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This title isn't to imply that Costa Rica has everything but mammals ... just that this post will cover several classes of animals, but not mammals ... will save those for the next post. (Mostly they will be sloths!)
I seem to say this a lot in recent years: there's not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to why I break up and categorize photos in the posts the way that I do. It's just too many photos to put them all in a single post! So here I decided to share some of the other classes of animals we saw -- reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects. Birds aside, the other categories don't normally see a lot of action from my camera shutter. But there were some very interesting and beautiful critters in the rainforest to capture in my camera.
The first truly exotic animal we saw was the scarlet macaw on our way from Tamarindo Beach to La Fortuna. (Most pics in this article came from La Fortuna.) Of all the brilliant, exotic birds we saw in Costa Rica, the scarlet macaw took the cake. We saw a bunch, but they weren't in a tranquil rainforest or nature reserve ... of all bizarre places, a colony had taken up nesting at this place that's basically a transfer station for long distance shuttle buses, where passengers switch shuttles. There are two cafes and a souvenir shop and a large private building with fenced-off grounds, and several very large trees. The macaws roost in these trees, right next to a very busy traffic intersection where huge trucks and buses continually pass, and shuttle passengers mill in the parking lot gawking at them. There are signs saying not to feed the wildlife. But I wonder what compels them to stay in such an unlikely and very "un-naturey" place. In any case, it worked well for me to see them!
One of the creatures that Costa Rica is most famous for is the poison dart frog. My interest level in amphibians in general is pretty close to nil. The only thing I like about frogs is the noises they make. But we saw several types of frogs that were simply beautiful, and one was the brightly-colored poison dart frog, which is very, very small. I knew they were small, but I was surprised to see them only about half the length of my thumb. The frog in the third pic has his throat sack fully expanded in mid-ribbet. I think he looks hilarious and decidedly grumpy.
I don't know if the United States has a national frog (I suppose I could Google it), but this is the national frog of Costa Rica -- the red-eyed leaf frog. It's a little unfortunate he's perched on such a brightly colored flower, it makes it harder to discern the color of his toes, so contrasted to his body. But the most remarkable thing about him is the nictitating membrane over his eyeball. Just like many other animals, such as birds and domestic cats, this frog has an "inner eyelid" called a nictitating membrane that can close over the eyeball to protect it without the animal having to close its "normal" skin eyelid. But this is the trippiest inner eyelid I've ever seen. The frog can still see through its protective latticework. Which is totally cool, but it prevents you from fully understanding why it's called the "red-eyed" tree frog. But I'm going to suppose your imagination is bright enough to figure it out.
Here's one of the many awesome things about photography: I think it's cool to capture an animal, especially an uncommonly-captured animal, in my camera no matter what that animal is. Under normal living circumstances, lizards and amphibians and most insects, and most definitely snakes, would cause me to react in a spectrum of ways from mumbling a slight "ew," to a gasp and a step backward, to full-on running and screaming (big spiders cause that). I haven't run unexpectedly into a snake in the true wild when we are both on the ground (so by saying that, I just ensured that such an encounter is imminent), so I'm not sure what my reaction would be, but I'm theorizing something polar to my reaction to spiders ... something like paralysis and maybe some pant peeing. Well anyway, when our guide on one of the sloth tours (Callidryas Tours, which I recommend, as well as our specific guide, Gerald) asked us if we wanted to slightly delay our breakfast in the bird garden to go see if a viper was still around where he'd seen it yesterday, I found myself excitedly saying, "Yes!" I guess maybe I think with a guide, he will ensure my safety. (?) I don't know, but the prospect of getting a good photo of a venomous snake actually excited me.
