Corcovado National Park Trip Report (Part I)

Herpetology Trip: April 2004

The Planning (December 2003)

This years Osa Peninsula trip was planned from the beginning to be more low-key. Kenny Barnett and I had talked about whether we would advertise for the trip, or just limit the trip to him, Gaye, myself and a few others. We decided to plan for the latter and take just a few people besides the three of us. Since we had experienced such an amazing trip in 2003, and with my experience of hiking the highlands of the Eastern Osa/Corcovado in October 2003, we discussed giving this trip some variety. Instead of staying at Sirena the entire time, maybe we should spend some time at another part of the peninsula. Our guide, Mike Boston, had remarked many times about how fabulous the eastern tip of the peninsula was, especially for snakes. We settled on a lodge down near the tip towards Matapalo, and in terms of fauna and flora, he assured us that it was spectacular. El Remanso is what I would consider the typical “middle-class” eco lodge. It is not as ‘Ritzy’ or ‘cliché’ as many pricier locations, yet unlike Sirena, it is also not for the budget traveler. Still, relative to most lodges, it is more on the affordable side. After some discussion (not much though, as the more trips we take, the easier it is to decide on itineraries), we decided to extend the trip by 1 day and spend 4 days at Sirena, and 3 days at El Remanso. Some of us would spend one less day at Sirena, as this group would be hiking into the Park via the Los Patos route, which was also hiked the previous year. This year though, during the hike in, I found it much easier to spend time looking for herps. I was less overwhelmed with being in the park. This was my fourth trip to the Osa, but after the October walk into the “Heart of Darkness,” including a snakebite in which I came away unscathed, I was now looking forward to whatever the Osa had to throw at us. Several times, I found myself telling Mike “You know, this unpredictable chaos that also seems to work on the Osa, well not only is it not making me nervous—I’m actually starting to look forward too it!” People, animals, and events seem to fall together in mysterious ways on the Osa.

Due to a busy schedule with work, which included preparing for a trip to Turkey Pt. Nuclear Station (a.k.a. “CROC HEAVEN!”), I had little time to spread word of the trip. Luckily, there was not even much free time to sit around impatiently waiting for the trip to arrive. I was spending the entire month of March in Florida, so all reservations had to be done well before the middle of February. Tour members from this area included Kenny Barnett, his wife Gaye Somogie, U.H.A. member Katie Edwards who was going along for her second visit, her friend “Jason” a 17 year old from Alabama, and myself. Around that time, I had mentioned the trip to Joe Switalski, a Floridian herper, who had purchased snakes from me. He was interested, but like Katie and “Jason,” still being in high school, the trip would have to occur over their spring semester break. Because of this, we scheduled the trip for the middle week of April, one week earlier than the previous year. I was a little concerned in terms of whether the rainy season would come to Costa Rica that early or if it would still be dry and not produce as many herps. This concern however eventually faded away, as I’ll get to shortly.

Another friend I had mentioned the trip to was Erik, a reptile keeper in the herpetology department at the Cincinnati Zoo. Erik had purchased many snakes from me in the past, and we had partnered in the importation of some snakes from Costa Rica. I was scheduling a trip to Cincinnati in mid-February to deliver some snakes to him, and during the course of our emails I told him we were planning a trip to Corcovado in April. He mentioned that his wife (Tracy) wanted to join us on tour as well, so I provided them with the trip information. Erik stated that the date of departure wasn’t good since he was low-man-on-the-totem pole and he had to take whatever vacation slots were open. However, once he mentioned to his supervisor that we were going to the Osa, he had no trouble getting time off!

The last person to sign onto the trip was Chuck Annicelli. Chuck is the President of the Connecticut Herpetologists League in New Haven, CT. Coincidently, this is Kenny Barnett’s hometown. I met Chuck while performing the venom milkings with Dr. Zoltan Takacs. Chuck works at Yale University, and is a good friend of Dr. Bryan Greg Fry, for whom I was doing the milkings. I got in contact with Chuck, as I was to deliver the venom for him to centrifuge and freeze dry before shipment to Fry in Australia. In the course of discussing the milkings, we were chatting about what herps we were into, etc. Chuck mentioned that he was supposed to leave the day before on a Costa Rica trip, but it got cancelled. I told him, as a matter of fact, I was taking a group (only 5 at the time) down to the Osa Peninsula in April. He expressed interest right away, but said that it all depended on funds.

