Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hawk at 12 O'Clock! The Pechinegro Migration in Costa Rica Arrives Again

Our immediate area is a way station every year at this time for the migration of the Pechinegro hawks (aka Black-Chested Hawk). This annual migration always occurs mid-March and this day in 2015 is the 5th year in a row we've spotted them. 

About 300 large hawks circling the rocks
2015 First Arrival of the Black-Chested Hawks

Many of our neighbors know about this annual rite, but they failed to tell us when we purchased our property back in 2007. What a great bonus is this spectacle! I'm not sure how we missed them in 2009 and 2010, but each year we keep our eyes out for them starting about May 10th. 

Not every year is as spectacular as the first year we saw them. Back then, it seemed they all came as one huge flock, thousands of birds. They perched in the trees on our farm and neighboring farms. Subsequent years, they have come in several smaller flocks, only a few hundred at a time. Below is the description of the 2011 migration:

We were treated to one of Nature's memorable spectacles yesterday soon after we returned home about 4 PM. We noticed a few more birds than usual flying overhead. At first, we thought they were grey vultures, which are common here. Then we noticed a few more and then a lot more circling our little valley cul-de-sac. Within 15 minutes, there were, by my estimate, a minimum of 500 to a 1000 birds in the air. 

Fraction of 2011 huge flock of Pechinegro Costa Rica
A Fraction of the 2011 Flock

I don't have a suitable wide-angle lens, so the birds you see in the 2011 photograph are just a fraction of the entire group. I didn't know what they were at first, but some flew close enough that I could see that they were definitely not vultures. It took us a while to identify them, partly because there is a lot of variation among individuals. Not all of them actually have black chests for instance.

I waited patiently with binoculars for single birds to sweep by with my Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica close by so that I could compare them to the plates. Clearly they were hawks, but which species?

At last my patience paid off. A lobe of the swirling, drifting mass of birds wandered over our house, and I got a detailed look at them. Gavilán Pechinegro, aka Black-chested Hawk, aka Barred Hawk, aka Prince Hawk. These are not small birds. They measure 24 inches head to tail, and weigh about a kilo each. My cat better not mess with them!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Biennial Male Bonding Ritual around the Bulldozer in Costa Rica

This morning, I slept in a bit until nearly 7. Tamara reminded me that the tractor was coming and I needed to meet the driver and neighbors at 7 al punto. So, I hurriedly pulled on some work clothes, grabbed a reheated cup of coffee and shuffled out the door down to the main creeks below the finca. They'd started without me of course.

Bulldozer starting work early morning
Summer Road Refresh Begins
Not that they needed my advice. My main job is to help cut out side brush, move water lines and participate in the social male bonding ritual of standing around watching the tractor operator perform his magic. No problem. It's great work if you can get it, especially on a nice cool summer morning such as we had today.

We go through this exercise about every 2 or 3 years. It works like this:

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Utterly Cute and Deliciously Edible Tepezcuintle

One of our Tico neighbors found this baby animal in the woods, cowering in a hollow log. It appeared to him that it had been abandoned by the mother, so he took pity on it and brought it home to care for it. It wasn't much bigger than a large kitten then. It took to bottle feeding of raw goat's milk right away. It's just about big enough now to release back to the wild.

A young tepezcuintle or lowland paca
Cute and possibly delicious, but who could render it lifeless? No me.

It is called a tepezcuintle in this part of Costa Rica, a piscuintle up north and has a multitude of other names throughout México and Central America. The common name in English is the lowland paca. They can grow up to 26 lbs in weight and produce two litters a year, although I'm not sure "litter" is appropriate since they only give birth to one or two progeny each time.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Final Fun Steps to the First Taste of Our Own Homegrown Costa Rica Coffee

When we last left our nascent organic coffee small-time sodbusters, we had picked our first real harvest of beans from the 3rd year plot of about 200 plants, of which about 20% are doing really well and the others so-so. This is the follow-up to the first round of post-processing after removing the surrounding cherry, fermenting off the slimy second layer and letting the beans have a good sunbath until dry.

Our cleaning lady, Ligia, had all sorts of ideas for us about different methods of initial processing and volunteered her food mill for removing the final hard shell around the beans. She processes about 5 cajuelas of her own coffee each year (over 100 lbs of raw cherries), so she knows of what she speaks.

