On our last full day in Monteverde we hopped on the local bus and headed out to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We arrived around 8 as the reserve is a very popular destination with tourists and we wanted to get on the trails before the masses.
We passed a couple of groups of tours. The guides had their fancy binoculars out, pointed at things in the trees that we couldn’t even begin to see. I began to feel a little anxious, part of me wishing that we’d paid for a guide. As I’ve mentioned before, it is extraordinarily (EX-tra) difficult for the untrained eye to pick out birds in the rain forests of Costa Rica. The jungle is just too darn thick.
The husband asked if I wished we’d gotten a guide and I think I was honest. Because I honestly felt torn. On one hand, a guide ensured that we saw things and I added photos to my collection. On the other hand, guide-less meant we went at our own pace and I had a lot more time to take photos of things other than birds.
We set off into the clouds, hopeful that all the bird call would result in bird sightings.
Do you know that there is a Quaker presence in Monteverde, Costa Rica? Never would have guessed!
Note: the following text is taken from the Desafio website. The entire article can be viewed here.
In the late 1940s, uncomfortable with the growing military industry in the United States, the Meeting of Friends in Fairhope, Alabama decided that they could not remain in the US and pay their taxes toward the war effort. In 1949, four young men in the group were sentenced to a year in prison when, as conscientious objectors, they refused to register for the draft. They were released after four months and, upon completing their parole period, in November 1950 the group of forty-four Quakers, comprising eleven families, left their northern homes and came to Costa Rica. They chose this tiny Central American country largely for its farming potential and pleasant climate, but they had also read the words of Pepe Figueres, the Costa Rican president at the time, inviting foreigners to come and help develop this country. Perhaps most attractive for the Friends though was the fact that Costa Rica had just abolished its own army and these pacifists felt they could live in peace here.
For six months, the Quakers lived near San Jose and searched throughout Costa Rica for a suitable spot to establish their community. They were finally introduced to this parcel of land straddling the Continental Divide where a few Costa Rican (tico) families were homesteading. The group bought 1400 hectares (about 3500 acres), situated above the tiny communities of Santa Elena and Cerro Plano, from the Guacimal Land Company and the local ticos, many of whom simply moved to other properties nearby. The Quakers divided the land into individual family farms, keeping a large piece for common purposes such as their school and Meeting House as well as what was to be their first attempt at a sustainable business, the Monteverde Cheese Plant. Many of these Quakers were not farmers back in Fairhope, so this was a great adventure in pioneering, clearing land, learning about dairy farming and the business of making cheese.
It was with the arrival in 1970 of George and Harriett Powell, biology graduate students from California, that the relatively new concept of conservation was introduced. They came to Monteverde to work on George’s doctorate research and rented a small cabin on the farm of Wolf and Lucky Guindon. Wolf and Lucky had arrived with the original Quakers in 1951 when they were just twenty and eighteen years old, a month after being married in Fairhope. Wolf was a keen walker and an enthusiastic explorer of the surrounding forest. He was one of the few experienced dairy farmers in the group and became the first chain saw dealer in Costa Rica, importing the machines to speed up the cutting of trees creating new pastures for the growing dairy herds.
When the Powells realized how quickly the forest was disappearing, and recognizing that there was a wealth of species within that forest that would disappear before even being identified, they decided they had to do something to slow down the deforestation. They started to raise money from their family, friends and colleagues back in the US with the intention of buying the primary forest before the locals could cut it down. They hired Wolf Guindon, who knew this forest and most of the homesteaders scattered throughout the remote ridges and valleys, to help them find the owners of desirable parcels of land, to negotiate with them to purchase the land, to cut the boundary lines and keep the trails connecting the parcels open.
The Powells also negotiated with a scientific research organization in San José, the Tropical Science Center, to handle the funds they raised and to care for the land. In 1972, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve (commonly known as the Monteverde Reserve) was founded, encompassing 328 hectares (810 acres). The World Wildlife Fund in the US donated money for administrative and vigilance costs over the next three years and more money was raised and more properties were bought.
In 1974, the Quaker community, who had been caring for their Watershed Property for the last twenty years, incorporated their land and named it Bosqueterno S.A. (The Eternal Forest). They agreed to lease the land to the Tropical Science Center as part of the Monteverde Reserve, which would be responsible for the administration and maintenance of it, but the shareholders of BESA would continue to oversee its well-being. Once done, this agreement brought the total amount of land under protection in the Monteverde area to about 2000 hectares (around 4940 acres) and took the community of Monteverde further down the path of conservation and habitat protection.
George and Harriett Powell returned to the United States, leaving Wolf Guindon, his son Tomás, and a young, quietly intelligent Costa Rican from neighboring San Luis, Eladio Cruz, to continue the work of finding properties, negotiating purchases, protecting plants and animals from poachers, maintaining boundary lines and trails, and spreading the word of conservation throughout the area. More land in the Peñas Blancas River valley, which is on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, and land on the upper slopes surrounding Monteverde was added to the Cloud Forest Reserve. In 2013, the reserve comprises more than 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) and continues to protect mostly virgin forest.
Pretty cool history, huh? The featured image for this post was taken out at the Continental Divide viewpoint. Gorgeous.
After winding our way around a large loop we decided to take a break and stepped just outside the gates of the reserve and into Cafe Colibri, aka Hummingbird Restaurant. The restaurant hangs dozen of hummingbird feeders around the perimeter of the patio, resulting in beautiful chaos as bright hummingbirds buzz, argue and feed. It is a sight to behold. Photos? Just a few.
After our refreshment we headed back into the park for one more short hike. It was the best decision we made. We were strolling along the trail, mostly haven given up on spotting birds in the trees (I was pretty happy after all the hummers) when we suddenly heard rustling above. Monkeys! A whole troop of them! We turned in circles, eyes lifted to the trees, and watched as they came through. But, they didn’t just come through. They played in the trees surrounding us, swing by their tails, chattering at each other. It was amazing. All of the photos suck, but I’m going to post a few anyways. In one, a mama holds a baby. We stood and watched the monkeys for a good 20 minutes before they finally moved through.
I forgot to mention one other bird I had been DYING to see ever since we arrived in Monteverde: the Resplendent Quetzel. Isn’t that the best name, ever? Well, there’s a reason it has that name! Here is a photo of the male (the stunner of the two) (P.S. not my photo…I wish!):
What a stunner!!! The female is not too shabby, either:
It was nesting season while we were there and I had noticed small flags as we walked through the reserve with “quetzel” printed on them. Hopeful that those flags were marking nesting sites I would stop and stare…and stare some more. Foiled each time.
Until. We were headed back to the parking lot and noticed that there was rope closing off part of the trail. We started to detour around and there were four or so people standing near the rope. I heard one of them whisper the magic word…quetzel. They had the trail roped off because a male and female were nesting just off the trail. The female sat on a branch. It was obvious that the male was in the nest (in a hollowed out tree) because his gorgeously long tail feathers were hanging out. I shot a couple of photos of the female, doing the best I could with the distance, lens and light. Then, a gasp went up as the male flew out of the next. A sight to behold.
Hummingbirds, quetzels and monkeys. It was a day that couldn’t get much better, though we tried with tacos out a roadside stand back in town and another scoop of ice cream from Monteverde Cheese Factory. Pura Vida.