Despite the busy wedding schedule the three of us: Ruth, Peter (the newlyweds) and I couldn’t stay at the resort all week. We were leaving Guanacaste after the wedding and there wouldn’t be another chance to explore. So together with Jess – another wildlife-inclined friend we took a boat cruise in Palo Verde National Park.
The park is about 1.5 hr drive from the resort and as soon as we drove into the forest we saw our first mammal – a White-nosed coati. Not a bad start.
Once on the river our encounters with wildlife became o lot more up close and personal. A troop of White-throated capuchins approached the boat along the overhanging branches of the mangroves. I smiled at their grumpy faces and they growled back. Turned out that the showing of teeth is considered a sign of aggression in capuchin world. Thankfully the monkeys were quite used to cultural blunders from inexperienced tourists and minutes later the diplomatic relations were restored as the little terrors made themselves obnoxiously at home on our boat. The friendship was strengthened further as one of the monkeys familiarized itself with us by sitting in turn on each of our heads, while the other took charge of the captain’s chair.
The next encounter left me feeling somewhat less comfortable. We passed a number of sinister-looking American crocodiles lying on the bank covered in wet mud. I was thrilled when we spotted a particularly enormous one. Until it started moving and finally slithered into the river. It was huge, easily the length of our boat. I thought it was wise to move away from the side of the boat and just as I turned my back to the prehistoric reptile, the captain threw a piece of raw fish into the air and the crocodile propelled itself out of the water, its terrifying jaws gaping wide open, to swallow its ‘prey’.
Most of the other wildlife was predictably less interactive, which is how you hope to see animals – in their natural habitat, engaging in natural behaviors, as if you are not there. Bare-throated tiger heron stood motionless on the bank staring intently into the water. These unassuming birds are responsible for controlling crocodile populations by preying on young hatchlings.
Other birds went about their day: Little blue heron, Black-crowned night heron, Little green heron, Crane hawk, Collared forest falcon, Green kingfisher, Mangrove swallow. Occasionally we spotted lizards: giant Green and Spinytail iguanas soaking up the sunshine on the banks or on the low tree branches, Common basilisks sitting on the gnarled roots of mangrove trees and trying to be invisible.
And then we found bats. Right out in the open Brazilian long-nosed bats were clinging to the trunk of a tree that rose out of the water. Arranged in a neat vertical row they were perfectly camouflaged against the bark. The reason these bats roost arranged in a line becomes apparent when the bats feel threatened and start swaying back and forth, making the line appear as if it was a moving snake. A very neat trick.
On the drive out of the park we came across another birdlife hotspot in the fields composed primarily of Black bellied whistling ducks and Northern jacanas as well a Ringed kingfisher in the tree above. Ruth and Peter are experts at identifying birds, so I didn’t have to do any hard work.
The trip was a fantastic teaser of what Costa Rica has to offer in terms of wildlife sightings.
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