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 book...is 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

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