Friday, 28 September 2012

Manuel Antonio National Park and Surrounding Area - 16th - 18th August

The ferocious storm of the night before was gone by the morning, and we finally had the chance to explore the area around the hotel.  We were staying in the Parador Spa, and large complex on the side of the cliffs, overlooking the pacific ocean, and about ten minutes from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, in fact you can see the park and some of the beach from the road leading up to the hotel.

The hotel has a few trails around the grounds, and also a walk that goes outside the hotel, and leads down to Playa Biesanz.  With blue skies and a warm sun, we decided to try and find the beach, try being the operative word here.  the road up to the hotel was quite steep, and we set off down the hill, looking at the butterflies on the bushes taking in the early morning sun.  After a while we realised we hadn't see a turn, so we decided to walk back to the hotel to ask for directions.  We were told their was a turn by a house about 200metres down the hill, so we set off again.

This time there was something of a little more interest in the top of the trees, and we paused to watch a Fiery-billed Aracari calling from the tree.  This species is similar to the Collared Aracari we had seen earlier in the trip, but is only found on the pacific slopes.  The bill lacks the patterns of the collared aracari, and is replaced by a deep orange.  It turned out that if we hadn't got lost looking for the beach trail we would not have seen one at all, so every cloud has it's silver lining.

We kept walking and looking for the left hand turn that would take us to the beach, but it never came, and after awhile we realised that maybe we had missed it again.  It was hot, and we paused to watch the butterflies on the flowers by the side of the road.  There was several new species, and a few that have proved very difficult to identify.

This one we have seen before, but this shows the underwing nicely, it is a Juno Longwing.

This is a Banded Peacock, and was quite common along the side of the road.

This is one of the difficult ones, it has the shape and look of a Metalmark, but I have not been able to pin down the species, perhaps the fly knows!.

A Guatamalen Patch, a little away from Guatamala.

And finally the strangely named, but beautifully marked Definite Patch

A woodpecker appeared in the tree above us, it was another Hoffman's Woodpecker, and this time was a little more confiding in it's pose.

We realised when we saw a sign indicating 1.5 kilometres to the hotel that maybe we had missed the path to the beach, so we decided to walk back and put it all down to experience.  Looking either side of the road we had spectacular views across to the Pacific Slopes.

and away down the coast, Manuel Antonio National Park.

A call from one of the power line poles turned out to be from a Streaked Flycatcher, but as I tried to get closer I stood on a nest of Fire Ants, and had to beat a very quick retreat.  The ants bite is very painful, as they have a poison that is injected.  The ants are part of the diet of the poison dart frog, and are partly responsible for giving the frog its red colouring.

We made our way back to the hotel, passing a gate that was locked and could only have been the path to the beach.  We mentioned it to the staff, and later when we passed it not only was it unlocked but there was a sign pointing to the path!

We were off on a Mangrove tour around midday, so spent the rest of the morning exploring a little more of the hotel grounds, and organising our bags.  Helen went off to the laundry, and almost immediately came back telling me to come and bring the camera quickly.  We went back out onto the alley way at the back of the rooms, and there in the trees was a group of Squirrel Monkeys and a Two-toed Sloth.  The monkeys seemed to be teasing the Sloth as it moved very slowly through the trees.

The Squirrel Monkey, or to give it its correct name the Central American Squirrel Monkey is restricted to the northwestern tip of Panama near the border with Costa Rica, and the central and southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, primarily in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks.  The population declined after the 1970s, the decline is believed to be caused by deforestation, hunting, and capture to be kept as pets. Efforts are underway to preserve the species. Despite the threats to the population, in 2008 its conservation status was upgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable".  The largest estimate (taken in 2003) is that the remaining wild population is only 1300 to 1800 individuals

All the more remarkable then that these lovable monkeys appeared in the trees just outside our room.  We watched as the younger monkeys seemed to chide the sloth, until an adult appeared and seemed to shout at them, and then they moved away.  These photos represent the scene and the mood of the monkeys very well.

The Sloth meanwhile seemed unconcerned by all the attention, and carried on moving slowly through the branches, stopping every so often to reach out and take a few leaves.  The two-toed Sloth is larger than the commoner Three-toed, and the fur is much whiter and blonder.  Two-toed sloths also differ from three-toed in their climbing behaviours, preferring to descend head first.  As the name implies, they have only two toes on their forefeet, although, like other sloths, they have three toes on the hind feet.  Other distinguishing features include a more prominent snout, longer fur, and the absence of a tail.  They eat primarily leaves, but also shoots, fruits, nuts, berries, bark, and even some small rodents, but how they can catch them other than when they are asleep I don't know.

Unlike the monkeys the sloth stayed for most of the day, hanging in the tree eating the leaves, unconcerned by onlookers and the rain.

