Sunday, 9 September 2012

Tortuguero, Costa Rica - 5th - 7th August

From San Jose we travelled to the Caribbean coast, the journey being completed by an hour's boat ride following some chaotic scenes to board both luggage and ourselves.  Before that we had stopped for breakfast in a restaurant about an hour and a half from San Jose.  As we walked around the grounds we were guided to a Three-toed Sloth that was conveniently sitting at the top of a tree.  It was extremely photogenic, and at the time we wondered if it was there just for the tourist's benefit.  But other encounters with these bizarre animals indicated that this behaviour was quite normal.  Sloths are one of the commonest mammals in Costa Rica, and turn up almost anywhere.  


It was hot and very humid, but the normal afternoon thunderstorms held off while we were there.  Arriving at lunchtime, we spent the afternoon exploring the grounds of our lodge and the neighbouring lodges.  The are was that of tropical rain forest, and there were plenty of tropical flowers and plants along the walk ways that proved an attraction to the birds and insects.  Most of the action took place just outside our cabin.

Spider webs seemed to be everywhere amongst the palms and heliconas.  Helen found this beautiful web, made by the the Lace Web Spider.


The trees and plants seemed to be alive with birds and we saw many beautiful new birds.


A streak-headed Woodcreeper, behaving just like a very big treecreeper.


A Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker about the size of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.


A female White Collared Manikin, you can't see it here but she has amazing orange legs, and the male has the white collar, more of which later.


Another small bird found in the undergrowth was a Olive-crowned Euphonia

Ever since we lived in New Jersey we have had a huge affection for hummingbirds, and very quickly we resumed the association as we found two species buzzing around the heliconas.  The heliconas flowers are the favourite food plant, and the hummingbirds are extremely territorial over the flowers. 


This is a Bronzy Hermit and was the dominant hummingbird in the area, they would engage any other hummingbird or butterfly that came close, and as you watched them they would chase each other around you and the plants, whilst emitting a call that sounded like the space craft that George Jetson would fly in The Jetsons cartoon.  The call became so distinctive we would hear it in our cabin as we woke up.

With the Hummingbird buzzing around us our attention was turned to the higher branches of the trees, berries falling and heavy rustling of leaves revealed a family group of Collared Aracaris.  These are members of the toucan family, but do not have such a large bill as the toucans, they do though match there larger cousins for their beautiful plumage, the fiery reds and orange contrasting with the black, and the magnificently marked bills of the adult birds.



As we watched the Aracaris feeding it became clear there were also other birds taking advantage of the trees fruit.  A Purple-throated Crow introduced itself, showing off the superb purple feathers on the it's throat.



And then the one bird everyone wants to see in Costa Rica turned up, the Keel-billed Toucan.


Named because the bill looks like the keel of a yacht, the colours were just amazing, it fed with the Aracaris, and seemed content to have them around.  I was amazed to learn that the toucan eats almost anything, from fruit to small mammals and birds, it would appear that the beauty hides a very voracious appetite.

We left the toucans and set off along the walkway.  Spiders webs were everywhere, and the commonest was that of the Golden Orb Spider, huge webs were set up in the trees anchored by long lines of thick strong silk.  Apparently the silk is so strong it is sometimes used as bandages.  The female spider is about four inches in span, and usually sits in the middle of the web waiting.


It is not poisonous but can give a nasty bite.

Another surprise was a Slaty-tailed Trogon, I had hoped to see some trogons, but expected to have to search for them in the jungle, this one presented itself alongside a cabin.


Not far from the trogon a huge male green iguana was sitting in the tree.  I know this one is orange, they change to this colour during the breeding season, and also acquire the wattled throat skin.


Iguanas were everywhere, and would be seen as the staple diet for tourists, this one though was quite a magnificent animal.

Back at our cabin we finally managed to catch up with the male White Collared Manikin, there was a family group, with three juveniles, and the male and female were constantly feeding the youngsters.  You can see the orange legs here, these are shared by the female and the juveniles.


The youngsters were hiding under the large leaves of the palm, and were cuddled up together.  I love this shot as the middle brd is pin sharp and looking at me.


That was it for the daylight, this evening we were going off to the beach to watch the Green turtles come ashore and lay their eggs.  Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photographs, and the access is strictly controlled.  We were able to watch one female laying eggs, and then covering them up with sand, while around us we saw up to four turtles returning to the sea after laying their eggs.  It was a magical evening, the moon was out and shining on the sea, and catching the shells of the turtles as they slowly made their way off the beach and into the Caribbean sea, never to know their offspring.

After a night punctuated with loud bangs from falling fruit, and a Howler Monkey wake up alarm we set off on a cruise around the Tortuguero river and canals.  Initially we had to endure the farcical administration to be allowed to set off, but when we did we were quickly amongst new animals.

A Northern Jacana walked amongst the lily pads


A Green Heron posed very nicely for us on an old branch


A female Anhinga dried out her wings on a fallen tree.


A Green Kingfisher waiting patiently for the right opportunity


We went further into the canal system and found a Tiger Heron that decided it didn't want it's picture taken, and a River Otter that surprised as it surfaced close to the boat, and then swam off close to the bank avoiding all attempts of a picture.

Some one who was quite happy to have their photo taken was this Jesus Christ Lizard, or Basilisk.  This is a male showing the superb crests of the breeding colours.


A small Spectacled Caiman was found laying motionless alongside a log amongst the fallen leaves and branches, and as we were looking at this a party of Spider Monkeys moved through the tops of the trees.


After breakfast we walked around the jungle trail, but other than plenty of mud and insect bites we didn't see anything of interest.  Back at the lodge a group of Howler Monkeys made their way through the trees around the cabins, this youngster looked to be interested in what was going on with the humans.


The rest of the morning and early afternoon were spent by the pool, but the bird interest continued as a Common Black Hawk arrived on the palm tree above as and proceed to call continuously to ensure you knew of it's presence.


In the late afternoon we set off around the lodge gardens again, and were able to capture some shots of some of the beautiful butterflies that were present.  Unfortunately many of them, including the Blue Morpho, would not settle but these are a selection of those that did.


An Erato Longwing


A Sara Longwing


A Monica Hairstreak

Close to the water there was a clearing with smaller trees, and here we were treated to some very good views of a Pale-billed Woodpecker.  It seemed totally engrossed in investigating the tree to worry about how close we were getting.  The area must have been productive for them because very quickly we discovered there was actually three birds in the area.




We found ourselves back at the heliconas to watch the hummingbirds, this time we were able to to see the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.


Along the path we found this rather magnificent insect.  It is about four inches long, and put up severe resistance to attempts to get it to fly.  It is a red-winged Black Grasshopper, and when it does fly it shows some lovely red wings.


After another night of falling fruit and the wake up Howlers, and we were up early waiting to move on to the next site. 

A new hummingbird was feeding at the heliconas, this one was a Violet-crowned Wood Nymph, this one is a female.


After breakfast on the walk back to the cabin for the bags we found a large group of Keel-billed Toucans in the top of the trees.  I managed to count at least ten all together, in this shot I have captured four.


And these two appeared to be displaying to each other


The butterflies seemed a little more confiding in the morning, and these were added to the list.


A Hecalesia Longwing


A Cydno Longwing


And appropriately a Sunrise Skipper!

Boarding the boat and the journey back to the coach pick up was not a frantic as coming but on arrival as we waited in the sun for our bags to arrive, we were glad that there were none of these around.  We had passed this Crocodile on the way, and those teeth look rather menacing.



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