The following weekend, I was at home on a Saturday night, and was checking email. Within an hour, I got two emails and a phone call. Suddenly Joe and a friend of his (Aaron) from Florida, Erik and Tracy from Cincinnati, and Chuck from CT, were all a go for the trip. With Kate, “Jason,” Kenny, Gaye and me. . .we now had 10 for the tour; perfect. I had to make reservations and finalize details within 2 weeks before I left for Florida. We had firmed up the dates, so I could get the regional airline tickets booked in Costa Rica. The reservations at El Remanso and hotel rooms in San Jose came next. The only unknowns were the availability of rooms at Sirena, and how those not hiking in would get there. Mike mentioned that there would be boat service into Sirena. This would be cheaper for the non-hikers than flying in. In addition, there was rumor that Alvaro’s Cessna Service was no longer flying. In November 2003, one of his top pilots crashed a small plane across the Golfo Dulce on take-off. As coincidence should have it, the pilot was the very pilot that had flown part of our 2003 tour to Sirena. The pilot survived but the co-pilot died soon after from his injuries. We had the pleasure of reading this information in a Tico (Costa Rican) online newspaper in the States before we left. For the next 2 months, we tried to get info on the boat service. Kenny and I kept playing the boat ride over in our minds, because we had witnessed the ferocity of the Pacific coast surf on the Osa, and in our minds it seemed as if there was just no sane way a boat could get near the Sirena beach. Add Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) into the mix (those lovely creatures that swim up fresh water rivers at high tide to feed!)… I just laughed and laughed and laughed! At least I wasn’t boating in! Kenny wasn’t laughing. In fact, he pictured carrying tons of suitcases and backpacks overhead as they hiked in waste deep water with Bull sharks. “They must go into the Sirena River Cove,” he remarked. Was he in for a surprise!

The Departure (4/13)

We all departed on April 13 for San Jose (SJ). Four of us (Kenny, Gaye, Katie, and I) flew to Atlanta and met Jakob (or “Jason”) before connecting to SJ. The Florida contingent, Joe and Aaron, were flying from Miami and were to arrive in SJ before us by a half-hour. Erik and Tracy were flying directly to SJ as well from Cincinnati. Chuck was arriving in SJ from Connecticut around the same time as the main group, but was connecting in Charlotte from Hartford. I can’t remember how many times I had to explain to Joe that even though the time difference on our plane tickets says that the flight is a ½ hour: “. . . it’s a 2 ½ hr flight because there’s a TIME DIFFERENCE!” I also had to assure the travelers, “NOT TO WORRY ABOUT MEETING US, THE AIRPORT ISN’T THAT LARGE! WE’LL FIND YOU!”

When we arrived at the SJ Airport Joe, Aaron, Erik and Tracy were all sitting on the benches at the luggage claim. The only person missing was Chuck. I went over to the US AIRWAYS ticket agent to ask about his Charlotte/Hartford flight, but she couldn’t help. We all got our bags and muddled about a bit deciding what to do. Kenny went upstairs to the ticket counter and found out Chucks flight from Charlotte was delayed, and he’d be arriving around 2 pm. Gaye and Kenny volunteered to wait the 2 hours at the airport for Chuck, and since the hotel reservations were in my name anyway, I’d take the others into San Jose. We departed in the taxi that the hotel sent for us. It was around 2 p.m. when we arrived at the hotel and checked in. It felt good to finally relax. Well, as soon as the others arrive I’d really relax. We settled in, and I went through my gear to repack for the following day. After a gear check and quick check of email (most hotels have internet access in SJ), I decided to go to the bar hotel for the complimentary drink each person received. I had a Mango punch with guaro. The others joined me as well, and no sooner did we sit down that Kenny, Gaye and Chuck arrived.

A walk downtown to the 7th Street Bookstore and dinner had us ready to turn in. We’d be departing on the 9:30 a.m. SANSA flight, so we’d have to be ready to leave at 8:30 a.m. for the airport. As usual, you can never be too sure about plans in Costa Rica. I had told the same driver that brought us from the airport the night before, that we’d need two taxis for the trip at 8:15 a.m. Of course, after breakfast 8:15 a.m. arrived, we were all ready, and no taxis! Unlike the previous tours, this time, I wasn’t phased. I simply told the hotel attendant the taxis were late, and within 5 minutes, we had two taxis ready and waiting. Off to Puerto Jimenez (PJ)!

