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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Beachside Visit from Scarlet Macaws

If, like me, you were curious about the bird shown in the photo in last week’s post, wonder no longer. Readers Pat and John were kind enough to post a comment identifying the creature as a Laughing Falcon. A beautiful white-breasted raptor with a black mask in my backyard! Fabulous! It certainly earned its name with a very loud “laugh” just outside my office window.

On a trip to Herradura Beach yesterday with friends Jan and Tom, we had the good fortune of seeing a couple of other amazing Costa Rican birds: Scarlet Macaws! Only minutes after we arrived at this secluded playa a few miles up the road from the busy tourist town of Jaco, we looked up as two long-tailed birds screeched their arrival in the branches of a nearby tree. As we all craned our necks to see them high above us, one stuck its head into a hole far up on the tree trunk, while the other one stood guard on an adjacent limb. The first one then crawled further inside the hollow until only its long red tail could be seen flashing from the thick trunk. They were obviously feeding their nest of baby birds! What a thrill! We watched for long minutes while the one we assumed was the mother bird (though who knows?) tended to her young and the second bird continued his vigil nearby. Eventually they flew away, leaving their young unattended for several hours as we hung out on the beach below. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

The Macaw is a truly spectacular sight, with bright red and cobalt blue feathers and a length of close to three feet when fully grown. They can live for decades, up to 50 years in captivity and probably that long in the wild. They mate for life so you might guess the pair we saw were long-time lovers. Unfortunately, deforestation due to development, pesticide use and poaching for the pet trade has reduced the population significantly and narrowed the habitat from some 80% of Costa Rica’s territory to about 20% today. Their terrain now is restricted primarily to two areas of Costa Rica: the Carara Biological Reserve, only a few miles from Herradura Beach where my friends and I were relaxing, and the Osa Peninsula in the less developed southern region. Jan and I remarked with awestruck voices as to how truly lucky we were to have seen this pair in the wild.

Later in the day after the tide had come in, we watched with interest as several pelicans dive-bombed for dinner into the calm waters of Bahía Herradura. 

Although not as colorful as the Macaws, the pelicans were fascinating to observe as they blasted straight down into the waters, then settled peacefully on the surface while they gulped down the catch. Then the bird would cruise about for a few minutes, apparently digesting the latest morsel, before taking off for the next course. 

My view of Herradura Beach
Herradura is a long, tree-lined beach just down the coast from Los Suenos, a Marriott resort of hotel and condominiums that has dramatically changed the seaside communities nearby, prompting a swarm of new development in the area. Jan and Tom have been going to Herradura for several years and Jan recalled earlier days when the hillsides were pristine, the meadows full of white cattle and the local Tico neighborhood was serene. Now the upscale resort has brought in mega-bucks as evidenced by the hotel marina full of large white boats and the distant mountainside cluttered with condos. It is truly disconcerting to see the juxtaposition of modest Tico houses, populated with barefoot children and their working-class parents, across the road from the vast acreage of expensive homes, swimming pools and golf courses, fueled by affluent tourists.

Only my footprints
It was quite a treat for me to go on this outing with Jan and Tom, who are well known vendors at the Atenas and Grecia ferias for their outstanding organic breads and pastries. Although Jan tends the stall at the farmers markets, she is also quite an accomplished artist; their newly built home is chock-full of her gorgeous, unique artwork. Back in Pennsylvania Tom worked for years in the restaurant business, managing the bakery part of a “destination” restaurant and eventually expanding it to include a successful sandwich shop featuring his breads. Now he shares the delicious results of this expertise with Gringos and Ticos alike. His whole-wheat sourdough loaf is just to die for, especially toasted with lots of butter on it. Oh yum! And lucky me, he had prepared a picnic lunch for us of chicken breast, bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with horseradish mayo on his 5-grain bread. What a feast! And to top it off, on the way home we enjoyed his special cookies made with bananas, walnuts, raisins and his freshly made organic peanut butter. Diet? What diet?!

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