Costa Rica 2007 Trip report

Posted on by Jeroen Verhoeff

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  • In 2007 I was asked if I wanted to guide a group of six people on a 24 day wildlife spotting trip around Costa Rica.
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  • I said yes.
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  • (All pictures were made using a simple olympus SP350, which meant I had to get quite close to my subjects most of the time.
    I was only carrying a bird and mammal watching guide, so excuse me for not having all the names correct…)


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  • RARA AVIS

    We started our trip in Rara Avis, located in Braulio Carrillo National Park.

    It took two hours by tractor over a rough muddy track  to reach the beautiful lodge..

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  • A subtle colored brilliant forest frog
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  • It was hanging motionless just beside my head when we discovered it.
  • A beautiful helmeted iguana trusting his protective colouring.
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  • A masked tree frog.
  • Every morning I found it sleeping in exactly the same spot.
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  • Some big and beautiful species of praying mantis.
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  • Ain’t the jungle great!
  • Loads of critters and beasts everywhere you look!
  • Still; they are hard to spot against all the greens, so finding them makes a challenge. I saw king vultures, laughing falcons, army ants, guans, trogons, coatis, parrots, anoles, orependolas, peccaries and lots more…
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  • Bullet ant, named because of its very painful sting.
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  • Strawberry poison dart frog; very small, very poisonous and always on the move.
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  • Leaf katydid at night.
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  • A grey four-eyed opossum hiding under the kitchen.
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  • Some species of bat
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  • Orb web spiders can be found everywhere in the tropics.
  • Try not to walk into their giant nets!
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  • Jungle stream above water
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  • Jungle stream below water level.
  • The local guides said there were no fish to be found here,
  • but the small species of toothcarp here dared to differ in opinion.
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  • Inside a small waterfall.
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  • Some species of freshwatercrab
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  • Some species of cool water bug, as big as a thumbnail.
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  • They looked cute next to the monsterlike, three and a half inch long hellgrammites that were also crawling through the mud on the bottom of the river. Like a cross between a bug larva and a sandworm, complete with huge biting jaws. When they mature they turn into equally terrifying looking dobson flies. Got to be careful where I put my feet here!
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  • Lots of species of hummingbird, like this violet crowned woodnymph
  • , were attracted to the birdfeeders around the lodge.
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  • As were loads of orange nectar bats at night.
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  • Common paurague
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  • We found a lost shoelace inside a palmtree.
  • Then it turned into a blunthead tree snake.
  • What a cool creature this is!
  • Here it pauses on my arm.
  • (I am not that hairy; the snake is just very small!)
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  • This large species of katydid was almost invisible on the lichen covered palm leaves!
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  • TORTUGUERO
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  • Tortuguero National Park lies on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
  • Very wet rainforest separated from the sea by al large, overgrown sandbank.
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  • American crocodile
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  • Black wood turtles
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  • Bare throated tiger heron
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  • Some species of giant caterpillar, as big as my hand palm.
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  • They might just be the coolest beasts seen this trip.
  • Green basilisks are almost too weird to be true.
  • They can run over water too!
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  • Neotropical river otter
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  • Some species of landcrab
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  • The beach was full off empty sea turtle eggs.
  • In the small jungle on the sandbank I met a beautiful tayra and a large boa constrictor.
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  • Boat billed heron, a birdwatchers delight.
  • It was pretty approachable.
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  • A huge female horned katydid (Copiphora cultricornis?)
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  • CANO NEGRO
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  • Cano  Negro is on the border close to Lake Nicaragua. 
  • Large floodplains feed uncountable  waterbirds.
  • Birdwatching is done mainly by boat.
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  • Spectacled caimans were everywhere
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  • Some species of small tree frog.
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  • Masters of disguise are potoos.
  • They pretend to be the end of broken tree stumps and they are quite good at it.
  • When you took your eye of them it was very hard to find them again.
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  • A red coffee snake.
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  • This spotted dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus millepunctatus) fell from the ceiling in the lodge’s dining room.
  • These lizards are among the smallest reptile species in the world.
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  • An observation made during this trip appeared to be so special that
  • ‘Herpetological Review’ published an article about it.
  • Here it is:
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  • OBSERVATIONS ON A GREENPARROTSNAKE TRYING TO EAT A MILKYFROG July 20th 2009

