Sunday, 18 October 2020

Searching for Lepidoptera in Northern Ontario: Balsam Lake Area

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, life has been a little (or a lot) different for all of us in various ways. For me, it meant that between late March and August I was stuck in Cambridge, Ontario while I waited out the situation. Laura meanwhile had spent six weeks or so with her parents in Nova Scotia, but otherwise, she was with me in Cambridge.

June is one of my favourite months for naturalizing despite the abundance of biting insects that one has to contend with. I usually spend the better part of the month completing breeding bird surveys and other inventories but this year was different, with my schedule a little more open than usual. 

I decided to put this free time to good use and visit a part of the province that I have not had the chance to properly explore. I mean, I had visited many areas between North Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay and Cochrane during the month of June before, but never with a free schedule and all the time in the world to look for whatever I wanted to. And so it was, that on June 15 I found myself driving into the Kawarthas to begin my trip. 


Luna Moth (Actias luna) - Balsam Lake, Kawartha Lakes, Ontario


Saturday, 17 October 2020

San José to the Selva Verde Lodge

Our nearly two weeks with the rental car in Costa Rica was coming to an end. But we were just trading one rental in for another. You see, my parents were flying down from Canada, and were looking forward to spending March Break with us in Costa Rica!

The Covid-19 pandemic was quickly becoming a Big Deal around this time. Each hour, it seemed, additional dreadful news about the pandemic was broadcast. My parents were actually en route to Costa Rica when our Prime Minister declared that Canadians should not undergo non-essential travel. A few hours later they landed in San José. We would make the most of our travels together, even if it meant that they might have to cut the trip short at some point to fly home early.

Laura and I had planned out the whole trip for my parents. Well, to be honest, Laura did almost all of the  work! We would begin with three nights in the lush Caribbean lowlands of La Selva, followed by some time at two Pacific lowland locations, and we would finish up in the highlands east of San José. 

Bridge near La Virgen del Socorro, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Friday dawned sunny with a light breeze as we picked up the rental car (a Toyota Rav4) at the San José airport. We dealt with the usual rental car bullshit as they tried to up-sell us on various insurances that are neither mandatory nor a particularly good deal, but we were soon on our way. 

The sun was replaced by heavy cloud cover as we ascended the mountains leaving the city. We could not resist making a few stops to stretch our legs and to do a little bit of birding. One such location was a picturesque bridge near the Virgen del Socorro, depicted above. As we walked, we enjoyed some crisp looks at Yellow-throated Toucans, picked through a small mixed flock (two Scarlet-thighed Dacnis were nice!) and watched at least six Swallow-tailed Kites perform aerial acrobatics above us. 

Birding at La Virgen del Socorro, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Arawacus togarna - La Virgen del Socorro, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Even though the rain threatened while we explored, a few butterflies had taken to the wing. Above is a Arawacus hairstreak; pictured below is a Spot-winged Daggerwing.

Spot-winged Daggerwing - La Virgen del Socorro, Alajuela, Costa Rica

A coffee break at a roadside cafe produced an amazing view as well as some excellent birds - Purple-throated Mountain-Gem and Prong-billed Barbet included. 

Prong-billed Barbet - Cinchona area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Silver-throated Tanager - Cinchona area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Lunch was at a roadside barbeque joint that, I have to say, was possibly the best meal of the trip. Of course ,there was some birding to be had from our table here while we waited for the food to arrive. The Gray-headed Chachalacas were a real hit!

During the afternoon we completed the last hour of the drive, pulling up to the Selva Verde Lodge just after 3:30 PM. For those birders reading, you may be wondering why we stayed at Selva Verde Lodge instead of the famous La Selva Biological Station. Somewhere in the planning our wires got crossed and Laura booked Selva Verde instead of La Selva. It is an easy mistake to make as the names are virtually identical and the locations are near each other. Short story long, but we were able to call Selva Verde and cancel the last two nights of the reservation, though we felt bad and agreed to stay there for the first night after all. Fortunately, La Selva Biological Station had space for the last two nights and so we booked it! 

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

La Selva Biological Station has some distinct advantages to naturalists that simply aren't afforded to guests at Selva Verde, unless money is not a limitation. At Selva Verde all of the high quality forest in on the far side of the raging Sarapiqui River, the only access being a single bridge. To reach this forest, one has to hire a guide for an exorbitant fee. You simply are not allowed to visit without a guide. Of course the lodge has a locked gate located at the far end of the bridge, meaning that an individual could not even sneak into the high quality forest if they tried (not that I would ever try that...). That being said, there are a couple of small self-guided loop trails that go through more degraded forest - one near the lodge, and the other across the road from the lodge. At La Selva Biological Station there are countless trails that can all be visited without having to hire a guide.

