Saturday, 31 August 1985

COSTA RICA August 1985: Chomes, Irazu & Panama

20 August 1985:  We set off early on a long day trip from San Jose to Chomes, taking the first bus then a longish walk to the saltpans.  Being back a sea level and with very little shelter it soon became very hot.  At the end of the day we were pleased to be given a lift back to the main road where we didn’t have to wait too long for a San Jose bus.  Birds seen included Snowy Egret, Little Blue and Louisiana Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Semipalmated and Wilson's Plovers, both Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Least, Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilt, Gull-billed and Least Terns, Blue Ground Dove, Rose-throated Becard, Rufous-naped Wren and Mangrove Warbler.
Rufous-naped Wren, an impressive member of a generally impressive family
mangroves at Chomes
Greater Yellowlegs at Chomes
21 August 1985:  Being at the whim of bus timetables was taking its toll so we chartered a taxi for a morning visit to Volcan Irazu.  We were lucky that it was clear, although hazy, when we arrived giving views of the Caribbean to the east and the Pacific to the west.  Few birds were seen but included Baird's Sandpiper and Volcano Junco.  We returned to San Jose and visited the Zoo in the afternoon seeing Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Hoffman’s Woodpecker before catching the overnight bus to Panama City.
looking back towards San Jose from Volcan Irazu
Volcan Poas from Volcan Irazu
insides of Volcan Irazu
Volcan Irazu crater

Colin on the rim of Volcan Irazu
Volcan Irazu group photo

Volcan Irazu ridge
Colin on the edge
looking down from Irazu
little vegetation at the summit

22 August 1985:  We continued our bus journey to Panama City, crossing the border at Paso Canoas.  By now the bus was quite uncomfortable.

23-28 August 1985:  We caught a train from Panama City to Gamboa from where it was a short walk to the start of the famed Pipeline Road.  Here what looked like a fortuitous but unlit box toilet by the entrance barrier gave me a shock as when I sat down I noticed something moving in the corner a foot away - a small dark snake that I didn’t spend too long looking at.  All thoughts of using the toilet rapidly vanished, and since that day the forest has always been much more appealing.  We took food for a couple of days and camped a couple of miles down the Pipeline Road at the ‘Limbo Hunt Club’, me in my bivy bag under the fly sheet again.  Very disappointingly it was just a clearing, the building we’d imagined sleeping on the veranda of having long since gone.  It was very hot and with little shade during the day but the forest along the road, which was little more than a dirt track, was superb.  On 26 August we returned by train to Panama City, getting a bus to the airport where we saw off Nick who was flying back.  Colin and I returned but in broad daylight on our way back to the railway station Colin was set upon by four muggers.  He took an arm out of his rucksack to lay into one of them who was trying to get his money-belt while I was grabbing another around the neck to keep him off.  The other two grabbed Colin’s rucksack, literally off his back, and they all ran off into a rather seedy tenement building with it.  Fortunately Colin’s passport and cash were in his money-belt which he’d kept a firm hold on but his binoculars, notebook and Nick’s tent, which we’d borrowed, were lost.  We found the local police station and reported the theft, which they blamed on Colombian immigrants.  A couple of cops returned to the scene with us but unsurprisingly there was no sign of the perpetrators or any of Colin’s stuff.  We spent the rest of the day finding replacement binoculars and buying a plastic sheet and rope for a makeshift tent.  We found a cheap hotel for the night, our day trip I to see Nick off had become rather more eventful than we’d anticipated.  Next time he could find his own way to the airport!  The next morning Colin and I returned to the Pipeline Road for two days.  Birds seen during our stay included Least Grebe, Anhinga, King Vulture, Double-toothed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Crane Hawk, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Grey-headed Chachalaca, Scaled Pigeon, Grey-chested Dove, Red-lored and Mealy Parrots, Greater Ani, Spectacled Owl, Semi-collared Nighthawk, Paraque, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Purple-crowned Fairy, Slaty-tailed, White-tailed and Black-throated Trogons, Green & Rufous Kingfisher, Broad-billed, Rufous and Blue-crowned Motmots, White-necked, Pied and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Cinnamon and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Scaly-throated Leafscraper, Fasciated, Slaty and Russet Antshrikse, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Streaked, Checker-throated and Dot-winged Antwrens, Dusky, Chestnut-backed Bicoloured, Spotted and Ocellated Antbirds, Streak-chested Antpitta, Blue-crowned, Red-capped and Golden-collared Manakins, Blue Cotinga, Rufous Mourner, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Fork-tailed, Panama, Ruddy-tailed and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Olivaceous Flatbill, Brownish Flycatcher, Plain, Buff-breasted and Black-bellied Wrens, White-breasted Wood Wren, Song Wren, Long-billed and Tawny-faced Gnatwrens, Louisiana Waterthrush, Buff-rumped Warbler, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Golden-hooded, Plain-coloured, Crimson-backed ,Yellow-rumped, Carmiol's and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Slate-coloured Grosbeak and Thick-billed Seed Finch.  Highlights were encountering an antswarm on 24 August, Colin finding a day roosting Spectacled Owl, seeing the antpitta twice and a Puma walking down the track towards me before it realised I was here and promptly turned off.  We also saw Sloth, Amradillo and Coatimundi.
Panama Canal