The Sansa flight was uneventful as we followed the coast down to the Peninsula. Well, uneventful for everyone except Joe, who wasn’t real keen on flying in a puddle jumper. As we got closer to the Peninsula, we could see ominous black clouds swallowing up the highlands. Ohhhh, the rains have come! The rainy season had arrived a little early! Awesome! We landed safely, got our bags, and walked over to the Alvaro Air-taxi office. Welcome to the PJ International Airport: a one-room shack with babies in diapers crawling on the floor. It adds a special charm that the airport sits beside the main cemetery. However, one thing was askew, Mike Boston our Osa guide wasn’t there to meet us! This was odd, we could always expect taxis not to be there, but where was Mike? Again, had this been our first trip (or even second trip), I’d have freaked. Now, this just seemed no more then a mere inconvenience. Kenny and I, since we new PJ pretty well by now, decided to walk into town and look for Mike. Even if we didn’t find him, it would have been fun. Kenny seemed to be on a first name basis with everyone from MINAE Park Directors, to the “Chure” man, lodge cooks, and tico-loan-sharks. Anyway, we walked down the road toward the main PJ strip, looking for herps along the way in a small canal, as well as for Mike. Not more than 5 minutes of walking and in the distance, sure enough, coming towards us, was Mike Boston strolling casually with a stranger.

Within minutes, Mike and the stranger had made it to us. . .and he told us as usual that his planned taxi never showed. Mike introduced us to Ferenc (Frank, Ferry), a traveler from Switzerland (originally from Hungary) who had contacted Mike about going on a jungle trek. Mike had emailed Ferenc that he was pretty booked with tours, but that a group was coming down from the States for a herp tour. Mike invited him to tag along if the group if he wanted. Therefore, Ferenc signed on and joined our mad tag group of wild herpers. We headed back to the airstrip to gather the others and go over details of how the “non-hiking” group was to get to Sirena. Mike informed us that unfortunately, no boat service would be available to bring them in. No big deal, like everything else on the Osa, you switch gears and adapt. Therefore, Kenny and the “non-hikers” would be flying into Sirena after all. We decided to head to Carolina’s restaurant (the main gringo meeting place in PJ) for lunch before the flyers and hikers split up. All the while Kenny was explaining to the flyers how the plan was to fly side-ways, and dive steep through a wall of trees. “Jason” seemed a bit pale.

As we were eating, Mike mentioned that we’d be picking up one other hiker, the son of a gentleman who owns property on the Osa. A few minutes at Carolina’s and Zack, and his father Bert, strolled in. Bert is a businessman from Pennsylvania and is working on projects with the Corcovado Foundation and CR-USA on problems facing the Osa: issues such as jaguar and peccary poaching. Bert and Zack were down from the states for a vacation, and Mike had suggested that Zack join us as well. After all, Zack also had a keen interest in herps. We finished lunch, and crammed our gear into the collectivo, as we now had nine people hiking in with just four taking the Cessna to Sirena. The people flying into Sirena piled into Bert’s SUV, which not surprisingly, didn’t start. Several Ticos later, one of the locals somehow got the vehicle running. We would rendezvous for a short stop at Mike Boston’s apartment to pick up several field guides. . then we were off.

The Trek to Los Patos (4/14)

Our ride to La Palma was uneventful until we got to the Rio Rincon. Normally the ride would end at the river, but Mike asked the driver to see if he could ford the river as far as possible to save us time and daylight! As we headed up the river, the first-timers were already excited at seeing basilisks and iguanas sitting on logs. For most, it was the first time anyone had ever seen a “Jesus Christ-Lizard” live up to its name and run across the water. We were pretty occupied by all the excitement around us, until we felt the driver stop and shift into a lower gear. This meant that we had a pretty substantial river crossing. We started down the bank and were heading up a steep sandy hill on the opposite side. Uh Oh, the collectivo stopped in its tracks! Erik and I, being in the back of the truck just looked at each other. What do we do? SHOULD WE JUMP? It was too late, as the truck suddenly stalled and started to creep (no roll) backwards. All I could do was look down at the river coming closer! The truck settled on the riverbed and the driver (undaunted by the event) tried restarting the vehicle. It took two or three tries as the river level rose above the tailpipe.

