Archive | April, 2012

Costa Rica: quetzal quest in the highlands

30 Apr

We’re near San Gerardo de Dota, in the mountains, and it’s quite cold except in the sun. We even lit the fire in the room at night.

The weather is splendid in the morning and we set on a walk yesterday, looking for quetzals. We were told about a couple nesting not far from the lodge, by the dirt track.

On the way, we saw tall trees covered in moss and epiphytes.

Epiphyte & moss

Epiphyte & moss

And some birds, too. Although we heard many more than we saw, a species of woodpecker was all over the place. Here’s one at the entrance of a hole in a tree.

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

We kept walking toward the small church and soon enough we spotted a group of people with a guide by the fence of the dirt track. A binocular was aimed at the top of a beheaded tree, some twenty meters away. Two long green and blue quetzal feathers emerged of a hole in the trunk –the nest, and were flying in the breeze.

Male quetzal feathers

Male quetzal feathers

The group had been here for a while already and they had been lucky to see the male quetzal outside of the nest, ruffling its feathers in the sun. The guide said the female would be back shortly, as she goes away between 45 and 60 minutes and then the male can leave.

Our wait was interrupted by the thunderous and surprising sound of horses galloping. Seven or eight horses were coming at us at high speed. My 100-300 lens was fitted on the camera and I could photograph but details of them as there was a curve near us and they soon disappeared.

Horses galloping

Horses galloping

The wait continued. After an hour, the group left. The female should have been back a half hour prior and the people had other things to do. We waited some more. A little wile afterwards, we saw the head of the male quetzal emerging from the nest, looking in every directions. I took a few photos and suddenly it plunged and flew away behind foliage. We never saw him again and thus, couldn’t get a picture of its full body.

Male quetzal head

Male quetzal head

The female had to be back sooner or later… A half hour later I spotted a bird landing in the distance, zoomed in and it was her. Green with a medium length tail that appeared spotted or striped. She ruffled her feather and I noticed some red below her chest, under her otherwise green feathers. She stayed on that high branch in the distance for 25 minutes before she flew to the nest at noon.

Female quetzal rejoins the nest

Female quetzal rejoins the nest

Soon after, she got into the hole, hidden from view. We didn’t see the young. Her head and upper body emerged 45 minutes afterwards, she looked left, right, top, tilted her head a few times, and went back in. We waited some more. By now the weather had worsened. It was raining slightly. Woodpeckers were still flying from one tree to another, entertaining us. Here are three aligned on a bare branch.

Three little birds

Three little birds

We decided to wait till 1.30 p.m. and leave, weather we see the male again or not. And we didn’t. Meh. The rain was coming down harder anyway.

The mountain had been pretty in the sun, but in the rain, with low hazy clouds visible, it was even prettier.

Meadow, trees, mountain, clouds

Meadow, trees, mountain, clouds


House and clouds not far above

House and clouds not far above

It was pouring rain by the time we reached the lodge. We rewarded ourselves with lunch; it was 2 p.m. Sheltered by the roof outside we looked at hummingbirds, mostly black ones with a straight long beak, but also green ones with a curvy beak.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

Costa Rica: Playa Dominical to Dota Valley, or altitude 0 to 3360 m. in one day

30 Apr
We left Manuel Antonio under a pale sun and after a breakfast of gallo pinto (white rice and black beans) with ham and eggs. Here is a photo of the ocean above a red corrugated iron house roof and a hedge of red hibiscus:
Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio

We were driving on the CN34 between Matapalo and Barú when a flock of big birds in a dirt field caught Vlad’s attention. We stopped on the side and saw dozens of black vultures. Some were perched on chopped wood, others on a fence, and the rest was in the field, packed. We approached slowly and they let us within five meters of them.

Black vulture

Black vulture

On the road again but not for long. Soon we reached Dominical. The view from the bridge that crosses the river Barú was astounding. We saw big water birds (a grey heron, an egret) and stopped, but soon we saw an aracari (a sort of toucan), and beyond the river there was the ocean and big waves.

Playa Dominical, wave

Playa Dominical, wave

We stayed two hours between the river and Playa Dominical, photographing leafcutter ants, cormorants, basilisks, a green heron, black vultures, crabs, brown pelicans. I leaned so close to the female basilisk that I can see the shape of my body reflected in her eye.

Leaf-cutter ants

Leaf-cutter ants


Cormorants taking off

Cormorants taking off


Male Jesus Christ lizard

Male Jesus Christ lizard


Female Jesus Christ lizard

Female Jesus Christ lizard

Then we drove on a track next to the river Barú, wondering if we’d see crocodiles, as there were signs warning against them. Also, openstreetmap didn’t have that track. It was about 3 km long and when it stopped, it did at the river, steeply. We parked. Soon after, a pick-up truck crossed the river. It was impressive. We walked a bit along the river. Vlad saw a little crocodile but it dived immediately and we never saw it again. I photographed a tiny brown frog, flowers, etc. and Vlad, crossing a ford in the 4WD, of course.

Tiny brown frog on dry leaf

Tiny brown frog on dry leaf


Vlad in the 4WD crossing a ford

Vlad in the 4WD crossing a ford

Back on the road, more curves, more bumpy tracks, more rivers crossed, including the Rio Savegre. I was in awe in front of a tree next to a house by a bridge crossing the Rio Savegre. A tall tree bare of leaves but full of pink blossom. Here, see:

Big tree with pink blossom by a river

Big tree with pink blossom by a river

Before and after the big city of San Isidro the road kept winding and climbing, except that after San Isidro, it was called a highway. That is, one lane each, limited speed of 50 Kph, with many big trucks that drove well above the limit, in both directions. We passed through small villages, watched the very green pastures, forests, in the sun and above clouds.

