A Travellerspoint blog

July 2015

Day 4: Piña Coladas, Passion Fruit Ice Cream, and Pura Vida!

all seasons in one day 90 °F


This is the report about my fourth day on my recent trip to Costa Rica, which was Friday, July 17. I will post reports about days 5-7 tomorrow (July 25) and post about days 8-10 on Sunday (July 26). Then, on Monday, July 27 I will leave for my annual 3-week trip to Idaho with my family, so I will post daily about that starting then. Before reading any further, remember that my #1 target bird for the trip to Costa Rica as a whole was the Resplendent Quetzal, the main target bird I missed when I visited Panama in 2013. I will remind you of this fact at the beginning of every post because this bird was in the back of my mind every moment of every day during the trip, so we'll have to wait and see if I find it sometime!

Again, italics will indicate copied journal entries from the journal in which I wrote during the trip. Enjoy!


The first two items in the title of this post should be relatively self-explanatory especially once you read the post, however the expression "¡Pura Vida!" probably needs a bit of clarification. It is Spanish for "pure life" and is an abundantly-used phrase in Costa Rica, the only country to use it so liberally. It is literally used as a salutation, good-bye, you're welcome, and everything in between. It became a bit of a slogan for our group by the end of the trip, so now whenever we pass each other in the hallway at OPRF High School, we will greet each other with a vibrant "¡Pura Vida!"

We awoke at 7:00am to a pouring rainstorm, changed into bathing suits, and had breakfast in the food court at Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge.

While at breakfast, the rain let up a bit and I even managed to photograph some wildlife, including this beautiful Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frog:

And this Green Basilisk:

We then bussed to a river rafting company at the Sarapiqui River because there was no lightning and the rain had let up a bit. Soon, our group was floating down the gorgeous Sarapiqui on two rafts holding five students and six kayaks, each holding two students. We had a great time splashing and racing each other, and we even managed to spot some interesting wildlife including many huge trees, a few life birds for me, a multitude of iguanas, and even one cayman (small crocodile) on the shoreline!

I do not have any photos from the rafting because I wisely left my camera on the bus; otherwise, it would have gotten drenched. The rafting trip took a little less than two hours and soon we were trekking back to the bus.

After that, we changed and toured a monoculture pineapple farm. We rode around in a large trailer attached to the back of a tractor and consumed (virgin) piña coladas, dozens upon dozens of pineapples, and other various pineapple-themed treats.


Pineapple farm:

We had a fantastic guide for that tour, I believe his name was Miguel. He told us all sorts of interesting trivia, fed us multitudes of pineapples, and had a hilarious sense of humor. He would repeatedly ask us trick questions about pineapples, pretend we answered correctly, then all of the sudden say "No" dryly - but always with a slight smirk on his face. What a character!

After our last lunch at Selva Verde, we started driving to Don Juan's Farm in the town of La Fortuna, the next place we are staying. On the way, we stopped at "Las Iguanas," an ice cream parlor famous for passion fruit ice cream and many wild iguanas inhabiting the surrounding trees. It was a success because the passion fruit ice cream found my stomach and then the iguanas found my camera - see below!

My life bird CRESTED CARACARA on the drive to Don Juan's farm:

A beautiful pastoral view from the bus with the distant mountains shrouded in the clouds:

Mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Don Juan Farm in Selva Verde where we are staying for one night.

We were immediately treated to a captivating tour of the farm by a fantastic guide named Sergeio. Don Juan's Farm is a sustainable farm that produces many different foods and resources and is based off of three principles: conservation of wildlife around the farm, education of visitors to the farm, and of course, like any farm, production.

It is a beautiful place with lush green pastures, pockets of dense rainforest, and mountains in the distance:

The 5 boys in our group shared a cabin together while lucky Mr. Farley, one of our group leaders, got the left cabin all to himself!

I surreptitiously birded during the tour. RED-LORED PARROT:



MEALY PARROT, a life bird for me!

After touring the farm, we had a quick break and then ate dinner. Dinner was fish, rice, beans, and a bounty of other delicious food, all caught/produced right here at Don Juan's Farm! After dinner, we had a group meeting in an open-air meeting area where we enjoyed sharing our tboughts from the day, journaling, and playing a hand-slapping game called "Down by the banks." After the fun circle meeting, all of us settled in for the night. All of the boys are staying in one large cabin tonight, however thankfully we all get our own beds. We stayed up late in our room playing card games, telling jokes, and overall having a good time.

The full bird species list for the day is below.

Good birding!

World Life List: 855 Species (exactly 100 life birds in Costa Rica!)

