Week Two Continues......... Day 12, Monday, Oct 10, 2016, Caribbean foothills, lowlands and highlands- With an early breakfast, we were off to an early start heading down to the Caribbean foothills and lowlands. Jen and I go here for a day every time we are in Costa Rica and love the varying landscapes from open pasture land, riparian lands, plantations, and lush tropical rainforests.-
Our first destination this morning is the small town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui which is located on the banks of the Rio Sarapiqui.-
The Caribbean lowlands are home to much of Costa Rica's domestic crop supply of Coconut, Plantains, Fruta de pan (aka breadfruit), Papaya, and important crop exports including Pineapple-
The Caribbean lowland rainforests are a lush tropical ecosystem similar to, but different than the rainforests of the Pacific slopes, lowlands and foothills. The Puerto Viejo area is home to many of the Rainforest Reserves of the Tropical Studies Institute such as La Selva and Tirimbina Rainforest Reserves. (Images from La Selva and Tirimbina)-
The Caribbean foothills have many rivers which originate from mountain streams-
We drove downhill on the Pan-American highway through the awe-inspiring views of Braulia Carrillo National Park. Driving down the long flat roads of the lowlands, we started seeing quite a few birds. The first sighting being a spectacular "kettle" of migrating Hawks from North America-
Driving by the kettle of Hawks, I did see two Zone-tailed Hawks flying with the lower-gliding Black Vultures. Later when I examined the images, as suspected the Hawks were mostly Broad-winged Hawks with a few Swainson's Hawks mixed in.-
When you are driving along anywhere in Costa Rica, you will always see birds sitting on the power lines and wires; mostly Doves, Hawks, Grackles, Tropical Kingbirds and assorted Flycatchers. I looked up and noticed two birds on the wire that looked different. A quick stop revealed a pair of immature Groove-billed Ani. I thought at first that it was possible that they were Smooth-billed, but that would be rare here on the Caribbean, so I settled with the obvious choice.-
One of the Caribbean's prized birds; the Keel-billed Toucan. Its always a good idea to search through all the Cecropia Trees that you see, usually you will find Toucans perched in them. However, these were too far out from the road for good pictures, and they flew off almost as soon as we spotted them!-
Cropped image showing an immature fledged Toucan (left) begging to be fed by the adult (right)--
A little farther down the road, a Montezuma Oropendola nest colony hangs in a Sura Tree (Terminalia oblonga). The nests are deserted since the birds fledged a few weeks ago. Still another amazing sight of the lowlands-
Garza azul; besides being the Costa Rican name for the Great Blue Heron, is also the name of a private river boat tour on the Sarapiqui. Jen and I have been on this trip four times and we love it! There is so much to see on the river from assorted birds to Howler Monkees, Sloths, Caimen, Iguana, Bats, and so much more. They also have a private restaurant, and something new, a cacao (aka chocolate) grove with a tour (and samplings)!! :^) Because it is a private tour, and because it is off-season, Beny arranged this for Pam, Jim and I. We are going to be adding this tour to our day tour schedule for next years Costa Rica seminar! For today, this will be a special private tour for Pam, Jim and me! Beny always goes with us....he has great eyes for spotting wildlife, and he will be our interpreter! We met the Captain at the boat, his name is Andres', but he is more commonly known as "El Zorro"! Yes that's correct! Capt. Zorro as we will soon find out is a real character with an awesome sense of humor.....he was great fun to be with. But most importantly, he had unbelievable eyesight.....his spotting skills in those thick overhead trees was beyond impressive!!-
The Rio Sarapiqui was very high and muddy this morning; a bi-product of the heavy rains lately. Usually the river is much lower which is better for more birds since the low water offers more exposed log and branch perches for them. But Capt. Zorro assured us, there would still be many birds to enjoy! It was an unusual morning, with unsettled weather. Driving along the country road this morning it was sunny. Than the clouds moved in and was threatening rain.....than it rained a little. Than the sun came back out, than it clouded up again. I was beginning to think we would have a rainy morning. But then the sun came out again.....than it clouded up again! Oh well, we'll take our chances and hope for good enough weather to enjoy the boat ride and to photograph!-
As usual, the Capt. motored the long canopy boat up river to an area usually rich in bird life at a major bend in the river. The sun was out again as we started our boat ride and it wasn't long before we approached a small flock of Mangrove Swallows that were perched on some small branches of a larger tree that was submerged in the river. This is a good sighting, since usually when you see these Swallows they are buzzing the boat flying up and down the river......which is like trying to photograph Bees!! These were much easier!:^)-
For me though, the bird species that is the "Star of the River" has got to be the Anhinga (aka Snake-bird) or Pato aquja as its called by Costa Ricans! They are an unusually interesting bird that is very common and reliable on the river. It is very human-friendly and accommodating; allowing the boat and you to get very close so you can observe, study and photograph it. I am sure Jim was enjoying it....I heard him say again "This just gets better and better" between his rapid clicks of his cameras shutter button!! Really cool bird!-
The Anhinga were plentiful both up and down the river from the dock. Here are a few studies of a few of the Anhingas we experienced today-
This bird was molting judging by his warn and renewing tail rectrices-
An Anhinga in post-complete moult. Looking at its plumage you can see the developing plumage........
.........of the "pin'feathered" tertials, primaries and secondary coverts, and the down filoplumes protruding out from the wing coverts. This bird will be spending the next two weeks on this river, it won't be able to fly until then........
