Tag Archives: Wildlife

So: Costa Rica, eh?

Friday 7th April 2023 – Rather later than the “couple of days” promised in my last post, here are some valedictory thoughts about Costa Rica, which are worth exactly as much as you’ve paid for ’em.

Overall? We would heartily recommend it for a holiday (or even for travelling). The people are amazingly friendly and helpful, the country is safe and the sights are interesting.  The wildlife is rich, varied and occasionally fascinating. There’s a great variety of microclimates to choose from – cool (and damp) cloud forest to hot (and humid) Caribbean beaches; as well as wildlife watching (which was the main reason we went) there are many activities to choose from –  swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, ziplining, lying around poolside, white water rafting, hiking. This site gives a good overview.

Some research is necessary to ensure your visit is as pleasurable as it can be.

Timing of your visit is important.

  • The rainy (or “green”) season lasts from May to November.  If you don’t like it when it rains, probably best to avoid these times – and anyway bear in mind that in many parts of Costa Rica it can rain at any time, which is why all the hotels provide umbrellas.  Outside the green season, the rain tends to be in sharp showers rather than continuous downpours.  You can find more information here.
  • If you want to see specific phenomena, check your seasons.  In Ostional, turtle season is February. In San Gerardo, Resplendent Quetzal season is March. And so on.

Location is important.

  • If you want to swim in the sea, the Caribbean coast is probably the best place to go.  It’s rarely safe on the Pacific coast, where rip tides are a feature.
  • If you want to have a base and drive around, then there are certain places to avoid, such as the Nicoya peninsula, where the road surfaces are not conducive to driving pleasure. Also, journeys take longer than you might think.  It’s difficult to average more than about 30mph anywhere and often this speed is aspirational rather than achievable.  Twisty roads, trappy road surfaces, and slow traffic due to heavy lorries all mean that patience is a virtue when driving from A to B.

Driving: the country is small enough that a car is a decent way to get around.

  • Every community (which may be as small as a handful of dwellings) seems to have a school for young children.  The areas around the schools are marked in the roads – “ESCUELA” – and on signposts.  The speed limit goes down to 40kph and then 25 kph around each of these areas.  I started off by observing these limits and then realised that no-one else paid them any attention at all so I stopped being so particular about this.
  • However, many (but not all) of these zones are guarded by speed bumps (“Reductor”), many (but not all) of which are painted yellow and/or signposted.  So it pays to be alert. Some of the speed bumps are aggressive.
  • There are also speed bumps to guard some (but not all) junctions with other roads.
  • Most major road surfaces are actually pretty good, although vigilance is required to avoid the occasional guerilla pothole or other degradation of the surface.  Once you get off the major roads, you’re either on dirt tracks, which are by and large fine provided you’re in a reasonably robust vehicle, or the surface is randomly paved and hence treacherous.
  • There was a reasonable supply of fuel stations wherever we went, and we covered most of the country.

Wildlife viewing: having a guide is essential, unless you are very sharp-eyed and expert at spotting small, well-camouflaged and occasionally deadly creatures.  Guides know what to look for when they hear the faintest noise; they know where to look for particular animals and they know the signs to look for that indicate nearby wildlife. And, once they’ve spotted it, they can tell you what it is that you’re looking at and will be able to use your mobile phone camera through a spotter scope to get a photo for you. I really believe that if you go walking unaccompanied you’ll miss 90% of the animals that are nearby.

Photography: if you want to take photos of these animals, for top image quality I recommend that you have with you a camera with the equivalent of a 400mm lens attached.  My particular kit was a Nikon Z6 with a 100-400mm zoom lens, which I used almost exclusively at the 400mm end – and I wished that I had a teleconverter to extend this to 560mm (but it didn’t arrive until after our return, regrettably).  There are other options:  a bridge camera such as the Sony RX10 IV will do a fine job; and increasingly there are mobile phones which will enable you to capture photos and video.  I can recommend the Samsung S22 (or, these days, S23) Ultra, whose 10x zoom capability will enable you to get good results if the light is adequate. And, as I said above, the guide accompanying you (you did arrange one, didn’t you? Good) can often get a decent photo using your phone and his/her spotter scope.