49 species, 12 life birds:

Great Kiskadee
Black-mandibled Toucan
Great-tailed Grackle
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Kingbird
Variable Seedeater
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron LIFE BIRD
Green Ibis
Turkey Vultue
Black Vulure
Roadside Hawk
Mangrove Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow LIFE BIRD
Stripe-throated Hermit
Crowned Woodnymph
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Mealy Parrot LIFE BIRD
Squirrel Cuckoo
Green Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher LIFE BIRD
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
White-ringed Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Bay Wren
Buff-rumped Warbler LIFE BIRD
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat LIFE BIRD
Black-faced Grosbeak LIFE BIRD
Red-throated Ant-Tanager LIFE BIRD
Bronzed Cowbird
Montezuma Oropendula
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Pale-vented Pigeon
Green Honeycreeper
Passerini's Tanager
Red-billed Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Red-lored Parrot
House Sparrow
Gray Hawk
White-winged Dove
Palm Tanager
House Wren
Crested Caracara LIFE BIRD
Red-winged Blackbird
Groove-billed Ani LIFE BIRD
Blue-gray Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator

Posted by skwclar 21:43 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Day 3: La Selva Biological Station

all seasons in one day 90 °F

This is the report about my third day on the recent Costa Rica trip I took, which was Thursday, July 16. I will post a report about day 4 later tonight (July 24), post about days 5-7 tomorrow (July 25), and post about days 8-10 on Sunday (July 26). Then, on Monday, July 27 I will leave for my annual 3-week trip to Idaho with my family, so I will post daily about that starting then. Before reading any further, remember that my #1 target bird for the trip to Costa Rica as a whole was the Resplendent Quetzal, the main target bird I missed when I visited Panama in 2013. I will remind you of this fact at the beginning of every post because this bird was in the back of my mind every day during the trip, so we'll have to wait and see if I find it sometime!

Again, italics will indicate copied journal entries from the journal in which I wrote during the trip. Enjoy!

The birding on this day was absolutely BREATHTAKING - so get ready for a VERY long post with lots of bird photos!!

5:35am - I am woken up by the ghoul-like cries of Howler Monkies. Last night and tonight we are staying in a remarkable place called Selva Verde Lodge...The cabins are open-air, which means I am constantly hearing rainforest sounds: insects, frogs, the aforementioned Howler Monkies, and of course, a multitude of birds. As I step out of my cabin to go to the dining area for breakfast, my roommate, Riley, and I spot my gorgeous life bird RUFOUS MOTMOT - a truly spectacular bird!

We also spotted this COCOA WOODCREEPER:

During breakfast in the open-air dining room, I am constantly spotting amazing birds, jumping up, and taking photos from the balcony. This bird, for example, is one of the MONTEZUMA OROPENDULAS that were hanging around the area:

Another "breakfast bird" - my life bird BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER at a banana stand that was set up to attract birds near the balcony:

Yet another "breakfast bird" was yet another life bird for me, this time a CINNAMON BECARD!

After breakfast, we got on the bus for our morning activities, but I noticed from the window that our two guides, Alexa and Mario, were still outside the bus and pointing to the trees. I immediately jumped up from my seat, joined them outside, and photographed this beautiful KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN! Then, I excitedly motioned for everyone to come back out of the bus and soon we were all admiring the toucan and nearby Howler Monkeys, as well.

During the morning, we went to literally one of the most famous rainforests for birding in the world: La Selva Biological Station. Not only is it famous for birding, but for biology overall because approxiamately one research project is posted about nature from La Selva every 72 hours!

Everyone was split up into 3 groups for "nature walks" with local guides from La Selva Biological Station, but I was not placed in any of these groups! Then, to my delight, I was informed that for the morning, Mario and Alexa would give me a private birding tour of the preserve! It was PHENOMONAL - it just simply seemed so unreal because there were so many birds and so many colors - we had 72 bird species before 11:45am!

Male PASSERINI'S TANAGER, life bird!

Two TURKEY VULTURES perched in the treetops, sunning their wings:

A pair of CRESTED GUANS sleeping, life bird!


COLLARED ARACARI - an awesome small toucan:



Female of the same species:

I was afforded a brief look at the rump of a male GREEN HONEYCREEPER:


This uncommon BLUE-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRD was a huge surprise!

Little green bits of leaves seeming to walk in rows across hiking trails, trees, and forest floors in Costa Rica are common sights. Those are leafcutter ants doing what they do best!

And, I swear that every type of insect imaginable lives there! For photography purposes during nature hikes I like that, but for convenience purposes while showering, I would prefer not to have an oversized moth or beetle accompany me.


BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, another uncommon avian surprise!

