Wildlife galore

Trip Start Sep 28, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cano Negro
This is a comparatively expensive day trip out of La Fortuna, but worth it.  We went with a company called Aventura Arenal which did a great job.  You hop on a boat at Los Chiles and slowly mooch up the river for a couple of hours seeing, in our case, a huge variety of wildlife.  I think we were lucky as even our guide, Karina, (who was very good) was getting excited and saying that it was a  particularly good day. 

On the way out you pass by fields of citrus fruit,  pineapple (apparently a kind of bromelia), banana and casava. You also pass by a the restaurant Las Iguanas, where is found a large iguana tree on the banks of a little river.  It has developed into a major tourist attraction, with bus-loads standing on the bridge and looking at the iguanas which are at about eye level.  There are a lot of iguanas, but they are easily outnumbered by the tourists and  it is not hard to imagine the tourists becoming an attraction in themselves. I have never seen so many people standing in the traffic lane on a little bridge as the cars whip by.

Once we got to the river we saw a lot of caimans, very sweet little crocodilians, sometimes with their jaws open (perhaps because they were hot, or because they wanted to show off their little teeth?) some with jaws closed so that their teeth have to line up the outside of their gums. Originally everyone oohed and ahhed over the couple of caimans, but by mid morning they had become too common to excite much interest at all.  We are so easily spoiled.  The other reptiles were not to be outdone.  There were quite a few freshwater turtles out on logs, I suppose waiting for the sun to come out.  But they are very nervous little creatures and flee at the first sight of tourist interest.  They were both overshadowed by the basilisks or Jesus Christ lizards, so named for their ability to run a short distance across water. I think that they manage this trick by thrashing their tails so that they are swimming with their tail while running with their feet    It is a very funny sight though.  The lizards are bright green, and the males have a crest running the whole way down their backs, so they show up beautifully against the brown waters of the Rio Frio. We saw quite a few of these lizards sitting on branches or clinging to low hanging twigs while still mostly submerged.

The birds put in a fair showing too.  I think the kingfishers stole the day, with respect to birds anyway.  We saw three species of these.  The Amazon kingfisher is a pretty big bird, about the size of a kookaburra with a blue coat and a reddish brown chest and white throat.  He is very striking.  The green kingfisher looks pretty similar but is much smaller, less than half the size. The ring kingfisher is similar in size to the Amazon but has a pronounced white ring around its neck.  At one point we watched the green king fisher fishing from a low branch.  In the space of a couple of minutes he caught three fish, which he appeared to then beat against the branch.  The most common bird was the anhinga or snake bird, so called for its habit of swimming with only its sinuous neck above water.  They are like a very large cormorant, and the males  are all black, but the females have a brown neck. Towards the end of the cruise we came across a nest with two little white chicks in it.  Remarkably, our guide found a pooto, a kind of owl, pretending to be a tree stump and making a very good job of it.  So much so that photos are almost pointless. There were also egrets, both great and cattle, herons (little blue and one enormous one called a greater blue heron).  There was a pale billed woodpecker with its head sticking out of a hole in a dead tree, and a beautiful duck-like creature called a jacana, a chestnut  colour with a yellow forehead.  Some montezuma oropendulas flew by overhead. These birds  have spectacular yellow tails and create large nests that hang from tree branches like hessian sacks.

But for most people the mammals were the  real stars of the show.  We started off with some difficult to see howler monkeys  high in the trees. But the real excitement came from seeing a sloth moving! Sloths deserve their reputation and name.  In every language it is the same: sloth in English, perezoso (lazy) in Spanish, parasseu (lazy)in French and I am assured that it is the same in German and Finnish. They have no real predators while they remain in the tree, but they foolishly  come  to the ground once a week to do their toilette, and then all sorts of things will eat them.  But this one was moving in the upside down, hanging from the branches in the way that sloths have, and was going at a fair clip by sloth standards.  Unfortunately he was just a silhouette, but reliably identified as a three-toed sloth, the diurnal version of the two species.

The hardest animals to spot were short nosed bats, that clung spread eagled to the underside of a branch.  They were tiny and like incredibly like the mottled bark of the tree, it was only through the binoculars that I realised that what we were looking at was bats, even though we were right under the branch in question.

Slightly more active, and a complete novelty for us, was the little troupe of white faced capuchin monkeys feeding on palm fruits right at the edge of the forest and low above the water. One little one would run out on a frond actually over the river then turn around and scamper back, the suggestion was that he was looking for insects or spiders.  They were far more active and scampering than the howler monkeys we have seen, which have the reputation as the second laziest mammal in Costa Rica.  Our wildlife guide was particularly excited to see these ones. 

We passed some other howlers on the way up the stream, but not in good positions for viewing.

Towards the end of the upstream stage of the cruise we came across three dogs barking at something in a tree.  This bit of land was a farm, and the dogs were obviously farm dogs and on to something good.  We cruised over to have a look and discovered that what they had bailed up was a raccoon, and he wasn't too happy about it either.  The dogs left as we got close and the raccoon came down from the tree straight away and took off across the fields in a great hurry. Karina said that she had never seen a raccoon on the river before, and that this was not just strange but bizarre.

We came back a lot faster than we had gone out, so as to be able to make it to the Nicaraguan border.  This was obviously not a highlight for those of us who had just come from Nicaragua, and I would have preferred a nice slow trip back. It did have the effect of making all the howlers howl (or rather groan) as we went past.  The noise from the motor was seemingly enough to make them want to assert their territory, or say hello, or whatever it is that they are saying.  And despite all my scepticism, the trip to Nicaragua was well worthwhile.  Very early one we came across a big group of howler monkeys feeding in the dense ivy-like vine that covers some of the open patches of the forest.  We were able to drift right to edge and at times our  quarry was less than five meters away, although often hard to see clearly.  There were some very young ones in this group, and we had a great view of one little one following its mother along a branch back into the vine. This is about the best view that you could reasonably expect  to find anywhere  I think. But we had to move on.  We didn't get far before Nancy spotted some more monkeys in the trees, which this time turned out to be spider monkeys, one hanging by its tail above the river.

We continued down river passing more monkeys without pausing and many shapes that might well have been  sloths, but perhaps were howlers or nothing at all

The trip was almost done when we had the most remarkable sight of the day.  High up in a tree lay a two-toed sloth on her back with her hind legs holding the branch above, while on her belly slept an infant sloth.  Karina had earlier said that she had only ever seen one two-toed on the river before. While we were taking hundreds of photos of the sloth, an enormous blue morpho butterfly fluttered around the boat.  Karina caught it and held it for display, seemingly without doing it any harm at all.

So that was a pretty good day and we saw a lot in about three hours 20 mins on the water.

Then we went or lunch at a very nice place where someone found a dead tarantula; and parrots, squirrels and tanagers could all be watched.

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