 29-31 August 1985:  We got the train from Gamboa to Gatun, a very impressive and efficiently run set of locks on the Panama Canal.  Birds here included Pied-billed Grebe, Snowy Egret, Little Blue and, Louisiana Herons , Collared Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Ringed Kingfisher, Red-breasted Blackbird and Saffron Finch.  From there it was a longish walk to the Achiote Road where we slept by the road under plastic sheet for two nights.  We’d taken food and some water but found it difficult to replenish the latter as most of the pools were very muddy although we did eventually find a small fairly clean stream and used plenty of iodine with no ill effect.  Birds seen on the Achiote Road included Agami Heron, King Vulture, Zone-tailed and Semi-plumbous Hawks, Striped Cuckoo, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Slaty-tailed, White-tailed and Violaceous Trogons, Pied and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Spot-crowned Barbet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans, Cinnamon and Lineated Woodpeckers, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Fasciated and Great Antshrikes, Pigmy and Streaked Antwrens, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Golden-collared Manakin, White-winged Becard, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Black-headed Tody Flycatcher, Southern Bentbill, Black-chested Jay, Plain, Bay and Black-bellied Wrens, Black & White Warbler, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Yellow-tailed and Yellow-backed Orioles, Plain-coloured, Crimson-backed, Yellow-rumped and Dusky-faced Tanagers, Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Black-headed Saltator.  On the way back to Gamboa we met an American scientist who very generously offered to put us up in the research apartment he was using there.  Much better than another night under our plastic sheet!
approaching Gatun Locks

Gatun Locks

very impressive, as was the whole operation
swallowtail-type butterfly
Colin in our new tent, leaf cutter ants were keen to join us too as we failed to notice we were on the route of one of their highways!
1 September 1985:  Our friend was going to Barro Colorado, an island in the centre of the canal where there was a research station.  We had planned another day on the Pipeline Road but it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  He also offered us the use of his apartment that evening even though he was staying on BCI.  A very generous offer indeed.  In conversation it turned out he’d been mugged a couple of times in Panama City, part of the Panamanian experience was how he put it.  Westerners generally being a soft-target unless an off duty US marine was picked on in which case the outcome was usually different!  BCI was interesting with an impressive canopy tower, and we got a nice lunch, but we were not there at the best time of the day and saw few different birds although they did include Grey-headed Kite, Slaty-tailed and Black-throated Tanagers and two male Blue Cotingas.  We returned to the Gamboa apartment and made use of a communal tumble drier in the basement of the block to dry out our wet shoes although the noise of them being tumbled must have been audible to most of the residents.  It didn’t work that well and we soon got them wet again the next morning.

2 September 1985:  We had a last look around Gamboa seeing 2 Sloths and a Coatimundi before catching the train into Panama City.  We’d said we’d return the key to an office in town as our friend was heading back to USA but when we got there it was all locked up.  The best we could do was lob in over the entrance gate with a cryptic note and hope it’d be found.  We got the bus to Tocumen Airport and after checking in – Colin with just hand baggage - found some pools outside the airport where we saw Collared Plover, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Red-breasted Blackbird, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater.  We flew home via Aruba (Magnificent Frigatebird) and Amsterdam but KLM managed to lose my rucksack on the way and we both finished the trip with just hand baggage.  On getting home I phoned Nick.  I got some bad news I told him.  He was fearing that I’d seen Rufous-crowned Antpitta (no such luck) so was quite relieved when it was only that we’d lost his tent.  Nick had even got back to the UK in time to see the Little Whimbrel at Cley, meeting another very good friend of mine, Martyn Kenefick who he didn’t then know in the hide there.  Birding is a small world.  KLM even found my bag and eventually sent it on to Brighton Station where I collected it two weeks later, complete with wet and now rotting canvas shoes.  I even managed to get a refund from them for a new pair!

Sloth at Gamboa
Many thanks to such excellent companions, Colin and Nick, for a very enjoyable trip.  It worked out pretty much to plan, at least once I got to Costa Rica!  The trip cost me about £800 all in and I saw over 480 species of which almost half were new.

[blogged March 2013]

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