Back from Costa Rica

January 17, 2012 • 7:30 am

I have returned from Costa Rica, but have a ton of work awaiting me, so posting will be light for about a week or so. The good news is that I have a ton of plant an animal pictures, with which I’ll regale/bore you over the next weeks.

But for a preliminary taste, here’s a map of our six-day route, with the stops listed in order.

I’ll put one picture from each stop except San Jose, and there will be a separate post (or two) on each area. Click the photos to enlarge, and do enlarge them (you can click twice with a pause in between, as the small versions in the post don’t do them justice).

A.  San José: the capital, much changed from my last visit in 1973, when I spent two months in the country taking a summer course in Tropical Ecology under the auspices of the Organization for Tropical Studies.

B.  San Gerardo, a small town near Chirripó National Park, location of the highest mountain in Costa Rica.  Here we spent a day hiking and botanizing in the montane rain forest.

General view of the area around the park, with a waterfall

Aracho, in the comments below, identifies this as “a fruiting Anthurium (Araceae, a monocot)”.

C.  Los Cusingos, a bird sanctuary that was acquired by the famous neotropical naturalist bird expert Alexander Skutch, who lived to be 100 (1904-2004). He built his home here, where he lived for the last 63 years of his life.  The home is still standing, and contains all of Skutch’s books, clothes, and possessions.

A butterfly that is a leaf mimic (it’s bright purple on the top side of the wings, but folds up its wings when resting.  There’s an eyespot, too.  Readers, feel free to identify these if you know them.

Two birds at a feeder near Skutch’s house.  The one on the right is a tanager of some sort, not sure of the one on the left. Readers, feel free to ID

D.  Biolley.  We spent two days here in this farming community on the edge of the fantastic La Amistad National Park, a huge area of undeveloped wilderness that extends south into Panama.

A stick insect, perhaps the most amazing example of camouflage I saw in Costa Rica.  I wouldn’t have spotted it at all except for the keen eyes of a local.  Note that the front pair of legs is extended out in front to increase the resemblance to a twig; the eye and head can be seen just to the right of center. This was at least eight inches long fully extended.

A flower. I’m not sure what it is (my knowledge of plants is horrible: the botanist Ledyard Stebbbins once called me an “animal chauvinist”), but I’m sure a reader will. Indeed, reader Arachno has just identified it as “a Tinantia (Commelinaceae) of some species”.

E.  The Firestone Reserve, once owned by the tire family and now a Center for Restoration Ecology, in which young volunteers (including Judy’s son) labor mightily to get rid of the bamboo that Ms. Firestone planted there as an experiment (it was to be used for building, but of course went wild and extirpated much of the surrounding vegetation).

A clearing in the bamboo, where we got our first sight of the Pacific.

Palm fruits, the source of palm oil.  The waxy material between the seed coat and the seed is pressed for its oil, which is very bad for you.  The fruits are left by the side of the road after harvesting from the palm, and picked up by trucks to be taken to a local factory for pressing.

We then drove up the beautiful Pacific highway and back to San José for the Evolution council meetings.  On the way, there’s a famous bridge over an estuary that harbors large numbers of huge and fearsome looking crocodiles:

F. La Selva. After two days of confabbing, we headed to perhaps the world’s most famous tropical field station, La Selva, for a day’s hike in the gorgeous wet forest there.  I spent two weeks in the place in 1973, and it’s been much enlarged.  Some of the trails have even been paved.

This is lowland rain forest at La Selva. I love it.

The famous strawberry poison dart frog, Oophaga (formerly Dendrobates) pumilio, which is polymorphic for color (the Wikipedia page shows an all-red one). This is the “blue jeans” morph. They’re quite toxic, and were used by natives to make poison darts, hence the name. I was told by the guide that the toxic substance in the skin is actually acquired from ants on which the frog feeds.  I picked one up (they are tiny, less than an inch long):

We ran across a pair of great currasows (Crax rubra), which let us get quite close.  These galliform birds are sexually dimorphic: the males are black with a yellow ornament on the bill; females are brown.  They are monogamous, and the fact that both have crests may represent the result of mutual sexual selection:

And what travel post would be complete without food? Here’s a typical Costa rican meal we had at a truck stop:  arroz con pollo, plantanos, piña (the local pineapple is wonderful, though destructive to the ecosystem when grown; but there’s nothing as delicious as a plant-ripened piña), a fruit drink whose origin I can’t recall (there are a huge variety of delicious drinks made with local fruits, served as either aguas (juice) or batidas (like a smoothie, mixed with milk):

I’ll have tons more pictures, including some lovely flowers and birds, peccaries, and the amazing house of a Costa Rican artist, made entirely out of recycled material, over the next couple of weeks. But first I have to sort out my day job. . .

20 thoughts on “Back from Costa Rica

  1. Handling poison arrow frogs, bare handed? We’re lucky you made it back. Yikes.

    Your photos bring back a lot of memories for me, including of Los Cusingos, Skutch’s place in the valley of El General. I was there when he was still alive, but he was too weak to come out of the house or to have visitors, so I never met him. He died not long after.

    I think you may have your image (under B) that you’ve called something alllied to Witheringia or tomatillo (i.e., Solanaceae) mislabeled — it seems to be a fruiting Anthurium (Araceae, a monocot). The mystery plant under D is a Tinantia (Commelinaceae) of some species.

  2. Did you see any sloths? They are the cutest thing. We saw three on the Caribbean Coast side when we visited year.

  3. Hi, I tried posting a comment here yesterday, I guess it went to your spam folder (I included a link, so my mistake).

    Anyway, I’m glad you loved my country (I’m Costa Rican), and I’m very happy to see it pictured here.

    I met Dr. Skutch at Los Cusingos circa 2000. I had the chance and honor to translate to Spanish his book Moral Foundations. He seemed to be a fun, kind, and very wise old man…

    I hope you’ll come visit Costa Rica more often.

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