Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaf Cutter Ants

Throughout Costa Rica we saw leaf cutter ants.  They carried pieces of leaves along a highway, working diligently.  It was hard to get a focus and a photo.  One of these shows a highway and the pieces of green on the highway are carried by ants.  The brown photo allows a bit more contrast.  Also is a leaf that has been cut by them so you can see the precise pattern they seem to use to cut the leaves.


There is a spot known as Crocodile bridge on the Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica.  We stopped to walk out onto the bridge and look down at the crocs.  When we got out of the van it was bright and sunny.  Part way across the bridge, a major rainstorm hit.  We saw it literally coming towards us like a big sheet of water.  There was no possible way to escape so we just got completely soaked.  Fortunately it was a warm rain! 

We went in low season - late September is supposedly the height of the rainy season.  But, we were very lucky.  We only got caught out in the rain twice the entire trip.  Once was the crocodile bridge...which will always remain a hilarious memory for me and a trip highlight.


This is a photo of the quite large tarantula we saw in Monteverde Cloud Forest - appropriate Halloween coloring and all.  Our guide told us a rather gruesome story about a wasp that is the primary predator of these spiders, which I will spare you.

Small Red Frog

We saw several small red frogs in Tortuguero, like this one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This is a photo of bananas a little over three months before they are ripe.  I was surprised to see that there was a purple flower type bloom - sort of - at the bottom of the banana bunch.  Apparently they cut this off and put the bananas in a bag three months before they get ripe.

Unicorn Beetle

On the road to Tortuguero we passed a Del Monte banana processing plant, which was very interesting, and outside of it there was an old man with a cart of coconuts.  He would, for a dollar, slice off one end and insert a straw so you could drink the coconut juice.  There was no water available, and I wanted to support him, so i got one.  (Not very good, actually).  The interesting thing on his cart though was this unicorn beetle.  He had a couple of them, who were munching on sugar cane. He only spoke Spanish, and mine is rusty, but we tried to communicate a bit.  I asked if the beetles had names but all he replied was "Beetle" so I am betting not.

At this stop I also had my first encounter with biting Costa Rican ants.  Ouch!!!  Not a good idea to wear Tevas.  Before I really knew what was happening they got some good bites in, and they stung for a long time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


There was an interesting snake asleep in the fork of a tree near the pool at our hotel in Tortuguro.  There were some people there who said it was a boa constrictor, but they were just tourists, and I saw a photo in a guidebook that identified it as something else - I just can't remember what.  In any event, it appeared to be napping and was nice to see.

Water Buffalo, and domestic livestock

Leaving Tortuguero requires a boat ride that is one to two hours.  Along the way, we passed by some water buffalo, which was very interesting.  They were laying in the cool waters - and I don't blame them:  it was hot.

We also saw a lot of Brahma cattle - some of whom were quite thin.  On the dirt road to get to the boat, there were fields with not only cattle, but plenty of horses, a few goats, and many chickens.  The rural lifestyle was interesting to see.  The ranchers make fences with sticks of a certain type of wood that, when planted as just a stick, sprouts and grows into a tree.  You can tell how old the fence is because the older ones are trees and they look like someone just ran a fence along a row of mature trees.  The younger ones look just like sticks or branches - and there is a lot of variety inbetween.

I also observed a lot of birds - all sizes, colors and shapes - though I couldn't tell you what any of them were.  Our guide for this portion of the trip sucked, so I didn't learn much about the animals from him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spider Monkeys

We saw Spider Monkeys playing in the trees and on the vines in Tortuguero, including a mother with a baby on her back that I did not get a good shot of.  I find monkey photography to be very hard as monkeys move quickly, the lighting is always bad, and there is rarely enough time to focus well.  You get a lot of blurry shots and monkeys shapes that are not clear.  I would love to get a facial close up, but when they are on the move this is about impossible.

We also saw White Faced Capuchins but had no time to get any photos at all, as the monkeys were on the move and going into the trees, and being in a boat, we could not follow.

I had hoped to see Squirrel Monkeys in Costa Rica as well, but that did not happen fur us.  Next time!

I was pleased to find a small snake sleeping in a big leaf in Tortuguero.  Not long after, our guide found another.  It's about as round about as a crayon, and quite long - probably at least 3 feet in length.  I gather it is no threat to humans, and is quite common. 

Howler Monkeys

We saw - and heard - Howler monkeys in Tortuguero.  We heard the monkeys more often than we saw them, calling with deep screams which I found to be surprisingly different in tone and quality than calls of chimpanzees.  They sounded closer to gorilla sounds, actually - though the calmer of the gorilla sounds.

