Saturday, 22 September 2012

Volcano Arenal, La Fortuna - 13th -15th August

We arrived in La Fortuna at midday, and checked into the hotel.  The hotel had wonderful views of the volcano, with each room having a clear view.  We spent the rest of the day resting around the pool.  The cloud around the volcano would come and go.  I decided to take a picture while the majority of the cone was visible, but the summit remained covered.  Later in the afternoon the cloud cover drifted down the slopes to almost cover the volcano.

The following morning we were up early for a guided bird watching trip on the slopes of the volcano, unfortunately our guide wasn't, and we had to wait about 30 minutes for him to arrive.  When we finally set off it was raining, and it continued to rain when as we started our walk.

We made our way up the side of the valley that overlooked Lake Arenal.  This is a man-made reservoir formed by damming the valley back in the seventies.  The track was very densely covered on both sides.  It was dark and wet and not that conducive for photography, which was a shame because we saw some very nice new birds.

A short way up the track we came across a Buff-rumped Warbler.  This is a delightful bird, dark brown with a buff rump that flashes a s it flits about flashing its tail from side to side.  There was in fact a pair, and they apparently nest here.

A larger bird then appeared in the trees, this was a Crested Guan, and I did manage to get a picture of this one.  A bit like a turkey, with a red wattle under the throat.

Birds were calling from the forest, but they were not showing themselves.  As we came to a clearing a pair of toucans in the tree in the distance provided some entertainment.  I like the composition of this shot.

They are Keel-billed Toucans, and we were surprised to find out these colourful, and kind of lovable birds have a very catholic diet eating almost anything, including raiding bird's nests and holes for nestlings.

In the bushes and trees alongside the trail were Crimson-collared Tanagers, and from within the forest we could hear a Tinamon calling.  On the crest of the hill there was a group of at least ten Swallow-tailed Kites, but the distance and the rain stopped me from getting a satisfactory picture.

While we were watching the toucans a Rufous-tailed Jacamar put in a brief appearance.  It was being watched by an American in another group, and when he asked what the white necked bird was as I got on it and realised what it was it flew off.  It would have been too dark though!  Standing around disturbed a fire ants nest so we moved on up the track.

Another new bird was a pair of Brown Jays that flew across the track and up into the trees.  They are about the size of the european jay, but lack the colour.

The rain did clear every so often, and we were able to get some views through the trees across the lake to the other side.  The cloud and mist hanging in the trees on the valley sides.

We had reached the limit of the up hill walk so we turned around and made our way back down the hill.  As we did so we found two types of trogon, Slaty-tailed, and Black-headed, and a Yellow-billed Casique in the the bushes.  As we got nearer to the car, the Buff-rumped Warblers performed again, and a Violet-crowned Wood Nymph was feeding on the heliconas.  We did mange to find a wild Owl Butterfly, it was sitting quite still on a leaf.

As we reached the car it was getting extremely dark, and once again it started to rain.  On the tower in the reservoir was a group of about 20 Black Vultures, and they were joined by a single Ringed Kingfisher.  After a cup of excellent coffee, we made our way back to the hotel and breakfast.

Helen had arranged for a massage in the late morning, so as we waited we sat on the balcony and watched the action go on around the volcano and in the fields alongside the hotel.

A pair of Red-billed Pigeons were sitting in a tree, its nice to be able to look at a pigeon and think differently about them rather than just "oh its just a wood pigeon".  The colours in the feathers of these two were rather lovely.

Red-winged Blackbirds were very active in the field next door, flying to and fro the field and surrounding trees.  It was also nice to watch the antics of this Groove-billed Ani family as they gathered together on the branch.  Not the prettiest birds, but it was lovely the way they grouped and engaged with each other, I wonder what the two on the right are up to?

The cloud was still clinging to the volcano and you couldn't see a thing.  With it being so cloudy, the Turkey Vultures were keeping quite low as they soared around the hotel and surrounding farmland.  As this one soared past, the mist in the trees behind it add an atmospheric feel to the ease with which the vulture flew past.

