Sunday, May 22, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 1 and 2

After reading about the flurry of puma sightings at our favorite Costa Rican destination (Bosque del Cabo on the Osa Peninsula), we decided to cancel our trip to Utah and instead head back to the rainforest. Both of our previous trips were in Feb which is in the heart of the dry season so we weren't quite sure what to expect in May which is the beginning of the wet season in Costa Rica. We did hope to see more amphibians, possibly more snakes, and of course a puma. We were unable to get a same day flight to the Osa Peninsula from San Jose, so we ended up spending the first afternoon and evening at the Orquideas Inn which is located in Alajuela. I would categorize the Inn as just an average place to stay based on their accommodations and food, but we really enjoyed it because they have 10 acres of gardens that were filled with birds and a few other critters:

Blue-crowned Motmot:
Blue-crowned Motmot

Blue-gray Tanager:
Blue-gray Tanager


Squirrel Cuckoo:
Squirrel Cuckoo

Variegated Squirrel:
Variegated Squirrel

The following morning, we hopped on an early morning Sansa flight to Puerto Jimenez and arrived safely to the welcoming sight of tropical jungle, a pair of Scarlet Macaws doing a flyby, and the Puerto Jimenez cemetery which is located right along the runway. We thought that location was a bit odd the first time we flew in but now it is part of the gateway to the Osa for us.

Instead of heading right to Bosque del Cabo (BdC), we had pre-arranged with the lodge to take a boat trip on the Golfo Dulce and up the Rio Equinos river. We were met at the dock by Carlos who is an extraordinary guide in both his knowledge of the area fauna and his keen ability to spot wildlife. We saw lots of great bird life on this trip including many new species for us. A quick side trip to the mangroves yielded some nice photo ops:
Mangroves, Golfo Dulce Costa Rica

White Ibis:
White Ibis

Roseate Spoonbill:
Roseate Spoonbill

Near the river itself, we spotted more birds:

Brown Pelican:
Brown Pelican in Flight

Brown Booby:
Brown Booby

Whimbrel (The larger one) and a Willet:
Whimbrel and Willet

Our first Boat-billed Heron:
Boat-billed Heron

And, these adorable little Green Heron chicks:
Juvenile Green Herons

We also saw some new reptiles many of which Carlos spotted from 25 yards away and we couldn't see until we were 10 feet from them.

Green Iguana:
Green Iguana

Ringed Tree Boa:
Ringed Tree Boa

A "not so" Green Iguana:
Green Iguana

The Golfo Dulce was pretty rough on the way to the river and it turned out to be even rougher on the way back out. So, the hopes of seeing some dolphins or even a whale shark were quickly dashed and replaced with the hopes of keeping our bodies intact every time they banged against the seats of the boat. But, despite the rough water on the gulf, we had a great trip and recommend this excursion to others. Just realize that it will be 4 hours without a bathroom and plan (or don't drink) accordingly.
Upon arriving at BdC, we sat enjoying our welcome drinks and just soaked in the sights and sounds of the rainforest. It was great to be back! After dropping all our gear off in our Bungalow (Sol) we took our first walk around the grounds to see what might be out. We saw both Spider and Howler monkeys right off along with some other nice critters:

Great Tinamou:
Great Tinamou

Black and Green Dart Frog:
Black and Green Dart Frog

And our first look at a Halloween Crab:
Halloween Crab

Later that night after the first of many outstanding dinners, we set off on our own for a night walk. Night time in the rainforest is just about our favorite time of the day because of all the great nocturnal critters that might be out and about. For our first walk we headed to the small pond off the driveway to see what we could find. We spent over an hour there and had some great sightings including 7 cat-eyed snakes, a pair of red-eyed tree frogs playing "leapfrog" (a term coined by a nice family from California that we met on this trip) along with many other frogs and toads.

