Pulling out of Braulio Carrillo on March 7th, we headed south for the second round with San Jose's road network - not too bad this time, we only got completely lost twice, then found the road to Cartago and beyond it the way to Orosi and ultimately Kiri Lodge in the cool coffee plantation-clad hills beneath Tapanti National Park.
On the way we bumped into a guy with a car battery gaffa-taped to his head and a smoking volcano - and let's be honest, you don't see many of either when you're out birdin' at home.
Okay, so it's not Krakatoa, but it's the first Smokey Joe I've seen, so worthy of note.
As we climbed into the hills beneath Tapanti National Park, a cooling breeze swept down from the mist covered slopes above us - dense cloud forest promising a whole new bird game, but the valley bottom track we bumped along, following the Rio Grande de Orosi, wasn't too shabby either.
The rocky river held many Black Phobes and Torrent Tyrannulets, superb birds, that showed really well, given that they like to perch up on boulders like a Dipper, or sit on overhanging branches.
The coffee plantations, protected by shade trees, held Orange Billed Nightingale Thrush, Crimson Fronted Parakeets, Brown Jays and Montezuma's Oropendolas, while the usual Black and Turkey Vultures circled overhead.
Stopping at the bridge over the Rio Grande de Orosi just short of Kiri Lodge, we enjoyed a bit of plantation and river checking - an eye-wateringly close Golden Olive Woodpecker, Tennessee Warblers, Grassquits, Tanagers and oropendolas all over the place.
I like Montezuma's Oropendola - crazy bird and crazy display, whereby they swing upsidedown from a branch with wings flared to deliver their crazy call.
Look there goes one now!
It is true that the infestation of the things in the trees around Kiri Lodge may have reduced the variety of species coming to the feeders there, but a call like that from a bird the size of a bus with a bright yellow tail counts for a lot.
The hummingbird feeders around the lodge brought in Violet Sabrewing and Green Crowned Brilliant, while the bird table, when liberally spread with scraps from breakfast, lured Blue Grey Tanager, other hmm, "controversial" tanagers (a particularly troublesome female still has the debate going in the Legless Arms), Golden Crowned Tanager and Rufous Collared Sparrows, while Black Vultures and flycatchers eyed the set-up from nearby trees.
The Blue Grey Tanager and Torrent Tyrannulet shots are by Tropical by the way - thanks again buddy.
The scrub and pastureland on the track beneath Kiri Lodge were good too, especially after a restorative beer - Tropical Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay Headed Tanager, White Naped Brush Finch, Giant Cowbird (pic by Trops again) and Ochraceous Wren, alongside hordes of others.
Now may perhaps be the time to raise the delicate issue of "accommodation competition", a strange evolutionary development that saw direct comparisons between the places Tropical had booked for us to stay and the digs Neill had sorted out.
The pair of 'em had done brilliant work booking just about every place we needed and their preparation made the trip go so smoothly it was unreal.
However, dark mutterings were getting louder regarding the rather "basic" nature of some of Tropical's choices...
Kiri Lodge was absolutely fine, if a tad "spartan" and as long as you wanted to eat trout, the food was outstanding.
The room was kinda cramped for four birders, and sleeping arrangements were familiar to say the least, with Bazzo and I crashing out in a child's bunk bed, while Trops and Neill endured three nights of duvet wars on the main mattress.
Calm down ladies, calm down, they're already married.
However, far more serious than the sleeping arrangements, was the inescapable fact that Kiri Lodge RAN OUT OF BEER. TWICE.
Swift and terrible reprisals were fortunately avoided, as we'd brought our own carry-out to deal with just such dire eventualities.
We maybe getting old, but we ain't stupid (well, okay, we probably are stupid, but at least we had beer).
All these privations could be endured however, as we were just a few minutes from the entrance to Tapanti National Park - an astonishingly lush, unspoilt habitat of steep forest covered slopes, bisected by the Rio Grande de Orosi.
A rough track ran through the park, and all you had to do really was tootle along in low gear until you heard a feeding flock, stop and fill your boots with amazing birds before they moved on and you drove to the next tickfest.
Absolutely stunning - we gave the place the best part of two days, and even though it went quiet in the afternoons, it was nothing short of unforgettable.
We saw so many great birds in Costa Rica, but I think the variety in the feeding flocks at Tapanti did it for me, just amazing - Common Bush Tanager (ubquitous), Spotted Woodcreeper, Slated Coloured Redstart, Collared Redstart, Lineated Foliage Gleaner, Spotted Barbtail, Philadelphia Vireo, Red Faced Spinetail, Scarlet Thighed Dacnis, Streaked Xenops, Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrant, Spangle Cheeked Tanager, White Throated Thrush, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Golden Winged Warbler - just birding heaven.
Special mention must go to the Black Faced Solitaire, new holder of "My most favourite birdsong ever" title, for its breezy esoteric calls from the canopy.
Perfectly evocative in the cool mountain air of the Talamancan Cordillera.
As ethereal as listening to the Cocteau Twins in an oxygen chamber.
Ignore all the folk chuntering on this snippet I blagged from YouTube and listen to that call - goregous, and here's the culprit.