Spending money is easy.  Virtually everywhere we went was equipped to accept cards and, more often than not, phone transactions.  For cash, US dollars are accepted almost universally, and in one or two cases the dollar was the only currency accepted.  We did get some local currency (colones) out of an ATM, but never really needed them.  Some ATMs will dispense dollars as well as colones. It’s worth having cash available for tipping guides.  It’s not obligatory, but if the guide does a good job, I believe it’s the decent thing to do.

The only security tip we received was this: never leave anything in your car.  We were pretty careful and only left the car with anything in it a couple of times – and one of these was in a supermarket car park which had a security patrol.

Our favourite place? The Tranquilo Lodge. Superb in every way.

Our travel organiser? Pura Aventura. Equally highly recommended.

I’m a firm believer in the Reithian diktat which shaped the BBC in its pomp – I try to inform, educate and entertain and I hope I’ve achieved this in some small measure. These pages will go quiet for a while, until either something photographically notable happens to me or we go travelling again.  Whichever it will be, I hope to see you back on this site in the fullness of time. Until then…

Pura Vida!

Day 25 – Final flights of Angel’s and more (sodden) wildlife

Wednesday 15 March 2023 – Against all my expectations, the night in the bunks proved to be a great deal less unpleasant than I had been expecting. OK, the occasional disturbance came as someone used a flashlight to see themselves to the loo, and for about an hour there was a very annoying snorer in, I think, the neighbouring bunk. But, that aside, both Jane and I awoke feeling, if not fully refreshed, then at least not completely enervated by the whole business. Whilst I’d been backing up photos at lunchtime yesterday, Jane had attempted a nap and said that the bunk area was very hot; but by the night, it was a tolerable temperature – although no bedclothes were needed.

So, up at 0430, and ready to leave at 0500 with Angel. We were, unsurprisingly, not the only ones embarking on an outing, and the soundtrack as everyone got ready was supplemented by Howler Monkeys in the nearby trees.

Almost immediately we were on to something; the news spread that there was an actual Tapir to be seen, a juvenile Tapir crossing one of the rivers. Angel got us there in time to see it emerge from the waters.

Then, just as I was preparing to take some video

the Tapir shot off into the forest – spooked, we think, by a crocodile nearby. (The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the croc beside the log in the first two photos above.)

Remarkably, the general excitement of actually seeing an actual Tapir (not that we were that fussed, as we’d seen loads of them, well, four, anyway, a couple of weeks before) was exceeded shortly after, since there was an adult still feeding nearby. My first view of it wasn’t all that encouraging, photographically speaking

(usual problem – vegetation getting in the way), but there were some people really quite close (you can see them in the background here)

and so I was able to scurry round and join one of those “blimey, here’s something interesting” groups of punters all trying to get their photos. Everyone – even the French guys – kept really quiet, and the animal seemed completely unconcerned.

I even managed some video.

Not that we were desperate to see another Tapir (hah! hark at us!), but it was quite something to have one grazing so close by. Later on, since we’re talking Tapirs here, we saw this:

evidence that Tapirs also strip and eat the bark off some trees.

We headed off to the shore once again, where we saw a Tiger Heron,

which stubbornly refused to turn to face us so we could more clearly see the stripes that give it its name, and also a Tricoloured Heron

which (of course) had buggered off before I got to see it, but Angel captured this shot for us on Jane’s phone.

One of the things we really wanted to get was a properly framed photo of a Scarlet Macaw. Angel obligingly found a tree where a couple were perched. The higher one was hiding behind a twig, and just as I found the lower one, it decided to leave, so all I got was this.

We’ve seen (and heard!) plenty of Scarlet Macaws, but still haven’t nailed the perfect portrait.

The only other thing we saw during the morning was a female Curassow

but generally the early morning start had been rewarding for our time of communion with a Tapir. So – breakfast time, and we had to “check out” of the Rangers’ Station, meaning clear any of our stuff from the sleeping area. We kept the wellies and the lockers until it was time to leave, thank goodness.

The breakfast break gave us a couple of photo opportunities. The first was the array of guides’ spotter scopes, looking highly reminiscent of walking palm trees.

