Thursday, December 30, 2010

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park.  We hiked up and down this place for several hours one morning without seeing many birds.  I, however, snapped lots of pix of plants and flowers.  It used to be one of the major birding areas in Costa Rica however there's been a lot of road building (widening a major highway) and subsequent building around the park borders.  It's not so birdy any more.

A glance at the canopy

At the forest floor

Lianas, more lianas.....

Passion Flower  Passiflora vitifolia.  So pretty in the midst of the green, green, and more green of the tropical forest.

Heliconias are among my favourite tropical plants.  This one is Heliconia longa.

Impatiens grow wild here, one of the many types of ground cover we, here in North America, value as annuals in our yards and planter boxes.  This is Impatiens walleriana, at the entrance to the park.

At the edge of the parking area, a Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.) peeks out from under a large dead leaf.

A Cycad.  This is a female cone, of the genus Zamia, possibly Zamia fairchildiana

A primary forest giant

My reference:  A Guide to Tropical Plants of Costa Rica, written by Willow Zuchowski and photographs by Turid Forsyth.  I got my copy at Monte Verde during my first visit to CR. 

This is another must-get book for nature lovers visiting Costa Rica.   I tend to collect field guides, in general.  This is one of the best I have.  The author not only describes the plants (in terms the rest of us understand), she also talks about the importance of given plants to the culture and economics of the country and how they are used.  It's a very interesting book.

The photographs are beautiful.

As always, click on the photos to enlarge, if you want to.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Skink and a Porcupine at La Selva

Here's are few more pix from La Selva before moving on to Savegre Mountain Lodge, my all-time favourite place (at least to date).

I have tried, without success, to find out what skink this is.  One of my favourite on-line identification sources has a photo of something similar, unnamed and with a request for help in identification too.  This little thing was fast, darting across the trail and into the leaf litter.  I got lucky at snapping a photo.  Its tail is neon turquoise.

A mass of vegetation, huge moss covered trees, lianas hanging, ferns, palms, bromiliads, philodendrons, so many plants species.

Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.) This was cute.  There was a long, long line of pink petals bobbing along the side of the mossy walkway at La Selva.  The petals were falling from canopy-flowering trees and the ants were taking them to their underground fungus garden.

A small stream - we can't see the hummingbird taking a bath down there, but it really was happening.

And a porcupine sleeping high in a tree (the photo is digiscoped).  It is a Mexican Hairy Dwarf Porcupine  (Sphiggurus mexicanus)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back to Costa Rica and the Blue Jean Frog

This is the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog  (Dendrobates pumilio or Oophaga pumilio). 

It is tiny; less than an inch in length  (0.5 to 0.9")   There are many colour variations, ranging from solid red, to spotted to red body with blue legs - the variation found in Costa Rica at La Selva and also at Tortuguero on the East Coast.  This little tropical frog likes very humid, rainy places.   The locals call it "the red frog wearing blue jeans.

I came across this little one at La Selva.

The reproductive behaviours of rainforest frogs are unique and adapted to make use of the fresh water supply in the forest while avoiding tadpole development in ponds where they are prey for fish.

The following is taken straight from Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica by Carrol L. Henderson - which is a book everyone who visits Costa Rica should get.

Page 102 of my copy:

" The reproductive behavior of this frog is one of the most incredible stories in the rainforest.  Males establish territories on logs and stumps at a spacing of about ten feet.  Their mating call is a cricketlike buzz that pulses at a rate of four to five buzzes per second, deterring males while attracting females. If another male approaches, the two males rise up and grapple with each other like little sumo wrestlers.  When a female approaches, the male leads her to a nesting site in the ground litter, where he deposits sperm on a leaf and she deposits two to five eggs on it.  He guards the eggs and keeps them moist for about seven days until they hatch.

When the eggs hatch, the female instinctively returns, and the tadpoles climb onto her back.  They cling to her by using their mouths as suckers.  She climbs trees and backs into the water tanks of bromeliads or water-filled plant cavities.  The tadpoles slide into the water, and the female returns for the other tadpoles until she has placed all young ones.  She visits each tadpole every one to nine days for the fifty days it takes to develop.  When the tadpole senses its approaching mother, it vibrates its tail.  then she backs into the water and lays an unfertilized egg for the tadpole to eat!  She provides seven to eleven eggs for each tadpole during its development."