Unknown Frog:
Unknown Frog

Hourglass Tree Frog:
Hourglass Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frogs:
Red-eyed Tree Frogs

Cat-eyed Snake:
Cat-eyed Snake

We did learn one lesson at the little pond that we should have where you step and keep watching. We didn't "keep watching" so we failed to notice the tiny little ants crawling up our boots until I felt the first burning bite. Yup, fire ants. I got the brunt (probably a dozen or so bites) but the burning didn't last long and didn't cut the evening short. Despite this, it was a good end to a great first day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 3

Overnight, mother nature put up a huge display of thunder and lightning. The sky would light up and the thunder would follow almost instantaneously…and it was LOUD thunder. We don't get these kinds of storms in California much so I thought it was pretty awesome despite the poor night's sleep. It got light before 5AM and we were up soon after that. I had hoped for a howler monkey wake up call, but the storm must have disrupted their sleep as well. The rain continued until late morning and we had fears that coming in the rainy season maybe wouldn't turn out to be a good thing, but those fears were put to rest since this ended up being the only substantial rainfall we saw all week in daylight hours.

Unlike our trip to Belize last summer (also the rainy season there) we came equipped this time with brand new rubber boots and we put them to good use during this trip. Surprisingly, there really wasn't too much standing water or mud the whole week. Instead, there was clay which would pile up on the bottom of your shoes and act as a great adhesive for leaf litter, sticks, and anything else you stepped on. But, it was easy to get rid of the clay thanks to the tree roots that line most trails and the nice shoe scraper station that BdC installed at the entrance to the suspension bridge trail.

After lunch, we decided to hike the Titi Trail which is one of the better trails to see wildlife (especially the cats). But, we had only gone 100 yards down the driveway before we had our first monkey sightings. The mango trees near the lodge parking lot had ripe fruit and all week we had a plethora of animal sightings in this area. Today, a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys were taking their turn.

Capuchin Monkey Pair:
White Faced Capuchins

They were fun to watch, but they soon crossed through the trees across the driveway and started to move away. As I was watching them, I noticed something else in a nearby tree moving Slooowly. It was a sloth! As a matter of fact, this was the first sloth that we had ever spotted ourselves. All previous sightings were thanks to other folks. But, this one was all ours and we enjoyed some of our best photo ops to date of this unique animal.

Three-toed Sloth

Three-toed Sloth

Soon the sloth curled up in the branches and we took that as a queue to head back towards the Titi Trail. Plus, we were already coming down with "jungle neck" after watching the sloth. ("Jungle Neck" is discomfort in the neck caused by spending nearly half of every day looking straight up at wildlife. Thank goodness for Ibuprofen.) We had more good sightings on the Titi Trail, but none quite as good as the sloth.

Fungus Among Us:
Unknown Fungus

Mantled Howler Monkey:
Mantled Howler Monkey

Thoas Swallowtail:
Thoas Swallowtail

Streaked Flycatcher:
Streaked Flycatcher

Before dinner, a representative from Yaguara (Ricardo) came to give a talk on the local cats. We had attended their talk two years prior and it was great to hear about all the progress they have made towards understanding and protecting the wild cats in the area. Previously, we had helped contribute towards a camera trap and enjoyed the trap pictures that they would occasionally email to us. Unfortunately, despite the progress made with the local people, poaching is still a huge threat in this area and this team has their work cut out for them. But, with their passion and perseverance, I know that they will succeed.

Tonight's dinner was fantastic (Passion Fruit Chicken...Mmmmm). I remember the food being really good at BdC, but we had outstanding food this trip. The dinners really stood out to us and I miss them already. I think more people would talk about the food if it wasn't overshadowed by the incredible wildlife. After dinner, we planned a night hike out to the larger pond in the tropical garden but that walk was cut short after only 10 minutes and a couple pictures as the skies opened up:

Unknown Frog:
Unknown Frog

Unknown Frog:
Unknown Frog

We just made it back to our bungalow before the rain really started to come down and found that we had a house guest. A Forest Spiny Pocket Mouse ended up in our bathroom. After a quick picture we were finally able to coax it into our recycle bin and release it safely outside.