Once Helen had gone to the spa, I went down to the pool and looked around the gardens.  I found a trail of Leaf-cutter Ants on one of the rocks next to a jacuzzi.  It was fascinating to watch the ants as they made their way with these relatively huge pieces of leaf.  The ants are blind, and follow a scent trail laid down by scout ants that find suitable leaves.  The leaves are then cut and taken back to the nest where they are used to feed fungi that ultimately feed the larvae.  As well as the scouts the ants are protected by soldier ants that have incredibly strong jaws.  When it rains the ants drop everything and make the way back to nest quickly, as the rain washes the trail away, and being blind they get lost very quickly.  An incredible social structure.

The hotel pools were all heated to varying temperatures by the hot springs from the volcano.  I spent the rest of the morning enjoying the warm water and a beer in the swim up bar.

In the afternoon we set off for a walk around the Arenal Volcano Natural Park, and then hot springs.  As we drove around the volcano once more we could see the cloud lifting, and signs that maybe we might see the summit.

We were dropped off in the park in an area of wild cane forest.  the canes were quite high and thick, and we were warned about straying from the path as the area was full of snakes and other creepy crawlies.  Unfortunately (!) we didn't come across any.

The volcano was always looming over the park, and as we came to an opening we were able to get our first view of the complete crater.  The story behind the volcano is quite remarkable.  Before 1968 this crater did not exist, but the local aboriginal people always told of a great fire beneath the earth. 

There were small craters on either side that still exist today, but on Monday, July 29, 1968 at 7:30 am, the Arenal Volcano suddenly and violently erupted. The eruptions continued for several days, burying over 15 square kilometres with rocks, lava and ash. When it was finally over, the eruptions had killed 87 people and buried 3 small villages – Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luís – and affected more than 232 square kilometres of land. Crops were spoiled, property was ruined, and livestock was killed. It was a difficult time for the people of Arenal
At the height of its ferocious activity, the volcano flung giant rocks – some weighing several tons – more than a kilometer away at a rate of 600 metres per second. These explosions would go on to form three new active craters.

The craters and cones that you can see today are as a result of this violent eruption.  The volcano remained active with frequent firework shows up until 2 years ago.  Reminders of this can be seen by platforms dotted around  the area for viewing.  Now all you can just about make out is gases or steam coming from the craters.

Our walk took us through the cane forest to a secondary tropical forest, and then out onto the lava beds.  The black rock was now colonised with plants and small trees, but as we made our way across the lava we were treated to some stunning views across the Lake Arenal, the mountain range to the north east, and of course the volcano itself which was clear of most of the cloud.

As we looked out across the lake you could hear and see Red-lored Parrots in the tree tops.

To the north east storm clouds were building above the volcano range, however over us it seemed to be clearing.

As we made our way back to the bus we came across a pair of Grey Chacalacas on the path, and several squirrels in the trees.  Back at the car park the sky had cleared even more and the volcano was now completely clear of any cloud.

Just as we left the park we stopped at the visitor centre for the facilities, and we saw two gorgeous White-throated Magpie-Jays.  You can understand why they are called magpie-jays because they had a lovely long blue tail, and a head that had the look of a blue jay.  Unfortunately they had gone by the time I got out of the bus.

The next part of the tour was a disappointment, it was billed as a hot springs encounter, but turned out to be a trip to a hotel, that was just like ours with heated pools from the hot springs.  To add further insult there was a incredible sunset over and around the volcano, and I couldn't get out of the bus.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was late and dark.  We had some time on the balcony and also managed to get a view of the volcano at night.

The next morning we were up early again, and with the curtains open we we were greeted by clear skies, and some incredible views of the volcano.

I was also able to get some very close ups of the crater and the gases coming out.  We had mixed messages on the type of gas escaping, some said it was mostly steam, while other guides referred to it as toxic gases.  Either way it shows that one day the volcano will start up again.

Baring in mind this crater was not there until just over 40 years ago, the way the rock and lava has been colonised is incredible.

The sun was behind as we looked at the volcano, so I went out on to the balcony at the back of the hotel to look across the landscape there.  The rising sun had created a warm glow on the distant trees.

Away to the west the clear skies had also revealed a range of mountains that we had not seen before.  Costa Rica is essentially a large range of mountains that follow the continental divide, the centre being two rows of mountains and volcanoes with a valley in between.

We pulled ourselves away from the wonderful views and had breakfast, after that it was time to pack the bags and wait for the pick up for our next destination.

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