And that, I think, is pretty damn cool.

By the way, the restaurant Rana Roja from the last CR post... Rana = frog; roja = red. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Scenes

A few photos I've taken the past two days

Pheasant tracks

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sun Dogs

Yesterday, before dawn, an icy fog rolled in.  Most of it dissipated as the sun rose.  High cirrus cloud remained.  The result was the glorious phenomenon known as Sun Dogs (or Parahelia).  It wasn't bitterly cold, as is usually the case when we see Sun Dogs here.

Sun dogs happen when sunlight passes through ice crystals in the air.  The ice crystals are flat hexagonal in shape and act as prisms, bending the light rays at 22°.  If the crystals are randomly aligned in the air, the 22° Halo forms.  If the crystals are aligned horizonally as they fall, the refracted light is concentrated into Sun Dogs.

I'll turn it over to The Weather Doctor who explains:

"Ice crystals in the atmosphere are hexagonally shaped. Crystals forming most optical phenomena in the air are typically hexagonal rods, shaped like pencils, or flat, hexagonal plate patterns, like microscopic stop signs or dinner plates. When plate-shaped ice crystals fall unimpaired, drag forces automatically orient them horizontally so that their larger, flat surface parallels the earth like a large maple leaf drifting down from a tree.
Sun dogs emerge when sunlight passing through the ice plate's thin sidefaces is refracted. The more perfectly aligned the falling crystals are to the horizontal, the more compact the resulting sun dog. Crystal misalignment from true horizontal will spread the sun dog vertically — its angular height being approximately four times the maximum crystal angular tilt.
Sun dogs frequently display a reddish tint on the side facing the sun and may sport bluish-white tails which stretch horizontally away from it. The degree to which colours are visible depends on the amount of wobble in the ice crystal's fall: the more wobble, the more colour. The sun dog's tail is formed by light passing through the crystal at angles other than the optimal deviation angle."

A second bit of refraction is happening at the horizon from air-bourne snow crystals - the colours are just visible to the left of the trees in the photo below

High Noon and Due South at the 49th Parallel on December 25, 2010

Auspicious times to come?  Throughout the ages, people have ascribed omens and portents to the appearance of Sun Dogs.  Wikipedia has a collection of associated past events.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Christmas Morning

I hope everyone had a lovely day.  I absolutely did. 

Of course I did my favourite thing - went birding, which often means simply driving or walking around in the country. 

I hear bells jingling - what's that coming down the road?

 It's the Fornwalds with a team of their beautiful Quarter Horses

Sunny, crisp; maybe a little bit chilly.

How pretty...and bells...

I would not, in a month of Sundays, be able to get this rig together

Bells on the haunches and ribbons on the tail

On their way into Estevan to take some people for a Christmas morning ride

Bye and thanks for making my morning a little more special.

Click on the photos to enlarge

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Onward to Sarapiqui & La Selva

Next major stop in my Costa Rica birding excursion:  the city of Sarapiqui, staying at Selva Verde Lodge and visiting La Selva OTS

I will go back to this area some day.  I adored my room at Selva Verde Lodge, but what with all the birding around the grounds (Sunbittern), and at nearby La Selva, there just wasn't time to be in it or just sit on the balcony and enjoy the tropical forest.  A Red-throated Ant-Tanager came by to say hello the few minutes I did park in the tooled-leather chair (of which I wish I had taken a picture!) outside my room.

The Rana Roja - a restaurant we stopped at for lunch.  It was so-so food-wise but quite interesting bird-wise.  We watched Green Honeycreepers and Passerini's Tanagers while we ate.  That's a traditional Costa Rican ox-cart at the entrance.

Allamanda cathartica  or Golden Trumpet.  Allamandas are velvety buttercup yellow.  So beautiful and fragrant.   It's somewhat poisonous.  Some species of Allamanda  are used to treat malaria.

 La Selva OTS entrance

Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) perched at the entrance gate

Our guide Gerardo (right) with our La Selva guide, Kenneth.  Gerardo worked as guide at La Selva for several years before becoming a free-lance birding guide.

