Monday, 17 September 2012

El Silencio Lodge, Bajos del Toro - 9th - 11th August

The journey from Selva Verde took a little over an hour to reach our new destination, and we wondered what we were going to do having arrived so early.  We shouldn't have been concerned as from the moment we were introduced to the lodge and staff we realised that this was somewhere very special.

We had driven up into the cloud forest, and then up a river valley to the lodge.  All you could hear was the sound of the river running past the restaurant and main building as we drank the coffee that Martin had brought us.  Our room was a cabin with a large bedroom and living area, a huge bathroom and shower, and a hot tub and deck outside.  As we sorted ourselves out the sun came and went behind the clouds that would linger against the trees on the sides of the valley. 

The grounds of the lodge were full of walking trails with three waterfalls at the head of the valley.  Once we were settled we decided to set off around one of the trails before lunch.  In the valley up to five Swallow-tailed Kites soared around the trees, but never coming quite close enough.  The trail took us over the river, and then along the bottom of the valley.  When we saw the sign for the hummingbird knot garden we decided to visit.

The garden consisted of a maze of verbena bushes about a metre high, and the flowers from these bushes were a constant attraction to hummingbirds.

This is a Purple-throated Mountain Gem, a gorgeous name that describes this beautiful bird.  The male has the purple throat, and is easily recognised by the white stripe behind the eye.


The female is equally as stunning with the rusty brown colour on the throat and neck, but still with the white stripe behind the eye.



As we watched one hummingbird others would zip about beside you or over you.  This is a White-tailed Emerald, I quickly developed a technique that focused on a flower head and waited for the bird to arrive.  I struck lucky with this one.



As well as the hummingbirds the verbena was an attraction to the butterflies.  The stunning butterfly is a Creon Skipper.  Larger than the skippers we find in the UK this was as big as some of the hummingbirds.


While the smaller hummingbirds would dash around the bushes, the larger Green Violet-ear would sit in the trees and watch, if one of the smaller birds came close it would fly out and chase them off, this would also include butterflies.  Having chased off any intruder it would then do a quick feed around the bushes and then return to its perch.


Reluctantly we left the knot, but knowing that we would be back many times while we were at the lodge.  We followed the trail through the woodland, and it wound its way up the side of the valley, and then out into the open to overlook the valley and the lodge.  There were more butterflies here, this beautiful Enotrus Flasher being the pick.


We found this small nest attached to the underside of a banana palm leaf.  We had seen them at Selva Verde, and had found out that they belonged to a Violet-headed Hummingbird.  It is hard to imagine the size of the eggs and young birds that squeeze into this tiny nest, and in fact to understand how the hummingbird makes the nest.


After lunch Helen took the opportunity to enjoy the facilities, while I went exploring, but this took me back to the knot, and once again I started to photograph the hummingbirds.  They led me a quite merry dance as I tried to get the right shot.  The male Violet-headed hummingbirds looked wonderful as they raised their crown feathers, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get a shot in focus, and had to settle for this female.  Both sexes have the small white patch behind the eye which is diagnostic.


The Purple-throated Mountain Gems were everywhere.  For once I think the female plumage looks better than the males and I couldn't resist this lovely pose.


Another challenge was to pin down a Scintilent Hummingbird, these are the second smallest hummingbirds in the world, with only the Bee Hummingbird being slightly smaller.  Both male and female were here, and if anything the female again looked the smarter with a lovely white collar against an orange neck.  This is a male which has the collar but lacks the vibrant orange neck colour.  I just manged to get this shot as it rested before zipping off again.


It was getting quite gloomy now, and the clouds were getting lower on the valley sides.  As I walked around the knot I thought the sound of the river had changed, it was still of water rushing but it was different.  I soon realised why, as I looked up the valley I could see a dark cloud advancing towards me.


It didn't build up to heavy rain, it just started, and it fell down.  I raced for cover desperately trying to cover the camera.  I sheltered under a tree, waiting for the rain to pass.  After half an hour it became clear that it wasn't going to stop, so I took the decision to dash to the Spa close by for shelter.  The trail was now a stream, and steps had become a waterfall.  I made it to the Spa much to the amusement of the staff.

The rain continued for the rest of the afternoon and evening, as well as the rain there was thunder and lightning.  The valley sides were covered in cloud and mist.


Even the Blue and White Swallows couldn't take anymore, this individual sheltering in the eaves of roof over the deck.



The storm finally ended in the late evening, and later in the night the skies cleared and there was a fantastic show of stars.  In the morning there was still mist and cloud around the valley, but the sun was out.

As we watched the mist on the trees we were visited on the deck by a Slaty-coloured Redstart.  They became a regular visitor, looking for insects and spiders under the eaves and around the outside lights.  Whilst they didn't have the red tails of a redstart they would flick their tails in the same way.


