Thursday, March 24, 2016

Costa Rica Day 1 - March 16, 2016

I can't believe it has been 4 years since we last ventured to the rain forest.  That's far too long.  So, we decided to rectify that recently and travel back to Costa Rica.  But this time, our plan was to see some other parts of the country and hopefully some new wildlife.

After a late arrival in San Jose (1:30AM), and with a 5:30AM alarm, we were anything but bright and bushy-tailed the first day.  But, we had a special breakfast to go to so that was good motivation.

That breakfast was at the Toucan Rescue Ranch to see some of the rescued wildlife they have.  Unfortunately, most of the rescues are former pets that are too habituated to be released back to the wild.  But, they will have a much better life here than they would have as pets.  The ranch does have lots of Toucans, about 40 owls, and some great mammals like otter, tayra, and oncilla.  But, the stars of the day were the baby sloths.  Who doesn't like sloths?!

Three-toed Sloth (Rescued)

Three-toed Sloth (Rescued)

Especially, when they are tiny Two-toed Sloths...

Two-toed Sloth Babies (Rescued)

Feeding Time

That trio sure went through a lot of carrots and beans while we were watching.  Leslie and her team at the ranch work tirelessly to give abused animals a better life which is great to see.  But, they also take in wild animals and after rehabilitation release them back into the wild.  It's a great place to visit and they even have some cabins for overnight stays that looked great.  It's definitely worth a visit if you are in the area and all proceeds go to a really good cause.

I should mention that the drive from our San Jose hotel to the Toucan Rescue Ranch was bad.  Traffic was a nightmare and drivers don't tend to follow basic traffic rules in Costa Rica.  So, we were sure glad the we hired Anywhere Costa Rica to handle our transfers.  It was bad enough sitting in the back seat for these transfers let alone being the driver.

After a 4 hour drive from Toucan Rescue Ranch, we made it safely to Arenal Observatory Lodge.  We were shaken, but not too stirred, thanks to the many bumpy, narrow and winding roads along the way.  So, it was nice to get out for some fresh air and walk around a bit.  The views from the lodge are spectacular.  In fact, here is the view of Arenal from our room (Smithsonian #29) which we think had the best views in the place:


The lodge has a viewing deck and they put out fruit on multiple feeders that attract a slew of birds and a few mammals too.  I'm not too fond of taking pictures of wildlife on feeders so I don't have too many, but here's one that I took when the Montezuma Oropendolas had taken over:

Montezuma Oropendola at Feeding Station

Multiple Tanagers, Warblers, Great Curassow and Honeycreepers also frequented the feeders as well as White-nosed Coati (On the ground feeder not pictured).

Day 1 ended early for us after a decent dinner at the lodge.  We were just too tired to venture out after dark and decided to get some much needed rest instead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Costa Rica Day 2 - March 17, 2016

We woke up the next morning in the best possible the sound of Howler Monkeys!  Who cares that it was at 5:15 AM.  There really isn't anything like that experience and we enjoy it every time it happens.  Too bad I can't find an alarm clock with Howler Monkeys on it to help me wake up for work...

After a decent breakfast that would quickly grow tiresome after 4 days of the same thing, we ventured out into the garden and it was birds galore...

Passerini's Tanager:
Passerini's Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager:
Golden-hooded Tanager


Green Honeycreeper:
Green Honeycreeper

Arenal Observatory Lodge (AOL) has a free morning hike for all guests.  We had planned to join this hike until we saw that about 20 other people had the same plan.  So, we ventured out on our own instead since we had a much better chance to see wildlife by ourselves.  That was a good call:

Pale-billed Woodpecker:
Pale-billed Woodpecker

Crested Guan:
Crested Guan

We even found a group of about 12 White-nosed Coatis foraging around the garden.  They were obviously used to people since they paid no attention to us and walked within touching distance:

White-nosed Coati

White-nosed Coati Pair

Right at my feet, one found a big bug and just started chomping away...
White-nosed Coati Snack

Here's a Central American Ameiva (Whiptail) that was one of our first herps of the trip:
Central American Whiptail (Ameiva)

We were happy to see that Arenal became visible a little later in the morning when some low clouds burned off.  It's quite spectacular to see this mountain.  It's no longer very active but you can see steam coming out almost all day long:

Arenal with Fumarole

After lunch, we walked some more of the trails including venturing out into the pasture areas.  The trails at AOL are really well done.  They keep the leaf litter to a minimum on the trails and they use cement blocks or wood boards in areas that would otherwise be muddy.  The afternoon hike was a really good one.

Besides the opportunity for some artsy shots like this Eucalyptus tree trunk:
Eucalyptus Bark

We had one of our best looks ever at a Northern Tamandua:
Northern Tamandua

We also had a huge butterfly flutter by and land for a picture:

And of course, we saw more birds including this Scarlet-thighed Dacnis:
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis

And then, on the way back through the garden another Northern Tamandua was scampering down a tree.  It came down in some thick bushes and we waited hoping it would come did but the light was low and focusing was tough:
Northern Tamandua (2nd One)

Back in our room, there were quite a few people on the observation deck which wasn't abnormal but I heard one of them say "Tamandua".  Yup, up in a tree by the feeder was a 3rd Northern Tamandua. That's a nice way to end a hike.