Several times we did see them from the boat we used to drive around the waterways in Tortuguero.  We heard them hiking near Arenal volcano, but did not see them there.  In Monteverde Cloud forest, we saw them at a distance through a spotting scope and watched them eating ripe figs and playing with each other, surrounded by flies.  Certainly it was nice to see some New World monkeys, and I enjoyed hearing them very much - though hated, as always, the stupid people who try and imitate their calls.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green Sea Turtles

Tortuguero is on the Carribean side of Costa Rica, where there is a 26 mile long beach which is the primary nesting ground for four species of sea turtles.  We were there towards the end of the nesting season, so we were able to see a green sea turtle laying eggs.  The Carribean Conservation Association requires that you go at night with a guide, and no cameras are allowed so as not to disturb the turtles.  Spotters are employed to watch for turtles and wait until they begin laying, then tourists are allowed to come watch the egg laying without disrupting the turtle.  In this way, one turtle is viewed rather than several and the goal is to minimize disturbance for the turtles.

As we were there in low season, we got lucky.  My friend and I were the only ones from our hotel who booked the tour the night we went, so we had our own private guide, who was very knowledgeable and dedicated to turtle conservation.  We were also lucky that all the groups combined only numbered 30-40 people on the beach.  In peak season it can be 250, which is hideous to contemplate!

As soon as we got to the beach we saw a turtle in the distance beginning to dig a nest.  We got clearance to go closer when she began laying eggs.  I was surprised how close we got - 6" from the turtle!  We could see each soft, bouncy, ping pong sized white egg drop into the hole in the sand.  Supposedly the turtle goes into a kind of trance once laying begins - she did not seem to notice us, but who knows for sure. 

We were also lucky enough to see three hatchlings that crawled very quickly towards the ocean and got washed away on the waves.  Normally you can't see that at night, apparently, but we got lucky.  The beach opens at 5am and we were told you can often see hatchlings then, so we got up early - but unfortunately we didn't see any when photos were allowed.  However, I did take a photo of an egg that was laying near a nest, and a photo of the turtle tracks in the sand.  The beach is covered with these turtle tracks all along the beach. 

Sadly, however, despite the evenings efforts at conservation and turtle protection, the morning revealed that there is still a huge problem with humans harvesting turtle eggs.  Many, if not most, of the night's nests had been dug up, with human footprints and fresh excavation.  While there were some dog tracks on the beach, there was no evidence of dogs digging up the eggs - plenty of evidence of humans doing so.  That was very disheartening and upsetting to see.  Hopefully education about conservation and the turtle's over exploitation will take hold more and more in Costa Rica, but it is quite clear they have a LONG way to go on that front.

Despite the negatives, seeing the turtle egg laying and the hatchlings was my favorite part of the trip - truly a neat thing to see.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Red-Eyed Tree Frog

We were able to see the red eyed green tree frog in Tortuguero.  We saw the eggs, tadpoles, baby frogs, and adult frogs.  They are nocturnal so it's hard to see them in the daytime.  The hotel had a breeding program for these frogs and we were able to release three month old frogs on the hotel grounds.  These frogs are supposed to live up to 15 years.  I found them hard to photograph so these are some of the best pics I was able to get.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Iguana Eye

I'm back from Costa Rica.  I was using up some frequent flier miles and decided to go there as it has always been on my list of places to see.  I was warned that it was the very height of rainy season and a bad time to go, but having traveled in rainy season in Africa, that did not discourage me or my traveling companion.  Low season offers better rates and is rarely as bad as predicted.  Costa Rica in low season was awesome!!!  While it rained off and on, it was mostly sunny, and we only got caught out in rain twice - only once during a planned activity.  So we were lucky - we usually were the only ones or one of a few people for each activity we did.  Most were groups of 4 or 6 - 8 was the biggest group we had to do anything with, and that was great.  Nothing was crowded and we were able to go farther on limited funds than in high season, as well as I think have a better travel experience overall.

While I did not see as much wildlife as I had hoped - I did learn about Central American wildlife viewing enough to know how to see more next trip, and I saw an introduction.  Most wildlife centric trips cost more than the one we elected to take, though we emphasized it as much as we could.  It was a nice mixture of seeing things and adventure and a much needed break.

As always, I'll try and pick and share my favorite photos of the trip here, and animal stories. (I review the hotels and restaurants on TripAdvisor).  Today's installment is a close up of an iguana we saw in Tortuguera, on the Carribean side of Costa Rica.  Overall that was my favorite spot we visited as it was the most remote and we saw the most wildlife.  There were a lot of small lizards there as well as some quite large ones.  We saw one that was a few feet long climbing a tree, which I'd not seen before.