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These stories were published Monday, Jan. 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 2
Jo Stuart
About us
Neither rain, nor damp nor sloppy ground
will stay these warriors from 
the swift completion of their
feathery peek-a-boo!

A tale of birdwatchers
and their pursuit of the
elusive umbrella bird


Popular San José bar operator sets sights south
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. servicemen based in Ecuador on anti-drug missions now have a San José-style gringo bar to enjoy during off hours.

Long-time San José  bar and club owner Pat Dunn has just opened up the Nashville South 
Pat Dunn
Manta Bar & Restaurant in that Ecuadorian city on the Pacific coast.

Nearby is Eloy Alfaro Air Base, since 1999 a key U.S. installation for anti-drug patrols over the ocean and drug interdiction activities in Colombia and other Latin American countries.

The bar’s name is no accident. Dunn used to run the Nashville Bar in San 

José. That bar still exists, but Dunn now has cut back his holdings here and is best known as the operator of Lucky’s Piano Bar on the pedestrian boulevard and Dunn Inn. The well-known hotel still bears his name, but Dunn no longer is engaged in management there.

Manta is a sportsfishing location and the second largest commercial port behind Guayaquil. It got its biggest economic boost in 2000 when the U.S. government began to invest upwards of $60 million to prepare the base for anti-drug surveillance and intelligence flights.

Involved with Dunn is San José businessman 

Photo by James Slaten
New bar has western-like facade

James Slaten. He and Dunn both were there for the Dec. 20 grand opening. "The local government officials have been very supportive and the feedback was very positive," said Slaten. "The Nashville South Manta Bar & Restaurant is also one of the only two bars that have security clearance and authorization from the US military for base personnel to enter."

The city has about 180,000 people, and the new bar-restaurant is on the Malecón, the principal walkway. Despite the 1-degree south latitude, Manta has about the same temperature as San José but with drier weather. The bar even has a Web site.

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Nicaraguans face
tighter border now

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica immigration authorities have blocked nearly 6,000 Nicaraguans from coming into the country. Most were headed back after spending Christmas with their families.

Nearly 29,000 Nicaraguans have entered the country legally between Dec. 17 and Friday, officials said. They expect about 30,000 more Nicaraguans during the next couple of weeks. In addition to those returning to the country, many Nicaraguans will be trying to enter Costa Rica to obtain work picking coffee.

Police and immigration officials along the northern border are engaged in a 24-hour-a-day effort to keep illegal persons out of the country. Immigration officials are demanding that anyone who enters the country present a valid passport. Traditionally, Nicaraguans who were legal residents of Costa Rica, could enter the country on the strength of their residency cédula, but officials will not accept that this month, they said.

Marco Badilla, director general de Migración y Extranjería said last week that his agency may cancel the residency cédulas of foreigners who try to use the documents to enter the country. The only valid document for crossing a border is a passport, he said.

Much of the activity is at or near the Peñas Blancas border crossing. In addition to paperwork problems, officials there are faced with the continued efforts of smugglers to bring illegal individuals into the country.

A series of roadblocks have been set up some miles south of the border to check documents on individuals who may be illegal.

Many of the Nicaraguans who have been refused access to the country are those who hold jobs in and around the San José metropolitan area. Their absence is likely to be felt in many workplaces starting today.

Zapote fair total
is 97 arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers reported Sunday that they had arrested 97 persons at the Festejos Populares Zapote 2004, the traditional Christmastime carnival. The fair ended Sunday night.

Officers said they were aided in their work by security cameras mounted around the carnival grounds. In addition, officers confiscated 10 firearms and some 34 false paper bills.

Cuban diplomat sent
home by U.S. officials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has expelled a Cuban diplomat because of what it calls his criminal behavior. 

A State Department official said the expulsion was carried out last month, without announcement. Reports said the diplomat worked as a third secretary at the Cuban interest section, which is based in the Swiss Embassy in Washington. 

