Seemingly, after observing and photographing the Resplendent Quetza this morningl, anything and everything left on the trip would be considered anticlimactic. Not to be outdone, the endemic hummingbirds of the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota put on quite a show in the afternoon. We traveled by private van to a hummingbird haven, Batsu Garden, designed specifically for birdwatching and photography. Feeders and fruits attract the birds to viewing platforms, while trails wind through the blooming gardens had been established to enhance bird watching and photography. This provided a great opportunity for fast speed photography, fill flash photography, and birds in flight. I shot over 1,000 photos of hummingbirds while there!
In addition to hummingbirds, a few other beautiful birds appeared and offered poses.
We were up early, departing the lodge at 5:15 AM in an attempt to spot the rare, elusive Resplendent Quetzal. The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a small bird found in southern Mexico and Central America. These exquisite birds live in tropical forests, particularly montane cloud forests, and they are part of the family Trogonidae. Like other quetzals, the Resplendent is omnivorous; its diet mainly consists of fruits of plants in the laurel family, but it occasionally also preys on insects, lizards, frogs, and snails. The species is well known for its colorful and complex plumage that differs substantially between sexes. Males have iridescent green plumes, a red lower breast and belly, black inner wings and a white undertail, while females are duller and have a shorter tail. Grey lower breasts, bellies, and bills, along with bronze-green heads are characteristic of females. These birds hollow holes in decaying trees or use ones already made by woodpeckers as a nest site. They are known to take turns while incubating, males throughout the day and females at night. The female usually lays one to three eggs, which hatch in 17 to 19 days. The quetzal is an altitudinal migrant, migrating from the slopes to the canopy of the forest. This occurs during the breeding season, which varies depending on the location, but usually commences in March and extends as far as August. These magnificent birds are infrequently seen in the mountains of southern Arizona.
The Quetzal had been observed earlier in the week feeding on avocados in the mountains. After a short drive, the bus was parked along side the road, and we climbed a steep narrow path from the single-lane road to a “viewpoint” near an Aguacatillo trees of the avocado family where they had been observed feeding the previous morning.
I was fortunate to be the first to spot the colorful bird sitting on a lower Aguacatillo tree limb about 25 yards from where we were standing. Note the long tail.
Because of its undulating pattern of the tail during flight, the bird is known as the “serpent of the sky.” Endangered due to deforestation, these creatures are notoriously difficult to find in nature around the world.
After an early breakfast, luggage was loaded and we checked out of Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge. The drive took us south, over the mountains, through San Jose, and then southeast back into another mountain range to San Gerardo De Dota.
Enroute the bus climbed the mountains, passing many pineapple, strawberry, and coffee farms and plantations.
A brief stop was made at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, Costa Rica.
The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Our Lady of the Angels Basilica) is a Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Virgen de los Pardos, officially known as Virgen de los Angeles (the Lady of the Angels). The basilica was built in 1639, but partially destroyed by an earthquake. The basilica has since been restored and constitutes a unique mix of colonial architecture as well as 19th-century Byzantine style; the current building dates back to 1939.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels is consecrated to the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, a small representation of the Virgin Mary carrying the infant Jesus, said to have been discovered by a peasant girl in Cartago. Tradition claims that the little girl found the small statue on a rock and took it home. The next morning she found that the statue was not there but back at the rock, so she took it to the priest and he locked it in a small box. The next morning the statue was back at the rock. During the construction, the church was destroyed by earthquakes so many times, it was finally decided to move it to the location where the statue was found and they were able to finish construction. Many people think that the earthquakes were signs that the Lady of Los Ángeles wanted the basilica built there.
Owing to the dark complexion of the stone statue, she is sometimes affectionately called La Negrita or Reina de Cartago (Queen of Cartago). The original statue is kept in a golden shell inside the basilica. An official decree declared the Virgin of the Angels the official patron of Costa Rica.
In the days leading to August 2, the Basilica is the object of extensive pilgrimage and visitation by over a million believers (estimates range from 1 to 2.5 million people), many of whom walk from different points throughout the country. However, most people join the 22-kilometer walk to the basilica from San José and surrounding communities. Locally the pilgrimage is known as the Romería and is one of the most enduring of Costa Rican traditions. As a demonstration of their piety, many people choose to crawl part or the complete journey on their hands and knees. At the basilica they wash themselves and drink the water from the rock on which the statue was found.