So we walked a short distance down a path through the rainforest and then the guide stepped off the trail just a few steps and told us to be very careful as he motioned us toward him. Now, when he said let's go see a viper, I imagined a regular-sized snake, which to me means something like maybe 4 or 6 feet long, maybe a slightly plump tube. Briefly, scenes of other gigantic snakes I've encountered flashed through my head and I did worry slightly it would be one of those ... (for example, in Botswana, and the craziest day of my life in Uganda). So imagine my surprise when I followed the guide's pointing finger down to this teeny-tiny little snake curled up on a leaf. My goodness, how would you even spot that tramping through the forest? It just makes you realize that there are critters absolutely everywhere that we never even see. The first pic is blurry, sorry, camera had a hard time focusing on its head, but it gives you the sense of scale for how tiny it was. Its venom, though, would not have merely a tiny effect on me! or you! The second pic, you can see his creepy iconic viper head.
So after getting some pics of this delightful (ha) fellow -- though, I must admit, its coloring, almost pastel, and pattern is really quite lovely -- we walked back to a little outdoor cafe to eat breakfast. But along the way, we saw what ultimately I would name as the coolest thing I witnessed in Costa Rica: a virtual river of leaf-cutter ants. Now, I've only seen this incredible society of insects on TV nature shows, and found them fascinating on TV. The evening before, Erik and I ran across them by ourselves walking through a park where we took a different sloth tour. It was getting very dim, after sunset, and we already knew well enough (from previous traveling experiences) we did not want to get stuck out in the rainforest in the dark, and therefore didn't spend too much time watching them. So this second spotting it was fun to be able to really watch them at leisure.
It's really something else to be walking along through the forest and look down to see this line of leaf bits moving briskly down the trail beside you. Then you bend down and look closely to see there are just as many ants carrying leaf bits back to their nest as there are ants heading back empty-handed to the leaf source to cut more down. I did not have a camera on me with macro capabilities, so I really couldn't get a worthy picture. I tried videoing them on our little cell phone camera, but it didn't do the scene justice either. But you can see in the photo a little patch of the ants carrying their leaves ... now imagine that's not just a patch but a continuous line that flanks the path, crosses the path, goes over rocks and under tree roots, is so well-worn that there is an actual groove that the ant corps has worn into the ground. Can you guess how long this line of ants stretches? The guide said for one kilometer. I followed it for as long as I could until it disappeared into a wall of bushes. But just imagine following a constant stream of moving leaf bits, carried on the backs of ants, for a kilometer. I don't know how to really describe it and how interesting, unexpected, unique and rather phenomenal it is.
Want to learn more about leaf cutter ants and what they do with all those leaves? As long as you are not a "mature audience only" and have a sense of humor, check out the True Facts episode. It's the quickest and most entertaining way to learn about them. Freaky little them.
OK, so anyway, after making it to the breakfast table, we enjoyed watching an array of colorful birds come to their own breakfast at little feeding stations sporting a variety of fruit, set up just outside the cafe to attract birds for the tourists to be able to see. So ... here is a sampling of who we saw at the avian breakfast table.
The red-legged honeycreeper. I barely caught a glimpse of his legs here, but rest assured, they are red.
And a juvenile red-legged honeycreeper. I had to ask around my Facebook birder friends to get this ID ... I figured it was a completely different bird! But it's just a young 'un, above is the adult.
This green honeycreeper was happily perched on a banana until he had to share it with Costa Rica's national bird, the clay-colored thrush. I think it's a little amusing that for all the super colorful exotic-looking birds in the country, they chose a rather plain brown one to represent it.
The national bird seems to have a lot to say to the surrounding birds at the breakfast table. Here he's having words with a blue-gray tanager.
Before breakfast while we were in the field looking for sloths and poison dart frogs, our guide spotted this toucan and got a picture of it for me by putting my cell phone camera up to his binocular scope thing (looks like a telescope but operates like powerful binoculars). Ain't a picture to write home about, but it proves I saw one!
Elsewhere in La Fortuna, on a nature trail called the Bogarin Trail, we saw this boat-billed heron, which I've also spotted in Mexico.
