In search of the Resplendent Quetzal

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.

Written May 2018

A hummingbird flew right onto our veranda today.  Hovered, as they do, around Ella’s glass wind chime equal in bright colours to that of its own feathers, then darted off.

Birds are surprising, they often appear out of nowhere, without warning. Our travels in Costa Rica have brought many birding surprises: a solitary small Toucan on our morning walk behind our house, with purple flowers stuffed in its long bill- no camera to hand I’m afraid.  An impulsive turn off the main road up to Monteverde national park and we were face to face with a large turquoise Mot-Mot, there perched in the trees-it’s beauty captivating and for some reason shocking.

Although our long walks through the cloud forest of monteverde were accompanied by bird song we just couldn’t see any! Hikers walking towards us asked if we’d spotted anything …nope we answered. Until our last walk back from a small water fall.  All I could really see was a turquoise streak high in the trees that a local guide was pointing at. As he moved quickly to get a better view, my eyes steadied and tried harder to focus high into the canopy above, but nothing appeared. Eventually a small crew turned up unioculars in hand, their focus intense.

IMG_0653

Since neither of us had binoculars, I boldly asked one of the bird-watchers if I could look through her view piece to take a photo. After a surprised look of uncertainty and a split second decision she said yes and there it was, clear as day.  We had seen our first Quetzal, the pride of monteverde and a birders dream come true.  I’m sure David Attenborough would have been pleased.

IMG_0654

Now you might be thinking what could a newly turned one-year old like about bird watching in the cloud forest? Good question.

Although the the journey to monteverde was long-almost five hours from Nosara- with the last 45 minutes on unpaved, stoney, dusty roads, it brought coolness in the air and rain and a much needed change in climate. This fresh, moving air meant long walks for Ella and she was thrilled.

At the humming bird cafe, just before the park entrance, we saw more humming birds than you can imagine, their buzzing sounds like a Star-Wars light sabres swishing around us.  Ella saw the humming birds too.

She saw the large blue butterflies accompanying us down the roads where we walked. She saw flowers and tall trees which she seemed to love. She made friends on the trails. She enjoyed a royal view from her back-pack carrier, perched like a little Indian princess!

She even bought a stuffed felt Ketzel- her choice-  a future reminder of her Costa Rican adventures.

So, yes bird watching is definitely possible with a baby. Of course there were some trails we couldn’t walk because the Pram (buggy) was too wide or the trail too muddy, but we felt well catered for by nature.

 

Monteverde was our first planned weekend away from the beaches of Guanacaste and well worth it. The town is small with good restaurants and cafes. Our favourite for lunch was the tree house with a huge tree growing through its centre. Just down the hill is the Orchid Cafe where we indulged in an afternoon tea type of ritual- delicious coffee with passion fruit cheesecake two days in a row!

There are many great places to stay. We chose the Trapp family lodge the last accommodation on your way up the road to the park. It was perfect and just a ten minute walk to the park entrance which is ideal if pushing a Pram.

Definitely pack a rain coat, long trousers and long tops.  And you’ll need sun screen as it gets hotter during the day and a hat if you’d like age well!  We didn’t find mosquitoes a problem but repellent is useful to have.

If you are not a birder I recommend hiring a guide, we didn’t but would the next time. They knew the sounds of birds and were astute to the slightest movement giving away a bird’s location.

If you are a resident of Costa Rica the entrance to the Reserve is seven dollars otherwise it’s 22 dollars.

Tap water is drinkable, so don’t forget your water-bottle.

Running shoes are fine-even white ones -although a lot of people were in hiking shoes or boots.

Would I go back? Yes, and next time with binoculars and a birding book and maybe a pair of proper hiking shorts and boots.

I forgot to mention the local father and son artists- Robert and David Wessen- whose prints will be a reminder to Ella, when she’s older, of where she has travelled. You can find them in the Orchid Cafe.

Happy Travels and I hope you make it to Monteverde!

Advertisements

Bird by Bird

Ella is intrigued by Christopher.  She pulls herself up by his legs hairs as he lies on the sofa having just about woken up, “Ouch, don’t do that”, says Christopher softly… Ella examines him with a smile.

It’s January 2018 and we have a special guest here in Costa Rica, who could possibly love Ella more than Jason and I!  It’s Christopher, younger brother to me, Uncle to Ella.

Christopher has been here before and still refers to Costa Rica as the ‘humming bird’.  There aren’t many humming birds around where we live, just the occasional toucan, lots of noisy green parakeets, flocks of equally vocal black birds with long tails, Mot-Mots, Chachalacas, wood peckers and other colourful tropical birds which I’ve never seen before.

