After visiting the Ara Project (www.hatchedtoflyfree.org) near San Jose my family and my friend Tiffany (we both studied at La Selva Biological Station in 2006 through a program at The Evergreen State College) headed out towards Monteverde. All of us except my mother had traveled around Costa Rica before and knew that the road to Monteverde was hair-raising to say the least. We had no idea how this adventure would be in a rental car and even more exciting was the fact that most roads are not labeled in Costa Rica. We headed out on the PanAmerican Highway.
The road seemed endless but it’s hard to get bored looking out the window when traveling through a country that is not your own (or even your state). We stopped at a few places along the way and each time the forest down below (we were gaining elevation the whole time) teemed with the calls of birds unknown to me. In all honesty, it drove me mad that I could only ID a few of them by call. As we neared the town of Monteverde we stopped to look at a White-throated Magpie Jay in a tree. As we got out of the car I realized we were also surrounded by White-fronted Amazon Parrots. Every time I see amazon parrots in the wild I always imagine that they are like a dysfunctional family you see on TV. There’s lots of gesturing and yelling and screaming and you want to change the channel but you can’t help but watch the whole thing. We enjoyed the parrots for a bit, while a man across the street with a cowboy hat and a small brown horse at his side eyed us. We arrived at Monteverde in the dark with the local shops and restaurants brightly lit and offering many souvenirs, coffee, and night tours to see bats, frogs and other species. We met our friend Melvin Leiton and after dinner with his wife and son, headed back to his mother’s house for a much-needed good night’s rest.
In the morning I awoke to a chorus of so many birds I didn’t even bother to change into real clothes, brush my teeth, or look in the mirror to make sure my hair wasn’t about to take over the world. Outside on the lawn Melvin and my mom were looking at White-faced Capuchin Monkeys quietly moving from tree to tree. Mist shrouded the hills covered in cloud forest and as the sun broke over the peaks White-collared Swifts shot down the valley like fighter jets called to action. In the distance male Three-wattled Bellbirds could be heard with their very distinctive “BONK!” calls. At the Leiton finca (farm) birds literally drip out of the trees. Without traveling more than a quarter-mile in any direction I had 48 species on my list on the first morning and over 100 by the next day.
This is a very special place. The Leitons own many hectares with most of it never logged or impacted by humans. There are a few clearings for houses and one cow in a small pasture. The rest is primary cloud forest butting up against the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Melvin is a superb guide and truly loves the birds he hunts down to show visitors. His true love lies with the bellbird and he knows he’ll come back as one someday.