One benefit that Selva Verde Lodge does provide is that the food and lodging are a little more high-end. We enjoyed the relative luxury for our one night! Following a delicious dinner we set out for a night hike. Rain earlier in the day had primed the forest and we were excited for what was in store. 

We did not venture too far from the lodge, finding most species in the gardens. Snakes sadly remained unaccounted for but we had a little more luck with lizards. Below are two gorgeous species (Yellow-spotted Night Lizard and Yellow-headed Gecko) and one that is a bit more drab (Border Anole).

Yellow-spotted Night Lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Yellow-headed Gecko (Gonatodes albogularis) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Border Anole (Anolis limifrons) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Fitzinger's Robber Frog is not flashy but it is one that I seem to see everywhere that I travel within the lowlands of Central America. This species can be quite common in disturbed areas, but also in pristine habitat. 

Fitzinger's Robber Frog (Craugastor fitzingeri) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Fitzinger's Robber Frog (Craugastor fitzingeri) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Near the pool we discovered a species of frog which we had been targeting. A Red-eyed Treefrog!

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Red-eyed Tree Frogs are one of the iconic species of Costa Rica and so we were all quite happy to find these ones!

Nearby, a different individual perched a little lower down on the vegetation. This enabled a few initial photo opportunities but it quickly wizened up to us. It brought in its legs close to its body, hid its toes, and closed its eyes so that only the green body colouration was visible. Remarkable!  

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

The Red-eyed Treefrog would not even be the flashiest frog species that we encountered this evening. That honour would be bestowed upon the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio).

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

These little gems would prove to be abundant on the grounds of Selva Verde Lodge and we totalled double digit numbers of them. Some populations of this species are among the most toxic of Oophaga dart frogs, though there are other dart frog genera which are far more toxic.
 
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophila pumilio) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Of course the arachnids, insects and other arthropods are almost as exciting as the reptile or amphibian representatives of a night-hike.  Below are a few that I photographed.

Unidentified cicada - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Unidentified orbweaver (Araneidae) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Unidentified katydid (tribe Cocconotini) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Unidentified derbid planthopper (Derbidae) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Below is the famous Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata). I still have yet to be stung by one of these, but I am sure it will happen eventually!

Bullet Ant - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Unidentified cockroach - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

This incredible planthopper might be my favourite non-vertebrate find of our night-hike.

Biolleyana costalis - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Butterflies can sometimes be found roosting on vegetation through the night. Below are two examples.

Taygeta inconspicua - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Mechanitis polymnia - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

This odd treefrog caught my attention, demanding a closer look. It is known as Boulenger's Snouted Tree Frog (Scinax boulengeri) and it ranges from Honduras to northwest Colombia.

Scinax boulengeri - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Scinax boulengeri - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

The howls of Mantled Howler Monkeys began just before dawn, signalling the arrival of a new day. Around lunchtime we would be leaving Selva Verde and making the short trip to the La Selva Biological Station, our home for the next two nights, but first, we had one morning to inspect the grounds of Selva Verde for wildlife. 

Before breakfast, my dad and I made our way over to where the monkeys had been calling from and we quickly found a group of them slowly moving through the trees. Mantled Howler Monkeys live in groups of typically 10-20 individuals. These include 1 to 3 adult males and 5 to 10 adult females, along with some immature individuals. It is said that individuals in a group are generally not related to each other since both males and females will leave the group upon reaching sexual maturity. 

Mantled Howler Monkey - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

We enjoyed breakfast simultaneously with the oropendolas and orioles! 

Montezuma Oropendola - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Baltimore Oriole - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Next on the agenda was a hike of the loop trail, located on the opposite side of the road from the lodge. We had the trail to ourselves and it was a gorgeous morning, if a tad humid (as expected in the lowlands).

Rufous Motmot - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Red-throated Ant-Tanager - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Red-throated Ant-Tanager - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

We enjoyed a nice walk though the birding was a little slow. We kept our eyes out for herps and were pretty successful with a few lizard species and another dart frog - the Green-and-Black Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus).

Bird-eating Snake (Gonatodes albogularis) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Green-and-black Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

I noticed a suspiciously coiled vine by a small pond and quickly realized that it was a snake. A huge Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus)! 

Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

I moved very slowly and carefully as I picked up the snake. It was remarkably relaxed and did not attempt to bite once during the ordeal. A seriously impressive snake for my parents to observe!

Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

We enjoyed our time with this incredible serpent and let it on its way, wishing for it many bird nests in its future. 

Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus) - Selva Verde Lodge, Heredia, Costa Rica

Our time at Selva Verde was complete and we made the short drive to nearby La Selva Biological Station. Our visit at La Selva will be the focus of my next two Costa Rica posts.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

A Weekend Drive to Timmins and Back

This past week I had a few days free to do a road trip. Originally, my plan had been to turn my car southwest and visit Point Pelee National Park and adjacent areas in search of birds and rare butterflies with perhaps some late-season mothing thrown in. However, in the days preceding my departure, I was also keeping an eye on a Rare Bird Situation that was happening in South Porcupine, near Timmins, Ontario. Back on September 18, local birder extraordinaire Roxane Filion discovered a Northern Wheatear in a park next to picturesque Porcupine Lake. Most Ontario records of Northern Wheatears consist of "one-day-wonders", though some individuals have stuck around for as long as a week. Regardless, I was not expecting this particular wheatear to remain in South Porcupine long enough until the time commenced for my road trip. But, I was wrong. Each day Roxane confirmed that the wheatear was still present and slowly becoming a local celebrity in South Porcupine. On Thursday morning, the day I was to leave on my road trip, Roxane messaged me that the wheatear was still present. And so my decision was made. 

I motored through the GTA with hardly any traffic slowing me down and began heading north. The trees were vibrant with their reds, yellows and oranges contrasting beautifully with the blue sky. I refrained from making any birding stops along the way, since I wanted to arrive at South Porcupine with plenty of daylight left to search for the rare Arctic songbird. Once I passed North Bay the highway was largely devoid of traffic. I love Northern Ontario in the autumn!

Autumn colour near North Bay

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Saturday, 10 October 2020

ONshore Birding Take Flight and Blog Changes

For the last few years I have thought about starting my own birding/nature tour company in Ontario, and that day has finally arrived. My company is called ONshore Birding and I will lead small group tours as well as private tours in Ontario! The website is ONshorebirding.com.

American Avocets - Hillman Marsh, Essex County


This autumn I have a few trips planned that still have some availability. They include:

October 24: Raptors and Waterbirds of Port Stanley
October 27: Autumn Birding in Hamilton

Additionally I will be running half-day and full-day trips along the Niagara River on a several weekend dates in November and December. Currently, I have November 14, 15 and 28 listed, but I will add some additional dates later in the year as well.

Each of the above tours will have a maximum of six guests. If you are interested or would like to discuss a potential private tour, please email me at joshvandermeulen@live.ca.

Slaty-backed Gull - Thorold, Niagara Region

I will be making some changes to the content that I post to this blog as well. From now on, all of my Ontario content will be posted to the blog that I host at ONshore birding. To add a link to the ONshore Birding Blog on the sidebar of your blog, use this URL: www.onshorebirding.com/2/feed

However, I will continue to keep Explorations of an Ecologist active. I will just focus the content on trips I take outside of Ontario. I am planning on posting the rest of my Costa Rica photos from March, and I still have some content from last autumn in Ecuador. Eventually I would like to produce a series of blog posts about the Galápagos islands as well. 

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths - La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica

If anyone would like to pass along the information about ONshore Birding to any potentially interested parties I would be very grateful! Thanks and hope to see you in the field!

Josh

Monday, 21 September 2020

The Arenal Area


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We drove west from Guapiles, making decent time as we motored away from the Caribbean coast. Eventually the Arenal Volcano rose up from beyond the horizon, its shape taking a fuller form as we approached from the east. Arenal Volcano - a stratovolcano situated along the northern part of the Cordillera de Guanacaste (Guanacaste mountain range) - is one of the top 10 active volcanoes in the world. Many thousands of tourists venture to this part of the country each year and it was obvious that the nearby town of La Fortuna was set up almost entirely for gringo tourism. 

The throngs of tourists ensured that hotel rooms and restaurants would be expensive, but alas, that is the price to pay to explore the forests of Costa Rica. With only a few days remaining until Laura and I needed to bring the rental car back to San José we decided to spend out time here. Arenal held a few bird species that I was hoping to see, while it was also a good base to explore some of the vast swaths of Caribbean foothill forest located south of here.

Border Anole (Anolis limifrons) - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Upon arrival in the early afternoon we dropped in to Sendero Bogarín located on the edge of La Fortuna. Sendero Bogarín is a small tract of protected forest with dirt footpaths snaking through the lush vegetation. Famous for its large population of Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, Sendero Bogarín is also home to a variety of birdlife - surprising diversity given the small size of the woodlot. Our friend Victor recommended this location, a convenient spot since our hotel was only a few minutes away. 