The Mangrove tour off Damas Island was dictated by the tides, so we had to depart at midday, in hot sun and high humidity.  A short way from the dock, and the guide stopped the boat to point out a large Boa in the trees overhanging the water.  This was an Annulated Tree Boa, which does not reach the size of the more famous boa constrictor, but is from the same family.  The boa snakes are the most primitive, and still exhibit a pelvis and remnants of hind legs as they evolved from lizards.  The Garden Boa are arboreal, and mostly hunt at night.  If disturbed they can give quite a nasty bite, fortunately this individual stayed fast asleep, and by the size of the top curl, probably sleeping off a meal.

A little further on we saw a other nocturnal animal in the Yellow-crowned Night Heron, it was crossing the water by taking the lazy tree branch route, and we went under it.

The tour also took in a lesson in identifying and understanding the biology of the mangroves in the region.  In this area there are four different types of the seven species of mangrove found in Costa Rica, they are the Pineapple Mangrove, the Black Mangrove, the White Mangrove and finally the Red Mangrove.

The Pineapple Mangrove is the least tolerant of salt, and has a base of the tree that resembles that of a pineapple.  This is a local name for the mangrove, its latin name being Conocarpus erectus, which describes the tree as being erect with a firm base.  The tree grows on the back edges or higher ground within a mangrove swamp, thus reducing the likelihood of having the soil around its roots supersaturated with salt except at extreme high tides.

The Black Mangrove trees cope with the lack of air in the mucky substrate by developing vertical extensions from their roots which stick above the soil level and (at low tide) accomplish oxygen exchange. The White Mangrove has pronounced buttresses which as well as acting as anchors fro the tree act as aerators to ensure exchange of oxygen.

The Red Mangrove is the most tolerant of the the four, and looks a little like a rhododendron bush.  Their tall arching roots called prop roots easily identify the red mangroves. Prop roots supply air to the underlying roots and provide support and stability to the red mangrove. They also trap mud and silt that flows with the tide, thus gradually increasing the soil around them. They also shed the leaves frequently to remove the salt.

Around Damas Island the most dominant mangrove we saw was the white mangrove

With it being the middle of the day the wildlife was very quiet, with the commonest animal being crabs.  They would appear just above the water on the tree trunks.

An adult and juvenile White Ibis posed nicely in a tree above the water.

And we finally managed to catch up with the Shiny Anteater, although from the photo you will have to take my word, as it is curled up at the top of the tree fast asleep.  These are mostly nocturnal animals.  They look like a smaller version of the great anteater, and you can see the snout and strong claws, just, in this picture.

We were also shown another sleeping animal, a possum.  It was asleep in an old tree stump, and did not like being woken up.  It put its head up and opened its mouth to bare its sharp pointed teeth, so that was all you would see if you were looking to attack it

As we slowly made our way back we came across this single White-faced Capuchin monkey.  It looked like an adult that had either been cast out of it's troop, or just lost.  It looked quite sad as it watched us drift by.

We stopped off in the village of Quepos on the way back, just as it started to rain.  After a walk around the village, and a stop in the bar we made our way back to the hotel by taxi.  The rain died out later in the afternoon, and just before sunset we caught a glimpse of the sun, it was going to be a dryer dinner this evening.

The following morning we were off into the Manuel Antonio National Park.  Sadly know one knows who Manuel Antonio actually was so there is know way of celebrating the fact that the park is named after him.  We only managed to get a kilometre from the hotel, when we pulled over.  On the power lines was a Three-toed Sloth.  This one we were told was a female.  We had seen her yesterday, but the light was bad for photographs, today she was out in the open, and off across the road.

While everyone knows them as three-toed sloths in Costa Rica, there are in fact 4 species of three-toed.  This is in fact is a Brown-throated Sloth, and is the main species found in Costa Rica.  As you can see the brown-throated sloth has greyish brown to beige colour fur over the body, with darker brown fur on the throat, the sides of the face, and the forehead. The face is generally paler in colour, with a stripe of very dark fur running beneath the eyes.

The green in the fur is caused by the presence of algae growing on it.  In addition to the algae in their fur, brown-throated sloths also live with a species of moth, Cryptoses choloepi, which lives in their fur, and lays its eggs in the dung.   Jaguars and Harpy Eagles are among the few natural predators of the brown-throated sloth, which probably accounts for their abundance with the predators range being limited and reduced. The Yellow-headed Caracara has been observed to forage for small invertebrates in the fur of the sloths, apparently without the sloth being disturbed by the attention.

Brown-throated sloths sleep 15 to 18 hours every day and are active for only a few brief periods, which may be during either the day or night. Although they can walk along the ground, and even swim, they spend most of their lives in the high branches of trees, descending once every eight days or so to defecate in the soil.  Brown-throated sloths inhabit the high canopy of the forest, where they eat young leaves from a wide range of different trees.

This girl gave me the opportunity for some lovely portraits.

While we waited for our companions to finish photographing the sloth, a pair of Orange-chinned Parakeets flew into the palm close by, and this one peered out from behind the leaf.

We made our way on to the main road, and then again immediately stopped, this time for Whit-face Capuchin monkeys that were making their way across the road by using the power lines too.  In doing so they showed their intelligence by ducking to avoid making contact with lines that passed above their thoroughfare.  They had obviously received, or seen some other getting a shock before.