IMG_0654
A rare Quetzal photographed in Monteverde via a tourist’s telescope. I was bold enough to ask if I could take a photo.  With the naked eye I could only make-out a turquoise streak high in the cloud forest canopy

It’s hot and humid and Christopher, who doesn’t like drinking water, is feeling the heat.  We’ve also run out of baked beans and the local ‘Frijoles’ (black beans) are just not cutting it.

Ella is intrigued by Christopher.  She pulls herself up by his legs hairs as he lies on the sofa having just about woken up, “Ouch, don’t do that”, says Christopher softly… Ella examines him with a smile   But it’s not long before he’s up and hugging her, telling her he loves her and trying to get in a million kisses before she crawls off to play with a plastic bottle.

My days are busy.  Christopher has been with us for over a month. The morning baby routine now involves helping my brother get himself from the sofa to the bathroom, then with more prompting and assistance its teeth- brushing before coaxing him out to the  kitchen counter.  (You can read more about christopher life here).

I feel the heat now too, it’s almost stifling when I wake which is unusual.  The birds that populate the palm trees in front of our small bungalow are singing and squawking loudly, clearly no sweat to them in these temperatures.  A few of the neighbours including the restauranteur are not the birds best friends. ” They drive me crazy”, Jiro the chef next door told me as he stood, shaking one of the trees with both his arms, while stumping his feet.  Then another neighbour who is back just for a month was pacing around the pool for over 20 minutes banging a plastic container like a drum, making me wish one of the birds would just poo on him!  The poor birds, mingling happily in the trees on their way out in the morning and on their way home at dusk, only to be suddenly shaken around or startled by the angry humans down below!  But these hardy  birds keep coming back bird by bird.

Christopher is a home-bird who loves going on holidays. But not just any holiday. Unless he’s staying in a lovely hotel with a buffet breakfast, jacuzzi and a lobby where we can enjoy an evening drink, then we’re not talking about a holiday!  And so, our little bungalow didn’t get five stars, which means this Irish bird is homeward bound as soon as is possible, which means Ella and I are home ward bound too right in the middle of winter.  The two flights ahead, five and half hours and then six hours are not what I’m looking forward to, but as my mother would have said ” It’s like eating an elephant: bite by bite”.

Motmot_Monteverde
This was my first MotMot siting off a side road in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  It looked a lot bigger and more grand than the smaller ones I’ve seen around the dry forests of Nosara. This one was so regal, just perched there waiting for us..

Addendum

It is now June. I add this last paragraph with some disbelief.  Sadly the beautiful bird chorus that has been the sound track to home-life in Costa Rica was halted dead yesterday morning. The night before at dusk I watched the rental-manager walking around with an air rifle shouting birds out of the trees above .  His partner in crime fishing one out of the swimming pool. I wanted to go out and ask them what they were doing, but Jason warned me that approaching someone with a gun is not a good idea.

This morning I noticed splashes of blood on the wood panelling along the side of the house and a few hours later came across the beheaded body of a black-bird leaning against Ella’s floatation device; a patch of blood staining the blue material purple. I spoke to the gardener about the massacre of birds and without hesitation he replied, ” It’s better they shoot all of them, they defecate everywhere and carry disease”.

parachete_costa_rica_souldeephealth
This little cutey, an injured Costa Rican Parakeet, spent the morning pottering around Jason’s office while waiting for Bird rescue to arrive.

There are some friendlier bird-control methods available such as putting netting over the tops of the trees or having artificial figures of predators.  I never knew birds could be considered such pests…

 

 

Morocco’s Love

Written June 2017. ” I write this blog from Morocco as baby Ella sleeps on the bed, arms in the ‘I surrender’ position, surrendering to the sleep.”

I marvel at our daughter, a mix of both her father and me. These little creations occur daily, hourly, by the minute all over the world and yet now I realise their impact and the beauty of new life.

I have been struck by my love for her, and my selflessness, like all mothers, in caring and feeding her. The tears I have are because of this love, not the dark circles under eye and the dreams of sleeping, soon.

Babies really love to smile, there’s no self-consciousness or fear that someone is not going to smile back, they just keep smiling like a reflex to an often harsh world.  Ella’s first smile was with her eyes.  As the doctor held her up and placed her snuggly on my chest, our new daughter scoured the delivery suite to find me, eyes wide and clear saying hello Mummy.

I write this blog from Morocco as baby Ella sleeps on the bed, arms in the ‘I surrender’ position, surrendering to the sleep. She was born in Northern Ireland three months ago, immunised for TB when just one day old in preparation for her African adventure.

 

Continue reading “Morocco’s Love”