Saturday 25 February 2023 – Travelling offers experiences that are rich, rewarding and fulfilling.
Getting up at 0345 is not among them.
However, a deal is a deal, we’d agreed that a morning hike was Just The Thing as part of our Bijagua experience, and anyway we’d paid for it. So an 0345 alarm call was necessary in order for us to present ourselves at the entrance to the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve at 0520 having attended to our toilette and eaten the rudimentary breakfast that the Casitas management had thoughtfully provided for us the day before. But first we had to try to get some sleep. Apart from anything else it sounded like a major storm blew all night, with heavy winds and lashing rain on the corrugated iron roof of our Casita. Despite the racket and at least one outside light mysteriously turning itself on and equally mysteriously off again during the night, we managed to get under way in reasonable order.
Finding the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve turned out to be slightly less than straightforward. You might think that such a thing would be advertised or signposted from the road.
We relied on instructions from Pura Aventura, which directed us to look for green gates on the right hand side, and Waze to give us a clue as to exactly where they were. We arrived there pretty much bang on at 0520 and
Just darkness and padlocked green gates. We had a few “Bay of Fundy” moments, wondering if something, somewhere had gone pear-shaped in the arrangements before, to our relief, a chap on a motorcycle turned up with the means of opening the padlocked gates.
The motorcyclist turned out to be Abner, who was to be our guide for the morning hike.
(He, by the way, was the expert who identified for us the Groove-billed Ani that we saw yesterday.) He equipped us with wellies – something the nature reserve insists on because it mitigates the spread of unwelcome parasites into the ecosystem of the Nature Reserve. Said ecosystem also pretty muddy in places, so this also saves on your own footwear.
The Tapir Valley Nature Reserve is a private nature reserve, covering some 114 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest, and is dedicated to ecosystem development. A group of concerned citizens purchased the land over ten years ago with the vision of protecting valuable rainforest habitat for many animals, including the endangered Baird’s Tapir.
The prime purpose of our hike was birdwatching (early morning being the best time to see them). We explained to Abner that we weren’t avid birdwatchers but we weren’t averse to looking for large colourful ones (as opposed to the LBJs – little brown jobs – that send twitchers into paroxysms of ecstasy). So seeing that Li’l Abner was toting a scope didn’t at first set my mind at rest, since I was after stuff you could photograph, not something that needed a scope to see. In the event, the scope wasn’t needed, except that a couple of times it enabled Abner to identify a bird before pointing it out to us. He was kind enough to use the scope to get a photo for me on my mobile phone
which was kind of him, but didn’t really produce the results I would want. That bird, by the way is a Montezuma Oropendula, and I did get a good photo of it later, in case you were worried. It has the most extraordinary call.
I should be clear at this point that the morning was what the Irish might call “soft”
which doesn’t ease the process of spotting birds. Nor does the birds’ rather annoying habit of being largely difficult to distinguish from the abundant foliage of this basically forested area.
That’s a Crested Guan, by the way. Also, many of them can only be seen at a great distance. For example, there is a toucan in this picture. Really, there is.
Look carefully and you can make out a Kill Bill Toucan.
OK, OK, it’s really called a Keel-billed Toucan, but where’s the fun in that?
So Abner’s ability to spot and identify birds under these circumstances was rather handy. You can therefore imagine that I was a bit worried that I was going to come away with very few worthwhile photos. However, the good folk at the Nature Reserve had a trick or two up their sleeve. There are a couple of comfortable bird watching platforms set up
with bird feeding stations located nearby.
which give great opportunities for close up viewing – and, importantly for me, photographing – the various species of birds which come to feed:
and Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-coloured Thrush
The good folks at the Nature Reserve had also provided us with some refreshment, which gave Abner a break whilst we clicked and videoed away.
Some extra entertainment was available in the shape of a coatimundi (also called just a coati in this part of the world) fossicking around the bird feeding stations for any scraps that might be available.
As we left this station, the weather had cheered up a bit and the wetland area of the Nature Reserve looked really rather attractive.
We visited another birdwatching platform and I was able to take some photos of flowers where a humming bird had been just instants before. And as we walked around the reserve, we also saw an Eyelash Palm Pitviper.
It really is there, tightly wrapped in a ball, and fast asleep.
We would never have spotted it, but Abner knew it was there. And we saw a pair of Great Curassows.
All of this was wonderful, and it was great to have had the chance to see these birds and capture some nice photos. But I’ve told the story of the morning a bit out of sequence to keep for you the best, most surprising and loveliest moment of the day, which actually happened quite early on.
At one point, Abner stopped in his tracks in surprise at this scene.
What, you may ask, is so surprising?
There’s a tapir in it. Oh, yes there is.
You might think “so what – you’re in the Tapir Valley Reserve”, but actually we were really, really lucky, since tapirs are nocturnal. We were able to get closer and closer and finally got some great video. To see one in the daytime is extremely unusual.
To see two, however, was special – a mother with her 8-month-old calf. Tapirs are a species that relatively little is known about. They are ancient, having migrated into South America during the Pleistocene epoch from North America after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama as part of the Great American Interchange. Their nearest genetic relations are, unintuitively, the horse and the rhino. The reserve is important in its ability to gather information about the lifecycle and habits of this remarkable creature. You can see that Mamita is wearing a collar; this is a GPS tag so that her movements can be followed and mapped out with a view to gain deeper insight.
One of the activities the Reserve is carrying out is research into the relationship between the tapirs and a tree, Parmentiera Valerii. The tapir is one of the only animals which can eat the tough cucumber-like fruit of this tree and thence distribute its seeds through defecation. The trails around the nature reserve are frequently dotted with piles of tapir faeces, to the extent that one really has to watch one’s step.
Abner gave us one final treat, which was to see the strange nests of the Montezuma Oropendula. This bird gets part of its name from the fact that its nests are suspended below the branches of trees, and en route back to our B&B after the great morning at the reserve, Abner showed us a tree with the nests.
Here they are in close-up.
So ended a remarkable morning. Once again we’d been really lucky and seen something unusual. But our day wasn’t over yet – come back to the next entry to see what we did with the afternoon!