Costa Rica Reflections

I stared down at my plate.  Scrambled eggs and ham and of course the Costa Rican national dish – rice and beans. I’d made decent time from CRARC and was now breaking for breakfast and to stretch my legs at the Restaurante Caballo Blanco (The White Horse) that Brian had recommended – a place where locals come to eat with good food and reasonable prices.  But even here breakfast was expensive.  Everything is very expensive in Costa Rican- and the food? Well how many Costa Rican Restaurants do you see in Chicago, Houston or New York?

My God I was sick of rice and beans.  I must have head them 20 times over the last fifteen days.

So I’ve established two of the three things NOT to like about Costa Rica.  The third is the driving.  The roads are better than they were twelve years ago, but having to pass truck after truck going thirty miles an hour while driving on two-lane winding mountain roads is taxing.  The 200 mile drive from Siquirres to the airport in Liberia took 6  hours. It’s just no fun to drive in Costa Rica.

I seasoned my beans and rice with some Lizano sauce, more as a tribute to Scott and Tom than anything else. They both loved this sauce on our family vacation twelve years ago.

So what are the reasons to come back to Costa Rica?  Well the weather is delightful.  But you can enjoy nice weather many places can’t you.  The best reason to visit Costa Rica is that it’s a naturalist’s paradise.  The memories are still vivid in my mind.  In the northwest the Boa Constrictor, blind snake and the national tree, the Guanacaste.  The volcano of Arenal wrapped in clouds. Scarlet Macaws flying wild in the jungle.  Just to name a few.

Please enjoy these photos.

Tapanti National Park, Talamonca Mtns. Costa Rica

Tapanti National Park, Talamonca Mtns. Costa Rica

Boa Constrictor at Hacienda Pinilla

Boa Constrictor at Hacienda Pinilla

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis
Scarlet-thighed Dacnis at Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center

Green Iguana

Green Iguana

White-lored Gnatcatcher at Hacienda Pinilla

White-lored Gnatcatcher at Hacienda Pinilla

Crested Guan at Arenal NP

Crested Guan at Arenal NP

 

Common Blunt-headed Snake (Imantodes cenchoa) at Tapanti NP

Common Blunt-headed Snake (Imantodes cenchoa) at Tapanti NP

 

Broad-billed Motmot at Arenal NP

Broad-billed Motmot at Arenal NP

 

Streak-backed Oriole at Hacienda Pinilla

Streak-backed Oriole at Hacienda Pinilla

 

Orange-chinned Parakeet at Hacienda Pinilla

Orange-chinned Parakeet at Hacienda Pinilla

 

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) the most photographed frog in the world.

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas) the most photographed frog in the world.

 

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas)

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas)

 

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas)

Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas)

 

Sunset over the Pacific, Tarcoles, Costa Rica

Sunset over the Pacific, Tarcoles, Costa Rica

 

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Night Walk – #2

This evening we were going to concentrate on Brian’s specialty – glass frogs.  Unlike the leaf frogs, glass frogs are found near streams and rivers, which meant a steep and somewhat slippery hike down to the Siquirres River. Actually the trail was pretty good; Brian had built three miles worth of trails over the years to better explore his reserve. The first thing we saw was another (or the same) Fer-de-lance, almost in the exact same location as the previous night.  This one slithered right over Brian’s rubber boot.

Fer-de-lance slithers over Brian's boot

Fer-de-lance slithers over Brian’s boot

Yeah, I was glad I’d brought a pair of rubber boots on the trip even though they were heavy.  You just never know when you’ll need an emergency snake protector.

We hiked down to the river and spent the next two hours wading in a mountain river, scrambling from rock to rock, and one sand bar to another.

Brian Kubicki in the Siguirres River - searching for glass frogs

Brian Kubicki in the Siguirres River – searching for glass frogs

When my brother-in-law Phil said I was going “deep into Costa Rica” I hadn’t realized he was talking literally!  One of the first frogs that we located was this cute tree frog.

Duellmanohyla rufioculis

Duellmanohyla rufioculis

Duellmanohyla rufioculis lives in premontane wet forest and rainforest. A nocturnal stream breeder, males call throughout the year but are most active from August to December. Fortunately, this little beauty is still regularly encountered in suitable habitat throughout its range and may be resistant to the chytridiomycosis fungus.