After climbing to an elevation of 10,000+ feet, the bus weaved it’s way down a one lane switchbacked “road” to the San Gerardo de Dota Valley. The small and secluded valley of San Gerardo de Dota is located at approximately 7,500 feet in the western flank of the Cerro de la Muerte (Death Mountain) massif in the Talamanca Mountain Range. The valley was carved by the Savage River as a result of the deicing of the glaciers during the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. The predominant habitats inside the valley are high elevation cloud and oak forests. San Gerardo de Dota is a clear example of a cold environment in tropical regions. During the day temperatures are a pleasant 70-75• F. At night the mercury can fall into the 40s.
Measuring approximately 41 kilometers from its source in the mountains of San Gerardo de Dota to its mouth in the Pacific Ocean, the Savegre River is considered the cleanest river on the Central American Pacific coast and is the fifth cleanest in the world. The Savegre river basin is part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve.
We arrived at Sevegre Lodge late in the afternoon, checked in, and were overwhelmed by the beautiful gardens and lodge infrastructure.
I slept on and off through the night, experiencing more atrocious symptoms of the terrible virus. Thankfully, I gradually began to feel a bit better—there was nothing left in my stomach or intestines. I ate a very light breakfast of dry toast, after which we traveled to a Macaw Rescue Center. The Macaw Farm is a private initiative that has turned into a successful breeding center for both the Scarlet and Great Green Macaws. The Great Green Macaw was near extinction in some places, but populations are now coming back, thanks to private initiatives such as the Macaw Rescue Center. We were delighted to see and photograph Macaws in flight, even if they were flying, in the wild, between feeding stations.
We were then treated to fresh pineapple (I ate none for obvious reasons), and observed White-faced Monkeys swinging from limbs in nearby trees.
Back at the Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge, a few of us hung out at the feeding station to observe and photograph many colorful species of birds.
After lunch, we had a guided walk in the dark jungle at the Selva Verde’s property. It was so dark, in fact, that it was near difficult to get decent exposure on photographs.
Selva Verde exists today because of one woman’s desire to make a difference. As a pioneer in the business of ecotourism, Giovanna Holbrook traveled the world creating unique adventures for avid naturalists. In 1982, Giovanna arranged an ornithological field study in Costa Rica for the National Aviary. At the last minute, accommodations for the explorers fell through and they found themselves without a place to stay. Giovanna raced to Costa Rica to rectify the situation. A full day drive from San Jose, over barely passable dirt roads, found her deep in the county of Sarapiquí.
During her stay, Giovanna discovered a large tract of old growth forest that was up for sale. The land was facing an uncertain future and may well have been purchased for logging or agricultural purposes. Giovanna placed a deposit on the property and embarked on making it a world class ecotourism destination. However, shortly after purchasing the property, Giovanna discovered squatters staking claim to her land. She enlisted her good friend Dr. Tom Emmel and with the help of a local conservationist, confronted the squatters. After some intense and heated negotiations, a deal was struck. If the squatters agreed to vacate her property, they would be offered jobs once the project was completed.
Over the next several years, Giovanna continued to travel back and forth between the US and Costa Rica as the dream of Selva Verde began to take shape. Soon the original house was hosting visiting researchers and plans were underway to build additional guest rooms and a dining hall. More than 30 years later, Selva Verde is a world renowned eco-lodge committed to advancing the practice of sustainable tourism.
During today’s excursions, even a Howler Monkey made an appearance.
It seems to happen every time I travel outside the US. Just after midnight last night, I woke with an upset tummy. Hoping it was just a 24-hour bug, I tried sleeping, to little avail. Whatever I had progressed to the point that it was the worst stomach virus ever, with intensive vomiting, diarrhea, and fever! Nevertheless, I made it out to breakfast and then traveled to a nature pavilion for bird photography. The driver offered to take me back to the lodge, and I quickly accepted. That pretty much ended my day as I missed a couple of lectures, lunch, and a guided nature walk. I proceeded to sleep 19 hours.