Reptiles such as lizards, geckos, turtles, and even snakes also prevail in Costa Rica. This is a Central American Ameiva:

Can you spot what I'm taking a "selfie" with?

It was an insanely cute juvenile Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth that Alexa found! This is very interesting because Alexa told us this is the youngest one she has ever seen by itself. What a great find!

My life bird LONG-TAILED TYRANT's namesake tail covert feathers were obstructed by some twigs and branches in the way:

GREAT KISKADEE, a common roadside sight in Costa Rica:


BAND-BACKED WREN, life bird!

Male WHITE-COLLARED MANAKIN, a gorgeous and really special life bird:

Here is the female of that species taking a bath:

Male CROWNED WOODNYMPH, yet another magnificent life bird:


Female GARTERED TROGON, life bird!

PLAIN XENOPS, the only bird species I have ever seen whose name starts with an "X"


Then, we found this inch-long Bullet Ant foraging in the shrubbery alongside the trail. We did not get close to this dangerous insect because this guy's bite carries an intense, throbbing pain that lasts anywhere from 8 to 24 hours; it is widely regarded as the most painful insect bite in the world.

Along the trail where we found the bullet ant, Alexa, Mario, and I were all scanning for tinamou; medium-sized grouse-like birds that have a prehistoric look to them, however they tend to be very shy and reclusive as they stick to the floor of dense, tangled rainforests. Suddenly, I spotted one and Alexa and Mario confirmed it as my life bird GREAT TINAMOU! A terrible photo, but a stellar bird nevertheless:

This is what the trail looked like around where we found the tinamou; you can see why it would be challenging to find one of these guys in all of the dense tangles.

It was an absolutely A++ morning of birding at La Selva Biological Station! Thank you so much to Alexa and Mario for doing this!

We returned to Selva Verde for lunch and then we bussed to a river for rafting. This part of Costa Rica, the lowland rainforest, is in my opinion, much more beautiful so far than San Jose. It is also hotter, more humid...and rainier! When we arrived at the rafting place, there was an annoying storm with thunder and lightning, so the rafting was canceled for the afternoon, however we learned that we would raft right after breakfast tomorrow morning if the weather cooperates. The group returned to Selva Verde around 2:30pm and enjoyed quiet time for the afternoon, some people hanging out at the pool, and some relaxing in their rooms.

I did some nature viewing around the property and found some pretty cool animals. This Green Iguana was leisurely hanging out on a tree branch only ten feet away from the door to my cabin!

Green Basilisk:

This Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, about as big around as a dime, was one of the neatest animals I photographed the entire trip:

After a quick circle meeting at 5:00pm in the covered meeting area near the dining hall, we bussed to the Tirimbina Biological Reserve, a sanctuary for bats near Sarapiqui.

While there, we listened to a captivating lecture about bats by a very energetic bat enthusiast. If anyone from the Costa Rica group sees this, could you leave a comment telling me her name? Thanks! This lecture included touching bats (see below) that were caught in mist nests earlier in the evening, as well as listening to a hilarious song called "Echo, Echo, Echo, Echolocation!" that would be an inside joke for the rest of the trip!

After the lecture, we returned to Selva Verde, ate dinner, and retired for our second and final night at the Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge. I ended the day with 73 species of birds including 35 life birds (see the full list below). What a phenomonal, fun-filled day!

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (exactly 100 life birds in Costa Rica!)

Cocoa Woodcreeper
Rufous Motmot LIFE BIRD
Great Kiskadee
Orange-billed Sparrow LIFE BIRD
Montezuma Oropendula
Clay-colored Thrush
Keel-billed Toucan
White-tipped Dove
Great-tailed Grackle
Passerini's Tanager LIFE BIRD
Blue-and-White Swallow
Great Tinamou LIFE BIRD
Little Tinamou LIFE BIRD
Crested Guan LIFE BIRD
White-throated Crake
Turkey Vulture
Double-toothed Kite
Gray-rumped Swift LIFE BIRD
Stripe-throsted Hermit LIFE BIRD
Long-billed Hermit
Crowned Woodnymph LIFE BIRD
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer LIFE BIRD
Blue-chested Hummingbid LIFE BIRD
Short-billed Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Gray-chested Dove LIFE BIRD
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Olive-throated Parakeet LIFE BIRD
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Gartered Trogon LIFE BIRD
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Rufous-tailed Jacamar LIFE BIRD
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Rufous-winged Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Black-cheeked Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Plain Xenops LIFE BIRD
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper LIFE BIRD
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper LIFE BIRD
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Fasciated Antshrike LIFE BIRD
Dusky Antbird
Paltry Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila LIFE BIRD
Long-tailed Tyrant LIFE BIRD
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher LIFE BIRD
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cinnamon Becard LIFE BIRD
White-collared Manakin LIFE BIRD
Band-backed Wren LIFE BIRD
Stripe-breasted Wren LIFE BIRD
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Lesser Greenlet LIFE BIRD
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Green Honeycreeper LIFE BIRD
House Sparrow
Blue-black Grosbeak LIFE BIRD
Olive-backed Euphonia LIFE BIRD
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Black Vulture
Variable Seedeater LIFE BIRD