Duellmanohyla rufioculis

Duellmanohyla rufioculis

While I was busy photographing and trying to keep from falling into the river, Brian found this snail eater in a tree.

Red-ringed Snail Eater (Sibon annulatus) along the Siquirres River.

Red-ringed Snaileater (Sibon annulatus) along the Siquirres River.

Red-ringed Snaileater

Red-ringed Snaileater

Sibon species are harmless snakes that specialize in hunting and eating snails and slugs. They have a special jaw adaptation that help extract snails from their protective shell.

One of the most bizarre and colorful things that I saw at CRARC was this velvet worm.

Velvet Worm at CRARC

Velvet Worm at CRARC

Velvet worms are so unique that they belong to a phylum of their own, the Onychophora, meaning ‘claw-bearers’. They are terrestrial worms that look rather like caterpillars. Notice the antennae and clawed legs down the whole length of its body. They give birth to live young!!

Velvet Worm

Velvet Worm

Soon after this find, Brian was successful in tracking down our first glass frog of the night. The Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla spinosa) is one of eight species of glass frogs that breed on the reserve.

Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla spirosa

Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla spinosa

Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla sirosa)

Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla spinosa)

Soon after, Brian located a Powdered Glass Frog (Teratohyla pulverata) which was elegant in its own way.

Powered Glass Frog (Teratohyla pulverata)

Powered Glass Frog (Teratohyla pulverata)

This was an amazing evening.  The hours passed by quickly and before I knew it it was time to return to home base.

Brian Kubicki and John Vanderpoel searching for frogs at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center.

Brian Kubicki and John Vanderpoel searching for frogs at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center.

But on the return hike we had one more adventure.  A small snake crawled across the path in front of us.  I believe it’s one of the Tantilla species (seven are found in Costa Rica) and will try to get a definitive identification.

Tantilla species

Tantilla species

Here’s a close-up of the head pattern.

head markings

head markings

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The Ant Swarm

Now the main draw to the Costa Rican Amphibian Center is of course the over 50 species of amphibians in the reserve, but the birding at CRARC was pretty darn good as well. Parrots were common including a flock of Brown-hooded Parrots and two Blue-headed Parrots

Brown-hooded Parrot at CRARC

Brown-hooded Parrot at CRARC

 which I hadn’t expected this far north. Please excuse the terrible photos.Blue-headed Parrot                  Blue-headed Parrot

Two ficus trees were fruiting while I was at CRARC and they were loaded with birds.  Eight species of tanagers & honeycreepers, three species of flycatcher as well as some North American Warblers and Clay-colored Thrushes galore.  Here are a few of them.

Bay-headed Tanager feeding at a ficus tree

Bay-headed Tanager feeding at a ficus tree

Masked Tityra

Masked Tityra

Golden-hooded Tanager

Golden-hooded Tanager

In fact while I was watching the ficus tree a Bay Wren broke into song behind me.

Bay Wren at CRARC

Bay Wren at CRARC

But the most exciting thing bird wise during my stay at CRARC was the ant swarm.  Brian and I had found it during our first night walk so I figured I’d give a try at relocating it.  But I couldn’t find it.  So I gave up and began walking back to the guest house.  But I could hear a bunch of bird chattering.  I tracked the noise down and there was the swarm of army ants.  And I nice assortment of antbirds and woodcreepers.  Checker-throated Antwrens and Spotted Antbirds were joined by Northern Barred Woodcreepers

Female Spotted Antbird at the ant swarm

Female Spotted Antbird at the ant swarm

Male Spotted Antbird at the ant swarm

Male Spotted Antbird at the ant swarm

One of at least four N. Barred Woodcreepers at the ant swarm

One of at least four N. Barred Woodcreepers at the ant swarm

But what totally captivated me were seeing the two obligate feeders at ant swarms – Ocellated Antbirds and a Bicolored Antbird – their blue orbital rings stunningly eye catching. Both were also life birds.