Sarapiquí is Costa Rica’s northern lowlands. Traditionally, the Sarapiqui region was a farming and ranching area. Still, large pineapple and banana plantations abound, as well as scattered strawberry fields. It is a region characterized by its vibrant rainforest and wildlife. It is home to several natural reserves, national parks, and protected areas. These lowlands have several rivers of great affluence and historical importance. Its biodiversity and ecosystem draw the attention of scientists and biologists around the world, who come to do their research at the study centers and biological stations in the area. Braulio Carrillo National Park, the La Selva Biological Station, and the La Tirimbina Rain Forest Center are all located in this region. Ecotourism is big here, in addition to adventures such as rafting and tropical rainforest exploration.
This region is very flat and characterized by several different rivers, both slow-moving and full of rapids. Birdwatchers love this area for the many birds that live and migrate here, including both Scarlet Macaws and Great Green Macaws. The Selva Biological Station boasts over 2,077 species of plants; 125 species of mammals, including 72 species of bats; 470 species of birds; 48 amphibian species; 87 species of reptiles; and 45 species of freshwater fish.
A buffet breakfast was at 7 AM, followed by a presentation, Knowing Your Camera and It’s Capabilities. Luggage was loaded at 9 AM, and the bus was headed north for our first stop at the La Paz Waterfall high in the cloud forest jungle north of San Jose.
The 121 foot high waterfall was immediately adjacent to the highway.
Just a few kilometers further north on Costa Rica Highway 126, a stop was made for lunch at a local roadside restaurant. There, we observed the 229-foot high San Fernando Waterfall across a deep, wide valley.
Also, many birds were nearby at feeding stations just off the deck of this wonderful restaurant in the cloud forest.
From the cloud forest jungle, the tour proceeded to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui for a river tour of a small section of the Sarapiqui River. Green Iguanas, a Caiman, Howler Monkeys, and Three-toed Sloths were seen as well as numerous bird life.
And then, it was off to our lodging for the next three nights, the Rainforest Lodge, overlooking the boulder-strewn white water of the Sarapiqui River.
I was up early this morning—1:45 AM early! I picked photography friend Dan up at 2:30 AM, and we were off to the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport for a 5:30 AM flight to SanJose, Costa Rica, via Atlanta. Both legs of the Delta flight were uneventful, but the seat space was small and we were big—cramped quarters. I carried on all camera gear (about 50 pounds worth), CPAP machine, and carry-on suitcase with enough clothes for 9 days (little did I know).
We arrived in San Jose after lunch, and at our hotel about 3 PM. We came to Costa Rica for the Road Scholar (RS) program Digital Photography in Nature: Capturing the Best of Costa Rica. Road Scholar was very efficient in our transfer from the airport to the hotel, and hotel check-in. The RS program manager was at the hotel to meet and greet us. We had a late lunch at the hotel, and rested until our orientation meeting and dinner in the early evening.
Here’s what RS has to say in their brochure introducing Digital Photography in Nature: Capturing the Best of Costa Rica: “Learn to get the most out of your digital camera as you join experts to practice exposure, composition and wildlife and landscape techniques in the colorful landscapes of Costa Rica.” The program manager was Carlos Calvo. Carlos Calvo is a Costa Rican naturalist and a gifted wildlife photographer and photography instructor. He studied education (Modern Languages) at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and earned his professional guide qualifications from the National Learning Institute (INA). In 2012, he added freelance photography to his credentials and before long was being asked to provide photography workshops and lectures as well as lead natural history groups. Carlos’s photos have been featured in magazines and natural history publications as well as gallery exhibits.
At the orientation meeting we met Carlos, introduced ourselves, and listened as he briefly talked about the trip itinerary and basic technical aspects of digital wildlife photography.
There were seven of us: four men and three women from Arkansas, New Mexico, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Texas. After the lecture, we had dinner and retired to the rooms, respectively, for sleep before departing early the next morning.
