By Brian Kluepfel – I continue to travel on behalf of a guidebook company this month, although my wanderings in Costa Rica are coming to a close. I’ve experienced a full range of emotions in eight weeks on the road, and also seen an amazing assortment of birdlife, in habitats ranging from the blistering Pacific coast to the sweltering Nicaraguan borderlands to now, the misty cloud forests of the continental divide and Monteverde.
This morning, a local guide, Marco, took me and two Hungarian-American tourists on a wonderful tour of the hanging bridges above town. If you need a reminder that birds can fly and we can’t, walk across a few suspension bridges situated more than 100 feet above the forest floor—it’s a sobering experience. That being said, it’s a great visit to see canopy-dwelling birds like the black-faced solitaire, ochraceous wren, olivaceous woodcreeper, and naturally, the golden-browed chlorophonia.
Sometimes I think the only thing more incredible than these birds—and the chlorophonia is stunning—is their names.
Also spotted from above were three types of hummingbird: the green hermit (so named because they don’t play with other hummingbirds), the stripe-tailed, and the purple-throated. Of course, in logic that only birders understand, the purple-throated hummingbird we saw had a completely orange chest and no visible purple. That’s because it was the female of the species—go figure (fans of the “red bellied” woodpecker feel free to chime in here).
We also spotted a few tanagers from our cloud forest perch, including the spangle-cheeked and the silver-throated. We walked through mist, and then rain, and then pure sunshine, all within minutes. We also drove across the continental divide on the way here—a pretty cool way to start the day.
Maybe the highlight for some was a howler monkey urinating in our general direction—and then pooping. Nobody was harmed in the writing of this article, nor were they defecated upon.
After our tour was over and we dropped the Magyars off for some ziplining adventures, Marco said he’d take me to see a Bell bird. They are a signature bird of the cloud forest, and I’d mentioned that I’d like to see one.
We drove up to the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (the Children’s Eternal Rainforest), a swatch of land that was saved and later expanded due to a group of Swedish schoolchildren saving up small change in the 1950s after learning that much of Central America’s rainforests were being wiped out. Never doubt what a small, committed group can do—now this forest is a wonderful wildlife habitat, which also brings many tourists to the area—especially birders.
OK, Marco wanted me to see a bell bird, whose signature ‘bong’ can be heard from a mile away, so they say. We wandered into the bosque and first saw an aguti, certainly a rodent of unusual size, related to the guinea pig. Further down the path we spied the national bird of Costa Rica, the clay-colored thrush. A rather plain brown bird in a nation full of colorful ones, the yigüirro, as it’s known locally, is more beloved for its range of melodious songs than its plumage.
Further along we saw a lone pizote, or coatimundi, a wonderful raccoon-like animal. Then we saw a nice yellow-throated euphonia, another bird whose polysyllabic name cannot begin to describe its beauty.
Soon thereafter, a telltale cackle indicated a woodpecker was close by, and sure enough, about 20 feet above our heads we saw the bright red crest of a pale-billed woodpecker, around the same impressive dimension and coloration of our pileated woodpecker in North America. Truth be told, I could have looked at this bird all day. But Marco thought he heard a bell bird!
We walked further down the mountain, and though we heard the cry of an immature bell bird, we never did get close enough to get a glimpse–and Marco had to leave on an afternoon tour. As a parting gift from Mother Nature, we saw a black guan (a turkey-like bird) and a lively squirrel cuckoo near the parking lot as we left.
Will I ever see a Bell Bird? Who knows? But every day birding is a good one, and I’m thankful I’ve been given the time and good company to continue to look for these beautiful creatures. I encourage you to do so, too—a walk in the forest is a cure for a myriad of ills.