He was the 15th Cuban diplomat expelled from the United States in 2003. In May, the State Department expelled seven Cubans from the mission in Washington and seven from the Cuban mission at the United Nations. 

Cuba and the United States have not had official diplomatic relations in more than 40 years.

New scandal hits
Toledo administration

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — President Alejandro Toledo has accepted the resignation of Labor Minister Jesus Alvarado amid charges of nepotism.  Alvarado submitted his resignation letter to the president Saturday. 

The former labor minister is under investigation by the federal prosecutor's office on charges he gave jobs in various state agencies to 15 members of his family.  Alvarado is the third minister to step down in recent months. 

Last month, Prime Minister Beatriz Merino and Minister of Women and Social Development Nidia Puelles resigned because of accusations of irregularities in former government positions. 

In November, Vice President Raul Diez Canseco quit his post of foreign trade minister after being accused of influence peddling. He remains vice president. 

Peru is trying to overcome the legacy of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori, in exile in Japan, and his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is charged with bribing officials, judges, diplomats and business leaders to cement Mr. Fujimori's grip on power from 1990 to 2000. 

President Toledo took power in 2001 promising to strengthen democracy and end corruption.

Brazil turns tables
on U.S. print plan

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Police in Brazil have begun fingerprinting and photographing U.S. visitors, matching the treatment Brazilians will face when they enter the United States. 

Police started implementing the measures Thursday at international airports. 

Federal judge Julier Sebastiao da Silva ordered the move earlier this week in response to new U.S. regulations that visitors from most countries be fingerprinted and photographed when entering the United States. 

The extra U.S. security measures will begin today at all 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights, as well as 14 major seaports.  The program is designed to let U.S. customs officers check whether visitors have violated immigration controls or have a criminal record.

Presidential chopper
comes under fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A spokesman for South African President Thabo Mbeki says one of his helicopters was fired upon during a visit to this Caribbean island.

Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said Mbeki was not onboard or in the area when the chopper came under fire on Thursday in the northwestern city of Gonaives. It was conducting a security sweep ahead of Mbeki's scheduled visit to the city. 

President Mbeki is in Haiti to take part in the Caribbean island nation's 200th anniversary celebrations.

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The elusive umbrella bird quest
By Max Blue*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

San Gerardo station, where Liddy and I are headed, is the last outpost on the northern edge of the Monteverde Conservation League property covering some 54,000 acres of primary and secondary forest draped over the continental divide in the smack-on middle of Costa Rica like a damp cloth spread over a reclining forehead. 

San Gerardo station is three miles and 2,000 feet down the Caribbean slope from the Santa Elena Biological Reserve which is no picnic to reach either. From El Bosque Hotel, half a mile down the road from the cheese factory in the middle of Monteverde, where everything starts for us, it is a spine-jolting 45-minute, $8 taxi ride.

From the Santa Elena reserve to San Gerardo station there is no taxi service, you can ride a horse, a quadrocycle (something like a dune buggy) or you can walk. Melvin, our guide, said it would take about an hour to walk. It took us three, but we stopped to look at birds. Melvin has been telling us for the past six weeks that we should go with him to San Gerardo because if we are serious about bird-watching we must see the bare-necked umbrellabird, and he knows where it hangs out in San Gerardo.

Santa Elena Reserve straddles the continental divide at about 5,000 feet above sea level, and it is the ultimate cloud forest. If you would know how it feels to stand in a cloud, Santa Elena Reserve is for you. We are there by 7:15 and begin the climb down to San Gerardo. Oh sure, they call it a road. It is a cleared path littered with slippery rocks that must be navigated with care if your aim is to complete this hike in an upright position. 

In spite of the misty gloom the rewards begin soon: A lineated foliage gleaner, shaking its long rufous, fan-like tail in time to its rattling call. A mixed flock flitting around in Cecropia trees above us. You have to be quick: Common bush-tanager, collared redstart, spangled-cheeked tanager. A pair of prong-billed barbets, close enough to see without binoculars, yodeling a chorus just for us. A slate-throated redstart zips across the path. Liddy almost caught it as it zoomed by.

