Monday, 29 July 2019

Tapirus Lodge...

Tapirus Lodge is situated on the very edge of Braulio Carrillo National Park about 30 km Northeast of San Jose. It's a little lower down and as the temperature climbed once more, so did the humidity. We were going to be here for three nights and had a list of things that we wanted to film before we left. Though not a five star lodge I think this was perhaps my favourite. The guides here were superb and we saw some great animals.

On leaving the restaurant on the very first night I was pleased to find this lovely Clouded Snail-eater Sibon nebulatus.

Clouded Snail-eater Sibon nebulatus

Clouded Snail-eater Sibon nebulatus

 Our target on the first full day was to get some natural history footage of the Baird's tapirs that frequent the jungle around the lodge and within 10 minutes of starting we had found a resident female that frequently strides along the paths. She was magnificent, nearly 7ft long...and pregnant! The rain was so heavy though, it was all we could do to get some footage over the course of the morning and I would have to wait another day before getting some snaps of this wonderful animal.

Sloths overhead - not a sign you see too often.

A giant long-horn beetle with
a body over 2 inches long.

Masked Tree Frog

And finally...the Baird's tapir!

Baird's Tapir, female

Taken on my phone - she was
incredibly curious.

Baird's Tapir, Tapirus Lodge

I also found this small Red-bellied Litter Snake Rhadinaea decorata whilst heading back to my room. They have so many different English names - Orange-bellied Litter Snake, Pink-bellied Litter Snake and of course (the most recent) Red-bellied Litter Snake. Whatever you want to call it, it's a pretty dull snake until you turn it over, at which point its bright orange/red ventral side can be seen.

Red-bellied Litter Snake Rhadinaea decorata

Red-bellied Litter Snake Rhadinaea decorata
Helmeted Iguana (Basalisk) Corytophanes cristatus
Later that morning we paid a visit to a local legend, a guy named Copé who everyone seems to know and suggest we go and see. The guy's certainly a very talented naturalist, photographer and artist who has made his humble garden into a haven for birds and other wildlife.

Nigel and Copé

Copé's birding sketchbook - he's a very talented artist!

We saw some great birds and a couple of surprise beetles too - what a place!

An Elephant Beetle - HUGE!

Hercules Beetle - always wanted to see one of these!
Hercules Beetle, a real beast!

Black-cheeked Woodpecker, male

Blue-gray Tanager

Clay-coloured Thrush

Gray-cowled Wood Rail

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Violet-crowned Fairy - stonking bill!

White-necked Jacobin, male
Great Kiskadee
Three-toed Sloth
A 20 minute drive up the road from Copé's house was this Great Potoo and chick. They are much larger birds than I ever imagined.

Great Potoo

...and a view of the chick

Whilst watching the Great Potoo we were amazed when a large adult Green Parrot Snake crossed the road right between us all!  We gave chase as it reached the verge and Nigel managed to leap and secure it, though it wasn't too pleased to be caught.

Typical gaping action to try and deter
potential predators...didn't fool us though

A stunning rear-fanged (opisthoglyphous) snake,
harmless to us but deadly to frogs and lizards.

After a fantastic morning we bid farewell to Copé and went to see two very special snakes.

The Eyelash Palm Pitviper Bothriechis schlegelii comes in a variety of patterns and colour forms (see previous post). On the Caribbean coast in particular it's not uncommon to come across this stunning golden yellow form known locally as the Oropel. Local myth dictates that the eyelash viper winks at its victim after having bitten them - of course not true at all as snakes don't have eyelids, so certainly can't wink! Like all pitvipers they have solenoglyphous dentition (fangs that swing forward from the front of the upper jaw to inject their prey) and carry a fairly potent heamotoxic/cytotoxic venom, which can cause fatalities in some circumstances. Loss of a finger or hand (the places most commonly bitten) is more likely though. They also have a prehensile tail to aid climbing and anchoring to a branch.

Oropel, Bothriechis schlegelii

Our next snake is somewhat more feared and potentially deadly. This is a huge Terciopelo Bothrops asper more commonly known as a Fer-de-lance. These large pitvipers are responsible for more fatalities and life-changing injuries in humans than any other species of snake in central America. Mostly because they are a very common species that comes close to human settlement as well as being extremely venomous. Although you see these quite regularly, this was easily the largest any of us had ever seen, undoubtedly a female and possibly full of young and about to give birth at any time. She was just shy of 6 ft long and had a head as big as my entire hand. 

