Costa Rica Trip:
Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, South Pacific
La Suerte Biological Field Station, Caribbean slope
This was our first trip to Costa Rica - and as any birder could imagine I was really looking forward to it. We were flying in to meet friends in San Jose and travel out to Corcovado from there. Flying into Costa Rica takes a day - two flights and a lot of lay over/waiting time. We arrived at night at stayed at the Don Carlos Hotel - a moderate hotel with friendly English speaking staff.
The next morning we to a cab to the local airport and took a small plane (8-seater) out to Puerto Jiménez on the south end of the Osa Peninsula. The flight was quick and pretty smooth, though ear plugs would have been nice. But we got there in one piece and it was a lot better than having to drive through Costa Rica (think no rules except no speeding). At Puerto Jiménez, we checked into the Corcovado NP headquarters and arranged for a truck to take us into Carate where we would hike into Corcovado the following day.
Riding in the back of the truck was pretty exciting - traveling though the countryside and seeing some new birds as we went. The driver even stopped to let us admire a flock of Scarlet Macaws. We arrived at Carate just as the rain started. We stayed at the Tent Lodge, which was sufficient for the night. The lodge was located next to the trailhead into Corcovado NP and just a few miles from La Leona station/camping ground in the forest. Our host were very gracious and provided us with a wonderful meal (probably the best we had for our entire trip). After dinner, we were given a tour the the turtle hatchery and were allowed to watch their release back into the ocean. We also walked along the beach to find a mother turtle laying eggs and watched as she buried her nest and returned to the water.
The next morning we packed up and headed out to Sirena - the research station located in Corcovado NP. It was a grueling 13 km hike along soft sandy beach and through the rainforest. We were lucky that the weather wasn't too hot or too rainy. Our 30 lbs + packs didn't help the hike either. I didn't have much time to stop and enjoy the birds or scenery much either. Before entering the research station, we had to cross a river. It is crossable at the mouth when the tide is low. When the tide is too high, there is a place to cross above the mouth - a rope is strung across to help. We made the mistake of attempting to cross at the mouth as the tide was coming in. We had to turn back when we were half was across and I could feel the water rushing around me and under my every step. The thought of getting washed out to the Pacific Ocean was good enough reason to turn around right there! When we finally reached the research station, I was more that glad to put my pack down and sit for a while.
To recover from the hike in, we spent most of the following day relaxing around the station. I watched the birds from the comfort of a shelter porch. We spend 6 days at the station. It rained a majority of the time, but we still hiked around on the trails. Rubber boots are a must - they offer great protection and traction. The only problem being if they get wet inside, it'll be hard to dry them out. The same was true for all clothing. All our clothes quickly got wet (even if it wasn't raining - hanging up the clothes can only help by much). By the end of our trip, the clothes started smelling of mold - not pleasant, but there wasn't much we could do about it. This was the start of the rainy season in Costa Rica and we were experiencing it. Another thing I was thankful for having was rite-in-the-rain paper. I don't think my notebook would have lasted out there if it weren't waterproof!
Birding in torrential rain was a real challenge. The birds were still there, but seeing them became an ordeal. The mixed flocks would suddenly appear - a whirlwind of colors hopping from branch to branch. I could only hope to get a glimpse of one long enough to id it, before... they would suddenly vanish. It was amazing how quickly they could appear and disappear in an instant. Being the only birder in the group made it more of a challenge for me - especially since I didn't have an experience down here. Still I saw (and identified) some amazing birds. I know there's a lot I missed, but I'll just have to return to try again one day.
During our hikes, we saw a lot of wildlife and enjoyed the scenery, the smells, and the vast diversity of plant life. It was a wonderful way to feel isolated, yet comfortable in the surrounding wild rainforest. The food at the ranger station was not one of the enjoyable parts of the trip, however. During our stay the food mainly consisted of different variations of tuna (from a can). It was edible and not too bad, considering we’ve been hiking all day in the forest (that makes even the worse foods taste good). The rooms were adequate in that they keep the rain out (but not the humidity). There is no electricity (I think there was a generator for the kitchen/dining hall, and maybe the staff quarters). There were two bunk beds in the room with the most uncomfortable mattress. We ended up putting up and sleeping in our hammocks, which we brought along with us. There was a shared bathroom to each row of rooms no heated water, but a cool shower was sometimes refreshing during the hot days. During our time there the mosquitoes were not out yet or at least it was too rainy for them. And the chiggers were also not out, which was nice not having to worry about those.
The Corcovado rainforest is full of unparallel beauties and diverse wildlife. It of course also has its dangers. Aside from the sharks in the oceans, there are bullet ants, venomous spiders, and poisonous snakes in the rainforest. I had one close brush with the latter. While going on a night hike around the research station, I was helping my travel companions look for snakes and amphibians (what they were mainly interested in). On the path, I was shinning my headlamp into the trees around eye level when something strange in my peripheral vision caught my eye. I looked down and not more than two feet from boots laid a large ~8 foot Fer-de-Lance! It was coiled up in the foliage in hunting mode. My heart leapt to my throat and I stumbled over my words. After making a safe retreat from the snake, we called our traveling companions over who were overly impressed with this find. We snapped some shots, without disturbing it too much, and let the large reptile finish its night hunt. The encounter got my heart racing for a while the Fer-de-Lance is the second deadliest snake in Costa Rica, next to the Bushmaster only because an anti-venom exists.
When our stay at Sirena came to an end, we hired a boat to take us back to Puerto Jiménez instead of hiking back out. It was a pricey, but we got to enjoy the cool breeze and the coastlines of Costa Rica and Panama.
From Puerto Jiménez, we took the small plane back to San Jose where we meet up with acquaintances who took us to La Suerte Research Station on the Caribbean slope where they were doing research. We were taken over the mountains through the Braulio Carrillo National Park a gorgeous and large cloud forest. In the foothills, we passed by many coffee and banana plantations. Some of the coffee plantations were shade grown but to varying degrees (some of the shade trees were pretty small and far between).
We arrived in the evening at the research station, which was among secondary forest. The next morning I birded around the research station. After watching Manakins and Oropendolas in the trees and bushes, I soon realized how hot it was due to the lack to tree cover. I don’t know how the forests were supposed to look on the Caribbean side, but it seemed a lot different that the Pacific Ocean. The forest seemed a lot drier and perhaps more disturbed. Still there was still a wealth of bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptilian life around to enjoy.
As my first trip, I thought Costa Rica was a wonderful place to explore and there are many more places to visit. I seemed to have just gotten a taste of it and was eager to have more.
The bird list doesn't repeat species, even if I saw them in two places. It only lists them in the first place I saw them.
Puerto Jiménez (Osa Peninsula on the southern coast of the Pacific Ocean):
From Puerto Jiménez. to Carate:
Little Blue Heron
Carate (outside of Corcovado National Park):
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Scarlet-rumped (Passerini's) Tanager
The hike into Sirena & boat ride out:
Golden-hooded (Masked) Tanager
Sirena (ranger station in Corcovado National Park):
Great Crested Flycatcher
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
La Suerte Biological Station (on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica):
Other Critter List
Mantled Howler Monkey
tree rat sp.
Green Sea Turtle
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Central American Squirrel Monkey
Mantled Howler Monkey
Central American Spider Monkey
Central American Agouti
Bat sp. (at least 2, big and small)
Basilisk sp. (Jesus Christ lizard)
Rain Frog sp.
Mantled Howler Monkey
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Hotel Don Carlos
La Suerte Biological Field Station