Moving down the Caribbean slope at our ancient-legged pace, we eventually leave the cloud forest behind and begin to notice the sky is brightening and shows patches of blue. The sun can’t be far behind. Melvin uses his guide’s eyes and ears to locate a brown-hooded parrot sitting on an eye-level limb picking bugs off its green wings. A few steps down the trail we can see the Arenal Lake off in the distance and the sloping approaches to the Arenal volcano disappearing into the clouds that shield the top of the cone.

The path is getting narrower and steeper. It’s hard walking down. Don’t think about the return. A vertical bank soars hundreds of feet on our right, a canyon falls off to our left. The trail winds down and to the right across a flowing mountain stream then switches back to the left around a hairpin turn where we again see the Arenal Lake. It is getting warmer. The sun is in and out of fleecy white clouds. Melvin hears the high-pitched scream of a black hawk-eagle. We are recording sightings and sounds.

Melvin sights a female resplendent quetzal resting quietly among the leaves of an avocado tree. He zeroes in with his long-range telescope. I don’t know whether I am more impressed with the bird or with Melvin’s ability to find it. 

I see it clearly in the scope and know exactly where it is yet I can’t find it with binoculars hidden among the leaves as it is. Melvin is impressed with the presence of the bird. He didn’t expect to see it at this elevation in April. The quetzal most often descends in June and July after the breeding season. Bellbirds, too, are unexpectedly here, bonking continuously.

Next we see a tropical parula gleaning insects from the underside of cecropia leaves. It is a tiny bird, the size of a hummingbird and almost as colorful with its flame-colored throat above a bright yellow chest and thin black mask.

The station is a wide two-story wooden building with a tin roof. It is positioned on rising ground facing east to a spectacular view of the Arenal Lake and volcano five miles away across a tree-covered valley. The building is made for student groups of up to 32 at a time: Eight rooms with two double bunks each including a bathroom with cold-water shower. The rooms open onto a wide balcony equipped with four high-backed wicker rocking chairs which Liddy and I gratefully collapse into.

We watch a female scarlet-thighed dacnis ease onto her nest just below eye level in a tree edging the wide lawn fronting the station. The male dacnis, five times smaller than a robin, is a stunning combination of bright blue, ink black, and scarlet. But listen to this: The female dacnis has a forest green head and back shading to turquoise blue under the red eyes and along the top of the black wings. Chest and belly are buff-tan. Thighs are cinnamon orange.

But wait! We are not here to see tropical parulas, scarlet-thighed dacnis or even resplendent quetzals, as simply gorgeous as those birds might be. We are here to see the bare-necked umbrellabird, and after a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches washed down with pure mountain water, we’re off on the Tabacon Trail to track him down. Mysteriously, Melvin carries an empty plastic coke bottle.

The trail quickly plunges into deep secondary forest, thick with underbrush and light-blocking tropical trees. Ten steps in Melvin finds an orange-bellied trogon perched like a sentinel guarding the trail. Moving on, we come to airy open spaces on the right with the constant flutter and unique calls of many small birds moving about the berry-laden understory trees. We are all seeing something different. Melvin has the rufous-browed tyrannulet, a new bird for Liddy and me, but we don’t see it. Liddy and I are tracking the Blackburnian warbler. She has the colorful orange, black, white, and yellow male, I have the yellow, black and white female. These birds never perch, so Melvin’s telescope is useless.

But the scope comes into play at the next stop: A scale-crested pygmy-tryrant with a millipede in its beak that it slams against a rock several times before swallowing. A resting hummingbird lying against a high branch long enough for Melvin to scope and identify. It is a white-bellied mountain gem, new for us, hummingbird No. 32 on our Costa Rica list. Just  25 to go before we see them all.

Melvin hears the nightingale wren, a new bird for us, and thinks he can find it, but he can1t. I see it briefly, a small black bird off in the bushes, but it doesn’t count — too quick and too far away.