Bicolored Antbird

Bicolored Antbird

Ocellated Antbird

Ocellated Antbird

Ocellated Antbird

Ocellated Antbird

I was burning both ends of the candle by herping at night and birding duuring the day, but what the heck, I could sleep back in Colorado.

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The Night Walk

It was 3:00 Pm and I was as excited as a kid in a candy store. The way I felt as a 6 year old on Christmas eve, barely able to contain myself while waiting for Santa Claus to come. Showered and shaved, all my equipment was ready for tonight’s adventure.  The destination wedding in Tamarindo and the rains from Arenal were now a distant memory. I was now deep into Costa Rica at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center located on a private reserve of 121 acres in the Caribbean foothills looking over the small town of Siquirres.  I’d be staying in their guest house for the next four nights.

Guest house at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center

Guest house at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center

The view looking east from CRARC

The view looking northeast from CRARC

Tonight I’d be herping with Brian Kubicki, the world’s foremost authority on Central American glass frogs

Brian Kubicki and me

Brian Kubicki and me

Of course sometimes when you get this amped up the actual event can be a bit of a let down.  But not tonight…not in this case.  It had been unusually dry recently and Brian was worried that the frogs may not be active.  But within the first ten minutes down the trail he spotted a frog.  One of the craugastor frogs that doesn’t even have a common name.

Craugastor persimilis (I believe)

Craugastor persimilis (I believe)

It lives in tropical moist lowland and montane forests of the Caribbean slope. Soon after this we encountered a second craugastor species - Craugastor crassidigitus

Craugastor crassidigitus

Craugastor crassidigitus

which is recognizable by the webbing between some of its toes.  You can see the webbing in this close up view.

Craugastor crassidigitus -shows the webbing between the toes

Craugastor crassidigitus -shows the webbing between the toes

Finished photographing this guy I slug my camera over my shoulder and continued to walk down the trail.  Not more than twenty-feet further Brian said in a very calm voice “Fer-de-lance”.  I froze.  This is one of the most feared animals in Latin America!  There it was – a small one crawling through the short grass.

Fer-de-lance crawling through the grass

Fer-de-lance crawling through the grass

A large adult can reach over 8 feet long and stretch across the trail we were on.  This was a small individual but still able to deliver a lethal bite with its fangs.

Fer-de-lance face to face

Fer-de-lance face to face

That encounter got my heart rate going!  After that there was so much action that the exact sequence of events is a blur so here are some random photos from the first night walk.

Hour Glass Tree Frog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus)

Hour Glass Tree Frog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus)

Blue Jeans Frog or Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates pumilio)

Blue Jeans Frog or Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates pumilio)

Rana warszewitschii - identified by the yellow marks on the posterior of the hind legs

Rana warszewitschii – identified by the yellow marks on the posterior of the hind legs

Frog_small_760_unidentified_IMG_5455One of the more interesting things from the night was this scorpion that Brian showed me. Chactas exsul had not been collected for fifty years until Brian found them at CRARC.  Three boards placed upright provided the perfect habitat.  Notice how broad the pincers are.

Scorpion Chactas exsul

Scorpion Chactas exsul

One of our main targets for the night was to find the critically endangered Lemur Leaf Frog. Populations have declined severely in recent years, due at least in part to the chytrid fungus. This species occurs in Costa Rica and Panama, and marginally in Colombia, but populations now occur only in a few localities on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

In 2003 both artificial and semi-natural breeding sites for the Lemur Leaf Frog were created in attempts to increase the size and viability of the small population within the CRARC reserve.  Numerous small artificial ponds, ranging from 1-2 meters in diameter were created in addition to placing plastic tubs ranging from 20 to 40 gallons in size at strategic points within the forest of the reserve.  Within some of the tubs small numbers of tadpoles (25-50) of A. lemur were introduced to serve as breeding founders at these specific sites

Artificial pond created by Brian using a bobcat

Artificial pond created by Brian using a bobcat

These ponds also provided habitat for other herps.  We found this White-lipped Mud Turtle at one of the ponds.

White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum)

White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum)

And a Smoky Jungle Frog at the same pond. This big bull frog is the largest frog in Costa Rica.

