Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Costa Rican wildlife

Thomas and I returned earlier this week from a week's vacation in Costa Rica. The main purpose of our trip was to stay at the amazing Tiskita Jungle Lodge while getting to see wild scarlet macaws flying free.

We had an amazing, incredible time, and I can't say enough good things about our experience at Tiskita. I'd highly recommend this place to anyone who loves seeing wildlife, and Thomas and I will definitely be going back in the future. If anyone interested in going there has any questions, just leave a comment and I will do my best to answer!

Just ten years ago, there were no wild macaws flying around in the jungles around Tiskita. Their habitat had been lost due to slash-and-burning. The owners of the lodge (Peter and Lizbeth) purchased a large chunk of desolate land and got to work returning it to its splendor, ultimately achieving what is a wildlife paradise. They have a huge fruit orchard, and plant trees with the goal of pleasing the current wildlife inhabitants and perhaps attracting even more (like spider monkeys, who do not yet appear to live there).

I could go on and on, but instead will show some pictures!

It's kind of hard to see this guy, but here is a sloth:
There is a specific kind of tree that sloths like, and Peter planted several around the lodge for that reason.

The lodge is right on the ocean -- how calming to fall asleep to the sound of the waves at night! Here are a couple of pelicans we saw resting on a rock:
I'm not sure what kind of lizard this is (there were many different kinds of lizards!) but I liked his pose:
This iguana, resting in the grass, was the first animal we saw upon arrival:
Later, we saw another hanging out on a rock:
This green iguana spent most of his time basking on a leaf right outside of our cabin -- this picture was taken while on our porch:Peter and Lizbeth hope that eventually every cabin will have its own ghost bat living near it; our cabin didn't have one yet, but we found one at another one:The beautiful scarlet macaw; the main purpose for our trip:
We spent the first few days seeing them fly overhead and hearing their squawks, but we didn't come close enough to take any decent pictures. The biologist told us that they're very good at hiding and that our best chance of seeing a pair would be to catch them foraging. We'd most likely see the mess they were making before we saw them. And that's exactly what happened! We would have walked right by the tree in which they were perching had they not discarded so much food waste!

We spent a little over an hour watching them forage in this beach almond tree. They spent most of their time in the same tree, but they weren't particularly close to one another. After about 50 minutes, the male came over by the female, squawked, and then took off, landing in a neighboring tree. The female apparently was still hungry, and she stayed and foraged in her original position. The male then started foraging in his new tree. We watched this for another 30 minutes or so until we left. About 10 minutes later, we heard a squawk and saw them flying away together.

It's really amazing how completely these giant red birds can be camouflaged!The biologists are able to tell all 50 or so macaws apart based on feathering and coloring on their wings. The male of the couple we were watching was named Dylan and the female was Red.

The first macaws were set free about 6 or 7 years ago. Last year was the first year that macaws successfully nested in the wild -- there are now 3 one-year-old macaws hatched in this forest and flying free! And several pair right now are nesting but the babies have not yet fledged -- the biologists are keeping a close eye on them. This was so exciting as it was proof that the flock is being established and therefore has a better chance at long-term survival.

The agouti is a rodent-like animal that we saw quite frequently. There was one that was foraging on the trail we took down to breakfast every morning. As long as we didn't approach her, she wasn't bothered by our presence:Since it's spring, we saw a few babies from different species; here is a young agouti:I'm not sure what birds these are, but I liked the picture, so I'm posting it!Peter found a boa constrictor near the lodge; he called us over as he used a tool to safely grab him up and then place him safely in a tree:Kind of hard to spot -- no wonder we didn't see any while out walking in the jungle!

We went on a hike with Lizbeth, where she showed us some of her favorite parts of the forest. She knows where certain birds like to hang out, and because of her we saw three different kinds of manakins and several woodpeckers, along with others. No pictures, though -- they were too quick for us!

Towards the end of our walk, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye -- we had happened upon a group of white-faced monkeys! They were eating fruit in the orchard. We sat there for about an hour and watched them. It was so fascinating! We could see a few babies clinging to their mothers as they swung from tree to tree.

This little guy is eating a piece of fruit; he proceeded to lick his fingers afterwards; it was so adorable!
In this video, you can see one of the juvenile males trying to scare us off. Two different monkeys tried to scare us off, but after we remained still where we were, they appeared to forget about us. (We stayed a decent distance from them -- the owners do not want the wildlife becoming tame at all as that can be dangerous to them).

The last day, we took one last walk down to the pond in order to hopefully spot the resident crocodile who had eluded us the rest of the week. On the way down, we heard a very distinctive bird call coming from this bird of prey:And then, success! As though he knew we were leaving yet wanted a glimpse of him, the crocodile appeared:In addition to the animals pictured and mentioned, we also saw coati, a tayra (apparently quite rare to see!), land crabs, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and many other lizards, hummingbirds, birds, butterflies, frogs, toads, etc. Our experience was absolutely amazing; and I can't thank Peter and Lizbeth enough for such a magical vacation. I can't wait to go back!


Elizabeth said...

So many great pictures!!! The bat is the cutest thing I've ever seen. Was the Tiskita Jungle Lodge very busy with tourists? Did you and Thomas have trouble finding food since you're vegetarians? I've found it exponentially more difficult to travel since I became a vegetarian and I worry in particular about visiting different countries. At least in the US there are always French fries available. :-)

Mary said...

Elizabeth -- the Tiskita Jungle Lodge can accommodate about 40 guests, I believe, but we were the only ones there. So it really felt like we were part of the extended family rather than guests. We spent hours after meals just chatting! It was the beginning of the rainy season, plus with the economy, people aren't traveling as much, which is why it was deserted.

The meals are served family style at set times. We let them know before we arrived that we were vegetarians and asked if this would be a problem -- we were assured that it wouldn't be. The food was delicious! Even when there are other guests, they offer veggie choices if people ask ahead of time. And they accommodate food allergies/preferences/etc.

We've actually found it a lot easier than we originally thought it would be to travel while veggie. Most restaurants will have one option or are willing to accommodate if you ask, even in Prague! I must admit that we're not super strict about it on vacation since we try not to make waves. For example, a seemingly veggie dish may have meat stock in it. I figure as long as I don't know about it, that's fine with me. Back home, though, I'm more careful :)

DweezelJazz said...

Hello! So glad you had a great time - it looks like a fantastic place. I think Tony would love to go there, he's always looking out for wildlife around here and gets very excited when he sees a new critter, flower, or anything in nature. It's great that a habitat is being created and sustained for the wildlife. Thank you for sharing.

Tony Wildish said...

wow, that sounds like a paradise indeed. I bet it's gratifying to know that wild parrots are every bit as messy as town-parrots, it's not just having human servants and all-day-music that makes them lazy!

Mary said...

DJ & Tony -- I was actually thinking about you guys when we were there and how much you would like it.

Tony -- there were many similarities between city parrots and the wild parrots. I need to write a post on it. I'm hoping the biologist will start a wild scarlet macaw blog, but she wasn't 100% sure when I spoke to her!