...........a good view showing its well-worn tail rectrices.-
We hadn't gone too far down river from the dock when it started to rain. Thankfully we were under the canopy of the boat, so the rain didn't matter, we would be dry! El Zorro pointed out the bow of the boat to a branch hanging over the river......Howler Monkey! This female was asleep on the end of a branch hanging over the river-
We passed this lone Monkey and continued on our way down river gently making headway with the moving current. I really wanted Pam and Jim to see a Sloth. We always see them on this river, I hope this year the river will also provide at least one for us! El Zorro scanned the trees with a very intense focus, I had a feeling it wouldn't be long.-
Perizoso, cried El Zorro! Dos dedos! But it will be hard to see Beny told us. The Captain maneuvered his boat under this tall tree along the river bank, and he mentioned that the Sloth was well hidden way up in the tree branches. Yes we did see a Sloth but as he said it was not a good sighting, only part of a dark cluster of wet hair was visible. Although we did see a Sloth, I was disappointed for Pam and Jim, I wanted them to have a good sighting and for Jim to be able to take some good photos. But honestly, I knew this would not be the last Sloth of the day. We only traveled maybe a hundred feet down the river and El Zorro pointed again "Perizoso" and Beny said this one is in clear view! There only twenty feet over our heads in an opening in the trees on a branch, was a curled up Two-toed Sloth with its baby.....huddling up to keep dry and warm! Fantastic!-
Its ironic, because a short distance down river, we found two more Sloths! By now we could start hearing the distant eerie "howls" of a family of Howler Monkey. Than as if being on cue came the unnerving howls of another family of Howler Monkeys, right over our heads in the trees! In fact they were everywhere both up river and down, close to the river and back in the rainforest! -
There were also quite a few Iguanas hanging from the branches along the river, and a few Caimans-
And we did find two Baseiick Lizards which are also know as the "Jesus Christ" Lizard because they can "walk on water". Actually, they can "run" across shallow water for short spurts on their back legs.-
No, I haven't forgot to mention the other birds we saw! Along the river we could hear the screeching sounds of many family groups of Orange-chinned Parakeets. But they are so hard to see in the dense vegetation, we didn't even try. Other birds were seen with quick looks but were not identified, such as this unidentified Flycatcher-
A little farther downstream, El Zorro's keen eyesight found another Caribbean river specialty; the Green Ibis. There were a pair of them roosting on a tree branch hanging over the river-
Little Blue Heron flies over-
Slowly the rain let up, it only lasted for half an hour. The sun began to peek through the overcast skies again. It was time now to start heading back to the dock. El Zorro gave us a nice long nearly two-hour boat ride that was very eventful. He was going back slowly against the current and I thought I heard a Toucan. I told the Captain, and he nodded he heard it too. He also said "Oropendola"! And pointed to the left side of the river. There in a fruiting tree was a flock of feeding Oropendola. Again our timing was perfect.....if we had come through a few minutes earlier or come back later, we would have missed them.
For me, there are no better symbols of the Caribbean lowlands than the Toucan and the Montezuma Oropendola.......two of my favorite birds! Now we had a flock of them feeding in a tree in front of us....not much better than that!-
The Oropendola flew in and flew out of this fruiting tree. Many would fill up on the small fruits and then fly off into the rainforest. I was still waiting for that Toucan to show up that I heard since often the two species associate together on the feeding trees. But it never came. I was watching the Oropendola as they shifted from tree to tree. One of the Oropendola that I was following flew into the top of a tree with few leaves on the branches. It landed with a few other birds that were perched in the branches.
At first I couldn't tell what species they were in my camera, so I picked up my binoculars and took a look; Collared Aracari!! The little Toucan species of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.-
Come to find out, there were three small flocks of Collared Aracari feeding in the trees on both sides of the river-
Our two hours were up, and it was time to go back the remaining short distance to the dock.....but not without a few last birds: a few Green heron.........
......and a couple of Bare-throated Tiger-Herons! What a boat trip!-
Back at the dock there was a little time to wonder around the area to look for more birds and wildlife. We were going to meet the owner of Garza Azul in a few minutes because he had something really special to show us.-
We had just gotten off the boat and at the top of the landing stairs by the restaurant, Pam was pointing up in the tree, she said she was looking at a Woodpecker. She pointed it out to Jim and me and sure enough, it was a Cinnamon Woodpecker! I had never seen this species before, so it was a great find, Thank You Pam! Although we never got a good look at it, or good images, it was a wonderful bird!-
There was plenty of birds and "other" creatures in the area around the main building and bathrooms such as this quick look at a Dusky Antbird..........
.....Blue-tailed Lizard which scurried off in a big hurry.......
....... the tiny "Blue Jeans", Strawberry Poison Dart Frog hiding in the wet leaf litter.....
......not sure of the species of Spider.........
I spotted a Semi-plumbeous Hawk in the rainforest, but it was too far and it flew off quickly-
The trees surrounding the main building had many Parakeets and a few Amazon Parrots in the upper branches, and they were loud!-
Besides the many Orange-chinned Parakeets, there were a few (that I could see) Olive-fronted Parakeets which seemed to like the Guava tree-
One of the fruits you see in every fruit stand in Costa Rica is Mamon chino (aka Rambutan). It is a close relative to the Lychee nut and it is refreshingly sweet and nutritious. When you peel off the red hairy covering, you will find a pure white fruit that is very juicy. It has a slight flavor of a sweet soft cheese.
I looked around and saw that there were several Mamon chino trees with ripe fruit. I asked Beny if it would be OK if I picked a couple of them, and he said Si.! So I did, and had a nice fresh-picked snack which was quite refreshing after that boat ride in the humid air.-
Part Two Continues.......... Day 12, Monday, Oct 10, 2016, Caribbean foothills, lowlands and highlands
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