Our final destination was Monteverde, and I had been looking forward to it since the day I booked our Costa Rica trip. This was our only cloud forest destination, our best shot at finding a Resplendant Quetzal.
I had wanted to see a quetzal more than any other bird in the country. This amazingly bright green and red bird with its spectacular tail had been my favorite bird since elementary school. Our travel agent had recommended an ecolodge near Monteverde that featured an on-site ornithologist. The facility was primarily for scientific research, but they rented cabins to tourists as well. It sounded perfect.
Due to unfortunate scheduling, we would only have two days at this wonderful place. Worse, by the time those two days rolled around, both of us were exhausted from travelling and from having to constantly search for words in Spanish. We were both craving fast food and American beer, which I agree is pretty pathetic, but indicative of our desire to go home.
We arrived at the lodge in the afternoon, and I was a little disappointed that it was at a fairly low elevation. They told us that quetzals were seasonal migrants, and the lodge would get them once a year - but this wasn't that time of year. They asked the on-site ornithologist to take us to Monteverde first thing in the morning, before the crowds showed up, and we would have the best chance of finding one of these stunning birds. We agreed to meet him there at six the next morning.
That night, we took a nocturnal walk, and although we didn't see a single bird or animal, we heard many Mottled Owls calling from the surrounding forest.
It was still dark when we met up at the main entrance the next morning. Our guide proceeded to take us up and down one of the several trails. Ignoring the multitudes of wrens, flycatchers, and redstarts, he stopped and arched his neck at every branch on every avocado tree, and periodically erupted into a loud ululation he hoped would attract the bird.
It didn't. After nearly an hour, we finally found one by chance, sitting very quietly on a branch halfway up an enormous tree. It was a female, but I was thrilled to be able to see the bird at all.
We started to head back, and suddenly, the very quiet forest was loud with the sounds of quetzals. Actually, they were other tour guides, leading groups by walking at a very fast pace with their hands cupped over their mouths, making the quetzal call. After witnessing that, I'm not quite sure how quetzals are still fooled by it. Come to think of it, they weren't.
Afterwards, we went on some of the other trails, and saw a Black Guan, Slate-throated Redstarts, a Black-faced Solitaire, and many other birds. Monteverde did not turn out to be the ideal place to photograph wildlife, since the canopy was so thick, and most of the birds so secretive. I was therefore delighted when our guide took us to a hummingbird garden - a collection of feeders by a gift shop. I sat there for at least twenty minutes, enjoying and photographing the many birds that came to the feeders: Bananaquits, Common Bush Tanagers, Violet Sabrewings, Green Violetears, Purple-throated Mountaingems, Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, and many others! One of these hummers wasn't even in the Costa Rica field guide, but it sure looks like a male Black-chinned Hummingbird.
In the afternoon, we investigated the SkyBridge - a trail that in places is a wooden bridge suspended far above the forest floor. It was a little late in the day for optimal wildlife viewing. The highlight from that experience was a small flock of Emerald Toucanets. I could hear the loud calls of bellbirds in places, but was absolutely unable to locate one.
Finally, we returned to the ecolodge, and relaxed around our cabin. Our guide even took us to find a Long-tailed Manakin and a Blue-crowned Motmot, and on the way, we also found a very large, fat Three-toed Sloth hunkered down for a nap. We did see many species right around the lodge, including an Orange-chinned Parakeet, Rufous-and-White Wrens, and Yellow-faced Grassquits. It was a lovely place, and I wish we had had more time there.