The trail leads down, across a mountain stream, and then up a steep bank where slices of two-foot-diameter tree trunks have been used to fashion steps. We are looking up into the soaring 150-foot high trees of a primary forest, something of a rarity here in the 21st century. The difference from the secondary forest is clear: higher trees and many thick vines hanging down. Higher trees mean the birds are harder to see.

Melvin takes out his empty coke bottle, the bare-necked umbrellabird is up ahead. But first, another new bird. The plain antvireo, a small slaty black-headed, olive-backed bird with the dotted wings that most ant birds seem to have. Melvin is beginning to toot on his coke bottle. He is trying to make the sound of a heavy mallet striking an oil drum which, according to the book is a far-carrying HOOM! Melvin’s hoom needs work.

Birding Club of Costa Rica

Costa Rica's English-speaking birding club organizes outings throughout the year, normally the second or third weekend of the month. These are either day or overnight trips to places known to be birding hot-spots, usually in remote and beautiful regions of the country. 

You don't have to be an expert, although previous experience is always welcome and obviously a reasonable set of binoculars is advisable, a club announcement said. New members always welcome.

Call 289-5008, 249-1856 or e-mail: costaricabirding@hotmail.com for membership or trip details.

This photo is closer to what Max and Liddy saw. Cephalopterus glabricollis, the elusive umbrella bird.

Drawing by Jeff Levine
What the best-dressed forest creature would wear in the rain.

Liddy lags, steep slopes are not her strong suit, but she is game. At last we come to the choice spot in the forest to see what we came to see: the bare-necked umbrellabird.

Not today. We wait 30 minutes, maybe more. It is approaching 4:30, dark shadows spread across the forest floor. No umbrellabird. Not even a plain antvireo to break the monotony. The bellbird is still bonking from somewhere far away. Liddy rests her aching sacroiliac on a log. Melvin toots the coke bottle. The prospect of retracing the steep and winding trail in the dark looms. No hooms today. Howler monkeys don’t count. We head back for the station. Tomorrow is another day, Melvin assures us. We will come early.

Ten minutes down the trail we encounter Robert, the station keeper, followed closely by two guys who have the confident look of people who know exactly what they are doing. One has an $800 pair of Swarovski binoculars clipped to a shoulder harness. Robert and his buddies are moving at a breathless pace up the steep slope headed for the lek we have left behind. Much later in the dining hall at the station we get the story. 

It is the old story: we should have stayed. Around 5 o’clock the umbrellabirds appeared, they put on a spectacular display with their brilliant red chest sacs fully inflated and lots of hooms. We can only sit and fume at the smug descriptions.

Meet Robert Dean. not the station keeper. That’s a different Robert, one with no last name and who doesn’t speak English. Robert Dean speaks lots of English. He is British, a Londoner, who has taken up residence in Costa Rica. He1s only been here five years, but has seen 732 different birds. He1s the guy with the Swarovskis. He once saw 400 different birds on a 3-week visit to Ecuador. He also illustrates birds. Those notebook-size plastic cards you see in hotel lobbies all around town with the selection of representative Cost Rican birds were done by Robert Dean. Melvin says he is a celebrity. Dean tries to be modest, but it is hard.

By 7:30 the fried rice Liddy brought along has all been consumed (Melvin and Robert loved it), Monteverde coffee has been brewed, and Melvin, Robert, Dean, and Eduardo, who is from Majorca, are doing what birders do — seeing who can tell the biggest lies about what they have seen. 

They are huddled over "Birds of Costa Rica" going through the illustrations page by page. They are speaking in Spanish, so I don1t catch all the words. But it is pretty clear they are playing the can-you-top-this game of outlandish birding experiences. Amongst the four of them, 3,000 different bird sightings might be a reasonable estimate, so this session might go on all night. When Liddy and I say our buenas noches, they tell us not to worry. If we get to the lek by 5:30 we will most certainly see the morning display of the bare-necked umbrellabird.

