Thursday, January 2, 2014

Birding the Cloud Forest

Just outside the gates of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the Hummingbird Cafe.  When visiting the Monteverde area, this cafe is a must-see.  They maintain an array of about 10 hummingbird feeders that hang from the trees and roof overhangs outside the building.  The abundance of hummingbirds at this spot is astonishing, as is their diversity - more than 25 species have been observed visiting these feeders.  And so single-minded are they in their quest for nectar that they have become seemingly oblivious to human presence, and will even land on your hands if doing so facilitated their feeding.

Nicole Guido provides a Purple-throated Mountain Gem with a perch
Sean and Dairo photographing hummingbirds

In the late morning we hiked into the Cloud Forest Reserve to the elfin forests of the continental divide; here, high winds and steep slopes have sculpted a miniature forest of tiny, gnarled trees that crown just above our heads.  The trail follows the ridge along the Continental Divide, which separates the Carribean and Pacific slopes of Costa Rica.  The wind drags heavy, moisture-laden clouds up the slopes of the Carribean slope, showering the forests at the mountaintops with mist.  Certain birds, including highland endemics like Slaty Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-Gold Tanager, and Spangle-cheeked Tanager, are abundant in these miniature forests.
Slaty Flowerpiercers use their uniquely-shaped bills to make
holes in flowers from which to "rob" nectar
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
A female Purple-throated Mountain Gem incubating eggs 
and enduring the high winds of the Continental Divide
Without doubt the most iconic bird found at Monteverde is the Resplendent Quetzal.  These birds are the largest, and arguably the most beautiful, members of the Trogon family, and are endemic to the highlands and cloud forests from southern Mexico to Panama.  The Quetzal's beauty (shimmering iridescent green, crimson breast, and long flowing tail) and its secretive demeanor make it one of the most charismatic of the cloud forest avifauna.  The Quetzal is at the top of the "most wanted" list for most of the thousands of birders who flock to Monteverde each year to enjoy its rich community of highland bird species.

Male Resplendent Quetzal

We birded for nearly ten hours on our first day to Monteverde, and added about three times as many new bird species to our trip list.  These four happy birders returned to the hotel in the town of Santa Elena to upload photos, recuperate, and prepare for the following day of watching birds.

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