Smoky Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus savagei)

Smoky Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus savagei)

A year after the conservation project was started breeding adult Lemur Leaf Frogs were being observed on a regular basis in vegetation surrounding the newly created sites.  We had little trouble finding several of these fascinating tree frogs.

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

Lemur Leaf Frog (Agalchnis lemur)

On the return hike we looked on every fern we could find for one of the two salamanders found in the CRARC reserve.  On about our 100th fern we found what we were looking for.

La Loma Salamander Bolitoglossa colonnea

La Loma Salamander Bolitoglossa colonnea

A great way to end the evening.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

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The River Trail

The air was almost suffocating in its stillness. Not even the hint of a breeze. I had never felt so utterly alone. Besides me, there wasn’t a sole on this trail. Doubt crept in. Was this a mistake? Was it simply too dangerous to be in this jungle alone – especially so early in the morning? Was my car safe at the entrance to this trail? I was on the River Trail in Carara National Park regarded by many to be the single most productive bird trail in all of Costa Rica, but I hadn’t seen hardly anything in the first thirty minutes. A brief one-minute span earlier produced a Tawny-winged Woodcreeper and a Gray-headed Tanager, but that was it.

Tawny-winged Woodcreeper

Tawny-winged Woodcreeper

Gray-headed Tanager - River Trail, Carara NP, Costa Rica

Gray-headed Tanager – River Trail, Carara NP, Costa Rica

Unfortunately, it appeared that I wasn’t the only one walking on the River Trail. The fresh paw print of a puma was in the bare dirt beneath me.

Puma track

Puma track

That only heightened the feeling of loneliness. Eventually this type of a behavior would lead me into trouble. A loud crash close to my right made me jump. But it was only a couple of White-throated Capuchins.

White-throated Capuchin on the River Trail. Carara NP

White-throated Capuchin on the River Trail. Carara NP

I continued to walk deeper into the trail. A pair of Scarlet Macaws broke the silence as they flew east towards the mountains. That was enough to break the trance that had settled over me. A Dusky Antbird flitted in a dark clearing and I plunged in after it no longer worried about pumas. All feelings of loneliness were quickly forgotten. This was a life bird for goodness sakes!

Female Dusky Antbird

Female Dusky Antbird

Soon afterwards a Chestnut-backed Antbird flew out onto the trail before it darted back into cover. I chased it into the woods and…bingo…snapped a couple of photos.

Male Chestnut-backed Antbird

Male Chestnut-backed Antbird

Now birds were starting to sing and chatter. Maybe I had just been too early in the morning. Birders in the neotropics covet antbirds and their relatives and I was now on a hot streak. A boldly patterned male Dot-winged Antwren was gleaning insects next to the trail. Another lifer!

Male Dot-winged Antwren on River Trail, Carara NP, Costa Rica

Male Dot-winged Antwren on River Trail, Carara NP, Costa Rica

And was quickly followed by a female Black-hooded Antshrike, my fourth lifer of the morning.

Black-hooded Antshrike

Black-hooded Antshrike

Both these birds were right in front of me at eye level.

On my return to the trailhead the birds were extremely active and I added an additional three life birds.  Here are a few of the birds that I saw.

Orange-collared Manikin -lifer

Orange-collared Manikin -lifer

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Streaked Flycatcher -lifer

Streaked Flycatcher -lifer

Carara NP is a great place to bird and I wish I had allocated an extra day.  Actually the top attraction to Carara isn’t birds at all.  It’s the scenic Tarcoles River.

Tarcoles River looking east

Tarcoles River looking east

Specifically the tourists flock to the bridge over the Tarcoles River.

Tourists coming to the Tarcoles bridge

Tourists coming to the Tarcoles bridge

to look at the special celebrities under the bridge.

Tourists looking over the bridge

Tourists looking over the bridge

These are American Crocodiles (the real deal – not Caymens) some over ten feet long.

American Crocodiles on the Tarcoles River

American Crocodiles on the Tarcoles River

American Crocodile - notice the narrow snout

American Crocodile – notice the narrow snout

Notice the narrow snout of this crocodile.

