29 April 2013

Costa Rica Critter Round-Up

Warning: image-heavy post ahead. One of the reasons I wanted to visit Costa Rica was because of its incredible biodiversity. Although it's a pretty small country, the landscape and the climate changes quickly from cloud forest to rain forest to hot, dry beaches and as such, it would be difficult to spend two weeks there and not see some cool creatures. I'd been hoping for some mammal close-ups—particularly of sloths and monkeys—but although I saw numerous monkeys and one lone mama sloth, they weren't exactly frolicking at my feet either. Then again, it's pretty cool when you no longer need your iPhone alarm because you get a dawn wake-up call from a troop of howler monkeys. For the first few nights at least.

Spot the howler monkeys

Shy baby capuchin monkey

We went on several nature hikes, including one at dusk, but we tended to get better views when we just happened upon the creatures in question, like the sloth our guide spotted in a tree by the road while we were driving to the Arenal Volcano, or the coati that was wandering around near the La Fortuna waterfall, looking for lunch.

Mama sloth

The catarata coati

The thing that surprised me the most was how beautiful the country's birds are. I prefer fur to feathers, but we saw some gorgeous birds, including the emerald toucanets I spotted in the garden of our Monteverde hotel, or the blue-crowned motmot I saw hanging out at a dusty bus stop near Tamarindo. Despite it being the right season, we didn't see a quetzal, although our guide heard one, and we did catch a glimpse of the equally elusive bellbird, although I wasn't fast enough to photograph it. Even in the middle of San José, the random birds you see out and about are so pretty. We were initially captivated by the white-throated magpie jay who came to perch on the railings of the roof-top restaurant at our hotel in Mal País and who seemed so tame. We soon realised he came every day, because he knew when it was time for his French toast. The iguanas that climbed to the top of the canopy and sunned themselves, just below the restaurant, were just as predictable.

Emerald toucanet

Blue-crowned motmot

Breakfast time for the white-throated magpie jay

A tree-top iguana

In the butterfly garden in the Museo Nacional in San José, we saw the beautiful blue morpho butterfly, but it was too shy, so my only photos were far too blurry. I did manage a close-up of a pretty red and black butterfly, and we saw many other lovely butterflies throughout the country. I also enjoyed spotting a tarantula in the Santa Elena cloud forest reserve and a "Jesus lizard" in Monteverde.

A pretty butterfly. Not a blue morpho.

It's a good thing I don't have arachnophobia

Jesus lizard

I didn't see the newly discovered "fairy" insect; or then again, maybe I did? Oh, and although Costa Rica is really a dog country, I did see a few cute cats, including this one, which lived in our hotel in Tamarindo.

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