Posted by skwclar 14:20 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

Day 2: La Carpio

all seasons in one day 85 °F

This is the report on my second day on the Costa Rica trip, which was Wednesday, July 15. Again, italics will indicate copied journal entries from the journal in which I wrote during the trip. Enjoy!

I awoke in the 5 o'clock hour to the sound of foreign, almost ethereal birdsong, and after a few moments of groggy confusion, I opened my eyes to find myself not in my bed at home, but in a hotel. I was finally in Costa Rica!

Here is the first view I had of the country in daylight, from my hotel room window:

We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and packed up. Although we met them the night before, we really started to get to know our two guides for the week: Alexa, and Mario. Alexa has been living in Costa Rica for 5 years and she acted as the group's "expedition leader" for the journey. Mario is a Costa Rican native and he acted as our primary nature guide for the trip and also informed us upon many interesting facts and trivia about the country.

Then, we bussed to the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation in the neighborhood of San Jose called "La Carpio." The Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to combat poverty in Costa Rica, and also specifically in the poor neighborhood of La Carpio which is comprised of descendants of as well as true Nicaraguan immigrants hoping to gain a better life in Costa Rica.

Driving to CRHF's headquarters, we passed through neighborhoods that looked very poor. It was eye-opening to see the country's struggles and poverty. There were hills packed with small shacks, literally boxes, that looked like they could fall on top of one another in the event of a heavy rain. It was an extremely hard thing to see. After we arrived at CRHF's headquarters, we immediately started helping out by bringing in and sorting food donations for "food bundles" that would be distributed throughout the community. During our trip to Costa Rica, our group discussed personal, environmental, and cultural barriers not just throughout the country but also throughout the world. We agreed that the people in La Carpio faced many barriers such as poverty, unsafe housing, and dirty drinking water, but we also saw that they were rising up and overcoming those barriers. This was evidenced by playing games such as duck-duck-goose with a lively, happy group of children in a common area as well as seeing a play put on by local residents. Huge props to the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation and the people of La Carpio themselves for being brave and fighting poverty.

After purchasing souvenirs from the gift shop that housed products made by women from La Carpio at the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, we took a long bus ride to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and our next location for the next two nights: the town of Sarapiqui.

This is certainly not a sight you would see everyday in Chicago!

We arrived at the Selva Verde Rainforest Lodge in Sarapiqui towards the evening after a long but pretty drive during the afternoon. We would stay at Selva Verde for the next two nights, and it would turn out to be a wonderful, beautiful place to stay. The property is situated in a mature, dense lowland rainforest along the Sarapiqui River. All of the buildings (lobby, dining area, gift shop, & all of the cabins) are seperate from each other and only accessible to one another by sheltered boardwalks - a really neat experience. After dinner in the beautiful open-area dining room, we had our first "circle meeting" of the trip. By the end of the trip, our group would come to cherish these special meetings where we would share our thoughts from the day, play bonding games, write in our journals, and discuss overcoming barriers on the trip such as a multitude of bugs or new foods. This meeting prompted me to write this in my journal:

This trip will serve me in widening my knowledge of the natural and cultural aspects of our world. I want to see many birds but also learn about the other facets of nature. I am also interested to study how Costa Rica's culture differs from mine and how that can possibly make me a more open-minded person.

After the meeting, we had our first night hike of the trip! We hiked along the boardwalk trails at Selva Verde, and it was so cool - the highlights were many interesting insects and frogs, only a fraction of which I photographed due to tricky conditions taking pictures without flash at night.

A HUGE moth with an 8+ inch wingspan:

A classic animal of the rainforest; the Red-eyed Tree Frog! So awesome!

We ended the hike by seeing a huge King Toad (unpictured) and then retired to our cabins for the night because it was getting late. Another great day!

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (exactly 100 life birds in Costa Rica!)

Here is the bird species list, in order of when I found the species during the day, for Wednesday, July 15. I had 25 species in total for the day, including 9 life birds (species that I have never seen before). Not too shabby for birding just from the bus!

