So sometime around midnight we crossed over from Panama into Costa Rica and docked at the town of Golfo on the Golfo Dulce, a gulf at the tip of the Costa Rican peninsula and home to a variety of birds, reptiles and animals.
The first order of the day after we had breakfast was to load into the zodiacs for a short trip around a portion of the bay home to mango and coconut trees. I was in the group that was first off the zodiac with Frank who was going to be our guide for the ride around the mangrove forest.
After we reached the 10 person capacity for the zodiac, we zipped across the bay passing the little town of Golfo and numerous fishing vessels, a fish farm and a handful of yachts. Almost immediately we spotted a cormorant hanging out on a tree branch drying its wings in the warm morning air. And on the opposite side of the zodiac, we could see three brown pelicans in a tree. Unfortunately, as we turned the zodiac around to get a better look at the pelicans, two flew off. However one remained so we were able snaps couple pics before It too flew off.
Ricardo, our boatman, kept the speed of the zodiac to a minimum to avoid scaring any birds, reptiles or animals. And as we puttered along we spotted at black spinney lizard (which is related to the iguana) hanging out on a tree branch.
We then moved on down a tributary along the very calm waters and in the distance Frank spotted a rosette spoonbill (aptly named for its flat spoon looking beak). Frank got pretty excited about the bird as it is not a common sight around here, And cool factoid, the bird gets a pink colouring from all the shrimp the bird eats (similar to the flamingos I saw in the Galápagos Islands last year).
Anyway, as we got closer to the tree, we spotted a second rosette spoonbill on a branch further into the mangrove forest. We sat and watched the two birds for a bit before spotting a a yellow crowned night heron that had just flown in.
We eventually moved on travelling a little further down the tributary where we spotted a wimbrill on a tree branch over the water and a willett in the marsh by the tributary.
We were just about to turn around when Frank spotted a woodpecker on a dead tree. Unfortunately, the woodpecker would not cooperate and kept moving around the dead tree almost like it was playing hide and seek with us. When we finally got close enough for a good picture the little bugger, with a gorgeous head of red feathers, flew off.
At this point, we turned the boat around and exited the tributary before crossing over to another set of Mangrove trees where Frank spotted a stickbird high up in the tree with its back to use. We all strained to see it, but the bird was camouflaged against the trunk of the tree making it very difficult to see it. Eventually I was able to get a read on it, but even looking at the picture now it is hard to make out the bird.
As we sat trying to find the bird, a juvenile common black hawk swooped in and took up residence on a dead tree trunk that had toppled over into the bay. At the same time, howler monkeys started letting loose with their distinctive bark. Although we could not see them, they were sure making a heck of a racket in the distance.
After the requisite pictures we watched a few cranes and brown pelicans swooping around before we made our way back to the boat for some down time before the afternoon activities. We given four choices for the afternoon activities: a long hike (2-3 hours) through the rainforest, a short hike in the rainforest, a hike around a small area at a hotel and a stay hike (sit on a beach chair and do nothing). I opted for the long hike.
So at lunch time the Captain moved our ship about a half an hour from our morning position (but still in the Golfo Dulce) where we would take the zodiacs to the beach for our hike to the rainforest of Rio Seco. The “long hikers” were first off the ship and once on shore we were split into three groups each taking slightly different paths around the rain forest.
Ron was our hiking leader. There were eight in the group (including me) and the first minutes of our hike took us through the grounds of an Ecco lodge and several outbuildings as well as a variety of vegetation including the most gorgeous Malay Apple trees featuring beautiful pink flowers.
Now at this point, we began to hear the stretching of McCaws and all sorts of birds warbling. Unfortunately, we could not get a visual on the McCaws. At one point, we saw a pair fly high up over the trees, but never got a close up of the elusive birds.
Anyway, as we entered the rain forest, we were greeted with a VERY muddy path. It had apparently rained yesterday making for a challenging hike when mixed with the very hot and humid conditions.
As we walked along the fairly flat path, Ron periodically spotted birds, but the dense foliage and trees made it very hard to identify the species.
Now one thing we saw a lot of and could not miss was these tiny leaf cutter ants. These ants take little pieces of leaf on their back and follow one another in a line to the nest. In fact, I lost count of the number of leaf cutter super highways we came across as we walked, always making sure to step over the parade. And in addition to these anthropods, we also saw two centipedes, and a multi-coloured worm like creature. Fortunately, no spiders.
Anyway, as we continued our hike, I was already soaked from the heat and humidity. Fortunately, I had brought LOTS of water so I was doing my best to stay hydrated. And of course as luck would have it, there was no breeze and wherever there was an opening in the tree canopy, the sun was finding its way through. What I really wanted to know was where was the rain? This rain forest receives 24 feet of rain per year (and no that is not a typo), but all we were getting was brilliant sunshine.
We eventually reached a dried up river bed which would take us back towards the lodge before we turned back into the rain forest for the last part of the hike. Now during the rainy season, the river was full, but since it was the dry season, there was nothing but rocks and the odd cluster of bromeliads making for some really challenging trekking over the uneven surface.
So at this point, while we had heard a lot of birds, it has been difficult to actually spot them. And we had seen zero animals. I wanted to yell out, “where is everybody”, but our patience was soon rewarded. As we crossed over the riverbed towards to rain forest path, we ran into another group from our ship who told us there were McCaws up ahead. Yay. Unfortunately, when we got back under the canopy of trees we saw nothing until …. I spotted a tiny little monkey leaping from branch to branch followed by a whole troop of monkeys. I called over to Ron and pointed out what I saw. Ron stared for a bit and then confirmed “squirrel monkeys”. In fact, at least 50 squirrel monkeys were jumping from branch to branch and just when the show could not get any better, the scarlet McCaws made their appearance squawking and zipping through the trees.
We stood there for at least 10 minutes watching this amazing show with monkeys jumping from branch to branch, running along branches and leaping from tree to tree rustling leaves at they went. I even saw three monkeys fighting and screeching at on another as the McCaws swooped around the tops of the trees. The show was something else. The only downside was that the McCaws refused to land in any of the trees making it impossible to actually take a picture of them. But trust me … watching the monkeys and the McCaws was pretty damn special.
Anyway, Margarite, the ship’s program manager was on the walkie talkie to Ron telling him we needed to hustle up and get back to the shore to meet the zodiacs for the ride back to the boat. I was sad to leave the monkey show, but tomorrow would be another hike on the opposite side of the bay at Playa Blanca. And fingers crossed I finally get to see a sloth and howler monkeys on this trip.