Unfortunately, the day went downhill from there as something I had eaten made me sick.  So, we had to cancel our planned night walked at a nearby reserve and we laid low instead.  Thank goodness for Cipro is all I can say because I was 100% the next morning.  Don't travel without it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Costa Rica Day 3 - March 18, 2016

It rained a lot during the night and thanks to that, and the fact that our mattress was only slightly softer than a poorly poured concrete slab, the sleep wasn't great.  But, our travel motto has always been that "We can sleep when we get home!"  So, with that in mind, it was another early wake up thanks to the rising sun.

The plan this morning was to have another breakfast of scrambled eggs, rice, beans and pancakes but we were avoiding all uncooked items now. We even succumbed to the pressure of buying bottled water from reception.  We know the water in Costa Rica should be fine to drink (and it was our previous 4 trips), but we were no longer taking chances.

We had booked another offsite tour with Anywhere Costa Rica.  Not only do they do transfers but they also arrange activities.  Our activity this morning was to go to the Arenal Hanging Bridges which is now marketed as Mistico.  The goal was to find a yellow morph Eyelash Pitviper.  It was a long shot but they can be seen there based on my research.

Anywhere Costa Rica picked us up promptly and 7:45 AM and we were surprised that our guide joined the driver.  Yahaira was a great guide for the trip and even stopped on the road so we can see a Violaceus Trogon that was hanging out in a nearby tree.

The tour at Mistico is along a path through the rain forest and over a bunch of hanging bridges.  Even though it was a Friday and pretty early, this place was packed.  We saw lots of large groups go in before us so we were glad that we paid extra for a private guide.  Personal experience has proven to us that you just can't beat a private guide when looking for wildlife.

Our guide, Yahaira, was equally as knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area.  Here is some Hairy Heliconia which is really soft and fuzzy to the touch:

Hairy Heliconia

Speaking of flora, you can see some really old and tall trees along the tour:
Jungle Giant

Not long into the tour, Yahaira found an Eyelash Pitviper for us. It wasn't the yellow morph but we were still thrilled.  And, we were really surprised that this snake was so tiny...maybe 8 inches long and well camouflaged on a leaf:

Eyelash Pitviper

A little further along the trail was another Eyelash Pitviper.  This one was also not yellow but was still really pretty and very tiny as well:
Eyelash Pitviper

It was at this point that it became apparent to us that all the guides knew where most of the snakes were.  Turns out that each morning an employee scours the trails and notifies the guides where to find things like snakes, sloths, etc.  The snakes don't tend to move but the sloth that was around earlier in the day and an owl that had been spotted as well had both moved on when we got to that point of the trail.

Of course, you can't plan on spotting most birds in the same location.  So, it was a real treat when we saw our first Rufous Motmot.  Then, we were doubly thrilled when it was joined by a second one.  These are gorgeous bright orange birds that were unfortunately in the shadows for this picture:

Rufous Motmot

After that encounter, we saw some other cool birds including the Broad-billed Motmot and a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons.  I would have gotten good shots of the Trogons but a large group of tourists came up quickly and got all excited yelling "Quetzal!" and they literally pushed me out of the way.  Eventually, their guide herded them together and gave them a bit of scolding but by then the moment had passed and we moved on.  It was at that point that I realized my 3 years of High School French would have been much more useful if my teacher had taught us a few swear words...

Further along the trail was yet another Eyelash Pitviper.  Again, it wasn't the yellow morph but seeing 3 in one morning was a big thrill.  In this picture you can really see the "eyelash" over the left eye that gives this snake it's name.

Eyelash Pitviper

The tour ended with some really interesting sightings including a Helmeted Basilisk and a Honduran White Tent Bat.  But, the pictures of those turned out lousy.  Our guide did spot a lizard on a nearby tree that was pretty big. Turned out it was a Giant Banded Anole:

Giant Banded Anole

Overall, the trip to Mistico was worth it including paying extra for the private guide.  We wouldn't have seen half the wildlife without the help of Yahaira and we are pretty darn good spotters in our own rights.

We saw lots of new birds and herps including our first long distance glimpse at a Blue Jeans Dart Frog.  We didn't see the yellow morph Eyelash Pitviper. But just seeing one Eyelash Pitviper, let alone three, was a treat.  The hanging bridges turned out to be a non event.  I don't like heights but had no problem on them.  Because they swing a bit, pictures are just about impossible so it was good that we didn't see anything from the bridges.  The tour did feel a bit like an amusement park ride what with the guides knowing some animals that were around the bend, lines to cross the bridges, and everyone following each other along the trail in the same direction.  But, our guide was really good and over all we do recommend the tour. Just expect a lot of people if you go in the dry season.

