Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Day 2: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

I was up early the following morning for a wildlife tour of the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. True to its name, we were hiking in a cloud most of the time. Thankfully, it was only a drizzle, or as they say up here, pelo de gato (a fine, cat hair-like mist).

The reserve protects 26,000 acres of virgin forest, covering six life zones in the Cordillaren de Tilarán (mountains that form the continental divide between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts). There were many moments during our three hour stroll that the verdant landscape reminded me of the Hot Rainforest in Olympic National Park. 

According to our guide, the woods were unusually quiet that day but I enjoyed chatting with my companions, lovely folks from both Denver and Houston. Thankfully, we did manage to spot a few stunning birds, especially at the hummingbird garden near the entrance. Overall, a wonderful way to spend a day!


Dashing, By Any Name

While there were Scarlet Macaws noisily fussing about in the trees high overhead this Yellow-throated Toucan* (Ramphastos ambiguus) was the center of attention at the shuttle stop on the way to Monteverde. This colorful character had a big personality befitting his size; averaging 20 inches in length and weighing 1.5 pounds. Of the six toucan species found in Costa Rica, this is the largest (and no surprise, this one tends to throw its weight around when claiming territory or food sources).

The striking design appears to be taken from a child’s coloring book; iridescent black, red, yellow, white, and green feathers with pale blue feet and a humungous two-toned beak. It all seems a bit superfluous for a forest-dwelling, fruit-eater, but I admire the flair.

I didn’t hear him vocalize but I’ve read that it sounds like “Díos te dé” (Spanish for “God give you…”). They speak Spanish, por supuesto.

*AKA: Black-mandibled or Yellow-breasted Toucan.

Sea Biscuits


Fossilized and Modern Sea Biscuits, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica November 2019

My daily beach wanders usually turn up an interesting find or two. I stumbled across a fossilized Sea Biscuit (Clypeaster sp.) early on during my stay and the partial, contemporary one just recently.

I’m having difficulty pinning down an exact age for the fossil but they first enter the record during the Eocene (around 37mya). I suppose once your form has been perfected there is little reason to change it.

Note: The fossil is underside up, the other is top up. Also, I must content myself with just the photo, as Costa Rica prohibits the removal of any nature items from the country.



Yard Bird 8

This White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa) was surprisingly reticent to have its photo taken. Sadly, I was not able to capture the resplendent, long tail that makes this bird so distinctive (I suggest looking it up, it really is worth it). The male sports a much longer one than the female. I believe this to be a female, based on the complete neck ring and additional black above the eye.

As with the rest of the jay family, it is a noisy character with a large repertoire of sounds. I just never know what I’m going to find in my yard!

Yard Bird 7

This juvenile, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) likes my neighbor’s roof. It flies up there in the evenings after spending the day hunting for typical heron food (fish, amphibians, insects, and small rodents) along the creek that runs behind their house. The name refers to the distinctive feather-free, yellow skin under the bill. The adult version of this bird is quite dapper with a vibrant rufous waistcoat (or in proper birder parlance, flanks).

Interestingly, the only U.S. record of this species was found in Hidalgo County, Texas on the western Gulf Coast, near the border with Mexico. Not too surprising since the Brownsville area is a well-known birding hotspot. I would be interested to learn when that was but can’t seem to suss it out.

Arboreal Termitaria

While researching Black-headed Trogons I learned that they are unusual in their family, as they take the easy way out when building a home. Instead of carving holes in trees they just utilize arboreal termite nests. There are certainly plenty of them to choose from down here!

Tortuga Trouble

Things aren’t always perfect in paradise. As you might imagine, I was horrified when I recently stumbled across this pillaged sea turtle nest. After spending time this past summer attending sea turtle hatchling releases and raising money for a sea turtle rescue organization in Texas, this was heartbreaking. Six of the seven sea turtle species in the world are either threatened or endangered.

My local friend explained that Ticos* collect the eggs to sell them. Apparently, they bring a good price since some believe that the eggs improve virility. It is a sad state of affairs. Though, culturally, native peoples in Latin America have been harvesting turtles and turtle eggs for centuries so it requires a huge shift. Thankfully, there are some beaches in Costa Rica where the nests are protected from poaching.

*Native Costa Ricans.

Yard Birds 4, 5 & 6

While each of these species is deserving of an individual posting, I’m lumping my tyrant flycatcher trio together for the purpose of comparison. Though agile insect catchers, they are not the least bit limited in their diets. Interestingly enough, they all enjoy feeding on the little chili peppers growing in my yard. In descending order by size:

The Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) measures in at a solid 9 inches but the most distinguishing characteristic is its stout bill. Hence the first part of the binomial, which is Latin for big nose. Large and powerful, this bird yanks peppers off the plant in mid-flight, returning to a nearby perch before quickly gulping it whole.

I first became an admirer of the noisy and gregarious Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) during a visit to Port Isabel, Texas a dozen years ago. So I was happy to see (and hear) these characters down here. A bit smaller and less powerful, this bird lands in the plant, tugs the bright red pepper loose, and ingests it.

Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)

The Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) is the smallest of my three species, measuring in at just under 7 inches. As the name implies, they usually appear in my yard in groups of 3-5. I know when they’ve arrived by their noisy chatter. Their pepper picking strategy takes considerably more effort, requiring multiple attempts for each chili, wiggling the fruit back and forth until it comes free.

I believe I owe these birds thanks for the proliferation of pepper plants in my yard, as their bright red, seed-filled scat dots the ground. In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been eating the little peppers, preferring instead to save them for my colorful and entertaining avian friends.

Monkey Business

On the mornings when the rooster sleeps in, the Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) step up to the plate. Though they aren’t visible in this video you can clearly hear them (but trust me, this recording is a poor substitute for the live effect).

Howler Monkeys are the loudest animals in the Americas, registering in at 140 decibels. To put that in perspective; a typical conversation is about 60db, a lawnmower about 90db, and a rock concert about 120db. Keep in mind that anything above 85db can damage your hearing.

The troop napped most of the day high up in the canopy but I was able to get a few shots when some came down lower for afternoon foraging. After snapping an underside photo of the alpha male, I think I might know one reason why they howl. Ouch!


Important tip: when photographing monkeys, do not stand under other members of the troop. Monkey sh*t happens. I’ll be filing this one under: Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me!