White-tipped Dove
Blue-and-Black Swallow LIFE BIRD
Great-tailed Grackle
Black Vulture
Rock (Feral) Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Turkey Vulture
Gray Hawk
Plain Wren
Green Heron
Green Kinfisher LIFE BIRD
Gray-breasted Martin LIFE BIRD
Crison-fronted Parakeet LIFE BIRD
Great Kiskadee
Melodious Blackbird LIFE BIRD
Brozed Cowbird LIFE BIRD
Collared Aracari LIFE BIRD
Keel-billed Toucan
Pale-vented Pigeon LIFE BIRD
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Montezuma Oropendula
Lineated Woodpecker LIFE BIRD
Red-winged Blackbird
Tropical Kingbird

Posted by skwclar 09:16 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Day 1: El Salvador & Costa Rica

overcast 75 °F

On Tuesday, July 14 I embarked on a 10-day, life-changing trip to Costa Rica with a very, very awesome group of young people from Oak Park River Forest High School. Over this weekend of July 24 - 26, I will chronicle this incomparable trip in 10 posts because I did not have access to electronic devices that connect to the internet during the trip. These posts will be organized differently from my usual birding posts because as well as including my usual tidbits of information and captions for photos, I will include journal entries from a journal I kept while in Costa Rica. These entries will be indicated by italics.

So let's get to it! Here is my journal entry from my travel day to Costa Rica, which involved visiting two completely new countries for me, El Salvador and Costa Rica, of course. Since this was purely a travel day, I do not have any photos to share, however I will have a bounty of photos for all other posts. Enjoy!

I flew Avianca from Chicago to San Salvador, El Salvador to San Jose, Costa Rica. First flight I sat next to two people named Morgan and Andrew. It was a smooth and enjoyable flight. After an hour layover at the grungy San Salvador airport, we boarded the next Avianca plane to San Jose. The service was again great with delicious food for a second flight in a row. The descent into San Jose was pretty wobbly and scary, but the landing was smooth itself. The first hotel was a rather unremarkable, smallish hotel. I stayed in a small room with a window and roomed with Andrew for the night.

I promise, the posts will just get better and better!!!

Good birding,

World Life List: 855 Species (exactly 100 life birds in Costa Rica!)

Posted by skwclar 06:45 Archived in El Salvador Comments (1)

Palos Preserves with a New Friend

overcast 74 °F

Today I birded some of the Palos forest preserves with a new birding friend, Jonathan from Indianapolis. We had a fantastic time, saw many quality birds, and he even gained three life birds!

Some butterflies on our flower garden at home to start a fine day of nature-watching:

Our first birding stop was at McClaughry Springs Woods, where it seemed to be very quiet and inactive, however, as we were about to leave, Jonathan heard the characteristic rising trill of a NORTHERN PARULA. We couldn't believe our ears because this bird is very rare for NE Illinois in summer (they should be in NE Wisconsin now!), but our ears were confirmed when we spotted this beauty:

Our next stop was at Swallow Cliff Woods, where we immediately spotted a family of EASTERN BLUEBIRDS nesting in a tree cavity above the parking lot. Here is the adult male bird:

This male YELLOW-THROATED VIREO was the first of three life birds for Jonathan today:

This male SUMMER TANAGER, a species I really did not expect to see, was a fantastic surprise and another life bird for Jonathan:

Jonathan is quite the naturalist - he is also knowledgable about plants and marine wildlife as well as birds. He told me this is a Fireweed:

As well as Summer Tanagers, we found the similar SCARLET TANAGERS at Swallow Cliff Woods, as well. This is an extremely cooperative male bird that posed very nicely for photos:

Our third birding stop was Ford Road between two great preserves: Bergman Field/Slough and Cap Sauers Holding. Although Cap Sauers was very quiet, we spotted these two OSPREY atop a nesting platform near the slough:

We also heard but did not see Jonathan's life bird HENSLOW'S SPARROWS in Bergman Field. Although Cap Sauers Holding was very quiet bird-wise, it is a beautiful place and there was a nice display of wildflowers such as this one:

Although we were rained on during the last part of the excursion, it was a fantastic day of birding with pleasant 70-degree temperatures. A big thank-you goes to Jonathan's parents who graciously drove me around to these preserves and treated me to a nice Mexican lunch after the birding trip.

This blog will not be updated until towards the end of July, because on Tuesday I am leaving for a 10-day trip with a club from my school to COSTA RICA! I am not allowed to take devices that connect to the Internet, so I will make a few posts on the trip when I return in late July. Until then, good birding!

World Life List: 755 Species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 17:29 Archived in USA Comments (4)

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