Sleep is a nightmare for Liddy. It is well-established over the years that Liddy never sleeps well the first night in a strange bed, and this is a strange bed if there ever was one. The mattress is a foam cushion lying on a slatted wood frame bunk bed. She has a thin blanket brought from el Bosque Hotel, but it is not enough. She is cold. Sometime before midnight rain begins pelting the tin roof. Rain on the roof is touted as a sleep inducer, right? Not for Liddy. She never slept a wink. But when I go to wake her at 4:15, she turns over with her head to the wall and snarls, "It’s raining. I’m not going."

Everybody but me sleeps late. Melvin appears in the dining hall at 5:15, optimistic as always. Liddy stumbles in grumbling but game. It’s not a heavy rain, but it is steady. The forest is wet, slippery, and quiet. The birds are sleeping in. We get to the lek a little before 6:30. Nothing. 

We wait. Melvin hooms his coke bottle. Melvin and I see a black bird flying high and far away. I see black wings fluttering into a stand of thick vegetation about 20 feet in front of us. Melvin was looking somewhere else at the time and missed it. When I tell him what I saw, he either doesn’t believe it or thinks it isn’t important. We wait. Melvin toots his bottle. The rain drips steadily. 

And suddenly, Robert, the station keeper is here. We have come to the right place, but there’s more to it than standing in the middle of the trail. Melvin shares one of Liddy’s famous breakfast scones with Robert. Robert heads into the forest on a small path that he knows. Soon he is beckoning for us to follow. It’s there all right, and Robert points him out. 

High up in the understory is the male bare-necked umbrellabird, his great umbrella-like crest hanging above his scowling black eyes and thick black bill, his inflatable orange-red pouch, looking like a hot water bottle, hanging down in front. Somehow on a wet, gloomy day in the primary forest it seems appropriate that he should have an umbrella and we should not. Liddy is smiling through the raindrops. High fives all around.

Robert has come all the way out to find us to be sure we see the umbrellabird, but he has another treat in mind as well. Robert knows this trail. This is his turf. He knows that if you follow it down the winding path, over the mountain stream, up the steep slope, until you come at last to where the forest opens into a wide meadow, there is a place on the edge of the forest where the great curassow hangs out. 

This bird is 10 times bigger than the one-pound umbrellabird, and if it doesn’t have an umbrella to protect it from the rain, it does have a black erectile crest that looks like hair curlers, and, get this, a large yellow knob on top of its bill. Robert hears it and takes off into the bushes after it, gesturing for us to follow. It1s tough going. Downhill through knee-high wet grass and over fallen branches. Liddy is dragging. So am I. It’s not quite 8 a.m.

Robert disappears into a thicket of bushes and trees. It’s too much for us. We creep back up the hill and find a log near the trail where we can sit and wait for Robert to return. Soon he does. We know what he will say. He saw two, the male and the female. This is not bird-watching, it is bird-stalking.

We slog back to the station. Robert has left to go on ahead, after the great curassow. What’s left? On a rain-soaked day at the San Gerardo station, not much. The only bird we saw all day came equipped with an umbrella.

The final adventure is the trip back up the mountain. Melvin’s wife, Saray, has come down on her quadrocycle. The plan is that Liddy will sit behind Saray, and I will sit behind Melvin, who will drive the station quadro. Melvin and Saray are smiling, even laughing. It may look dicey to us but they have done this before. They know the power of the quadro. 

What they don’t know is that bone and muscle that is 30 years older than they are has lost some of its zip. Not some, make that most of its zip. Saray shouts over the roar of the quadro: "Tranquila! Relax! No stress!" Easy for her to say, Liddy is hanging on for dear life, which may be what is at stake. Nearing the top we pass a group of birdwatchers who laugh at the sight of two old birds, squeezed tight against their drivers wondering if it will ever end. Melvin bounces the quadro over a rock in the path and can’t resist and exultant "Yee-hah!" Easy for him to say.

At last. The parking lot of the Santa Elena Reserve. Never a doubt says Melvin. It took 30 minutes. It seemed like forever. Was it worth it? Would we do it again? What do we have to show for it? 

