Day 5: Curi-Cancha Reserve

For my last day in the cloud forest I was joined in my ramblings by Marcel and Mariza, retired school teachers from the Netherlands. Though the woods were fairly silent we had a lovely time chatting while wandering the winding trails of the Curi-Cancha Reserve.

A special treat was stumbling across a group of seven agoutis hunting, and squabbling over, large (and presumably tasty) acorns. We finished our warm afternoon with our own sweet treat, ice cream made fresh at the local dairy. It was a delightful way to wrap up my visit!

Wait for the surprise ending – things got a little heated under the old oak tree!

Day 4: Eco Paz Park

Searching around on the map the night before I found a small, free park in the hills above Santa Elena. Since that was a rarity in the area, I decided to check it out. The next morning I packed a lunch and headed uphill. The park wasn’t that far but the 4500′ elevation and hilly terrain of the area were a bit of a challenge for a girl who has spent the last two years living at sea level.

The park had several winding trails and even a lovely stream running through it. The velvety brown seed pod of the Macuna tree was one of the first things to catch my eye. This is the tree responsible for the hamburger sea beans, like the ones I found this past summer on the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast.

I was delighted to see my fourth species of toucan, the Keel-billed (or more colorfully, Rainbow-billed) Toucan. After following an industrious line of Leafcutter Ants through the park for awhile I settled on a mossy stone near the brook for lunch.

A tiny movement to the side caught my eye so I slowly raised my camera and turned toward it. There, peering at me from behind a leaf, was a handsome Blue-crowned Motmot. To say I was delighted is an understatement! I later learned that they nest in the banks of waterways, earning them the common epithet of “banco bravo” (riverbank guard).

It was a really great way to spend another day in the cloud forest!

Day 3: Ecological Sanctuary

My next excursion, the Ecological Sanctuary, was a hilly 1.3 km walk from Santa Elena. This property is family-owned and primarily consists of secondary growth forest. They allow visitors to wander the grounds for a fee but they also grow coffee and bananas to supplement their income.

Surprisingly, the open areas of this reserve proved to be very fruitful. I discovered several new-to-me species of birds, marveled over the clear wings of the Glasswinged Butterfly, spent quality time watching an adorable agouti, and sadly, lamented the recent demise of a precious porcupette. Clear views of the Nicoya Gulf and Peninsula were a special treat.

Though I was alone on the trails my visit was nowhere near silent as a myriad of insects were abuzz.

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!

 

Day 1: Wandering and Night Tour

For my first full day in the cloud forest I followed a meandering road up to a massive Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)These towering, Gaudí-esque trees are crucial components of a healthy cloud forest. They not only provide food and habitat for a wealth of animals but they can support thousands of epiphyte plants and mosses on their broad branches. While much of the area here had been heavily logged and is now a secondary forest, Strangler Figs were often spared since their unique growth pattern meant their wood held little commercial value.

After a quick bite for dinner I was whisked off for a nighttime tour of the nearby Kinkajou Preserve. As we munched delicious guavas off the tree, our guide enthusiastically pointed out various creatures along the way. Though sadly, the park’s namesake was not one of them. The Costa Rican Orange-kneed Tarantula (Megaphobema mesomelas) and the Side-striped Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis) were favorites among the young people in our group while I was partial to the sleeping Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).

It was a great introduction to the cloud forest and its denizens, I just wish my photography skills had been up to the challenge!

 

Santa Elena Impressions

What a difference from my recent beach stay! Santa Elena is located at about 4500′ elevation, up in the cloud forest. It is a good 20 degrees cooler up here so I finally get a chance to wear pants!

I have a private room in a cute hostel near the center of this little town. The mountainsides around here are dotted with parcels of privately owned, protected land. Many of these reserves offer guided tours (which, thankfully, include transportation to and from my hostel).

In addition to having a rustic road system through most of the countryside, Costa Rica has yet to utilize any method of addressing. This lack of organization makes locations difficult to find, especially for visitors. Some Ticos tackle this problem by posting hand-painted directional signs showing their houses. I’m not sure how functional they are but they’re fun to look at!

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

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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.