Forest Spiny Pocket Mouse

Despite not having any time walking around at night, the sloth sighting made the day for us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 4

No thunder and lightning last night, just the sounds of steady rain so we both slept much better. A squirrel chattering outside our bungalow ended up waking us up around 5:15AM. Maybe the howlers don't do wake up calls any more? That would be disappointing. In any case, we were out just after 6AM and headed again to the Titi Trail to see what we could see first thing in the morning.

Crested Caracara:
Crested Caracara


Evidence that I can take non-wildlife photos as well (The spider doesn't count...right?)
Spider on Heliconia

We didn't make it too far before it started to sprinkle and we were afraid a downpour was coming next. So, we ended up retreating back to the lodge for an early breakfast in hopes that the rain would stop. A little Black and Green Dart Frog must have been thinking the same thing since it hopped around our table as we ate.

The rain never really materialized, so we were back out after breakfast but this time decided to hit the Zapatero Trail. This is a longer trail with about a half dozen small canyons that need to be traversed via steps so it can be quite invigorating.


Black-hooded Ant Shrike:
Black-hooded Antshrike

We saw both Spider and Howler Monkeys as well, but the highlight of this hike was seeing a pair of courting Great Tinamou. They strutted around a bit and the female would lie on the ground and wiggle her tail in the air:

Great Tinamou

Great Tinamou Courtship

We have always said that you need to get out on the trails to see the more exotic wildlife (like cats, peccaries, jungle birds, snakes, etc), but you could could come to BdC and just hang out on your deck or around the pool and see about 75% of the wildlife. For example, a pair of Scarlet Macaws spent every afternoon eating between two of the bungalows. These are gorgeous birds and next to toucans are probably my favorite.

Scarlet Macaw

After lunch we did a large loop via the Creek to Trogon to Golfo Dulce trails and had some pretty good luck.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan:
Chestnut Mandibled Toucan

Four-striped Whiptail:
Four-striped Whiptail

Hibiscus Flower (Look, no animals):
Hibiscus Flower

Plain Antvireo:
Plain Antvireo

A troop of Spider Monkeys took their turn at the ripe mango trees by the driveway. They are great fun to watch swing through the trees and they aren't shy about taking huge leaps:

Spider Monkey

Spider Monkey Preparing to Leap

Spider Monkey Leaping

The whole troop leaped across the driveway towards some ripe palm nuts:

One Monkey:
Spider Monkey Eating Palm Nuts

Two Monkey:
Spider Monkey Pair Eating Palm Nuts

Three Monkey:
Spider Monkey Trio Eating Palm Nuts

Spider Monkey Foursome Eating Palm Nuts

Try as they might, they could not fit any more!

(Did Dr. Suess ever write a book about the rainforest?)

During the midst of photographing these Spider Monkeys, some Red-lored Parrots were squawking in the tree above me. I tried to ignore them since they were in bad light. But, I couldn't ignore the sight of a blur of green and red feathers tangled together dropping to the ground about six feet from me. Two of the parrots weren't happy and "It was On".

Red-lored Parrot Fight

It didn't last long and one emerged the victor with only a bit of feather damage:
Red-lored Parrot Fight Winner

Just before dark, the same troop of Spider Monkeys made their way up and over our bungalow. Watching them swing and leap so close was fantastic. One actually stopped for a quick break right over our deck:
Spider Monkey

Another delicious dinner was followed up by a night walk to the big pond since we didn't make it the night before. Our rubber boots gave us more confidence during the walk but we were still careful to watch where we stepped before we actually stepped since you never know what you might be about to step on. There was a little less action at the big pond when compared to the small one, but we still had some cool sightings.

Hourglass Tree Frog:
Hourglass Tree Frog

And another:
Hourglass Tree Frog

Gladiator Frog:
Gladiator Frog

Cat-eyed Snake:
Cat-eyed Snake

Red-eyed Tree Frog:
Parachuting Red-eyed Tree Frog

It did end up raining again that night, but by then were were safely back in our bungalow reflecting upon another day of great sightings. The highlight probably being the troop of Spider Monkeys. A couple ibuprofen to take care of the "jungle neck" and then we hit the sack.