Cerro Lodge

Cerro Lodge

Cerro Lodge (only 10 minutes away from Carara) was our base of operations to explore the Tarcoles-Carara-Jaco region.  It’s a pleasant eco-lodge with a real tropical feel to it.  An open air dining area complete with Milk Frogs (the largest tree frog in Costa Rica),

Mlk Frog (Phrynohyas venulosa)

Mlk Frog (Phrynohyas venulosa)

a stand alone cabin with an open-air shower (notice the iguana on the roof),

Our room at Cerro Lodge - notice the Black Spiny-tailed Iguana on the roof

Our room at Cerro Lodge – notice the Black Spiny-tailed Iguana on the roof

open air shower off our room

open air shower off our room

and attractive tropical gardening everywhere. The rooms now all have air conditioning which had been a complaint in some of the trip advisor posts.

The grounds at Cerro Lodge

The grounds at Cerro Lodge

Tropical Wonderland at Cerro Lodge

Tropical Wonderland at Cerro Lodge

We had a bit of excitement on our last morning at Cerro Lodge, when upon waking I could hear Scarlet Macaws squawking in the trees.

Scarlet Macaws feeding at Cerro Lodge

Scarlet Macaws feeding at Cerro Lodge

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

All in all Linda and I enjoyed this part of the trip very much.  It was the perfect ending for Linda who would fly home the next afternoon.

Sunset on the Pacific

Sunset on the Pacific

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The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

The Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge is located in the northern part of Costa Rica near the border with Nicaragua.  This region has some interesting birds and wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else in Costa Rica so I was excited about our full day tour. A wildlife viewing boat trip on the Rio Frio in the Cano Negro area. The two-hour drive from Arenal was long, but broken up with a strategic stop at a small store with at least 50 wild Green Iguanas and this surprise stop along the highway to look at this Three-Toed Sloth that the tour bus driver spotted.

Impromptu stop!!!!

Impromptu stop!!!!

 
Three-toed Sloth along the highway

Three-toed Sloth along the highway

The Rio Frio River still has some impressive trees along its bank even though much of the surrounding land was now agricultural fields.

Rio Frio - view of forest along the bank

Rio Frio – view of forest along the bank

 

Large tree along the bank of the Rio Frio

Large tree along the bank of the Rio Frio

Our boat had a canopy which sheltered us from the sun and rain though most of the day was dry and cloudy. it was actually a very comfortable viewing platform for wildlife and we were able to see a lot of wildlife.

Interior view of boat

Interior view of boat

Caymens were common along the bank.

Large Caymen along the bank of the Rio Frio

Large Caymen along the bank of the Rio Frio

Anhinga drying its wings

Anhinga drying its wings

One of the things that I was most hoping to see was an Emerald Basilisk and we weren’t disappointed when the captain spotted a stunning adult male lounging on a tree trunk along the bank of the Rio Frio. 

Emerald Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons)

Emerald Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons)

Four species of monkeys live in Costa Rica and we were fortunate to see three of them.

Two blonde Howler Monkey babies

Two blonde Howler Monkey babies

The monkeys above are Howler Monkeys, the most widespread of the four species in Costa Rica.  It was surprising to see two blonde sibling babies. A troupe of White-throated Capuchins entertained us as they swung effortlessly  from branch to branch.

Curious White-throated Capuchin

Curious White-throated Capuchin

The third species of monkey were these Spider Monkeys.  Not a very good photograph, but you can see the long prehensile tail that they use to help grab branches.

 

Spider Monkey

Spider Monkey

The tour company positioned the boat so we could all get some decent photographs of some big Green Iguanas lounging in the branches at the water’s edge.

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Here are some additional photos for you to enjoy.

Long-nosed Bats roosting over the river.

Long-nosed Bats roosting over the river.

Neotropical Cormorant

Neotropical Cormorant

Pair of Bat Falcons that were perched along the river's edge

Pair of Bat Falcons that were perched along the river’s edge

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Tropical Slider

Tropical Slider

All in all it was a very enjoyable trip and was nice to get out of the rain in Arenal. Most everyone had an enjoyable time, except maybe this little guy.child not happy 760_IMG_0213

Linda & John on the Rio Frio in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Linda & John on the Rio Frio in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

 

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The Volcano

After five nights at Hacienda Pinilla, we said goodbye to our friends from the wedding and headed off to the Arenal-La Fortuna region for four nights.  Along the way we enjoyed some pastoral green rolling hills in the foreground with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
Costa Rican countryside looking west.