We didn't see as much wildlife on this walking tour, but what was remarkable about it is that this park used to be just muddy pasture land for cows. Then Giovanni Bogarin decided to turn the land into a nature preserve and trail. Who would have a thought to turn a cow pasture into a nature park? Well, someone who understands the fecundity of rainforests, I guess. Do you know what Mr. Bogarin did to start and grow this dense, lush rainforest full of birds, snakes, leaf cutter ants (the first ones we saw) and sloths? I was rather astonished at the answer: nothing. Nada. Didn't plant seeds, didn't import animals, didn't water or tend anything. He simply didn't clear away anything that grew naturally, which otherwise the cows would graze down if it was pasture land. Birds from nearby areas brought seeds over in their poop. In the rich volcanic soil and copious rain, the seeds grew vigorously all on their own. Once there was some plant life, birds began to stay and hang out in the trees and bushes. And after that, other animals moved in to the habitat, continually seeding and growing itself and providing plant food for herbivores and subsequently meat for carnivores.
This is the pasture land. We're standing inside the Bogarin park looking over the fence that sequesters this urban rainforest from the pasture.
The area within the Bogarin preserve now looks more like this:
And how long do you think it took for this amazing transformation to take place? To go from Picture 1 to Picture 2? It's been 25 years since Mr. Bogarin stopped grazing cows on the land. Someone fluent in rainforest ecology could tell that, as our guide explained, an older rainforest has much taller trees, but I wouldn't have realized that until he told us.
It's so dense, you couldn't walk through it without a machete or something to clear your way! If you step off the pathway, it feels immediately claustrophobic, surrounded by plants so numerous they seem somehow voracious, like carnivores, waiting to devour me and ingest me into the forest mass. And of course now we know that tiny little vipers and other poisonous snakes and frogs can lurk anywhere, on any of these leaves we brush against!
Closer to home, we had this visitor, or perhaps he was hotel staff, at our hotel most days. We stayed at Ten North Beach Hotel in Tamarindo, and I have to say that I'd really recommend it. A small hotel, only a few minutes' walk from the beach, but far enough away to feel quiet, calm and secluded. Just a few apartments on the bottom level and rooms on the second level, all in a square around a courtyard with a small swimming pool and lounging beanbags in a sand pit. If you're in an apartment (as we were), they serve you hot breakfast right to your patio, and if you're in a room, you eat in the small courtyard. Anyhoo ... this was our iguana friend, often to be found on the roof tiles.
One of the most enjoyable activities we did while staying in Tamarindo was going to the beach to watch the sunset each night. Birds flew overhead.
Every evening on the way back home, tons of birds would be perching on the electrical wires over the street, settling in to roost for the night. The sound of them all was quite impressive. I didn't get particularly representative photos of how many there would be, as sometimes a long wire was covered with birds shoulder-to-shoulder, but here are a few captured on my phone camera.
I leave you with one last non-mammal creature ... in accordance with the title of this post. A butterfly, with a damaged wing, but pretty nonetheless, in the "butterfly garden" at La Fortuna Waterfall. And BTW, it was the only butterfly we saw there! haha. Presumably at some point in the year there will be more to justify the label, "garden." Or else this guy's got a palatial pad all to himself.
I don't normally give a nod to the accommodations we stay in, since I'm in the business of narrating, not rating and recommending, but I'm kind of changing my tune that I should start mentioning businesses that make our trips enjoyable, as I often get contacted with requests on how to do what I've written about. So Erik and I stayed at the very affordable Hotel Secreto for our overnight excursion to La Fortuna. Very well located for walking to restaurants and even to the Bogarin Trail. Very nice proprietor, and a mama and baby sloth hanging out in a tree right outside the reception area! And we very much enjoyed several rounds of beer at the La Fortuna pub, I believe the only craft-beer brewery in that area. Delicious beers and a super friendly proprietor with whom we chatted for quite awhile.