Thursday, March 10, 2011

Costa Rica - a great place to be...

Right now I am sitting on the bottom part of a bunkbed, typing away on my laptop in a room with 3 bunkbeds, each b ed with mosquitonets you can sleep under (when the mosquitoes get bad in the rainy season), surrounded by limegreen painted concrete cinderblock walls in the dorm house at the Palo Verde Research Station, run by OTS. The day has been filled with adventures and experiences.

I got here yesterday in the late afternoon, in time for sunset walk along the miles upon miles-wide marshlands that form the Palo Verde National Park in northwestern Costa Rica.  Included in the park are also upland dry tropical forests on limestone ridges, tall enough that you have to do a real climb and hike to get up to the top.  It is the dry season, but themarshlands still have water in them, enough to attract many ducks, herons, and other wetland birds.  For the birders, here are whistling ducks, roseate spoon bills, several kinds of white egrets, great blue herons, wood storks (crazy giant white birds), and many more.  Frogs in the millions, which you can hear but not see, and crocodiles you only see when they try to catch something and cause a splash.  It is a gorgeous place and I have lots of photos but they are still in my camera.

This morning I did I hike up on to the Mirador limestone hill, which is more like a tiny mountains.  The limestone is sharp-edged and has holes in it, so not really a nice thing to fall one, but sturdy to hold on to when you climb to the top.  I started in the early morning (8.30 AM), before it got too hot, so it was only maybe 27 degrees outside (Celsius that is, I guess 80 in Fahrenheit or so).   The dry season means that many trees have lost their leaves and are bare-branched temporarily, which makes it perfect for birdwatching.  I saw parrots (the screamiest bird in the forest!), woodpeckers, kingbirds, and a hummingbird.  After climbing the Mirador and looking at the fantastic view over the enormous river valley, with its snaking, meandering river on its way to the see, I continued on the trail and ran into some other hikers from OTS.  They had just been watching two monkeys, two white-faced capuchin monkeys, try to catch a black and white owl!  I saw both the owl (flying away), and the monkeys that had given up the hunt and now were splayed like tired jaguars with their bodies and limbs draped across horizontal tree branches, high up in the trees.

In a little grove of evergreen trees we saw two long-tailed manakins, which look like small birds of paradise.  Imagine black velvet colored small birds, with bright turqoise colored sides and wings, and then the most intense scarlet red on the back of their neck.  And that is not enough!  From the tail, two special feathers have developed into two long lyre-shaped extensions.  Incredible.  They meat and have leks, like competitions between the males over who gets to mate with the females, and we saw one of these lek places, even if it was too late in the day for lek activities. 

Just a few meters away I spotted a movement on the limestone cliff slopes, and there were three white-nosed coatis - related to the racoons of the US, but bigger, more slender, and with a giant long tail they like to keep up in the air, like a semaphor.  One of the coatis was eating on something, something dark red... first I thought it was a red fruit, but then I saw the shape - it was the body of a black iguana, which was still over 2 feet (60 cm) long despite missing its head.  The coati, a fuzzy bearlike creature, chewed and pulled on the carcass of the iguana, which it probably had killed itself.  Amazing...

I saw lots more, but those where the highlights.  Now I am so tired I have to go to sleep.  I am getting up at 5.3) AM to go on a short river tour before breakfast, and I hope to see more crocodiles, storks and herons.  This place is filled with interesting people and great nature... even if a bit too hot in the middle of the day.  Then you can take siesta, if you aren't supposed to be in meetings - which I am all day tomorrow.

More reports to follow.... and hopefully with some photos then.

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