By now we were seasoned veterans of the traffic maelstrom that is San Jose, and on our third attempt seemed to sail right through the middle of the city and out to the western side without too much difficulty.
Of course we didn't have a clue where we were most of the time, but somehow we still ended up near Alajuela and were able to head north west up Highway 1 past San Ramon towards Monteverde.
It was much hotter here as we headed into the Pacific North West and the attentions of snarling Mack trucks 6 inches from our back bumper tested Trops' patience to the limit.
You really don't want 'em this close to you, and after 15 minutes in a scene from "Duel", Trops jumped a few cars on the busy road to get the guy off our back.
Unfortunately overtaking wasn't allowed.
Unfortunately a policeman was standing by the roadside right in front of us.
Unfortunately he waved us down.
Unfortunately fines for traffic violations in Costa Rica are bigger than a Blue Whale's breakfast.
So it was that we met traffic officer Alexander Vargas Vargas.
He could have nailed us into penury, and launched into a stern lecture about traffic safety.
Maximum use of puppy eyes and trembling lower lips didn't seem to be shifting him, until he suddenly broke into a large smile, shook our hands and let us off with a serious warning.
Relieved after our latest brush with the law, we struck off to the east away from the Guanacaste region and onto the dirt road of route 606 that took us back up into the hills.
We celebrated yet another escape from the pokey with a beer at a roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere, and a White Ringed Flycatcher landed on the 4x4's wing-mirror to sing and attack its reflection.
As we headed nearer to Santa Elena and Monteverde on the dusty dusty track, we bumped into Northern Harrier, superb Scissor Tailed Flycatchers and Stripe Headed Sparrow.Got into Santa Elena and the Hotel Sunset at 4pm, a great place for our last few nights, with stunning views right down the hills, over the coastal plain and out to the Gulf of Nicoya.
Vitalis and his family were friendly and helpful throughout our time there, here was a man who understood the importance of adequate beer supplies and a good breakfast.
Three Wattled Bellbird was calling from the rainforest beside us - a promising sign for the area as clouds rolled down the steep slopes and dusk edged in.
As it was the first time on the trip we'd been near a town, we took full advantage of Santa Elena's rather touristy amenities each night.
The place had a pub in a tree, good restaurants and hot and cold running Blue Morpho butterflies - why do they always close their wings when you try to get a shot???
A dawn walk round the private trails the hotel owns on March 13 was quiet apart from a few gorgeous Golden Winged Warblers and singing Golden Crowned Warblers - they really respond to a tape lure!
Canivet's Emerald and Brown Jays around the hotel.
After a coffee hit, we drove up to the magnificent Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, where we spent much of the day, walking the trails and admiring feeding flocks from heaven.
Loadsa Stripe Headed Warblers, White Throated Spadebill, Prong BIlled Barbet, Slaty Flowerpiercer (the stonking shot of this species at the start of this entry is by Neill - ta buddy), Black Faced Solitaire, Resplendent Quetzal, and perhaps best of all, several Slaty Backed Nightingale Thrushes.
Astonishing as this lush, quiet forest was, it was no place for digi-scoping.....check out this pitiful attempt at Streak Headed Woodcreeper and you'll see what I mean.
Neill luckily blatted away with his new digital slr and got some brilliant shots, including one of the tiny, but cool Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrant, and the Slaty Backed Nightingale Thrush.
I had to make do with shots of easier prey, like this gorgeous Precious Metal Scarab, about two inches long - what a bug!
We heard several Bellbirds high in the canopy above us, but couldn't find the weasels, when birding is this good though, it doesn't really matter if you miss one or two.
Feeding flock after feeding flock kept us busy for five and a half hours until the afternoon lull kicked in and we headed down to Bajo del Tigre, a dry forest reserve that takes some finding, but does have wonderful Long Tailed Manakins, and the huge White Eared Ground Sparrow.
A momentous birthday in the unit (we couldn't find enough candles Tropical, sorry), meant a night in Santa Elena till the wee small hours, but we all seemed to escape relatively unscathed, apart from the need for some serious counselling after being subjected to the local xylophone troupe's somewhat repetitive set in the Treehouse, while folk dancers waved hankies about all over the place.
Next morning we drove over to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, but the place had reached its 250 visitor capacity long before my hangover began to subside, so we headed back to Bajo del Tigre for the day.
Not before we had a quick look in the Hummingbird Gallery - loadsa people and loadsa birds, including Coppery Headed Emerald, Purple Throated Mountain Gem and big bad VIolet Sabrewings.
A White Nosed Coatimundi snuffled around the roadside and a female Resplendent Quetzal fed in the trees overhead as tourist guides went into meltdown - kerr-ching!!!
