Corcovado National Park *
What a trip! Words can barely begin to describe what we saw and heard at Corcovado National Park yesterday. First, I should warn would-be tourists to do their geographical homework to be able to weigh all the conflicting advice you're likely to get if you ever travel to this part of the world. Unless you've got a good sense of the lay of the land, you'll be at the mercy of hucksters and weirdos. We hopped on a Jeep-style minivan just before dawn on Sunday, and endured over two hours of bumpy, treacherous, rutted roads, fording several streams and rivers along the way. Thankfully, the driver indulged my requests to stop to take pictures of several of the amazing birds we saw on the road, including a Crested caracara, a Fasciated tiger-heron(?), a Great currasow, a Common black hawk, a White ibis, and a Green heron, among others.
When we reached the terminal point, the village of Carate, we began a 2+ mile hike along the beach to the park entry station. It was quite a struggle in the hot sun, but we were rewarded with great views of our main "target species" before we even entered the park itself: a screeching flock of Scarlet macaws landed in a palm tree nearby, and I got some decent pictures and video clips. They rarely descend below treetop level, so my photos were only so-so, but the brilliant red, green, yellow, and blue colors were quite evident. We paid $8 each at the entry station and learned that our intended destination -- a place called "Sirena" -- could not be reached within one day if we wanted to return the same day. So, we hiked about half that far, 2.5 miles.
Our first big thrill inside the park itself was seeing a group of Spider monkeys, including an infant clinging to its mother, and a toddler learning to climb along branches and vines. This time we got great video shots, since they were only 30-40 yards away. We also saw an anteater (I think) in a tree, a snake in a bush, and a huge spider. No jaguars or other feline predators, however. (A guy I met who is a fellow graduate of Virginia told me that while at Sirena he saw a puma (cougar, mountain lion) attack, kill, and devour a monkey.) Anyway, we didn't see as many birds as I anticipated, but there were some fine ones, nonetheless, most notably a pair of male Red-legged honeycreepers engaged in some sort of territorial display ritual, dancing and chirping around each other. (Non-violent conflict resolution!?) They were a gorgeous deep blue color. There were also Chestnut-backed antbirds, Riverside wrens, and others not yet identified. My feet paid a heavy price for that long beach trek (wearing only sandals), but the blisters were not as severe as I feared.
* The heading above was added retroactively, for the sake of clarity.
Do you know The Way to San Jose?
This morning, Monday, the 21st*, we left Puerto Jimenez on a bus shortly after 5:00. Dawn broke within an hour, and we soon saw quite a variety of birds in the farm fields. Even from a distance it was easy to identify a King vulture (white with black wings) perched on top of a dead cow. I also saw Groove-billed anis, some Yellow-bellied siskins, and a few others. Later I caught a brief glimpse of a medium-sized black and white bird perched on a wire, luckily while I was taking a video clip of the countryside. Replaying that clip helped me to confirm that it was a Great antshrike. (Why do so many tropical bird names include "ant"? I don't know.) That was just as we begin climbing from the hot, sunny valley where coffee, sugarcane, and pineapples are grown, into the cool cloud-forest mountains. After a few more hours we descended into the Central Valley, passing the city of Cartago, and finally arriving in San Jose around 3:00. Whew!
* NOTE: I realized that my last posting had the wrong date, which gives you a good idea how far out of touch with reality I am. Hence the corrected date, in [brackets]. While I'm out of the country (for the rest of the month) I can be reached at: ontheroad(AT)andrewclem.com -- replacing "(AT)" with "@" of course.