The second was a chance sighting – at distance, as it crossed what used to be the airstrip – of a creature I’d never heard of:

a Tayra. If you see one, you can weaselly see that it’s stoatally different from anything we might see in the UK.

Thank you. Thank you for listening to one of the oldest known jokes in the English Language.

So, everyone set out again on the last of the guided tours associated with an overnight in La Sirena.

We came across a pool with a couple of groups looking at something. This was another “need the guides to spot the creature” scene. Your task, should you accept it, is to spot the wildlife in either of these scenes.

Here they are: two caiman.

How do these guys spot this stuff?

The next major encounter was one of my (many) sources of photographic frustration. We had the perfect vantage point to see a troop of Squirrel Monkeys as they went by. Jane captured this video (which appears to show one of the monkeys plummeting ground-wards at the very end – but apparently they are so light that such falls are unlikely to hurt them)

(the clicking sound you can hear in this video is me trying to get a decent shot) and what I came away with was this shot of mother and baby.

My frustration? I was so excited about actually being able to see them (rather than just seeing the foliage thrashing about) that I forgot to check which end I was at of my zoom lens. Of course, I was at the wrong end. If I’d been paying proper attention to the photography, I’d have got some closer and better images. Ho, hum.

Actually, the rest of the morning was fairly quiet, photographically speaking. It was also hot (I estimate at least 30°C, but then I might be exaggerating, here) and very, very, very, humid. My favoured clothing for this kind of activity comes from Rohan, and the shirts (all right, officer, I’ll come clean, shirt) I’d been wearing for the preceding days had been brilliant at wicking away the perspiration that pores out of me at these temperatures. But this particular morning was too humid and the general sweatiness of the whole thing was getting to me.


Once again, the guide-being-able-to-spot-stuff thing gave us a fascinating several minutes. If you don’t like snakes, look away now.

This was a Tropical Bird-eating Snake, some two-and-a-half metres long (a guess, I didn’t ask it).

and it was doing some very snaky things in its search for, I guess, birds to eat. I’ve cobbled together some video that Jane, Angel and his scope and I took.

Altogether very fascinating, and we spent quite a bit of time watching this creature being both sinister and spellbinding.

As we trudged along in an increasingly sodden state, I did take a couple of shots of further sylvan boskiness.

We were grateful for the Rangers’ work using local materials to create steps to help us poor stumbling, sweaty punters through the muddy bits.

We saw a few more creatures worth noting as we headed back to the Rangers’ Station:

Female Slaty-tailed Trogon

and we did see the busiest Leaf Cutter Ant trail <Clarkson mode ON> in the world <Clarkson mode OFF> (and this is actual speed, not speeded up)

and then we arrived back at the Rangers’ Station, where people were preparing to leave to catch a boat to wherever.

We walked to the reception point where we’d signed in, blimey, was it only yesterday? and there was a lot of milling about as we waited for about an hour for our group to be called.

Eventually it was our turn to walk along the beach

to re-run the Dunkirk thing again.

Our boat journey was not back to our original embarkation point, but on to Drake Bay, where we were assured that lunch was awaiting us. We were given instructions to follow a chap in red shorts who would lead us to the restaurant, which was good in theory, but he was a sprightly young thing who leapt off up the not-inconsiderable slope of the track to this restaurant, not giving a fig for his rôle as interim tour guide, and leaving us weary, sweaty punters well in his wake. Bastard. Anyway, we found the restaurant, and had a hasty lunch and eventually a “taxi” (4×4 pickup truck, thankfully with our suitcases from El Remanso on board) arrived to take us – along roads that reminded us uncomfortably of the Nicoya Peninsula – to our next stop.

Our next stop was a place called Tranquilo Lodge. After a bit of working out where the actual entrance was, we got a very pleasant insight into what awaited us. Bear in mind that we were both tired, hot and (in my case appallingly) sweaty after an intense 36 hours in the Corcovado National Park; bear also in mind that the place styles itself Corcovado’s Best Hotel; so the delightful welcome we got from Christophe and Sebastien, who own and run Tranquilo, really lifted our spirits as well as us and our baggage. The route to our room was up a very steep hill and we got a ride in Tranquilo’s lovely new golf buggy and Sebastien explained how everything worked and suggested that we should come to the bar to watch the sunset over a glass of something. He also provided some exceedingly important resources

so we were able to settle in to our room, with its splendid deck

before heading up for that sundowner.

