Tuesday 14 March 2023 (0900) – Having got our wellies on, we trotted off after Angel as he led us on our first tour. It wasn’t especially hot – I don’t know in detail, and there was no internet available to check up on this kind of thing – but I suspect it was a few degrees short of 30°C. But when we got into the forest, it became clear that the humidity was pretty high.
Angel explained a little of the history of the La Sirena Ranger Station as we headed off on this tour. The site was once home to an airstrip and so there was a certain amount of exploitation of the resources – forest one side of the airstrip was cut down, leaving primary forest only on one side. In the mid-seventies the government stepped in and closed down the exploitation by setting the area up as a National Park, and now the side that had been cut down is growing again, as secondary forest. Numbers of tourists are carefully controlled, as is their behaviour when they are in the park. The desire is to make it as natural as possible, so there is no feeding of the wildlife, which is left to get on with its own business in its own way. The rangers maintain tracks through the forest and it is these trails which the various tours go along.
The experienced guides (and Angel is one such) know the patterns of wildlife behaviour in the various areas of the Park and so can do a little bit by way of tailoring their routes to match the desires of their groups, some of whom will have detailed and arcane species to seek, and others have a more general desire to See Stuff. I’d put Jane and me about midway on that spectrum; having been here for over three weeks (and having been lucky on other tours) we’d seen a good selection of wildlife and only had a few boxes we’d like to tick.
So, come with us on a typical wildlife tour in Corcovado National Park.
The first thing that struck me as we walked along is that for an area which holds a reputed 5% of the world’s biodiversity, bugger-all happens. I had some kind of fanciful idea that the wildlife would be running, flapping and flying around us and making loud wildlife kinds of noise. I suppose this image comes from having visited the Galapagos islands, where you actually have to step over some creatures because the buggers won’t get out of your way.
Corcovado is not like that.
A three-hour tour, such as we did this morning, consists mainly of following your guide and trying not to fall over the innumerable tree roots that cross the path – because there are a lot of trees in this forest, many of them quite magnificent.
Every so often, the guide will stop and peer around, sometimes trying to foment some kind of action by imitating animals or birds.
Then the guide will suddenly stop, point and tell you what can be seen. In the case of our group, this consisted of Jane quickly being able to see things, followed by many minutes of (normally) patient explanation by the two of them to tell me exactly which tree I should be looking at and exactly which branch the practically-invisible bird is perching on. Many more minutes follow whilst I try to get a photo of whatever it is that’s in focus and not obscured by the fucking vegetation which grows abundantly in these parts, for some reason. Photographically there tend to be three outcomes; Angel uses his spotter scope, considerable skill and one of our phones to get an image; I get a fix on the animal and shoot off several frames in the hope that one might be in focus; or I give up because whatever it is that Angel has found I simply can’t see because of my deteriorating eyesight.
Occasionally it works, and I managed to pierce the vegetation to pick out a shot, like this Agouti, munching on mushrooms. (I have to say that the combination of a Nikon Z6, a 100-400mm lens and the camera’s ability to help getting the focus right by a capability called “focus peaking” was at times essential and hope this shot demonstrates that).
Sometimes (rarely, of course) the wildlife in question moves into a spot where in theory it’s possible to take a more satisfactory shot (the Agouti again).
Sometimes what the guide finds is so unutterably tiny and so distant that I have no chance of seeing it for myself, so a mobile+scope shot is the only way to get an image, like this long-nosed bat
which is tiny but which Angel not only could see but could find with his scope and muster the photo with Jane’s phone. Very impressive and, for me, very frustrating.
The reason it’s frustrating is a philosophical one with its roots in copyright law. Because Angel took that photo, it’s not mine and so I can’t take any pride in it. It’s lovely to see the creature an’ all that, but as I’ve said elsewhere in these pages, if I didn’t take a photo of it, it didn’t exist or never happened. There were times I was able to see things and still couldn’t get a decent shot. For example, we were wandering along, and I was several paces behind Jane and Angel when all of a sudden an anteater – a fucking anteater, one of the things
we Jane really wanted to see! – calmly wandered across a log not twenty yards from me. Could I get a decent shot? Could I buggery.
A combination of my own incompetence and there being too much vegetation in the way. The best I could do, before the benighted creature disappeared from view was this.
Jane maintains this is a great image, and it is indeed sharp. But I never caught the head and face, which means it’s not, to me, a satisfactory image. Angel was pleased that he saw it, too, even though all he got was a dwindling rear view.
When groups meet or get in earshot of each other, the guides communicate among themselves to say what they’ve seen and where. And every so often there’s a frisson as something worthwhile is visible, like this Collared Forest Falcon
and you take your pictures and then turn round and see that The Word Is Out.
The guides all can hear things that normal people can’t and so they might hear the peep of a bird and know (a) where to look for it and (b) what they should be looking out for. They also look at the ground to see what clues there are there. Often, it’s just scuffing where a Peccary or two has been rooting around for stuff; but sometimes it is another frisson, like, in this case, Tapir footprints.
We ended up scurrying through the trails, along with many other people, following reports of a Tapir having been seen. Eventually we persuaded Angel to break away from this scurrying as we’d already seen Tapirs and we were getting fed up with (French) people pushing in in front of us.
The trail we then followed led to the beach
where, after a while, we saw a Black Iguana.
At first I thought it was a wooden carving that some unkind soul had put there to annoy punters like me, but no, it really was a genuine Iguana.
Other things we saw included a pair of Trogons, man and wife;
a decent view of a Tinamou, the “Forest Chicken”;
and a male Curassow (apparently auditioning for Yellow-Nose Day)
which was disinclined immediately to make way for us; but mainly what we saw were scenes of serene sylvan boskiness
which were pleasant enough but devoid of any further wildlife sightings of any pith or moment.
And then we were back at the Ranger Station and it was time for lunch, which is very works canteenish, but set up very efficiently. Jane went vegetarian whilst I opted for the beef. Jane’s decision was definitely the wiser.
Thus ended our first Flight of Angel’s. We didn’t know what excitement (or otherwise) the afternoon might bring, and neither do you, which is why you should come back to read the next thrilling instalment. Yes, really.