    The 9th of December 2007 I was guiding a group of birdwatchers in the Cano Negro area in Costa Rica. Rich river floodlands abound with waterbirds make this a nice area for bird and wildlife trips. Near the river, in a agricultural area bordering a small forest, we were standing on a road , next to a couple of large, free standing trees, when we heard a rustling noise above our heads. A few seconds later, a about 1,5 meter long parrotsnake fell from a tree, almost on top of my head! It landed on a piece of barbed wire that was nailed to the tree. Hanging there on the wire, we saw the reason why the snake fell out of the tree in the first place: it had a big milky frog in its mouth. The quite big frog was held by its left front leg and was struggling very hard to get loose. An epic fight unrolled before our eyes, with the frog emitting lots of white mucus from its upper side. This mucus, indeed looking like milk, sweat from the frogs skin. While he tried to control his position with his right arm, the frog frantically moved his legs, over his back, to the head of the snake. With each movement he actually smeared the mucus from his back towards the snake’s head. These movements seemed to alter the state of the mucus,because the slime hardened and stiffened, forming tough threads like chewing gum, while the untouched mucus on the head of the frog staid fluid all the time.

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  • In about two minutes, the head of the snake received more and more of the rubbery stuff. The mucus even seemed to shrink while drying, making it harder for the snake to manipulate and see its prey. At some point it even looked if the head of the snake was bounded tight together with plastic rope. Suddenly the frog got free and it hopped quickly to safety. The snake staid behind, still hanging from the barbed wire, panting, looking dozy and ignoring our presence. After a minute it tried to get rid of the hardened slime.
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  • This had accumulated mainly on his nose, around its head and in its mouth and was very sticky and tough. The snake had to rub his head against the tree and move its jaws horizontally and vertically again and again to remove it. After about two minutes the snake got rid of most of it, except for the big chunk in its mouth. Then it became aware of our presence and calmly moved up the tree. When it got to three meters high, its mouth seemed empty again.

    In my opinion, it looked if the milky frog was very deliberately shoving its mucus towards the snake’s head. Its feet actually collected as much mucus as possible when moving them towards the snake. It certainly was not by chance that the mucus got picked up by its feet. As the secretion is said to be quite poisonous it might have been pretty tough on the snake. But maybe more important and strange was that the mucus seemed to almost change in a kind of rope. It looked if someone actually tied rope around the snakes head to prevent it from opening its mouth! I do not know if there are many poisonous amphibians that actively use their poison, but this seems to be the case in this milky frog.

    I have no books on Costa Rican reptiles and amphibians, but I am pretty sure it was a Green parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) munching on a Milky tree frog (Phrynohyas venulosa), although it seems also to be known as Veined tree frog or Marbled tree frog…

