This was the second part of our package tour, so we had a transfer from Savegre Lodge up the hill, through San José, over the Highway 32 pass in Braulio Carillo National Park, and through Puerto Viejo to Selva Verde Lodge. It wasn’t hard to find the lodge, because it was right beside the road.
All of the lodge buildings were connected by a network of covered walkways, and we would soon find out why that was. All of the rooms were in blocks of four on platforms which were at least 2 metres above the ground, and they were much cosier than the freezing barn we had occupied at Savegre. We were definitely back down in the Caribbean, with hot and humid weather.
March 12, 2013
After putting our bags in the room, we went for a walk around. The property was quite extensive and it took us a while to learn our way around. The bar and restaurant were down by the fast-flowing Sarapiquí River, and there was a feeder with bananas attracting the usual birds—toucans, tanagers, oropendolas, and Costa Rica’s ubiquitous Clay-colored Robin.
Later in the afternoon we went to the botanical garden. To get there we had to cross the main road, which had quite a bit of traffic. On the way we were surprised to see some of the local frogs. There was a little red one with blue legs (“Strawberry” or “Blue Jeans Poison-dart Frog”) and a greyish one with bright blue stripes. The botanical garden also had a covered walkway, which was a good thing because there were frequent heavy rain showers. The gardens were in need of a clean-up, but we still enjoyed exploring them. The flowers were attracting some showy hummingbirds like the Purple-crowned Fairy, and next to the little pond we were lucky to find a couple of Green Basilisk lizards. They run very fast, and when they run they go only on their back legs. While we were in the gardens we had to take cover several times because of sudden downpours. The rain showers never lasted very long, though.
Before dinner there was a slide show about frogs. The naturalist, Alexander, told us about the local frogs and their strange behaviour. For example one species carries their tadpoles up a tree and puts them into bromeliads, and then the females go up and produce unfertilized eggs for the tadpoles to eat. This was a good way to spend the time prior to dinner.
After dinner we had booked a two-hour night walk. It was led by the same naturalist and a young girl who was training to be a guide. We started out by the restaurant, where there were several tree frogs, including the green one with red eyes whose picture you see everywhere. Then we went across the suspension bridge over the river to the primary forest, and here we found quite a variety of frogs and other night life, including grasshoppers, millipedes, bats, and even a Common Blunt-headed Snake. Rosemary actually took pictures of the snake, too! It was a very interesting walk and we would never have found those things on our own.
March 13, 2013
Today we had a general nature walk scheduled for 9 am. This one was also led by Alexander. Again we went over the suspension bridge and onto the trails in the private reserve. It was already getting hotter and it was very humid. Alexander had located a Crested Owl roosting in a palm tree, which was a cool find. But apart from that there really wasn’t much to see. There were quite a few of the strawberry poison-dart frogs, and some botanical items, but that was about it. Nevertheless it was interesting to be in the forest. Just seeing the size of trees, plants, and vines was impressive. The forest seemed to be silent, but if you listened carefully you realized that the “silence” was actually a continuous background of insects trilling.
After the walk we sat by the bar watching the feeder. There was a hummingbird at the flowers which we couldn’t identify, and we spent quite some time looking at the pictures in the bird book. Suddenly we noticed that there was an extremely large Emerald Basilisk lizard sitting right in plain view right by the feeder, and we hadn’t noticed it getting there. Later it climbed a tree and sat on a branch overlooking the feeder.
Later in the afternoon Paul walked over to the botanical garden again. In the forest he saw a toucan eating fruit, but no other interesting birds. There was a group of howler monkeys in a big tree there and not far away was a tayra. It came out of some bushes about 15 meters away, looked carefully at him, and then returned to the bushes.
Before dinner we went to a slide show given by naturalist Alejandro which was about the history of the Sarapiquí area. He mentioned that last year was a very dry year for the area, whereas so far this year is wetter than usual. We had noticed the wetness ourselves.
March 14, 2013
This morning our scheduled activity was a boat trip on the river. We were woken up at 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 am by the howler monkeys so finally at 6:45 am we decided enough was enough and we got up. At 8:30 am we presented ourselves at the reception desk, where we received a voucher for the boat and a driver to take us over there. Puerto Viejo was only 5 kilometers away, so it only took us 10 minutes to get there. We were ushered straight onto the boat, along with a Lindblad tour group of about 8 Americans and their guide. This was the entire complement of passengers, so off we went.
The dock was on the Sarapiquí River, but soon we turned upstream on the Puerto Viejo River. Both rivers were quite wide, with mud banks which were 3 or 4 meters high in most places, but the Puerto Viejo was a bit narrower and faster flowing. Right now the water level was fairly low, even with the recent rains.
It was a great advantage having the other group’s guide aboard, because the boat captain would frequently spot wildlife and the two of them would communicate in Spanish. There were the usual caimans on the banks, but the driver also spotted a group of peccaries and a Sungrebe.
Beside the easy birds to identify, like the swallows flying up and down the river, there were others which were more tricky. There was a rusty-coloured flycatcher which we finally figured out was a Cinnamon Becard, and an immature hawk which we decided was a Common (not Great) Black-Hawk. And there was a Sungrebe, too, an interesting bird. We were also lucky that there was only one small rain shower during the whole two-hour boat ride, and that it was still cloudy and therefore not too hot.
Back at the hotel we sat by the bar and watched the birds at the feeder for a while. We were amused by the antics of the Variegated Squirrels and the various birds. There was definitely an order as to who would share the feeder with whom. Squirrels didn’t mind who was there but when the oropendolas flew in, everyone vacated the place. Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers shared equally with the Clay-colored Robins. And then suddenly there was a splash in the river and a bird flew up—it was an Osprey! We had seen a distant Osprey at Caño Negro, but this was the first one we had seen properly.
Today the slide show was about the wildlife corridor which is being developed to run down from the highlands to the Rio San Juan. In Selva Verde the university had installed motion-sensing cameras which automatically photograph anything which passes by. It was really interesting to see what the cameras had caught, all kinds of things from agoutis to ocelots.
March 15, 2013
We were moving on today, so after the howler monkeys woke us at 5:30 am we slept in until 7 am and then went over to get our breakfast. But before we could even start eating, we noticed that people watching the feeder were getting excited about something. It turned out to be a small hawk sitting in the trees, a Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon. Who says a bird feeder can get boring? Within a few minutes after we sat down to watch, the “other” species of oropendola showed up. All through the trip we had been seeing the big, showy Montezuma Oropendola, but today we also had the not quite as big, not quite as showy Chestnut-headed Oropendola.