Saturday, January 9, 2010

Zipping Through Costa Rica

Inspired by the monkeys (and the rest of our family who raved about it), we decided to head to the tree tops for some zip lining.

Exhilarating and fun.

And also a wonderful lesson in physics. In principle, you are supposed to be able to use one hand to control your descent and thus avoiding crashing into trees or dangling in the middle.

In practice, however, there seemed a consistent pattern.

On several runs, the light person (Esther) came up short of the landing area and had to be "saved" by a guide crawling out and helping her back. Meanwhile the heavy person (Donald) came in too fast on several runs, and had to be stopped by the guides. Meanwhile the middle person (Ken, aka Goldilocks) managed to touch down just right on each run.

By the way, the pictures don't really give you the full effect. Some of the runs were at least 200 yards, through the tree canopy, and 70 feet or more in the air.

Some Mammals of Costa Rica

About 100 species of bats call Costa Rica home. Here is one: the Long-nosed Bat. These tiny fellows spend the day resting on the trunks of palm trees.

For all you Twilight fans, there are indeed vampire bats in Costa Rica, but we didn't see any.

The most visible mammals are the monkeys up in the branches of the trees. We mostly saw Howler Monkeys which, as their name implies, make a great whooping sound, particularly in the mornings. This photo isn't that great, but hopefully you can pick out the baby holding onto mom.

We also saw White-faced Capuchins, which are locally known as White-faced Monkeys. These guys are much more interesting that the howlers. Why? Because they are predators. Howler monkeys spend much of the day resting while their bodies try to digest pounds of leaves. But capuchins are usually on the prowl for lizards and insects in addition to fruit. Oh, and every once in a while they will hunt down a squirrel or pop the tail off an iguana (which will then grow another one).

Last, but not least, we also saw several White-nosed Coatimundis. Close cousins of raccoon, these fellows were often foraging around the hotel. (In Mexico, we have seen coatis in groups, but here we saw only individuals.)

Some Reptiles of Costa Rica

Those black-necked stilts in the previous post share the river with these fellows. According to our guide, Costa Rica is home to the third-largest crocodiles in the world, after the Australian and the Nile. So we've now managed to check "see world's three largest crocodile species in the wild" off our bucket list.

Meanwhile, the trees along the river were full of green iguanas - except that the males had turned orange for the breeding season.

The river also hosted the Basilisk. No, not the evil serpent-lizard of the Harry Potter movie. The real basilisk, better know as the Jesus Christ lizard because it runs across the top of the water.

But the real reptile sighting of our Costa Rica trip--sorry no photos--was the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake. We got a great look at one--very beautiful and highly venomous--while cruising back from a snorkeling trip.

Some Birds of Costa Rica

After a brief hiatus, we managed to get traveling again during the week between Christmas and New Years. Our destination? The Guanacaste region along Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast. What a beautiful area! Dry, tropical forest with lots of fun critters to track down.

Here are some highlights on the birding front:

Black-headed Trogon

Our favorite bird of the trip for three reasons. First, they are both beautiful and cute (our photo doesn't do justice to the orange chest and iridescent green-blue on the back). Second, they are quite active, continually tilting their heads this way and that as they hunt for food. Third, they don't mind putting themselves on display, unlike their cousins the Violaceous Trogons (which took days to find) or the Elegant Trogons (one of which we saw for about half a second).

Black-necked Stilts

A favorite anywhere, these stilts were spending the winter along the Tempisque River.

Orange-fronted Parakeets

Noisy, gregarious, and beautiful.

Squirrel Cuckoo

This guy didn't get the memo that cuckoos are supposed to be elusive. Its cousin the Mangrove Cuckoo acted more appropriately: it took us about 15 minutes to find one after hearing its faint call. And even then there was no way to get a photo.

Other great birds that managed to elude our camera:

A pair of Ferruginous Pygmy Owls

A nesting pair of Jabiru (the largest stork in the Americas)

Boat-billed Heron (picture a night-heron with a size 10 shoe sticking out of its face)

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Yellow-necked Caracara

Black Mangrove Hawk

White-throated Magpie Jay (some of which are addicted to packets of Splenda)