boat Billed Flycatcher, Violaceous Trogon, Plain Brown Woodcreeper, Turkey Vulture, Western Slaty Antshrike, White Breasted Wood Wren, Long Tailed Hermit, Vermiculated Screech Owl, Black Cowled Oriole, Russet Antshrike, Collared Aracari, Shining Hneycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Bronze Tailed Plummeteer, Buff Throated Saltator, Olive Backed Euphonia, White Necked Jacobin, Montezuma's Oropendola, Squirrel Cuckoo, Immaculate Antbird, Red Lored Parrot, Great White Egret, Red Winged Blackbird, Spotted Sandpiper, Great Tailed Grackle, Northern Jacana, Slaty Tailed Trogon, Grey Necked Woodrail, Buff Rumped Warbler, Sunbittern, Purple Throated Fruitcrow, Great Green Macaw, Blue Ground Dove, Short Billed Pigeon, Black Vulture, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Black Faced Grosbeak, Green Ibis, Mississippi KIte, Great Antshrike, Tiny Hawk, Black Crowned Tityra.
(Heard: Great Tinamou, Little Tinamou, Slaty Breasted Tinamou, Long BIlled Antwren, Ochre Bellied Flycatcher, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Rufous Tailed Jacamar, Great Potoo, Crested Owl, Mottled Owl).
And finally let's hear it for all the other guys and gals without feathers: Mantled Howler Monkey, White Faced Capuchin, Sac Winged Bat, Agouti, Collared Peccary, Double Crested Basilisk, Kinkajou, Variegated Squirrel, Three Toed Sloth, House Gecko, Blue Morpho butteflies, dragonflices, fireflies, Smoky Brown Jungle Frog, Blue Jean Frog, Bransford's Litter Frog, Black River Turtle, Golden Orb Spider etc etc etc
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...