Costa Rica, November 2005 - Trip Report




Costa Rica Trip Report - November 23rd - 28th 2005 


My wife and I decided to get away for a few days over the Thanksgiving holiday this year and decided to make a quick jaunt down to Costa Rica.  We would only have 4 full days on the ground so we had to limit our travels so we wouldn’t be in a car the entire time.  We decided to head down to the west coast and explore the region between Jaco and Quepos and of course a good deal of that time was spent in the field.  Here are some herp (and a few non-herp) highlights from the trip.


We arrived into San Jose late on Wednesday night, the 23rd, got our rental 4x4 and grabbed a few hours sleep at a hotel at the airport, got up early and started the drive over the mountains to the west coast.


First herp spotted on the trip was of course the ubiquitous Black Spiny Tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similus)


Black Spiny Tailed Iguana - Ctenosaura similus


They started showing up about 2/3rd of the way down the pacific side of the mountains and could be spotted just about anywhere you cared to look.  The weather by the way was fabulous, low 80's during the day and low 70's at night, we had a few rain showers during the day but this is very late in the rainy season down there and for the most part we received rain at night and woke to clear skies every morning.


The next obligatory stop was at the Tarcoles river, the American Crocodile's were out in force and we counted 15 of them in sight…


American Crocodile - Crocodylus acutus


We spotted a young Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) running across the road just south of Jaco and again, lots of Ctenosaura.  We had made reservations at a hotel in Manuel Antonio which is just south of Quepos and next to a very well-visited national park, we arrived there late in the afternoon and after getting unloaded took a quick look around the general area.  FYI, this area is a little too touristy for my taste but given the short amount of time it worked out OK.  We took a walk around the 30 acres or so of the hotel grounds and I spotted this bad boy high up in the canopy.


Green Iguana - Iguana iguana


Followed shortly by another one, even higher up, on top of a tree, luckily we were on a steep slope and I was actually above him, I can see where it would be hard to spot these guys and it turned out that this was it in terms of Green Iguanas for the entire trip.


Also ran across this small anole that was quite curious about my camera, he was quite the leaper too, he would run out of the brush to check me out, then as I approached, he would take one leap and hit the lower leaves of some brush and hide for few seconds before starting it all over again.


Border Anole - Norops limifrons


There were also a number of juvenile Common Basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus) running around but I couldn’t get a good shot of them, was able to get some better pictures later on in the trip.  We were a little beat so we decided not to do any night driving the first night down here and instead get an early start in the morning (Friday) and head to Carara biological reserve.


We got on our way around 6:00 AM and headed back north, it is about a 1 to 1.5 hour drive back to Carara from where we were staying.  About 20 miles up the road I ran into the first of 2 DOR Boa Constrictors, both freshly killed, with the volume of traffic on this road it is amazing that one can ever find AOR snakes here but we did as I will explain later in the report.  Here is the larger of the two, about 5'


Boa Constrictor - Boa constrictor


We arrived at the Carara biological reserve about 7:45 and waited for them to open the gates.  While we were sitting in the parking lot we got to hear and then see the first of what turned out to be 7 pairs of Scarlet McCaw’s that we saw during the day.  Unfortunately none of them would lend themselves to being photographed on this trip but it was still one of the highlights for me, they are something to see flying above the canopy, you typically hear them long before you see them, they are very loud!


The herps were few and far between at the reserve other than the Spiny Tailed Iguana’s that greeted you at the entrance and a few Yellow-headed Gecko's that managed to evade almost every camera shot…  First new herp for the day for me was this Ameiva.


Delicate Ameiva - Ameiva leptophrys


He was quite pleased to sit in a patch of sunlight and let me get to within about 1 meter of him before taking off.  Shortly thereafter on the fringe of the rain forest I found a second, smaller cousin to the first Ameiva.


Four-lined Ameiva - Ameiva quadralineata


And the one Yellow-headed Gecko that I was able to photograph.


Yellow-headed Gecko - Gonatodes albogularis


We saw a lot of birds, mostly unidentified yet, and the mosquitoes started attacking as the day got warmer so we packed it in around 1:00 and headed over to Jaco for some lunch and then back down to Manuel Antonio to grab some rest and dinner before attempting some nighttime activities.

Around 4:00 or so it started to cloud up and by 5:00 it was pouring rain, however just as quickly as it came, it stopped, we finished dinner and getting camera gear set up and hit the road around 8:30 PM.  There was still a ton of traffic on the road (there is only one paved road by the way in the area) and the first herp of the night was a DOR Imantodes cenchoa, then a DOR Sibon and a DOR Bothrops, finally about 30 miles north of Quepos, the traffic started to thin out and we found our first AOR of the trip, this cool Blunt-headed Tree Snake (Imantodes cenchoa):


Blunt-headed Tree Snake - Imantodes cenchoa


They are so remarkable as they are literally pencil thin (actually even thinner around the neck) and one has to be amazed that they can swallow prey 10 times larger than their neck, they are very delicate in appearance and totally docile.  We quickly found a second one less than a mile from the first. 