Mountain road side, mountains and clouds

Mountain road side, mountains and clouds

Then we were in the clouds. Around 6 p.m. the clouds around us had a pink or orange glow. It was eerie.

Purple haze

Purple haze

We climbed some more, and soon were at the highest point, 3360 meters, and we understood the glow ealier. On our left there was the most amazing sunset we had ever seen. High as we were, there were mountains underneath, each valley filled with thick white clouds, the summits emerging, and above us there were several layers of clouds that the sun was colouring in deep pink, bright orange and red. Here, see:

El Cerro de la Muerte, sunset

El Cerro de la Muerte, sunset

We were late, but nevermind, really. Soon after the pass, we drove downward, took a left and drove, in the dark, on a bumpy track during 9 kilometers (how long? Between thirty and forty minutes) and we reached Savegre Hotel de Montańa.

Costa Rica: Catarata de Cortés, Tarcoles crocodiles, Manuel Antonio National Park

28 Apr

We left the Arenal area and set to drive for a good while under the sun, for a change.

We stopped by the side of the road as Vlad spotted monkeys in a tree, spider monkeys.

Spider monkey

Spider monkey


Spider monkeys

Spider monkeys

We made quite a detour to see the Catarata de Cortés, the prettiest waterfall I ever saw.

Catarata de Cortés

Catarata de Cortés

In its vicinity there was a little pool of water where no tourist was, that was populated by lizards, one of which was really big, grey, and crested from head to tail, possibly a basilisk.

Basilisk

Basilisk

We didn’t stay long as there was driving to do, but Vlad took a dip. On the road again, we quickly saw the change of vegetation and scenery as we were driving south. Less forest, more plaines.

Sloth sign

Sloth sign


Guanacaste tree and horses

Guanacaste tree and horses

We were in Tarcoles, our next stop, around 4 p.m. This place is famous for its long bridge under which many crocodiles rest.

Crocodiles on the sand

Crocodiles on the sand


Crocodile

Crocodile


Crocodile immersed

Crocodile immersed

We even saw an iguana.

Iguana

Iguana

We had a little more than two hours of daylight and hit the road again to reach a place between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. We arrived a bit after dark which comes a half hour after sunset. And then there was thunder and rain.

Fast forward to next day, a rainy day, but the one day we could visit the Manuel Antonio National Park. In a tree right next to our room there was a howler monkey.

Howler monkey

Howler monkey

We were advised to take a guided tour as only a guide could show us animals on this rainy day, but we didn’t feel like being with a guide and preferred being on our own, taking our time. We didn’t regret that choice. We saw so many animals!

A deer, a toucan, woodpeckers, a bird big as a pigeon with a red chest and a striped tail, butterflies, dragonflies, an urubu (red-headed vulture), hermit crabs, crabs, spider monkeys, a bird of prey which was all black, a female capuchin carrying her baby and which let us follow her for a while in the forest –a most magical experience!– and finally, a female sloth.

A deer

A deer


Toucan

Toucan


Woodpecker silhouette

Woodpecker silhouette


Hermit crab on grey sand

Hermit crab on grey sand


Dragonfly

Dragonfly


Black vulture

Black vulture


Halloween crab

Halloween crab


Capuchin monkeys, mother & young

Capuchin monkeys, mother & young


Capuchin monkeys, mother & young

Capuchin monkeys, mother & young


Pale-billed woodpecker

Pale-billed woodpecker


Three-toed sloth

Three-toed sloth


Three-toed sloth

Three-toed sloth

The Park also had lovely beaches. Vlad went in the water (I forgot my gear). As I was on the sand, I saw two raccoons.

Heart-shaped rock on beach

Heart-shaped rock on beach


Manuel Antonio beach

Manuel Antonio beach


Espadilla beach, Manuel Antonio

Espadilla beach, Manuel Antonio


Espadilla beach, Manuel Antonio

Espadilla beach, Manuel Antonio


Racoons

Racoons

The park closed at 4 p.m. It was still raining. We rewarded ourselves with drinks and a late lunch of snacks. I chose a mango rita, the most delicious cocktail I ever tasted.

Costa Rica: Arenal volcano, Arenal Hanging Bridges

26 Apr

The Arenal volcano is supposed to be active, although not to the point that there is lava flowing or explosions. What we saw is a lot of cloud activity around it! But on two occasions, the summit was clear enough that we saw the shape of it, and we distinguished two sources of fumes, like thin streams of clouds, except they were going in opposite direction from the clouds.

Arenal volcano

Arenal volcano

We’re staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. From the deck that faces the volcano, we tower above a lovely garden, that many animals inhabit. Mostly birds –including hummingbirds, toucans and oropendolas–, but also a coati or two and a couple of great curassows.

Birds feeding

Birds feeding

Yesterday we walked on a few of the trails around the lodge, reaching a river with old lava, a hanging bridge, a waterfall.

Lava stone pile

Lava stone pile

Today we went to the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a park of 600 acres of rainforest with 6 hanging bridges and numerous regular bridges, a trail of 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) that we “achieved” in slightly over 4 hours (possibly a world record of unspeed).

Vlad on a hanging bridge

Vlad on a hanging bridge

We saw a blue ara in the parking area. It flew noisily above us and landed close to us. Then it posed on top of a fence and even let us stand quite close.

Ara

Ara

Inside the park we saw lizards, ants, a few birds, two black squirrels, insects (not a lot, thankfully, there was one, somewhere between the ant and the wasp, that was as big as a little bird. Eek).

On the way back we stopped next to a field where cows were grazing. Or rather a breed of cows. They looked like zebus with ears like those of donkeys. Their head was very much like that of Jar-Jar Binks, in fact.

Jar jar binks cows

Jar jar binks cows

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