Costa Rican countryside looking west.

and Lake Arenal at the base of the Arenal volcano provided a picturesque setting.

Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

The Arenal area has become the adventure capitol of Costa Rica with tourists from all over the world.  Zip lines, ATVs, hiking and white water rafting are just some of the activities available to the outdoor enthusiast.

Arenal Springs Resort and Spa (1550 feet) would be our base of operations for the next four nights.

Our room at Arenal Springs Lodge

Our room at Arenal Springs Lodge

Arenal Springs Resort was very comfortable with many trees, bushes and flowers.

Flowering shrubs at Arenal Springs Resort

Flowering shrubs at Arenal Springs Resort

 

Color Galore

Color Galore

Linda particularly appreciated the fresh towels provided each day.

Fresh towels - Day 2
                                                    Fresh towels – Day 2

 

Fresh towels - day 4
                                                     Fresh towels – Day 4

The volcano is over 5400′ above sea level. Unfortunately, it was hidden under clouds most of our stay.

Clouds covering Arenal Volcano. View from Arenal Springs Resort.

Clouds covering Arenal Volcano. View from Arenal Springs Resort.

It rained everyday that we were there.  It rained hard and most of each day.  Apparently a cold front had pushed south through the central part of the United States well into the Caribbean and low pressure was anchored off the coast.

Occasionally the rain would stop long enough to photograph some of the very common birds on the Arenal Springs grounds.

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Ruddy Ground-Doves were always visible if it wasn’t raining too hard as were the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds which seems to like ornamental plantings and gardens throughout Central America.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

I was surprised to see House Wrens all over the place feeding on the grass between the buildings.

House Wren at Arenal Springs Resort

House Wren at Arenal Springs Resort

They were frequently joined by pairs of Rufous-collared Sparrows.

Ruofus-collared Sparrow

Ruofus-collared Sparrow

Both Saltators were on the grounds though the Buff-throated was more common.

Black-headed Saltator

Black-headed Saltator

Buff-throated Saltator

Buff-throated Saltator

Passerini’s Tanagers were very visible. Each duplex seemed to have their own pair of this  tanager.  The males are truly stunning.

A male Passerini's Tanager

A male Passerini’s Tanager

I was disappointed because the constant rain kept us from enjoying the beautiful scenery to its fullest.  It undoubtedly negatively affected the birds that I did see and it was way to cool out to hope for snakes at night. Between rain showers, we were able to find a couple of interesting frogs.  Several Vallient’s Frogs would feed on the grass near some of the artificial ponds at the resort.

Valliant's Frog (Rana vaillanti)

Valliant’s Frog (Rana vaillanti)

 Tink frogs liven up the night with their loud chimes through out the Caribbean rainforest. Its one of the loudest night sounds you’ll hear during the rainy season. Adult males, which are the ones that do the calling, measure just over twenty millimeters. We were lucky to find this female on a large leave at eye level.

Common Dink Frog (Diasporus diastema)

Common Dink Frog (Diasporus diastema)

Most often the males call from inside a palm frond or similar type of vegetation like this male.

Male dink frog calling from a safe hiding spot.

Male dink frog calling from a safe hiding spot.

Despite the almost constant rain in Arenal, there were a few highlight moments. The last full day I birded with Juan Diego Vargas, an enthusiastic birder and guide, who was very competent with the birds of Costa Rica.  There were two highlights that I’d like to share.  First was this Tayra that ran across the road twice in Arenal National Park.

