Wednesday, 6 September 2017

19th August - Cano Island, Costa Rica

We had an early start today (but then every day was an early start as we have been up at dawn almost every day!), we were off out into the Pacific, to the Isla del Cano, or in English Cano Island.  

Outside the villa a Golden-naped Woodpecker was th first bird to be seen from the balcony.



The rain of the previous evening had cleared but one could not call it a lovely morning.  Looking out from the pool area at Kura it was an almost an all grey scene.  Most concerning were the cloud formations on the horizon.  These were forming over the distant island we were off to visit



We took a breakfast bag with us, and were driven into Uvita village to meet up with the tour.  From their headquarters we headed down to the Marino Ballena park where were were to board the boat.  Once again this was a small boat, this time with a sun canopy, and fixed bucket seats, but only 24 feet long.  To get on board we waded into the surf, and clambered aboard.  As we headed out from the beach as would be expected iwe rode the waves, but as we passed the breakers it became clear the swell was very high.

The time to get to Cano Island was approximately an hour and a half, the distance around 30 miles.  After about 20 minutes we stopped to watch a pod of Spotted Dolphins around the boat, as usual they were very inquisitive, and did attempt to ride the bow of the boat.  With the conditions so unpredictable and the sea splashing into the boat I did not want to risk getting the camera out, so there were no photographs.

The Spotted Dolphin found in these waters is known as the Pantropical as its range extends around the tropical waters of the world.  At one stage it was under threat due to extensive Tuna fishing, but now with the rise of tuna-friendly methods it has bounce back, and can be considered one of the most abundant dolphin species in the world.

We continued on and after a little more time the captain advised that due to the swell it would take a little longer to get to the island.  There were sightings of Black Tern, Brown Noddy and Brown Booby.  One Brown Booby sat on an floating log, and had I had the camera out it would have been a wonderful picture.  As we approached the island we came across a breaching Humpback Whale.  It breached many times but distant.  We attempted to get closer but was unable to, and had to move away when one of the guests became sea sick.

We landed on the island and wandered along the small beach.  Cano is an important island for Costa Rica, both archeologically and environmentally. The waters surrounding the island are swarming with marine creatures, while the island itself protects several artifacts that date back to pre-Columbian times.  A series of hand-carved, perfectly spherical stones are found on the island, suggested by archeologists to be the grave markers of an indigenous tribe that lived here during pre-Columbian times. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries CaƱo was used as a refuge for pirates along the Pacific coast, while today, it is best known for its spectacular offshore diving and unique historical past.


Beneath the water you may be able to spot manta rays, tuna, needlefish, barracuda, snapper, white-tipped reef sharks, olive ridley sea turtles, moray eels, dolphins, and both humpback and pilot whales.  While on the island there is not much in the way and a few trails criss-cross it

We got back on the boat to take us to a snorkeling site.  However once again the visibility was poor, and the swell incredibly difficult to swim in.  I tried but eventually had to give up, as did others on the trip.  The guide had already written of the visit to Violennes Island, supposedly part of the trip, due to the weather reports, so it was decided to head back and to spend sometime searching for whales.

All around us we could see dark grey curtains hanging over the water, this of course was rain, and in places there were also flashes of lightning.  As we headed towards one of these curtains we saw Humpbacks breaching once more, and this time we could get close.

We the little boat stopping I decided to get the camera out, and managed some shots of the whales, however being pretty much at whale level, and in a small boat that was rising and falling on a very heavy swell, the results were not brilliant.

We were watching a mother and calf, and possibily up to two other whales.  They would come up to breathe, arch the back but never deep dive.


Costa Rica has the enviable distinction of more months with humpbacks in residence than anywhere else in the world.  Thousands of whales that have spent the summer feeding in the colder waters north of California head south in December to the warm waters off Costa Rica to give birth and mate.  

And then when winter comes to the south in June the Antarctic whales have built their blubber reserves in preparation for the longest migration in the animal kingdom and head north along the coasts of Chile and Ecuador to the tropical waters of Central America that their cousins from the north vacated a few weeks earlier.


The adults don’t feed and nursing females can loose up to a third of their body weight. The prevailing theories about why humpbacks migrate to the tropics are that the warmth allows the calves to grow more quickly, or that the waters are safer because of lower numbers of predators like Orcas



It was incredible to think that the boat we were in was half the size of the adult whales.  here you can see the tip of the mouth back to the blow hole.



We stayed with the whales for a good amount of time, but once we had gotten closer they stopped their breaching antics, and the best we got close up was some fin flapping.


With the weather closing in, it was time to head back, but before we did I was able to get an almost acceptable picture of a Wedge-tailed Petrel, another sea bird omitted from my guide book.  You can see the wedge shape of the white rump, and the central dividing line.


The trip back was more like surfing, the boat riding the top of the waves.  It was a fraction more comfortable, but still had the drops that jarred your back.  While every effort was made to avoid the storms we fringed one, and I was amazed to see how the rain actually stirred up the surface of the sea.  At no time though was it cold, and the freshwater falling was a relief from the saltiness of the ocean water that had been splashing all over us.

As land became in sight we came across a pair of Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.


Growing to about 2 feet in length, small for sea turtles, the Olive Ridley gets its name from its olive coloured carapace, or upper shell, which is heart-shaped and rounded. Males and females grow to the same size; however, females have a slightly more rounded carapace as compared to the male.

This pair were once again engaged in mating.  While considered to be the most abundant sea turtle, their numbers have dropped by over 30% in recent years, and are considered endangers to the lack of suitable nesting grounds.  Mating is often assumed to take place close to the potential nesting grounds, but this is not totally proven.


Leaving the turtles we carried on back to the beach, it was high tide,a nd getting off the boat was a little easier than boarding.  There was a definite art to the way the captain maneuvered the boat in the shallow water.  The beach consisted of a dirty brown sand, not the expected white sand of the typical tropical palm tree lined beaches.  


With the high tide and heavy swell there was also a considerable amount of spray in the air.


We were picked up at he park station, and taken back up the mountain to Kura.  The clouds and rain was now closing in, and we decided to sit on the balcony.  This though did not last long.  The rain turned very heavy, and the wind picked up and threw the trees about.  As I sat on the balcony I felt the ground move.  Later I found out that this was a small eart tremor, common in Costa Rica.

The wind and rain was attributed to Hurricane Harvey that had weakened as it hit the Caribbean shore of Nicaragua to become a tropical depression, but strong enough to send some quite violent winds across the mountain side.  This storm was to also feature later in our trip, but for now we settled down to relax, and be grateful that we were no out on the ocean.

An interesting day though, with the experience of whales once again.  We have now been in the presence of one of the smallest birds, the Scintilent Hummingbird weighing in at less than 5 grammes, and the huge 30 tonne Humpback Whale.

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