It’s been a while—about three weeks since a blog entry was posted. With changing weather patterns, golf, and pickleball, my back was becoming really sore, achy, and both the back and right leg were in near constant pain. Consequently, I took a break from sports for a while to let this old body heal—no golf, pickleball, or photography for a whole three weeks. During that time, a number of semi-annual medical appointments were kept, and I even prepared a few meals.
We enjoyed a visit from Nan (Kay’s sister) and George for a couple of days, even celebrating George’s birthday.
Thanksgiving dinner was at Ron’s (Kay’s son) and Cheryl’s house with most of Kay’s immediate family present.
Kay put up Christmas decorations, more subdued than previously, though still very charming and attractive.
In addition, she kept busy with a number of social activities. During this “sabbatical,” I reprocessed hundreds of old photographs only to note that the photography wasn’t very good, but it’s amazing what artificial intelligence post processing applications can do. And, in the first few days of December we attended a couple of great musical programs—big band and rock and roll.
A quiet pall overtook the house this week—Kay was away all but one day and night. She had a great time at the casino, and even came back with more money than she took.
And then, she left again to spend the weekend with granddaughter Aker in central Arkansas.
Monday morning was for church business, and golf followed in the afternoon—weather was as near perfect as one gets in Arkansas. Tuesday was the weekly golf scramble with other church men, we missed several short putts, and I generally played awful; no money was won this week! Wednesday was a great weather day for pickleball, and we had some competitive games at Diamante. Once again, it is worth repeating how nice the players are, and are so much fun to play with/against. I also made it outside with the camera for a few photos; perhaps the last of the butterflies for the season!
And then, it was pickleball again in the afternoon with the “Arizona” group, the Paddlewheelers. The games there also proved to be very competitive.
On Thursday, I played pickleball at Diamante, arriving home before lunch to find Kay already home from her junket. Friday was a “down” day for me, allowing time for an oil and filter change in the “old” Honda CR V, our tow car; it’s now ready for traveling to Arizona late next month. Kay traveled to central Arkansas to spend the weekend with granddaughter Aker.
Despite the frigid weather, Aker had three soccer games.
I had big plans for Saturday to include cleaning the garage floor; it didn’t happen. Instead, I caught up on a lot of YouTube videos, perhaps a waste of time, but enjoyable nevertheless. With Kay out of town, I attended early church on Sunday, leaving the rest of the day to just “hang out.” Kay returned later afternoon, and both of us were glad she was home.
The aromas coming from the kitchen early this week reminded me of the Christmas season when Mom was still alive. The blended, but somewhat distinct aromas of cakes, pies, cookies, appetizers, and chowder, etc. filled the house. These were the result of Kay preparing to host the monthly meeting of Naomi Circle, a ladies church group, and The Book Club. Hosting the The Book Club is a BIG DEAL among its members, and each goes all out. I spent the early part of the week painting the printer stand made for me by good friend Dan. It is awesome.
Consequently, with those two affairs happening Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, I skedaddled our of the house to play golf on Tuesday and explore the Quachita National Forest on Thursday. Not much to photograph was found while touring the forest.
Pickleball was also on the agenda for Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
On Friday, Kay and Pam shopped at “Glitz and Garland” in Benton, while I hung around the house doing a lot of nothing; I did cycle to Balboa Baptist Church to play pickleball, but for some reason the outreach building was all locked up. On Saturday, Kay and I traveled to Costco to cash a couple of award “redemptions” for spending money there, and bough way too many things including a powerful battery operated blower for removing all the leaves and pine needles. Upon returning home, played the front nine at Magellan Golf Course. For the last couple of years, we have enjoyed playing an occasional game of golf together, particularly since I was advised not to give her helpful hints while playing!
Sunday was church day, but I woke up with an upset tummy, so Kay represented us at the late service. The tummy finally settled down after lunch, and we both played pickleball at Diamante. We so enjoy all the players there—nice, nice people. When checking email, I noted that Costco had the same blower we purchased yesterday on sale, and for $10 more, it came with an extra battery. So, I was off to Costco to return the previously purchased blower, and had my hearing aids serviced while there; except, I forgot them and they are still at the store to be pickled up later this week. Kay leaves tonight for a junket to the Gulf Coast with some girlfriends to donate money to the casino.