Tayra in Arenal NP

Tayra in Arenal NP

The tayra (Eira barbara) is a member of the weasel family, which also includes otters, skunks and minks. . Tayras can be found in the neo-tropical forests of Central and South America, and ranges from Mexico, south to Bolivia and northern Argentina and also on the island of Trinidad. In these areas they live in tropical, deciduous and evergreen forests, secondary growth, fields and plantations. Tayra__2nd_760_IMG_1331

After raining all morning, the sun finally began to shine.  Juan Diego and I had just turned up a Spotted Antbird on one of the trails in Skytrek when he received a phone call from another guide that there was an Ornate Hawk-Eagle perched in a tree.  We ran/scrambled about a half mile up the trail to a viewing platform.  There only twenty yards away, perched at eye level was a stunning adult Ornate Hawk Eagle.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera (too rainy) but was able to fire off a few shots with my eye phone pressed against Juan Diego’s telescope.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Skytrek, Arenal, Costa Rica

Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Skytrek, Arenal, Costa Rica

Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Skytrek, Arenal, Costa Rica

Ornate Hawk-Eagle at Skytrek, Arenal, Costa Rica

At the same moment, the clouds parted over the Arenal Volcano and Linda was quick to take advantage with some great scenery shots.

Volcano begins to emerge from the clouds

Volcano begins to emerge from the clouds

View of the volcano from Arenal Springs Resort

View of the volcano from Arenal Springs Resort

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

 

 

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Hacienda Pinilla (Nov. 22 thru Nov. 27, 2013)

Hacienda Pinilla is located just south of the beach town of Tamarindo in the Guanacaste of Northwest Costa Rica. It’s 47 miles southwest of the Liberia Airport. Expect your drive to take well over an hour. It’s actually a resort community on 45 acres of historic ranch property with over three miles of pristine beaches.

Playa Tamarindo

Playa Tamarindo

Sunset Over the Pacific Ocean at Hacienda Pinilla

Sunset Over the Pacific Ocean at Hacienda Pinilla

Much of the habitat is either rural farmlands or tropical dryland forest.
In some ways it’s a little too sanitized but there was definitely some good wildlife including the Boa Constrictor you saw in my first post. And the roads were pleasant to drive. In our immediate neighborhood all of these birds were all quite common.

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Rufous-naped Wren

Rufous-naped Wren

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

Stripe-headed Sparrow

Stripe-headed Sparrow

Some of the coolest birds in the neighborhood were these Double-striped Thick-Knees which lounged around on the grass during the day.

Double-striped Thick-knee

Double-striped Thick-knee

And hunted at night.

One afternoon I opened the front door and was greeted by such a chatter even I could hear it.  A pair of Orange-chinned Parakeets were in the palm tree right next to our house.

Orange-chinned Parakeets

Orange-chinned Parakeets

There were a couple of nice forested spots on the property where I used a Ferruginous Owl call with mobbing orioles and gnatcatchers to draw in some of the small birds with good results.

Scrub Euphonia

Scrub Euphonia

White-lored Gnatcatcher

White-lored Gnatcatcher

In five days (much of it spent at wedding functions or fishing) I was able to record 84 species of birds in the Guanacaste, most of which were in Hacienda Pinilla. This included one lifer, this Black-headed Trogon.

Black-headed Trogon            a lifer!!!

Black-headed Trogon
a lifer!!!

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Snakes Come in Large and Small Packages -Nov. 25, 2013

Earlier this morning I released and photographed the boa then did a little birding in a patch of tropical dryland forest.This morning’s bird highlight was this Roadside Hawk screaming repeatedly from its perch next to the road.

Roadside Hawk at Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Roadside Hawk at Hacienda Pinilla, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

I had just returned to the house we were sharing with four other people. The house was very comfortable with three bedrooms each having its own shower.

Casa Jardines - our home for five nights

Casa Jardines – our home for five nights

Actually it was a surprisingly reasonably priced lodging ($85.00 per night for Linda and I) with a refrigerator, modern stove and all the amenities you’d expect. Here’s a view of the living room.

First thing I did upon entering was retreat to our bathroom and began to change out of my long pants into some shorts. Imagine my surprise when I hear Jill Whitener screaming that there was a snake in her bathroom!!   All kinds of thoughts popped into my mind. Were they kidding me about last night’s  boa?  Had a snake actually slithered into the house? I quickly threw some shorts on and rushed into Jill & Bill’s bathroom.  On the tile was a very small skinny black thing no more than five inches long that looked like a millipede.  But as soon as it moved, I knew it was a snake!!  I quickly grabbed it and put it into a coffee mug.  This was totally unbelievable.

