Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

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!

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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!

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Yard Birds 3

Though colorful and rather large for an arboreal bird (measuring in at 16 inches, which is actually small for the toucan family) I almost missed these toucans as they were rather quiet and still. This amazing sight greeted me the other morning when I stepped outside. I dashed back into the house to grab my camera and was pleasantly rewarded.

The Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) is a frugivore, which explains why all the papayas in my yard are disappearing! I watched these three fuss about the papayas for 15 minutes before they flew off into the forest, followed by another eight birds (which I had overlooked in the canopy)! Makes me wonder about all the other things I’m not seeing…

Kerfuffle

This group of Pacific Hermit Crabs (Coenobita compressus) chasing each other along the beach caught my attention. They are known to gang up on each other in order to try to steal a larger shell. Plus, Frank’s shell (yes, I named him), is a fetching light tan with hints of pink. Who wouldn’t want to live in that?

Did you see the tiny hermit crab in the white shell at the beginning? It reminded me of the little brother that tags along, “Hey, hey guys. Wait for me. Can I play? Guys?” And to allay your fears, Frank scampered away safely a few seconds later. Or in other words, he took his shell and went home!

 

Yard Birds 2

A noisy family of wrens caught my attention in the backyard this past week. Though this is my first time seeing Rufous-naped Wrens (Campylorhynchus rufinucha) their inquisitive nature and boisterous actions were enough to point me to the correct bird family. A wren is a wren is a wren.

I was impressed by their size, they are just slightly smaller than the Cactus Wrens I grew up with in the Sonoran Desert (the largest wrens in the United States).

 

Muchas Lluvias!

Thought I’d share a bit of the recent downpour, taken from my front porch. They aren’t kidding around about this being the rainy season. The pattern this week out here on the Nicoya Peninsula has been sunny mornings followed by wet evenings.

The rain does cool things down a bit which is much appreciated. The temperature only hits the low 80s (with humidity in the 90s) but somehow the sun down here feels hotter. And this is coming from a girl who grew up in Tucson and just spent the past summer living on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The rainy season may not be a tourist’s delight but the locals love it, especially the plants. This is a dry tropical forest, meaning that when the dry season starts in December plants will respond by dropping their leaves to conserve water. The lush greenery that surrounds me will soon turn brown and be coated in dust. Hard to fathom right now.

Berry Nice

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Ornamental Banana Bloom, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica October 2019

True banana plants grow well here but this ornamental variety (Musa ornata) serves as a fast-growing privacy fence lining many yards. Plus, as you can see, they really are quite stunning. Though they do produce fruit, it is largely inedible due to the size of the seeds.

Last thought on bananas for now, did you know the fruit is actually, botanically speaking, a berry? Go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait. Oh, and once you have the weird world of berries all figured out, could you explain it to the rest of us?

Yard Birds 1

I have a small gnatcatcher to thank for pointing out this stunning couple in my yard. As a birder, my eyes catch and follow movement among the trees, while my ears listen for cheeps, chirps, and whistles.

So even though these Black-headed Trogons (Trogon melanocephalus) are vibrantly colored, and by no means tiny, I almost overlooked this pair since they were so still and quiet. And no, I never did get a good shot of that gnatcatcher, it zipped away while I was photographing these two.

Though the genus name trogon is Greek for nibbling (since they chew on wood to make their nests), this species is a bit of a standout as they nest in active termitaria (technical term for termite nests). I think they’re pretty smart, why do all that extra work if you don’t have to?

 

Sea Urchin Tests

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Dead Sea Urchins, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica October 2019

These are my favorite kind of sea urchins, dead ones.* I know that sounds harsh coming from a self-professed nature lover but there is a personal reason for my animus.

Years ago (no, I won’t tell you how many, suffice it say it was quite awhile ago), my husband of one whole month and I traveled to Grand Cayman to attend my sister’s beach wedding. It was a special event that I almost missed thanks to a damn sea urchin.

While wading in a tranquil, turquoise-colored tide pool I had the serious misfortune of stepping on one. I have a really high pain threshold but this was excruciating! It not only stung but it spasmed as if being stabbed by dozens of tiny, electrified skewers. In other words, I don’t recommend touching a live one.

As I limped back to the hotel we passed our housekeeper who empathized with my predicament and said as a child she would just pee on any sea urchin stings. At that point I was willing to try anything! Only one small problem, as a woman, it is a considerable challenge to pee on the underside of my own foot.

So, I turned to my spouse (who had that manly ability to aim) and ordered him to pee on me. His answer? “But, I don’t have to pee!” I could’ve murdered him (justifiably so). Thankfully, a couple bottles of water later the curative pee was dosed to my instantaneous relief. So, yes, I still hold a grudge against sea urchins.

*Note: I found these tests during a recent beach walk, I did not have anything to do with their demise.