Not so fast with the questions. Give it some time. Time for the ugly bruises on Liddy's butt to heal. Time for the itch of the bedbug bites on her abdomen to ease. Time for the aching muscles to recover. Time to recall that big black bird with the umbrella on his head looking down at those wingless birds staring at him through binoculars and telescope. 

Not much doubt about what he was thinking: "Why is that guy blowing on that coke bottle?"

* Max Blue is the pen name of a New Jersey writer and bird-watcher. Max may be a pen name, but he has his own Web site: 


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Ice fields in Patagonia melt faster, too, study says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Patagonian icefields, which cover 13,000 square kilometers in Chile and 4,200 square kilometers in Argentina, are a sparsely inhabited world of rough terrain, poor weather and blue glaciers that tumble down from the snow covered mountains of the Andean range. 

New research shows that these icefields, the largest non-Antarctic ice masses in the Southern Hemisphere, are melting at an accelerating rate.

Melting ice from mountain glaciers is raising sea levels around the world. A new study has found 10 percent of that rise is due to ice melt from Patagonia. That may not seem like much, until you consider that glaciers in Alaska, which cover an area five times larger than Patagonia, account for about 30 percent of that increase.

"So, in effect the Patagonia icefields are contributing more per unit area than the glaciers in Alaska," said Eric Rignot.

Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is principal scientist for the study. He says so-called calving glaciers, which spawn icebergs into the ocean or lakes, dominate the Patagonian icefields. "And these types of glaciers are known to be more sensitive to climate change," he said. "Once you push them out of equilibrium they can retreat very rapidly, even if climate comes back to normal."

Rignot says it is the internal dynamics of these icefields that make Patagonia the fastest area of glacial retreat on Earth. "If you warm an icefield, the glaciers can start flowing faster," he explained. "They can produce more icebergs and as a result, they can thin even faster."

Is climate change enough to explain the rapid thinning? "What we found in our study is that climate warming and drier conditions seem to only explain about half of the observed signals," said Rignot. "And, we believe that the other half is due to the mechanics of ice flow, and in particular some of these glaciers may be flowing faster than they used to be and as a result they thin faster and discharge more ice into the ocean. . . . "

What does the situation in Patagonia tell us about what may be happening elsewhere? "It is showing us an example of interaction of ice and climate warming," said Rignot. 

"This is important for our studies of the larger ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. It is showing us how rapidly ice can respond to climate warming." 

Results of the study are reported in the journal Science. Researchers with the U.S. Space Agency and the Centro de Estudios Cientificos compared data from the NASA space shuttle topography mission in 2000 with historical elevation surveys from aerial photographs, and ground experiments in the 1970s and 1990s. 

Top Colombian rebel leader caught in Ecuador
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuadorean police have handed over to Colombia a top member of Colombia's largest Marxist rebel army, known as the FARC. 

Simon Trinidad was arrested during a routine identity check in Quito late Friday. He was flown by police helicopter to the border Saturday for the handover to Colombian authorities, who were to take him to Bogota for interrogation. 

Trinidad's arrest is being called a huge victory for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe pledges to crush the FARC. 

Upon hearing the news, President Uribe said he will push forward until, in his words, "terror is totally dismantled" in Colombia. He also urged the 

FARC to disarm. Uribe said the only purpose for 
FARC's guerrilla army is kidnapping, murder and propping up a narcotics empire. 

Trinidad, whose real name is Ricardo Palmera, is a member of FARC's ruling secretariat, and was the FARC negotiator during peace talks that collapsed in early 2002. Reports say no member of the FARC secretariat has ever been captured before. They also say FARC has up to 17,000  armed members.

Trinidad is wanted in Colombia for at least 30 murders, bombings and kidnappings. 

Colombian radio says Trinidad had been in Ecuador for the past two months. Other reports say Colombian agents were sent to Quito to positively identify Trinidad before his capture was announced. 

Jo Stuart
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