Also breathtakingly great were the Green Fronted Lancebills on the Sendero La Oropendola and the Black Guan just beneath the mirador at the top of the trail - both wonderful birds, both found by Neill.
The Oropendola Trail (about halfway into the park) was very good - Streak Breasted Treehunter, and on the river at the bottom of the circular walk, an American Dipper, finally giving Bazzo the full family set of these engaging birds - you could almost taste the relief.
Well done Bazzo.
Up at the top of the trail, tourists stop to photograph the waterfall plunging down the sheer slopes of the rainforest, but the mirador and knife-edge ridges were built for raptor-watching, and our attempts were rewarded with amazing Swallow Tailed Kites moving north with the ease of a laser through butter, and a great big Black Hawk Eagle among the more usual birds of prey.
A female Purple Throated Mountain Gemm hummer fed no more than 30 cms from me up there too.
By early afternoons the mist rolled down the high hills, so it was time to check the valley below, but not before a bit of amateur botany....so many plants look like orchids in this most fecund of places - some are, and some aren't!
Alfaro's Pygmy Squirrels scurried around the trunks too - these babies live off sap rather nuts...so different, so Costa Rican.
I really liked Tapanti - and if you ever get there - say howdy to the Chestnut Headed Oropendola colony in the trees by the Ranger Station...
One aternoon when it quietened down in the cloud forest we decided to head to nearby Cachi Dam to "bolster up the list", a thinly-veiled euphemism for buying more beer 20 clicks away down rough mountain roads.
The dam was very good, although digiscoping the Bat Falcon there from the narrow walkway that shook everytime a car drove by (never mind a Mack truck) was a touch on the hairy side.
Least Grebe, Ruddy Pigeon, Golden Olive Woodpecker, Ringed Kingfisher and more Swallow Tailed Kites around here.
Incidentally anyone considering driving the track above Kiri Lodge up into the hills should give it a crack - as long as you have a 4x4 - along vertiginous hairpin dirt bends, we got cracking views of Peg Billed Finch, Black Guan, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Collared Redstart, wintering Yankee warblers etc up there at dawn one morning, just before the trail becomes impassable....a mighty fine appetiser before a Kiri Lodge breakfast (no trout for me please).
TAPANTI AREA LIST:
Orange Billed Nightingale Thrush, Black Phoebe, Torrent Tyrannulet, Montezuma's Oropendola, Tennessee Warbler, Yellow Faced Grassquit, Crimson Fronted Parakeet, Melodious Blackbird, Dusky Capped Flycatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Black Vulture, Violet Sabrewing, Cattle Egret, Silver Throated Tanager, Blue Grey Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Great Kiskadee, Rufous Collared Sparrow, Brown Jay, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Bay Headed Tanager, Ochraceous Wren, Passerini's Tanager, Golden Hooded Tanager, White Naped Brush Finch, Palm Tanager, Green Crowned Brilliant, Slate Coloured Redstart, House Wren, Tropical Parula, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Osprey, Black and White Warbler, Giant Cowbird, Buff Throated Saltator, Rufous Tailed Hummingbird, Great White Egret, American Kestrel, Hepatic Tanager, Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher, Black Cowled Oriole, Blue and White Swallow, Chestnut Headed Oropendola, Spotted Woodcreeper, Common Bush Tanager, Lineated Foliage Gleaner, Philadelphia Vireo, Spotted Barbtail, Red Faced Spinetail, Scarlet Thighed Dacnis, Grey Rumped Swift, Vaux's Swift, Lesser Greenlet, Streaked Xenops, Black Faced Solitaire, Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrant, Rough Legged Tyrannulet, Bananaquit, Grey Breasted Martin, American Dipper, Green Fronted Lancebill, Streak Breasted Treehunter, White Collared Swift, White Throated Thrush, Black Guan, Yellowish Flycatcher, Spangle Cheeked Tanager, Western Wood Peewee, White Throated Flycatcher, Southern Rough Winged Swallow, Yellow Bellied Elaenia, Traill's Flycatcher, Common Tody Flycatcher, Golden Olive Woodpecker, Wilson's Warbler, Olive Crowned Yellowthroat, Thick Billed Seedeater, Yellow Faced Grassquit, Blue Black Grassquit, Collared Redstart, Mountain Robin, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Peg BIlled Finch, Golden Winged Warbler, Clay Coloured Robin, Dark Peewee, Tropical Kingbird, White Bellied Mountain Gem, Buffy Tufted Cheek, Purple Crowned Fairy, Olive Striped Flycatcher, Wedge Billed Woodcreeper, Collared Trogon, Swallow Tailed Kite, Purple Throated Mountain Gem, Black Hawk Eagle, Least Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, Ruddy Pigeon, Bat Falcon, Turkey Vulture, Roadside Hawk, Baltimore Oriole.
We pulled out of Kiri Lodge at 5.30am on the morning of March 10th and headed west, then south down, then up, up, up the Pan American Highway towards the Cerro de la Muerte - they don't call it the "Mountain of Death" for nothing you know (well, actually they do, but more of that next time).
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...