We have four whole days here, with practically nothing to do except decompress. The last 48 hours have been wonderful (cold shower excepted); the four weeks that preceded it have been excellent; but it’s now time for us to relax and enjoy what looks like splendid accommodation.

I shall rhapsodise about Tranquilo in a future post. But, because there’s not a lot on our agenda for the next four days, I don’t know when I shall pen further deathless prose for your enjoyment. Check back in in a few days and see how things develop, won’t you?

Day 24, Part 3 – Second flight of Angel’s

Tuesday 14 March 2023, 1400 – I took the opportunity during our 90-minute lunchbreak to back up the photos we’d taken that morning and to recharge phone and camera in preparation for whatever wonders the afternoon had in store.

Almost immediately we hit the forest, Angel did his stop-and-point thing and even I managed fairly quickly to see what it was he was indicating – a Lineated Woodpecker. And the resulting image demonstrates elegantly why I always recommend to photographers that they shoot in RAW. If you shoot just JPEG, you’ll get something like this:

But with the extra detail available in a RAW image, you can get this:

We came across a Tinamou nest and its beautifully-coloured eggs –

I’m amazed that a coatimundi or peccary hadn’t made a meal out of it, frankly – and we saw a couple of Crested Guan at fairly close quarters, entirely unfazed by groups of punters, which meant they sat still for their close-ups, thus saving me some angst just in case I needed some for later.

We saw something new – a Scarlet-rumped Cacique (female, unfortunately – the male has wonderful orange decoration around the eyes, apparently) –

and something not new – a three-toed sloth, which Jane swears is smiling

but I’m buggered if I can see that. Never mind.

Then things got quite a lot more interesting quite quickly. The first sight was of the fourth kind of Monkey found in Costa Rica, the Squirrel Monkey. We’ve seen Howlers and Capucin and Spider Monkeys; and we’d seen in the distance the movements in the trees that signified Squirrel Monkeys coming through. But I finally got a clear sight of one of these small creatures (only about 25cm from head to bum) and I almost got a sharp photo, too.

Then The Word Got Out of something important to see and we scurried off in the direction indicated and – lo and behold! –

I got my Anteater shot, after all. I even got some video of it, too.

It had breached a termites’ nest and the termites were understandably less than happy about that so they went after it. This is why it is scratching and trying to use the tree to rub the attackers off.

Soon after that, I got my very first Potoo. OK, it was only a Common Potoo, but I’d never seen one before, so it wasn’t common for me.

This was another demonstration of the value of a long lens and a big sensor, as I was using, as opposed to a phone-and-scope setup. Angel managed to get this shot on Jane’s phone:

slightly larger, yes, but with chromatic aberration defects to detract from the overall quality.

We got another demonstration of the skill of guides. There are two birds in this scene, and I couldn’t see them for ages.

Yes, there they are:

male and female Yellow-Crested Night Herons.

We followed the river to the shore, where a Urania Fulgens moth obligingly stopped for a rest so I could take a photo;

and the beach had a dead tree on it with an extraordinary root system.

We saw Black Hawk Up,

and, as we neared the Ranger Station at the end of our tour, a Costa Rica take on the Monkey Puzzle Tree.

It was, in the end, a very satisfying day, despite the frustrations I felt at points along the way about my inability to (a) see things and (b) get photos of them.

Once back at the station, we had a shower. It was a cold shower. Jane reckons that that was exactly what she needed after five and a half hours and seven and a half miles in the sweaty forest. I reckoned it was fucking torture, and something I never want to do again.

Dinner was served from 6pm and we took the opportunity to go early, mainly because – guess what? – tomorrow’s start would be an early one. The facilities at the station are basic but well-organised; Jane got the top bunk and I got the bottom bunk, and we settled down for what we expected to be a poor night’s sleep, given that there are several other people in bunks in the same area

and we had to be up and ready to go out at 0500 the next day.

The next exciting episode will cover the night’s sleep and the following day’s action-packed, erm, action – come back in a day or so to find out how it all panned out.