Terciopelo, Bothrops asper

You would absolutely not want to get tagged by this one!

You can clearly see the heat sensing 'pit' in front of the eye
allowing them to effectively 'see' in the dark.

We also saw this juvenile heron at the riverside. The feathers on the throat rule out Bare-throated Tiger Heron and although our guide thought it might be Rufescent Tiger Heron on closer examination the bill looks too short and I would favour Fasciated Tiger Heron, which is also found in the same area.

Fasciated Tiger Heron, juvenile

Fasciated Tiger Heron, juvenile
Fasciated Tiger Heron, juvenile - note
the feathered throat and short bill.
Back at the lodge one of the guides, Stanley, had come across this little Southern Scorpion-eater, Stenorrhina degenhardtii. They have enlarged, fixed rear fangs but are extremely docile. This one just settled in my hand. They get their name from eating scorpions (to who's venom they are immune) but also eat tarantulas.

Southern Scorpion-eater

Southern Scorpion-eater

Southern Scorpion-eater
Southern Scorpion-eater
Stanley also studies the Crowned Tree Frogs, Anotheca spinosa, an unusual species that has a crown-like spines on top of its head. He introduced a artificial breeding pond scheme to boost numbers and it has been a huge success. 

Crowned Tree Frog on artificial
'tree nest'. All stages of development
can be found within one of these.

Beautiful frogs with a fringe of
projections along the back of the head.

Stunning pattern, they are very docile and stay put too.
It had been a great day but there were still a few surprises to be seen. Walking back to the accommodation I found this superb little White-headed Snake, Enuliophis sclateri. They have a scattered distribution in Costa Rica and are uncommon to see as they lead a fossorial or semi-fossorial existence among the leaf litter where they feed on the eggs of other reptiles. They are completely harmless and (like our own Slow Worm) have a tail that can break off and keep wiggling to distract predators while it makes its escape.

White-headed Snake
At exactly the same location, I flipped a large dead palm leaf and found this Yellow-spotted Tropical Night Lizard. They are very secretive and not often seen so this was another bonus.

Yellow-spotted Tropical Night Lizard
Despite seeing dozens of amazing butterflies during our time in Costa Rica, there was only one that I truly wanted to catch up with - the Blue Morpho. This butterfly is very large, about 5 inches across and never seems to stop flying. I did get this slightly tatty one though.

Blue Morpho
Also this Merops Daggerwing. 

Merops Daggerwing

Merops Daggerwing

A farewell photo.
What a great place and what a great trip. I hope to return again before too long - there's so much more still to see.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Resplendent Quetzals...and venomous vipers.

We had to start early for Quetzals - coffee in the restaurant at 4:45 and in the van shortly afterwards. We didn't have to travel far but timing was essential. They come out to feed on avocados for a couple of hours before disappearing into the cloud forest for the rest of the day and we didn't want to miss them!

Twenty minutes later and we are standing in a long strip of pasture with a stream running through the middle of it staring at a male Resplendent Quetzal sitting in the branches of an avocado tree, what an amazing sight it was too.

Resplendent Quetzal, male
Females are similar but lack the long
upper tail coverts (yep, the tail is the white bit)

Resplendent Quetzal, male
After spending a couple of hours with these incredible birds, we went back to the Lodge for a quick breakfast before spending the rest of the morning finishing some filming up on the Paramo. By lunchtime we were ready to move on to visit Paraiso Quetzal Lodge to see a special local resident, a Montane Pitviper Cerrophidion sasai.

The Montane Pitviper is found along the length of the Talamanca Highlands and, like most pitvipers, is a 'sit-n-wait' ambush predator. It will sit on logs, path edges, under vegetation - anywhere where its prey (frogs, lizards, other snakes and small mammals) might scoot by on their day-today travels. It's known to have quite a strong haemotoxic venom. In colour and pattern (and it's ability to function at higher,cooler altitudes) it was not dissimilar in appearance to our European Adder (Vipera berus). This one was about to slough.

Montane Pitviper, female

Montane Pitviper, female

Montane Pitviper, female

Montane Pitviper...and admirer.

Nigel also spotted this helleborine species. Haven't ID'd it yet but it was a beauty.

Helleborine sp.

Talamanca Hummingbird on their balcony.

Slender Anole Anolis limifrons, female

Our filming trip was rapidly coming to an end. Tomorrow we would leave for our last destination on this trip, Tapirus Lodge.