Our Tica cleaning lady helping mill our coffee
Ligia at the food mill


So, after one morning's cleaning, she and Tamara took our small sack of dried beans down to her house to remove the outer shells.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 7 Harbingers of Summer in the Southern Costa Rica Mountains

Whenever I mention that "summer" is coming to Costa Rica to non-expat friends, they often look puzzled. They are thinking that we share the same summer season with North America since we are above the equator, and technically they are right. However, the tropical Trade Winds pick up this time of year and they are what divide our seasons into wet and dry.

Our summer in this part of Costa Rica runs from mid-December until the middle of April when the trades begin to weaken again. Northern Pacific provinces have longer summers and the Caribbean's seasonal changes are less distinct, but roughly reversed from ours.

Right now, it's a densely overcast, drizzly day with intermittent showers, so you'd never guess that summer is just around the corner (we hope). But, there are plenty of other signs that say, yes, the arrival of La Zona Sur's summer is imminent.

Coffee Season

Ripening Costa Rica coffee
Coffee cherries ready to pick


Coffee up here in the mountains is harvested later than in the lowlands and right now we are in the thick of the harvest. That means that around the corner of any country road you are liable to have delays due to farmers' trucks loading or unloading their bursting sacks of red coffee cherries. The crop this year is a bumper and the price is high too, so most of them are smiling big.

truck off loading coffee blocking the road
Our neighbor unloading at the recibidora
 We love coffee season, not only because it signifies summer's arrival, but because the neighborhood comes alive with the activities of the harvest and there are new arrivals, the pickers, who add a bit more color to our already colorful world. Since the neighbors are out and about more, it's also a great time to stop and chat.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Costa Rica Graft for Which Every One of Us Pays

Reading a news article regarding the failure of Ukraine's new president, Poroshenko, in addressing the high rate of business and political corruption in that country led me to some statistics regarding the apparent level of graft in Costa Rica.

Hand shake that hides a graft payment
Everyone presumes it happens but are surprised when perpetrators are nabbed

The news there is not good, though Costa Rica citizens might take comfort that surveys show their neighbors, relatively speaking, to be swimming in graft whereas Costa Rica citizens require only hip boots to keep the stink off of them. Here, bribery is referred to as "la mordida" or the bite.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

8 Ways to Get Your Holiday Goodies into Costa Rica Easily or Safely

My post about how to receive packages in Costa Rica while avoiding having them snagged by Customs, which requires a trip to San José and a couple hours of bureacratic SNAFU to retrieve said package, continues to be one of my more popular articles.

Still, I often get asked the question: "Just how do you get stuff shipped into Costa Rica?"

Drone chasing Cary Grant in North by Northwest still
Attack of the Drones - CC-SA-3.0

Unfortunately, Amazon drone delivery does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

So, to supplement the original article, here is a list (probably incomplete) on the various methods that I've either used or have learned second-hand from others who have found them to be successful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tamara Applies Her Artistic Talents to Yet Another Medium - Wood Carving

We have four eucalypto posts on the outside of our home here in Costa Rica. Last year, we enlisted the help of a local wood carver who does astounding work to carve one of them. It took him two long days to finish the carving and a couple of days for us to sand and finish it. This year, we wanted to continue with the 3 posts on the back patio, but he was unavailable due to long-term health issues.

Tamara trying to wood carve with a Dremel tool
Suited up for battle
So, as she has done before, Tamara took up the challenge to learn a new art medium and carved them herself.

Having never carved any wood before in her life. 

Unfortunately, all she had at hand were some of those dollar store, cheap Chinese carving tools, which would never be up to the task even if you could adequately sharpen them. They stayed sharp about as long as it takes the driver behind you to honk when the light turns green.

I offered her my Dremel tool, however, and we bought some good quality bits downtown. She was off to the races! It was dusty, tedious work though and progress was excruciatingly slow.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our First Real Organic Coffee Harvest

Since we first planted coffee on our small finca here in southern Costa Rica three years ago, we've anticipated harvesting enough to supply most of our own coffee-drinking needs. That is probably far too optimistic given that we only have 300 plants and we drink a lot of coffee, but nonetheless it is exciting to have our first "bumper" crop of organic coffee this year and to look forward to larger harvests each year, natural disasters notwithstanding.

bucket and bag of freshly picked coffee cherries
The first coffee picking of 2014
 Our first picking yielded 7 kilos of cherries. I don't know yet what the ratio is between cherries and the final roasted beans, but I'm sure it's at least 2:1. So, it's not much, though there's at least one more picking coming, but it's at least ten times what we gathered last year.

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