After that quick flurry of activity, things were pretty dead, it was about 12:30 AM so we decided to call it a night, another big hike planned for the morning.  The bummer of the trip for me was finding a DOR Rainbow Boa about 7 miles north of Quepos, interesting was that the area we found him in is all palm plantations, not even a natural setting, he was pretty fresh and timing is everything on these sort of things but you keep thinking that if you had only been a few minutes earlier…


The next day (Saturday), we visited Manuel Antonio National Park.  This is a small piece of land about 7 miles south of Quepos, the scenery is absolutely fabulous, rain forest right up to the beaches and just a really nice place, unfortunately, it's also very popular and lots of tour groups hit the area with a vengeance.


We spent about 8 hours hiking though the park, we tried to stay away from the large tour groups as much as possible and actually found a couple of less trodden areas.  It's evident that some of the animals in the part are quite accustomed to human presence, in particular the White-faced Capuchin's.


White-faced Capuchin


We had seen Howlers, Capuchin's and Squirrel Monkey's at a distance the previous day but these groups (other than the Howlers) allow a fairly close approach.


Squirrel Monkey


Howler Monkey


There were numerous Common Basilisk near the fresh water ponds and streams in the area, here are a couple of shots.  Love these lizards, they are so pre-historic looking!


Common Basilisk - Basiliscus basiliscus


Next interesting herp was the first frog of the trip.  I was actually quite surprised that we didn't see a lot more frogs, however they are such masters of disguise down here that I imagine we passed by dozens of them, anyway, we found two Red-eyed Leaf frogs, the first one in it's daytime pose on a large leaf and believe me, they are hard to spot, the second one I found by accident as I hit a large frond with my camera by accident and startled the frog enough that he leaped off the leaf and allowed my to grab him.


Red-eyed Leaf Frog - Agalychnis callidryas


There were several three-toed Sloths "hanging" around, they are quite interesting to watch, if you have the time...


Three-toed Sloth


We ran into this little Rain Frog on a less-traveled trail, unfortunately I didn't get a real clear shot of him as I was sliding down hill in the red clay mud that permeates the area.  I am not positive on the ID on this one other than I'm pretty sure it's in the Eleutherodactylus genus.


Rain Frog - Eleutherodactylus ranoides


We saw some more Ameivas and of course Ctenosaurs but not too many other herps during the day.  We had put in a good 7-8 miles already and had managed to hike up the side of a mountain at the southwest corner of the park when the skies really opened up.  Luckily we had packed poncho’s or the camera gear would have been soaked, it poured for the next 2 hours, which was just about how long it took to get back to the park entrance, the already slick mud got even slicker in the rain but it was still a pretty cool experience to be in the rain forest while it is pouring.


After getting dried off, recharging ourselves with a good dinner and again getting the camera gear in order, we decided to try the night driving again, this time, we jetted past the heavier traffic areas and got into a more quite area where there was not as much traffic.  First herp of the night was this cool Sibon nubulata (Cloudy snail-eating Snake).


Cloudy Snail-eating Snake - Sibon nubulata


Next we found a beautiful but totally DOR Parrot Snake, a large one at that, at least 5' with a tremendously long tail, I identified it as Leptophis ahaetulla (I am sparing you all the gory details on these, some photos will appear on my web site if you are really interested) followed by an almost DOR Northern Cat-eyed snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis), it had been run over by a car that passed us while I was taking photos of the DOR Parrot Snake unfortunately, it died right after I found it.  About 15 minutes later came another highlight of the trip!  I was going up a hill and there was no shoulder on my side and I saw a fairly large snake smack in the middle of the road, since it was a blind curve behind me I couldn't immediately stop so I had to haul about a mile in the wrong direction hang a U-turn and come back, luckily there was enough room on the other side to pull over, the snake was still there but was moving slowly across the road.  I got out of the car and flipped on my headlamp and was very happy to see a nice, 3'+ Bothrops asper (Terciopolo or Fer-de-Lance) making his way across the road.  However, since there was a bind curve in one direction and a large hill the other and I could hear traffic approaching it was a big team effort to get him photographed and safely off the road.  So I yelled for my snake stick which I had left in the car, my wife got it and we took several quick photos before I hooked it and got it off the road.  With about 10 seconds to spare I may add as a large truck came ripping around the curve.  The interesting thing about this guy was that he never seemed to get upset, I have heard that they have a very bad reputation and probably rightly so but this guy was real mellow.


Terciopolo or Fer-de-Lance - Bothrops asper


We found a couple more DOR Imantodes and Sibon and a couple of frogs that eluded my capture but by 1:00 AM we were totally exhausted and were back in our hotel for the night and getting ready for our last day in Costa Rica.