A very large Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) high in a tree, in the morning sun.  This is a male as per the throat dewlap and the large circular scale just under his jaw.  

Montezuma Oropendola (Gymnostinops montezuma) nesting colony

Long-tailed Tyrant  (Colonia colonus) - with its eyes closed.

At this point in the trip, I was starting to be dehydrated - sluggish thinking, bad mood, lack of concentration.  (I know, I know, how can I tell this from my usual state.  Well it is just worse than usual, okay)  I usually drink a lot of water but this sort of snuck up on me.  Our driver went into town and picked up some Gatorade for me so I was back to rights shortly.  Now I never travel without powdered Gatorade to mix with water daily.  (I wonder if Gatorade would like to pay me for advertising).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Begins

I interrupt the tropical holiday to acknowledge it is officially Winter.  Pfffftttt.  Well, it was sunny today, so there was that to lighten the mood a bit.  I went for a drive in search of Snowy Owls.  I found one but it was too far away for a photo.  Instead, here is a view of an ice and snow covered Rafferty Reservoir at the bridge near Mainprize Park.  Those are two very large Common Ravens flying away from me.

Ring-necked Pheasants were everywhere, along the roads and digging around in the fresh snow in grain fields.

Costa Rica resumes next post.

La Paz Waterfall

La Paz Waterfall (Costa Rica) was one of our stops en route to la Selva after the Carara area.

Several souvenir and trinket seller booths were set up at one end of the bridge that spans the canyon.  It's a popular place.  I bought two bracelets there, about my only souvenir shopping of the trip. 

We birded up a trail for a couple of hours.

I use the past tense because in January 2009, a major earthquake hit.  It was the strongest quake in 150 years.  The waterfall canyon was filled will rubble, road blocked, bridge destroyed.  And since the quake hit at about 1:00 in the afternoon, no doubt the people who sold things at their booths were killed

This is a Green Thorntail  Discosura conversii 

We also stopped at the Mirador restaurant to have coffee and look at hummingbirds, including the one above.  That place, overhanging the valley, collapsed in the  quake.  I heard later that those dear women and little girl were also killed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rio Tarcoles

The Río Grande de Tarcoles borders Carara National Park, which I mentioned a post or two ago.   It is the main river running through the central valley of Costa Rica - where most of the people live - to the Gulf of Nicoya.

There is a bridge where every tourist stops to walk across and gawk at the crocs along the banks below.  I've done it twice. The local drivers consider anyone crossing the bridge to be 'fair game'.

The cocodrilos would too, if given a chance.

We saw twenty crocs in the water and on the mudflats that day.

The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).  These photos were taken on my first trip to CR (note to self, do a post about the AWs)

By the way, I had my very first sighting of Scarlet Macaws just after taking the croc pics.  Carara is on the other side of the bridge and that park hosts the largest number of these absolutely fantastic birds. 

A couple years later, the crocs were still there; we did more birding than croc-watching.  Next day we embarked on a boat trip to the mouth of the river.  There were seven of us, plus the two boat operators.  We got nicely away from the dock, and putt-putting down the river when the motor died.  The boatmen had a cell phone but it didn't seem to rouse any action at the other end.  So there we were, rocking gently on the murky water - all of us wondering if we were going to spend our afternoon waiting for someone to come rescue us.  I noticed a look of worry on the face of one of my travel pards and thought it appropriate to start singing the theme song from Gilligan's Island.  People have accused me of having a misplaced sense of humour.  I don't know why.

No this wasn't us.  A replacement motor was eventually brought, we continued on our trip, with extra time given because we were so nice about the whole thing.

Rio T meets the Gulf of Nicoya with tide coming in.

Neotropic Cormorants  (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) and Brown Pelicans  (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron  (Tigrisoma mexicanum) and Common Black Hawk  (Buteogallus anthracinus)

 Another croc

The Rio Tarcoles is the most polluted river in Costa Rica,. The Tico Times says: Río Tárcoles Carries San José’s Trash to Sea

(Click on the high-lighted links for more info on the subject and click on the photos to enlarge, if you want to)