Saturday 4 March 2023 – From the goodness of my heart, not to mention the paucity of material, yesterday I spared you from a write-up containing hosts of wildlife photos. Today? Not so much. Adopting the (alleged) mantra of Australian foreplay, all I can say is “brace yourself, Sheila”.
We weren”t condemned to too early a start, but still an 0600 alarm was needed to get us up, breakfasted courtesy of victuals delivered early to our veranda, and out in time to meet someone called Tino outside a restaurant called Maxi’s in a place called Manzanillo, some 30 minutes’ drive away. We made it with a few moments to spare and Tino was already there waiting for us.
As has become the norm for this
holiday visit, I really had no idea what to expect from a “morning wildlife walk” – how long? how arduous? what footwear? which camera lens? Tino led us up a couple of streets, and already there were birds we hadn’t seen before.
Then he led us into a garden, which, if it wasn’t his, certainly housed his shed (built for him, he said, by a Nicaraguan carpenter)
which contained many pairs of very well-used wellies. He selected pairs for us and we moved out into the garden, which, if you’re into plants, was an absolute treasure trove of botanical fascination. Even I found some of it interesting.
Miguel in Tortuguero was fond of the “in front of your nose” game. Tino’s schtick was to point out something and ask “do you know what that is?”. My proud moment of the day was identifying the Frigate Bird. I think everything else was new to me, but once we were in the garden, Jane kept up with him really quite well, because she’s into that stuff. There was all sorts of stuff in it – jackfruit trees, star fruit trees (both sour and sweet), miracle bushes (sucking the seeds of which will make the sour star fruit taste sweet), the tree which gives the achiote food colouring,
cotton trees, all sorts of fascinating things. Oh, and a sloth.
Just as I was beginning to wonder if we were in for a botanical tour, Tino led us out again and, wandering past a stream, showed that he, too, had a great eye for seeing things. Can you spot the animal in this picture?
I couldn’t, but there it is.
A Blue Heron. Nearby was a juvenile.
We walked a little along the beach, which had a significant component of black sand, from volcanic activity. It also had an unusual feature. Tino produced a magnet
and then dopped it into the sand, after which it looked like this.
There’s a significant iron component in the black sand, so it sticks to the magnet. Further along the beach we saw a Wimbrel, going about its business.
We then came to the Manzanillo Nature Park, which is the point that I realised that we would be doing more conventional wildlife walk. By the way in, there were several land crabs outside their holes,
a hermit crab
and, in the distance, a howler monkey.
Jane commented that it was rare to see a single howler, and Tino said that this was an older male who had been dominant but had been challenged by a younger male, lost and been pushed out. Looking more closely, you can see this in his face.
Tino cautioned us against touching anything, on the basis that there might be any one of three things that could do you harm: spiky plants;
bullet ants, roughly one inch long, the bite from which is apparently agonising for anything from eight to 24 hours;
and snakes. This was another Eyelash Palm Pitviper.
Over nearly five hours we walked seven miles around this nature park, with Tino taking us into private areas because he had an arrangement with some of its land owners, so we saw a whole host of wildlife, both animal and vegetable, courtesy of his sharp eyes.
For example, there’s a fruit called the blue cheese fruit, which Tino cut in half with his machete so we could smell – and, yes, it smells like blue cheese.
We saw plenty of frogs, all tiny, and other amphibians.
We saw many insects.
One insect that we didn’t see, but could hardly avoid hearing, was the cicada.
Some of the trees are amazing, like the walking palm, which can travel as much as a metre in a year, putting out new roots in the necessary direction as it seeks the sunshine
and the strangler fig, which had enveloped a tree, taken nutrients from it and killed it such that it rotted away leaving a hollow space inside
(and this was the view from inside, looking up – you can see holes where the original tree’s twin trunks once poked through).
A question about the age of the strangler fig gave us a biological and philosophical insight that I suppose should be obvious, but wasn’t. Trees in Europe, where there are seasons, develop rings as the growth stops and starts each year, so you can age a tree by counting rings. Here in Costa Rica the distinction between the seasons is wet or dry; the trees grow continuously and therefore don’t exhibit rings, but are rather consistent in appearance from the centre, with a surround of a different shade, from the tree bark. Tino estimated, though, that the strangler fig had been there for over 200 years.
There’s a lovely fungus called the wine glass mushroom
and Jane had an encounter with a Golden Orb Spider,
whose thread is stronger than Kevlar; research is ongoing to find ways of synthesising the silk cost-effectively in suitable quantity and of consistent thread diameter, for applications in medicine (artificial ligaments and tendons, nerve repair) and the military (biofabrics, bullet-proof clothing).
There was also a magnificent pair of Large Forest Floor Millipedes.
These two have just mated. The female is underneath; it takes about three days for the male’s sperm to take effect and so he basically rides the female for that time to prevent other males having a go.
We also came across several leaf-cutter ant cities. This was, I think, the largest.
Because you’ve avidly read these pages up to this point (you have, haven’t you?), you’ll know how tiny these ants are. It’s utterly astonishing that animals that small can be responsible for building something this large.
We finally arrived at the Manzanillo Mirador
which is not forbidding Sir from pointing, but is actually named after the lady who first made the area her home. It offers a fine ocean view
which many punters were enjoying for what they assumed was its natural purpose, which is, of course, as a backdrop for selfies. They were completely oblivious to the fact that in the bushes right behind them sat a male Brown Basilisk Lizard
and his missus.
The final scene in our long, hot but absorbing walk was this.
There are at least six howler monkeys in this picture. I would have walked right under it and never seen a thing, which demonstrates the value you get from having an expert guide like Tino along to make sure you get value out of activities like this. I’ve barely skimmed the surface of all of the insights he gave us into the plants and animals that surrounded us.
However, we’d been toiling around the nature park for five hours, so It Was Time For The Bar, I Think. Fortunately, Maxi’s is something of a local phenomenon
so we awarded ourselves beer and lunch
before heading back, past some typically colourful properties
to relax in our nice villa for the rest of the day.
Tomorrow brings – goodness me! – more wildlife interaction, though of a more programmatic nature than today’s general rambling. So please join me to find out what it was we saw.