For our afternoon hike, we did a big loop around the many AOL trails.  While the sun was out, the temperatures were mild so the wildlife was out as well:

Cinnamon Becard (Which I nicknamed Jean-Luc because I couldn't help myself...)
Cinnamon Becard (We named him Jean-Luc)

We even spotted the first monkeys of the trip; Mantled Howler Monkeys:
Howler Monkeys

Why do so many animals stick their tongues out at me.  I have enough pictures of this phenomena to fill a it me?
Juvenile Howler Monkey

We were lucky enough to come upon a small ant swarm on the trail to the waterfall.  From past experience we knew to sit and wait to see if any antbirds came out.  They did:

Spotted Antbird:
Spotted Antbird

Bicolored Antbird:
Bicolored Antbird

Toad Mimicking Antbird:
Wet Forest Toad

(Just kidding, that's really a toad.  A Wet Forest toad, we believe, that liked that same hole.  We called him Larry for no other reason than he looked like a Larry.)

The view of Arenal from the garden was fantastic:
Arenal Observatory Lodge Garden View

The bird activity in the garden was great as well.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph:
Violet-crowned Woodnymph

Emerald Tanager:
Emerald Tanager

We actually encountered a mixed flock of tanagers that included the Emerald, Passerini's, Palm, Bay-headed, Summer, and some Honeycreepers.  It was the most colorful bird flock we had ever seen and was a great way to end the daylight activities.

After dinner, we took our first night walk which started out with some excitement.  Something flew right over Karen's head and landed in a nearby tree.  "Owl" she said...and she was right. It was a Spectacled Owl:
Spectacled Owl

Costa Rica has many beautiful frogs and toads.  The Marine Toad is not one of them.  But, it sure is big:
Marine Toad (Cane Toad)

AOL has a frog pond off one of the trails.  If you are really careful and prepared, it's a great place to visit at night.  We did and we weren't disappointed since the frogs were out in numbers (but no snakes though unfortunately)

Red-eyed Tree Frog (we found about 8 at the pond):
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog

Masked Smilisca:
Masked Smilisca

Brilliant Forest Frog:
Brilliant Forest Frog

We also saw a Night Hawk that I find just about impossible to identify without a really good photo (which I didn't get) and we heard an owl calling that we will have to check out during the day time.

Back at our room, the day ended with a new neighbor...

House Gecko:
House Gecko

Monday, March 21, 2016

Costa Rica Day 4 - March 19, 2016

Two things happened overnight.  One, it rained and rained some more.  Two, the mattress somehow got harder and the pillows somehow got flatter.  I knew we should have packed our queen size 2 inch foam topper...

Despite the rain not ending until about 9AM, the early morning was really nice.  I sat out on our balcony on a hard wooden chair, that was luxuriously soft when compared to the mattress, drank some Costa Rican coffee and listened to the rain as the birds flew about undeterred by a few sprinkles.

As a matter of fact, this Variable Seedeater even posed for a picture:
Variable Seedeater

After another breakfast guessed it...pancakes, rice, beans and scrambled eggs, we headed out for another loop around the trails.  We went looking for the owl that we heard the night before but struck out.  Luckily, we found lots of other critters.

Crested Guan:
Crested Guan

Ground Anole:
Ground Anole

The pot of gold at the end of the Waterfall trail:
The Waterfall Trail

In the garden were a pair of Great Kiskadees building a nest:
Great Kiskadee

We found a Variegated Squirrel with its breakfast (what, no scrambled eggs?):
Variegated Squirrel

After lunch, we decided to hike up way to the top of the property.  The trail crossed the river twice and while I managed to rock hop across, Karen wimped out and took off her shoes and socks and just waded across. I guess that's better than having wet shoes for the rest of the trip.

The rock hopping was worth it because we saw our first Great Black-hawk and the views of Arenal were some of the best that we had seen:

The Road to Arenal


We even passed a Eucalyptus grove in really nice light:
Eucalyptus Grove

Back in the garden, we finally got good looks at a bird with perhaps the funnest name ever. The Gray-headed Chachalaca:
Gray-headed Chachalaca

Say it with me...CHA-CHA-LA-CA!

The night walk was a repeat of last night's route.  But on the way, we heard the same owl calling as last night.  This time we were able to pin point the location better and even heard a second owl calling back.  We listened to this for about 5 minutes and were able to finally get a flashlight on one of the owls.  The picture is lousy so I won't share it but we were able to ID the owls as Spectacled Owls.  Nice...!

Zebra Tarantula

The frog pond was alive again this evening with more Red-eyed Tree Frogs.  (If you don't like these little guys, look away now...):
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog


"Hey, buddy!  What are you looking at!"
Three's a Crowd!

Red-eyed Tree Frog

That's a nice way to end the day.