We paid our 10 USD per person entrance fees and began exploring. White-collared Manakin was one of the birds we were hoping to see here and they were far from difficult! Thanks to the distinctive popping sounds created by the lekking males, we easily tracked down a few individuals within minutes of our arrival.

White-collared Manakin - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Like many manakin species White-collared Manakin males will gather in a small group known as a lek, where they will perform their dances in front of a female or two watching furtively from the sidelines. The strange popping sounds are non-vocal; rather, they are created by the wings. Different manakin species have evolved different mechanisms to create these popping or whirring sounds.  

White-collared Manakin - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

The birding was a little slow initially so we focused on scanning for sloths and lizards. Brown Basilisk was the default species but later in the afternoon we encountered a Green Basilisk. It was a new species for us, and my fourth and final representative of the genus Basiliscus. 

Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

As I mentioned before, most tourists visit Sendero Bogarín for the sloths, of which there are many. We spotted three or four Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths during the course of the afternoon including one individual that came down out of the canopy - one of the best looks we have had of this species!

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Speaking of mammals, a photogenic Variegated Squirrel...

Variegated Squirrel - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

One of the birds I was hoping to encounter at Sendero Bogarín was the shy and secretive Uniform Crake. This species prefers the dark understory of swampy broadleaf forest and a few individuals make their home here. I heard one individual vocalizing early in the walk but a couple of hours later, we turned a corner and I witnessed a dark shape scurry along the edge of a small creek bed. With some patience we were able to spot the culprit - a Uniform Crake! It fed only a few meters from us, allowing me to take a crack at some photos, a difficult proposition in the dark environment.

Uniform Crake - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

New bird species kept appearing such as Great Curassow, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (roosting in a tree), Laughing Falcon, Black-throated Wren, Ovenbird, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird and more. The Great Curassow was quite the surprise. It was a male that flew down out of a tree and strutted across the path. 

Great Curassow - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Laughing Falcon - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

One more obligatory sloth photo...

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

One of the last new birds for our eBird checklist was this Smoky-brown Woodpecker. We finished with an even 60 bird species, quite a surprising number considering how small the area was, and the time of day for our visit. 

Smoky-brown Woodpecker - Sendero Bogarín, La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica

The Caribbean slope of Costa Rica holds many of the most highly sought after bird species found in the country. There are countless fantastic places where one can explore these habitats from the Arenal area all the way south/east to the Panama border, including two great field stations found in this part of the country - San Gerardo and Pocosol. Unfortunately, Laura and I did not have time to visit these stations during our loop with the rental car. Besides, we were planning on exploring San Gerardo and several other areas in a few weeks anyways (little did we know that a global pandemic would mess up these plans). But with one full day available to us, we chose to visit the entrance road to the University of Costa Rica's Alberto Manuel Brenes Reserve. It was located just over an hour south of our hotel in La Fortuna.

Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

I had a relatively small hit list of target birds for Manuel Brenes. Among a few more common species (Thicket Antpitta, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Crimson-collared Tanager) I was also hoping for Bare-necked Umbrellabird or Tawny-chested Flycatcher, two highly sought after species that have occurred here, but I struck out on both fronts. But really, we were just looking to spend the day walking among beautiful forest surrounded by wildlife and away from other people. In that case, the day was a complete success.  

Anolis sp. - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

We left La Fortuna before 5 AM, arriving at the start of the road to the Manuel Brenes reserve by dawn. We parked our car a few hundred meters in and walked along the gravel road for a while, eventually tracking back to the car. We then drove quite a ways along the bumpy road until we were within shooting distance of the Manuel Brenes reserve, parked again, and walked over a bridge and up a steep hill to the reserve gate and back. This seemed to be a pretty good strategy since we encountered quite a few birds - over 100 species for the day. The weather was a bit iffy, with persistent light rain muting the birds for the first hour or so of the morning, but eventually the rain lifted and we enjoyed a fantastic day of exploration.

Early on it was a good day for raptors. A pair of Gray-headed Kites were consorting over the road and one perched long enough for some excellent views through the binoculars. A bit later, a photogenic White Hawk also obliged us by sitting out in the open. This was a lifer for Laura, and a pretty spectacular view of this beautiful species. 

Gray-headed Kite - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

White Hawk - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Early on I encountered two new bird species (Thicket Antpitta, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush) though unfortunately, both were heard only. The beginning stretches of the road passed through disturbed areas, full of cecropias and tangles. While these habitats are not ideal for some of the rare forest birds I was hoping to see, they can often be good for a high diversity of common species. The Thicket Antpittas were particularly common but we picked up many other species. These included Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Black-throated and Stripe-breasted Wrens, Dusky Antbird, Northern Bentbill, my "lifer" Rufous-winged Woodpecker and even a few migrants from the north (Golden-winged Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher). 