Black Blind Snake (Leptotyphlops goudotii) on some carpet.

Black Blind Snake (Leptotyphlops goudotii) on some carpet.

After checking through my field guide we realized that it was a Neotropical Slender Blind Snake (Leptotyphlops goudotii) often called Black Blind Snake.  This snake is widespread in the drier regions of the tropics ranging from Mexico south to Columbia and Venezuela.  They often are found in gardens where they are beneficial, both aerating the soil and  devouring pests. I’ve also uploaded some video of this snake – here’s a link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgprLLDQj0k&feature=youtu.be

This blind snake is also the smallest snake in Costa Rica.  Here’s a size comparison.

Black Blind Snake in a coffee cup.

Black Blind Snake in a coffee cup.

Amazing!  Last night we find a boa, the largest snake in Costa Rica and this morning the smallest snake in the country.  Truly, snakes come in large and small packages.

John & Linda with Jill & Bill Whitener

John & Linda with Jill & Bill Whitener

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Snake Party

Buanas noches Orlando!”

Buenas noches Señor Vanderpoel. Divertirse en la fiesta, Señor Vanderpoel”

Orlando opened the gate so we could drive out of the complex. Loosely translated he had said “Have fun at the party”. Yeah, we hoped to have fun all right. In fact Lauren and her mom Ann looked pretty spiffy in their party dresses.

Ann and Lauren Isbell ready to party

Fifty-one of us were attending a Costa Rican “destination wedding” and we’d just left a very nice cocktail & hors d’oeuvre party hosted by Amy and her family for the entire guest list. But the four of us wouldn’t be returning to that party, we had an entirely different one in mind. A snake party!

Some how or another the word got out at the cocktail party that I was going to do some road cruising for snakes. I was surprised when the sister of the groom, Lauren Isbell and her boyfriend Eric Greiving asked if they might join me? I said sure why not! Then Lauren’s mom Ann asked if she might come along as well? The more the merrier! And now we were cruising the ten miles of asphalt road in the Hacienda Pinilla complex. The habitat certainly wasn’t perfect for snakes but there were some areas that were largely native dryland tropical forest. Besides one of the other guests and I had gone out road cruising the night before the wedding and found this Northern Cat-eyed Snake.

N. Cat-eyed Snake found by Donna and me

And we had found this Double-striped Thick-Knee feeding n the dark on one of the streets so there was definitely some wildlife prowling around Hacienda Pinella.

We began are drive by heading back to the area of the cat-eyed snake. As we cruised slowly along slowly, I gave everyone a quick course on how to spot snakes on the road. There are a few things to look for. Usually the snakes are crossing the road and will appear as a straight lined object. Lauren informed all of us that she’s sharp-eyed, but she was relegated to the back seat with her mom. We spotted a raccoon and an armadillo, but no snakes in the first half hour.

As I continued to drive slowly along the road, doubt crept into my mind.  Maybe that cat-eyed snake was an unparalleled event? Were we wasting our time?  It certainly wasn’t perfect habitat.  With these thoughts all rambling through my mind, I shrugged off the large shape in the oncoming traffic lane.  But Lauren didn’t.  “SNAKE” she screamed!  I slammed on the breaks, put the car in neutral and rammed up the emergency break with such force that it surprised me when it didn’t break.  Simultaneously I yelled “Everyone out”  Eric was out of the front passenger seat like a  cat.

By the time I ran to where he was, Eric had the snake under control with the snake stick.

Eric with a 4' Boa Constrictor

Eric with a 4′ Boa Constrictor

It was large – 4 feet in length and thick bodied.  It snapped at Eric, but he remained cool as a cucumber.  A Boa Constrictor!

Everyone was stoked up and exhilarated!  Even Ann was totally into this “herping party” and why not? This is the type of party I love. Better a shot of pure adrenaline than a shot of rum any day!

Eric and me with the boa.

Eric and me with the boa.

To make matters even more exciting Eric and I bagged the snake.  The next morning I released the Boa Constrictor in a safe spot, but not before taking a picture for you to enjoy

This will stand the hair on your neck on end!

This will stand the hair on your neck on end!

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