Leaving the monkeys we finally made it to the park, which gave the impression of a zoo rather than a national park.  There were people everywhere with guides pointing up into the trees.  Once again we had to wait for the administrative process to unravel before we could enter, and as we waited we had more iguanas pointed out to us.  Once in the park it didn't take long to find another sloth, and while the others watched the sloth, Helen found a hummingbird, which turned out to be a new one, it was Purple-crowned Fairy.  It was high up in the canopy, but we managed to get on it, and also a photograph. 

As we walked we had different insects and spiders pointed  out.  Once  again our guide had amazing eyes, and this was never truer than when he picked out this beautiful Seven Coloured Cricket.  It is about an inch long, and was sitting on the stem of a small tree.  There was in fact two of them close together.

As usual there were Golden Orb spiders everywhere, but we also found this jumping spider.  It makes a web and sits close by, the web is not that strong, and the spider waits for contact on the web then pounces to secure the prey.  The guide threw a leaf at the web, and immediately the spider leapt on the leaf.  Realising quickly that it couldn't eat it the leave was expelled and the spider went back to hide.

The trail finally took us to the beach, and again this was where everyone else was ending up.  Where there is a concentration of humans then you can expect to find the capuchin monkeys, and they were here, and seemed quite unafraid and prepared to take what ever they could.  This group were in the trees behind our table.  I love the expression on the adult monkey on the right.

As well as the monkey, another animal was making the most of the leftovers from the picnics.  This is a Jesus Christ Lizard, or Basilisk Lizard.  As you can see this is different from the green sub species seen on the Caribbean side of the country.  This sub species though is by far the commoner.  It gets the name Basilisk from the creature of Greek mythology made up of parts of a rooster, snake, and lion which could turn a man to stone by its gaze.

The beach was part of the narrow strip of land that can be seen in the earlier photograph.  It was now quite hot, and the storm clouds were building up again out to sea.  We decided to explore the beach, and as we walked along it the frigatebirds soared above the higher ground.

As we walked across the beach we noticed a lizard coming out of the sea, it was lacking a tail, but was a lovely glossy blue.  We learnt that it was a male spiny tailed iguana, in breeding colour.  The tail had probably been lost in a previous fight for a mate

As we walked down the path from the rest area, we came across raccoons walking casually towards us.  These are Crab-eating Raccoons, and are endemic to this area.  They are slightly smaller than the common raccoon, and were totally unconcerned about us, walking past us within a few feet.

We left the beach on a path that took us through to the other side of the strip of land.  Now were looking north up the coast past the hotel.  The capuchins were still with us, and could be seen fighting each other and eating the fruits from the trees.  This one seemed to have had enough of the activities and was all for a rest, and if there was any doubt as to where we were, there isn't now.

The area was as you would expect a tropical beach to be, and if you could blank out the many people about, it would have been quite tranquil.

Our walk back to the van took us past more scenes like this, we paused to look at some Howler Monkeys.  The tide was coming in, and we had to cross an inlet.  boats were provided, but there was still the need to paddle through the water.  It was amazing how fast the tide was rising.

When we got back tot he hotel, all we wanted to do was to cool off, so we headed for the pool, and the wet bar.  It started raining but that didn't put us off and we stayed in the pool.  It was only when it started to thunder that we decide to retire to the room, and a relaxing afternoon.

The following morning and our last day, the storms had passed and we were greeted with lovely blue skies once again.  As we sat eating breakfast the Yellow-headed Caracaras that were seemingly resident around the hotel, perched in the palm tree not far from our table.  They are smaller than the the Crested Caracara we had seen previously.

We had decided to try and find the beach again, and as we walked down the road from the hotel, we couldn't miss the sign say "playa".  The path took us down to a stream and then out on to the beach.  It was nice, but not somewhere we wanted to stay.

The only bird life we found was a single Willet feeding in the surf, and a Spotted Sandpiper in the stream.

Back at the hotel we decided to spend the day relaxing by the pool.  We were lucky the rain stayed away, and it got quite hot.  The camera was with me and in the clear conditions I was able to pick out the Brown Boobys on the island out to sea.  This island is also used by frigatebirds and white ibis as a nesting site.

The view from the pool was quite spectacular too

With the sun on the flower beds, there were plenty of butterflies about, and once again they provided some identification challenges.

A Swallowtail

A Mimic Tigerwing

Juno Longwing

Banded Peacocks duelling

As we lay there we watched these birds fly over head, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and a pair of Brown Pelicans.

The day had been perfect for us, we had the chance to get some sunshine before returning home, and also the chance to relax ahead of the long journey.

Back at the room we watched the sun set behind the palms on our balcony.

It had been a wonderful two weeks, and we had a wonderful time.  Costa Rica is a country of many different places, full of some incredible plant and animal life.  Unfortunately we were not able to experience all of the recommended places, but we managed to see an awful lot of the country, and what we did allowed us to meet some friendly and interesting people, and to see some beautiful birds and animals.  Writing these blogs has kept the holiday alive, and I feel now just as I did as I watched the sun sink into the pacific on that last evening.