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  • MONTE VERDE
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  • Monte Verde national park consists of beautiful cloud forests. You can walk for hours on a nice network of tracks under huge trees covered in ferns, mosses and climbing plants. The former abundance of reptiles and amphibians is almost gone; I did not see one on my walk.
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  • A white-nosed-coati hung around the parking.
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  • A large polydesmid millipede.
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  • Variegated squirrels come in about seven colour forms in Costa Rica.
  • I saw three, with this one definitely being the nicest.
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  • A big Costa rican redleg tarantula emerges from its den.
  • (At night: flash.)
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  • A large blue eyed anole trusting its mimicry.
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  • CARACARA
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  • On the way we stopped at a small reserve named Caracara and on the Tarcoles bridge, where huge american crocodiles are being fed to amuse tourists.
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  • This black iguana was eating goat droppings by the side of the road.
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  • A huge american crocodile swimming under the bridge.
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  • Common Basilisk
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  • Highlights of this trip again and again are those beautifulbasilisks. I saw three species: the brown basilisk(Basiliscus vittatus,) the plumed basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) and the common basilisk(Basiliscus basiliscus).
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  • A northern tamandua destoying a branch in search of termites.
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  • MANUEL ANTONIO
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  • Before we headed for Manuel Antonio park we visited the mangroves nearby by boat.
  • Highlights were three silky anteaters.
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  • Obviously the white-headed capuchins (Cebus capucinus) here are used to being fed.
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  • Rosenberg’s or gladiator frog (Hylarosenbergi) in a blue mood.
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  • A ringed tree boa (Corallus annulatus).
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  • Manuel Antonio is a small park on the Pacific side. Pretty crowded, but still quite some wildlife to see.  A two hour stroll gave us two rather approachable agouti’s, five crab eating raccoon’s and four sloths.
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  • The sea was too rough to go snorkelling, but I found a nice puddle on the beach. It was both filled by a jungle stream and rolling waves from the sea. Quite bizarre: in between the mangrove roots, in beautiful filtered light, several different species of freshwater fish wee swimming just above several different species of saltwater fish like snappers and snooks.
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  • A swimming crab was friendly enough to sit still enough for a picture.
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  • “No food; only pictures? You must be Dutch!”. The crab eating raccoon’s here know their tourists.
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  • A cool stick insect.
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  • Smokey jungle frogs (Leptodactylus-pentadactylus) are gigantic!
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  • CORCOVADO
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  • Corcovado National park is situated on a peninsula on the Pacific coast next to Panama and is said to be one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. During a much too short walk we saw agouti’s, swainsons toucans, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and squirrel monkeys.  Stories about the park seen to differ; some say the park staff does nothing and poaching is immense, some say the opposite. Jaguar numbers dropped while peccary numbers were on the increase
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  • At night we go spotlighting. Here’s a red-eyed-treefrog.
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  • This huge fishing spider, hanging above the water at night, waiting for aquatic prey, seems to be missing some legs.
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  • Another beautiful leaf katydid
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  • A glass frog.
  • Aptly named; you can see its intestines through its belly skin.
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  • A three feet long american crocodile in a small jungle pool at night.
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  • Rather often it will rain in the rain forest.
  • I don’t like getting wet from the rain.
  • Maybe I should go snorkeling… this pool seems big enough.
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  • Besides some little toothcarp I found some rather big freshwater shrimp.
  • Even a huge, long-clawed bright blue one!
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  • I could not find yesterdays crocodile though.
  • But just when it started raining swimming pools, I saw this huge slider on the bottom of the stream.  It had a big bite  on its backside and it did not move. When I pushed him gently big bubbles of air came out; it was quite dead!. To my knowledge only a jaguar does this, but why did it not finish its meal then?  I guess this will always remain a mystery…
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  • The jungle  borders the beach. What a pretty place!
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  • On another nightly stroll I found two whip spiders;
  • they are huge, scary and wonderful!
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  • Three land crabs were climbing a tree.
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  • On the beach little stones seem to be rolling down from logs and rocks where ever you go.
  • It turned out to be small land hermit crabs who, alarmed by approaching big creatures, pull back in their shell, loose their foothold and tumble down.
  • Ain’t life great!
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  • The surf was rather heavy , but finally I found myself a suitable salty snorkeling spot. From above water I had already seen frigate birds, pelicans, boobies, dolphins, a tail of a humpback whale and jumping tuna, so I wondered what it looks like under water.
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  • Between the rocks I sawblue Pacific spiny lobsters,butterfly fish, a weird trigger fish, sergeant major fish, parrot fish, a porcupine fish, pufferfish, beautiful banner fish and a cute baby sharp-snouted pufferfish. In open water three bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus) circled me very curiously and closely.
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  • While trying to photograph a yellow guineafowl puffer (Arothron meleagris) I am suddenly aware of a tiny stinging feeling. I look sideways and see a blue bottle wrapped around my left upper arm.  Now I seem to remember that the bluebottle, also known as Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis), was always said to be one of the oceans deadliest creatures, so a silent ‘Oops!’ escapes my snorkel. I swim to the beach and ask fellow traveler Frans; ‘Would you be so kind to pee over my arm please? Because I also think I remember urine neutralizes the venom. After explaining my situation a little better he pause for a moment and then informs me he does not have to go.  So eventually I found myself strangely crouched at the waters edge trying to save myself from a horrible death by peeing myself. When I heard a voice behind me I turned around to see a smiling  Frans with his diving glasses full of extra medicine, saying: ‘I succeeded anyway!’.
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  • Well, did I die in the end?
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  • No. Actually it did not even hurt at all.
  • At home I tried to find out. Sometimes bluebottles can be lethal, but mostly it mainly hurts very much. Why was I apparently immune? Was it dying? Did he like me an decided not to sting me? Am I a kind of superman? Different experts told me urine does and does not work, so this golden-shower-beach-party could actually have been useless.
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  • Blue Pacific Spiny Lobster (Panulirus pencillatus)
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  • SAN GERARDO DE DOTA
  • San Gerardo de Dota is situated quite high in the mountains.
  • It has beautiful landscapes and lots of birds.
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  • Th e humming birds are so busy fighting each other that they hardly have an eye for danger.
  • When I was trying out how close I could get I eventually even managed to grab
  • this magnificent hummingbird by the tail for some seconds.
  • With my lips!
  • And it did not even seem to notice!
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  • It was rather hard to find in Monteverde, but here they were plentiful.
  • Resplendent quetzals are beautiful birds, but they are also a bit boring. They sit in a tree doing nothing, swallow a wild avocado,  do nothing again for some minutes and then poop out a pit. Then the whole sequence starts again. I took this picture through someone else his telescope.
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  • Costa Ricas smallest hummingbird; the scintillant hummingbird.
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  • Although it was somewhat chilly, the sun brought out a pretty male fence lizard.
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    And some cool species of anole too.

    In all: Costa rica is not the worst place if you like to look for wildlife!
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