Sunday was our last full day, we had an early flight out of San Jose on Monday so the plan was to slowly drive back to San Jose and be there around dark.  We made several stops to look at everything from the beach to various pieces of property for sale, stopped at the local Butterfly farm where they owner has a display of various poison dart and leaf frogs as well and had one more spot that we wanted to check out.  I had gotten a tip the day before from this guide I was talking to at Manuel Antonio about a good place to see Toucans.  He suggested this area called the "4 waterfalls" and I knew where it was as I had passed it going to Carara, it's a dirt road that winds steeply (and I mean steeply) up the side of a mountain, you pass through several transition zones along the way and there was a ton of bird life which is my second hobby after the herps.  I spotted a snake on the road about ½ mile up the trail, it was unfortunately DOR as well, ID'd it as a South American Forest Racer (Dendrophidion percarinatus).  A while later, we stopped at an area that looked good for some birding and as I was walking along the road I spotted this bright green lizard on the side of a tree.


Neotropical Green Anole - Norops biporcatus


I was very fortunate to have this Rufous-tailed hummingbird sit long enough for me to shoot a few dozed pictures of him, he was fanning his wings and I got a good one of him:


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 


I drove on and one and saw a lot of birds but no signs of the Toucans as promised and finally turned around as it was heading into the afternoon, it was clouding up and we still had a long drive back to San Jose.  I was heading down the mountain and luckily out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird with what I thought was something in it's beak, until I realized that it WAS it's beak!!!  Finally got my shot and as an added bonus it was a large flock with both Toucans and Aracaris together.  Here are a couple of shots.


Fiery-billed Aracari


Chestnut-mandibilled Toucan


Herp Species List for the trip is as follows:


Agalychnis callidryas - Red-eyed Leaf Frog - 2

Ameiva leptophrys - Delicate Ameiva - 3

Ameiva quadralineata - Four-lined Ameiva - 1

Basiliscus basiliscus - Common Basilisk - 7

Boa constrictor  - Boa Constrictor - 2 DOR

Bothrops asper  - Terciopolo (Fer-de-lance) - 2 1 DOR 1 AOR

Bufo marinus - Cane toad - 5

Crocodylus acutus - American Crocodile - 15

Ctenosaura similus -  Black Spinytail Iguana - TMTC

Dendrophidion percarinatus - South American Forest Racer - 1 DOR

Epicrates cenchria - Rainbow Boa - 1 DOR

Gonatodes albogularis - Yellow-headed Gecko - 10

Hemidactylus frenatus - Asian House Gecko  - 3

Iguana iguana - Green Iguana - 3

Imantodes cenchoa - Blunt-headed Tree Snake - 5 3 DOR 2 AOR

Lepidodactylus lugubris  - Mourning Gecko - 2

Leptodeira septentrionalis - Northern Cat-eyed Snake 1 DOR

Leptophis ahaetulla - Parrot Snake - 1 DOR

Norops biporcatus - Neotropical Green Anole - 1

Norops limifrons - Border Anole - 1

Sibon nubulata  - Cloudy Snail-eating Snake - 3 2 DOR, 1 AOR


Bird Species Sighted and Identified:


Bare-throated Tiger-Heron  - Tigrisoma mexicanum 

Black Vulture - Coragyps atratus 

Blue-crowned Motmot - Momotus momota

Blue-grey Tanager  - Thraupis episcopus 

Brown Jay  - Psilorhinus morio 

Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis 

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan  - Ramphastos swainsonii 

Clay-colored Thrush  - Turdus grayi 

Eastern Meadowlark - Sturnella magna 

Fiery-billed Aracari  - Pteroglossus frantzii 

Golden-naped Woodpecker  - Melanerpes chrysauchen 

Great Kiskadee  - Pitangus sulphuratus 

Great-tailed Grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus 

Green Heron - Butorides virescens 

Gray-lined Hawk  - Asturina nitida 

Groove-billed Ani  - Crotophaga sulcirostris 

Hoffmann's Woodpecker  - Melanerpes hoffmannii 

Inca Dove  - Columbina inca 

Lineated Woodpecker - Dryocopus lineatus 

Little Hermit - Phaethornis longuemareus 

Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens 

Northern Oriole  - Icterus galbula 

Red-crowned Woodpecker  - Melanerpes rubricapillus 

Roadside Hawk  - Buteo magnirostris 

Rose-throated Becard  - Pachyramphus aglaiae 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow - Aimophila ruficeps 

Rufous-naped Wren -  Campylorhynchus rufinucha 

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird  - Amazilia tzacatl 

Scarlet Macaw - Ara macao 

Short-tailed Hawk -  Buteo brachyurus 

Summer Tanager  - Piranga rubra 

Tropical Kingbird  - Tyrannus melancholicus 

Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura 

White-fronted Parrot  - Amazona albifrons 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Nyctanassa violacea 



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