Northern Bentbill - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

A few trucks passed us during the morning but mostly, we had the place to ourselves. It was glorious! Just us and the wildlife. 

Centropogon granulosus - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

By late morning we hit a lull in the bird activity, and this lasted for several hours. We pressed on and slowly added new species here and there including this photogenic Montezuma Oropendola. 

Montezuma Oropendola - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

We passed a small village and hiked down into a valley where a fast-flowing mountain stream coursed by. From the bridge we waited for a bit in hopes of spotting a Fasciated Tiger-Heron or a mixed flock of songbirds, though we were unsuccessful on both fronts. We then hiked up the road to the entrance gate for the reserve, before our grumbling stomachs were just cause to retrace our steps back to the car. 

Eurybia unxia - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Before passing through the small village close to where we had parked, a flash of red caught my attention by a small stream. It revealed itself as a stunning Crimson-collared Tanager. This uncommon species ranges from southern Mexico to western Panama in the Caribbean lowlands, and it was a new species for both of us. 

Crimson-collared Tanager - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Despite the success of the day we had not encountered a single mixed flock large enough to merit mention. This changed as we drove back out towards the highway. A few birds flew across the road which grabbed my attention. Fortunately, I stopped the car to investigate. We caught the tail end of a large mixed flock of bird species!

White-ruffed Manakin - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Without a doubt the highlight here was a single Blue-and-gold Tanager that hung around long enough for photos. This rare species is quite local in the foothills of Costa Rica and Panama and is one of the more highly sought species at Manuel Brenes. 
 
Blue-and-gold Tanager - Camino a la Reserva Alberto Manuel Brenes, Alajuela, Costa Rica

The mixed flock gave us a chance to pad our day list with species like Bay-headed and Emerald Tanagers, White-ruffed Manakin, White-throated Shrike-Tanager, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper and Plain Xenops, and it was a nice way to close out an excellent day at Manuel Brenes. 

For our final morning in the Arenal area we chose to explore a road that cuts through nice forest directly west of the Arenal Volcano - on eBird the hotspot is called "Arenal--Peninsula road (shortcut to dam)". If we had more time we would have explored the trails at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, but we figured it would only be worth it to spend the entrance fee if we could devote a full day there. Regardless, our morning along the peninsula road was well-worth it with some great birds!

Spotted Antbird - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Laura and I slept in since the previous morning had been an early one and it was after 9 AM when we finally rolled up to the area. While we had missed the dawn chorus at least the sky was cloudy. We hoped that this would prolong bird activity.

Keel-billed Toucan - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

The first bit of excitement for me was caused by a Rufous-winged Woodpecker that flew into a roadside tree. I had seen this species ever so briefly the previous day; this experience felt a lot better for a life bird. 

Rufous-winged Woodpecker - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

A little while later we heard an interesting bird call that sounded very similar to Broad-billed Motmot. This Arenal area is known to provide habitat for the Keel-billed Motmot, a rare species with a disjunct range in Caribbean lowlands of Central America. The two species sound very similar (I still can't confidently tell them apart) but the Keel-billed looks very different. Laura and I were in luck as we tracked down the bird. Indeed, it was a pair of Keel-billed Motmots (along with a pair of Broad-billed Motmots!). 

Keel-billed Motmot - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

It had been a great morning but things kept getting better. We noticed an army ant swarm crossing the road and parked ourselves here for almost an hour as the birding was fantastic. As any birder who has visited the Neotropics can attest to, army ant swarms are an excellent way to see certain secretive species that are almost never seen away from these swarms. These obligate ant swarm birds do not feed on the ants; rather, they catch insects and small vertebrates that get disturbed by the wriggling mass of ants. 

Red-throated Ant-Tanager - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

This particular swarm was attended by Bare-crowned and Spotted Antbirds, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Northern Schiffornis and Red-throated Ant-Tanager. A small mixed flock containing Russet Antshrike and others moved through the treetops while we were glassing the antbirds. Meanwhile, a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons sat motionless on the other side of the road. Just super enjoyable birding!

Spotted Antbird - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Northern Barred-Woodcreeper - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Slaty-tailed Trogon - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Bare-crowned Antbird - Arenal area, Alajuela, Costa Rica

And with that, we hit the road back to San José. Our thirteen days with the rental car was coming to an end but we still had a lot of exploration to look forward to. My parents were flying in from Toronto for March Break and we were hoping to visit some other awesome places, including the famous La Selva Biological Station. Stay tuned!