As we left the cabin to got to breakfast we found this spectacular Bulls Eye Moth on the path.  It didn't look well and we moved it to the hedge, when we returned it hadn't moved.


At breakfast we were treated to some more new birds.  The Common Bush-Tanager was feeding in the bushes, this is known locally as the Cuatro ojos translated as four eyes because of the white spot behind the eye resembling another eye.


In the trees by the river there was a male Silver-throated Tanager the yellow plumage being quite striking in the dull light


After talking about the possibility of finding one, a Torrent Tyranulet turned up on the fire pit.  These little grey birds are found alongside fast flowing rivers, and can sometimes be mistaken at distance for a dipper.


After breakfast we set off on a hike up the valley to the waterfalls.  The start of the walk took us through the gardens of the lodge, and we found a dead Prong-billed Barbet that had flown into one of the windows of the old cabins.  The walk followed the course of the river we went through some amazing vegetation, the ground being covered with large ferns and palms and resembling a scene from Jurassic Park.



In the dense forest birds were not easy to identify, but a Louisiana Waterthrush making its way along the quieter areas of the river was a nice find and a sign that a change in the seasons was coming as they are winter migrants from North America.

Dragonflies and damselflies were everywhere, the dragonflies were very difficult to identify, but the damselflies proved to be a little more confiding.  This one is commonly known as a Rubyspot Damselfly or to give it it's latin name Hetaerina occisa, this one is a male.


The first waterfall is where two rivers join together and with the overnight rain the waterfall was quite fast and full.


From here to the next waterfalls the ground and vegetation was very wet, and as a result the area was covered in moss and ferns.  The fences and step rails could be seen sprouting new branches, and everywhere seemed to be growing in the warmth and humidty.  This flower is known as "hot lips", I wonder why?


Looking up the sky would be completely blocked out by the large flat leaves


The top waterfall is known as La Promseca, and falls a height of about 50 - 60 metres, again there was plenty of water, and the temperature was quite cool, but it was very clear.


On the return journey we came across some more butterflies.  As with most of the butterflies in Costa Rica they do not stop very often, which makes it difficult to photograph them.  This lovely butterfly is a Tigerwing


There was much more bird activity on the way back, and we were able to see,. but unfortunately not photograph, a mixed flock of Yellow-thighed Finches, Three-striped Warblers, Grey Wrens and Euphonias.

Before lunch we visited the hummingbird knot again, it was quiet, but I was able to get a better view of the Green Violet-ear, and it was able to show off it's beautiful markings on its throat.


There weren't that many hummingbirds but there were some new butterflies.  This is a Long-tailed Skipper, and was the only one that allowed me the chance of a photograph.


In the restaurant at lunch this butterfly spent the time trying to fly out of the window.  I have tried to identify it searching the internet and books but so far all I have been able to come up with is that it is a type of daggerwing, but not the actual species.  However we did manage to catch it and set it free.


After lunch I went off down the track to the entrance of the lodge.  When we had arrived we had seen some hummingbirds around some verbena, and I wondered if there might be something new here.  I did find something different but it was not a hummingbird, it was a Slaty Flowerpiercer.  This one is the male, and you can see the hook on the bill that it uses to pierce the base of the flower to get to the nectar.  There was a pair feeding on the verbena.


I went back again to the knot, but by now the sky was threatening more rain, and thunder rumbled around the valley.  Yesterday's experience had taught me not to get caught, so I decided to make my way back to the cabin before it came down.  As I crossed the river, I noticed movement on the rocks, and was rewarded with some excellent views of an American Dipper.  Photographing it was difficult because the bridge kept moving up and down.



Back at the cabin the rain set in once again for the afternoon and evening, but it provided the ideal opportunity to relax and update my notes.


The following morning we were visited by  the redstarts again, they called from the eaves as the sun began to rise.  The sky was clear and for once we had blue sky.  As the sun rose it picked out the taller trees on the side of the valley.


At breakfast the river looked much fuller, a result of the previous two days of rain.  As we ate a pair of Dippers flew up stream.


After breakfast we had sometime before the pick up to the next destination, so where did we go?  The lure of hummingbirds in the sunlit knot was too strong so off we went.  Looking back down the valley the Turkey and Black Vultures were taking advantage of the warming sun too as they soared over the valley.


We had seen Black-bellied Hummingbird at the knot, but had not been able to get some good photos, but during the morning we were able to see both the male and female.  The Male is rather gorgeous with its black throat and belly, the female having a grey belly as opposed to a black one.



Reluctantly we left the knot and followed the trail around to the viewing point.  For once the valley looked splendid in the morning sunshine.


After taking in the views of this wonderful place for the last time we headed back down to the cabin to pack.  Even in the mist and the rain this had been a magical place, that allowed you to relax and take in the amazing natural beauty.  I don't think we will forget these three days we have had here, it was truly wonderful.

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