In contrast, we were the only folk in Bajo Del Tigre, and walked for miles round the narrow trails through the parched forest - Black Breasted Woodquail, Long Tailed Manakin, Emerald Toucanet and Swallow Tailed Kite were just some of the quality birds there.
Mebbe it was the heat, or perhaps the result of a late night, but by the time we reached the rickety mirador above the reserve, momentum was beginning to flag somewhat.
This didn't stop Neill picking up a fine White Hawk in the valley below, while a Yellow Margined Flycatcher perched inches from us on the slope below the mirador.
MRS D (OR ANY OTHER ARACHNIPHOBES) SHOULD STOP READING NOW AS VERY SHORTLY THERE IS A PICTURE OF A VERY BIG TARANTULA - AS THE MISSUS HAS TROUBLE BEING ON THE SAME CONTINENT AS ONE OF OUR EIGHT-LEGGED FRIENDS, SHE SHOULD TURN AWAY NOW.
In the late afternoon we drove back up to Santa Elena Cloud Forest reserve and arranged to be taken in search of Bellbird on our last morning - desperate measures as the big boys were proving hard to connect with.
A walk down the track to San Gerrado was kinda uneventful, although a few close Swallow Tailed Kites were overhead, and the usual selection of wild flowers were beguiling.
Back in the car park outside the reserve a stonking Red Kneed Tarantula was walking slowly across open ground - a superb, if venomous beastie. If it wasn't for the complete absence of feathers, it may well have qualified as my "bird of the trip".
We headed back to the hotel, and as the evening cloud had yet to descend, took a walk round the gardens, where Scarlet Thighed Dacnis and even a Townsend's Warbler fed alongside the many Tropical Kingbirds and Tennessee Warblers.
A Bellbird was calling in the canopy below us, and after a bit of searching Neill picked it up as it "sang" in the most bizarre fashion.
Just check this You Tube clip out.
We got good scope views of the bird as it called and called from a bare branch about 400 metres away, but it was too far off for anything more than a poor record shot - that's it, the little white and brown blob above the green leaves!
Great bird though, and it meant we could blow out the reserve tour the next morning and strike for the coast for our last day in Costa Rica.
SANTA ELENA/MONTEVERDE LIST:
Crested Caracara, Orange Chinned Parakeet, Hoffman's Woodpecker, Plain Breasted Ground Dove, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Rufous Naped Wren, Northern Harrier, Scissor Tailed Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Stripe Headed Sparrow, Melodious Blackbird, Chestnut Headed Oropendola, Blue and White Swallow, Three Wattled Bellbird, Keel Billed Toucan, Tennessee Warbler, Rufous Collared Sparrow, Golden Winged Warbler, Golden Crowned Warbler, Red Crowned Ant Tanager, Brown Jay, Canivet's Emerald, Red Lored Parrot, Tropical Kingbird, Yellowish Flycatcher, Stripe Headed Warbler, White Throated Spadebill, Purple Throated Mountain Gem, Band Tailed Pigeon, Slate Coloured Redstart, Sooty Capped Bush Tanager, Spangle Cheeked Tanager, Ruddy Treerunner, Prong BIlled Barbet, Common Bush Tanager, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Grey Breasted Woodwren, Slaty Backed Nightingale Thrush, Tufted Flycatcher, Resplendent Quetzal, Golden Bellied Flycatcher, Black Faced Solitaire, Scale Crested Pygmy Tyrant, Scaly Throated Foliage Gleaner, Collared Redstart, Violet Sabrewing, Green Crowned Brilliant, Green Violet Ear, Magnificent Hummingbird, Coppery Headed Emerald, Bananaquit, White Eared Ground Sparrow, Wood Thrush, Long Tailed Manakin, White Fronted Parrot, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Rufous and White Wren, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Black Breasted Woodquail, Rufous Capped Warbler, White Tipped Dove, Yellow Warbler, Emerald Toucanet, Lesser Greenlet, Swallow Tailed Kite, Sharp Shinned Hawk, White Hawk, Streak Headed Woodcreeper, Yellow Margined Flycatcher, Orange BIlled Nightingale Thrush, Blue Grey Tanager, Great Tailed Grackle, Yellow Faced Grassquit, Black Throated Green Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Townsend's Warbler, Scarlet Thighed Dacnis, Black and White Warbler, Great Kiskadee, Clay Coloured Robin, Cattle Egret, Magenta Throated Woodstar, Wilson's Warbler, Black Headed Saltator, Squirrel Cuckoo.
Squirrel Cuckoo shot by Neill. Ta la.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...