The motor finally turned over, and the driver gunned it, spun the tires on the river rocks, and pushed the collectivo up the other bank! A short time later we stopped where the trail makes a right hand turn and proceeds up a steep muddy hill. The previous year, we had walked about 3 miles up this river, which we now had covered in about 20 minutes. We donned our packs and slowly started the slog to the Los Patos ranger station. The hike would now only take us about two hrs to cover about 2 miles. Not more than 15 minutes into the hike, we found our first major specimen. Hopping along the deep drench that the ranger’s packhorse has worn, was a Green-and-Black Poison Frog (Dendrobates auratus). Further on up the trail we then found the lichen mimic “pug-nosed anole” (Norops capito) sitting on a branch. The hike to Los Patos was very quick, relative to the year before. In no time, we arrived at the ranger station.

We dropped our packs and took a half-hour break before heading out on a hike. Most of us were antsy to find something, so we scattered around searching the clearing around Los Patos, looking for anything. I found a long trail of leaf cutter ants near the forest, and then I heard the call of a toucan, but couldn’t locate the bird. I looked way up into a nearby Cecropia tree and about 70 feet up in the air was the toucan, hopping around the branches. We assembled and decided to hike down to a waterfall, where a bushmaster had been spotted back in January. One of the rangers mentioned that he had encountered a bushmaster on the trail only 2 days before as well. We headed down to the waterfall, which was a mild descent, and then up a steep muddy embankment. This was followed by a descent down an extremely steep slope, requiring one to hang on to trees to prevent sliding down and doing a free-fall into the stream. We go to the base of the waterfall, and walked out onto the gravel bar at the base of a large clear pool.

While some took a dip, one of the group found a tiny frog, which right away we recognized as the Golfo Dulce Dart Frog (Phyllobates vittatus). We corralled the frog so everyone could get pics. Meanwhile, Joe had already found several others. This was fantastic, as we had only found single specimens of this species the year before. We headed back up the steep slope to the main trail, taking a more leisurely route back. Mike pointed out the spot with the black-headed bushmaster had been seen. He pointed out the Welfia palms (Welfia georgii) that were common in that habitat, noting the seedpods lying on the ground. These seedpods attract Spiny Rats (Proechymys semispinosa), which are a staple food source for the bushmaster.

We headed back to the station to lounge a bit until dark. Some of us were still too impatient to rest, and began scouring the edges of the clearing used as a pasture for the rangers’ horse. Chuck yelled that he saw a snake, but only got a glimpse of the tail. We meandered down toward the garbage pit, so I could show them the scads of marine toads that live in the pit. After about 20 minutes, we decided it was time to go out on the trail. We proceeded through the pasture, and next to a standing dead snag, sat a large Smokey Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus pentadactylus). We tried to grab it but it darted back into a hole at the base of the snag. We headed to the gate and up the trail, (this trail goes all the way to Sirena). About 100 yards down the trail, Zack spotted a blunt-headed tree snakes (Imantodes cenchoa). This snake, a bizarre, slender, thread-like serpent feeds on frogs and small lizards

With the thrill of spotting a very difficult-to-find snake behind us, we now took our time herping. We turned down the trail that had lead to the waterfall, with Mike in the lead. Behind Mike was Joe, Aaron, Zack, Chuck and Erik and I catching anything the others missed. Well---ALMOST! We were headed down toward the stream to look for frogs, when all of a sudden Chuck yells “SCHLEGELII”! We all ran excitedly toward his flashlight (its all we could see). Coiled up in a thigh-high patch of moss was a perfectly camouflaged green eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii)! Four people had walked right past it. The forest, which had been pierced only by the metallic shrill of the “TINK frog”, now was filled with the banter of six deranged-herpers and their guide excited by finding their first eyelash viper ever. In fact, if we had found no other snakes on the trip (as some later said), that find would have made the entire trip worth it. Fortunately, we’d have more luck… much more. We spent nearly 15 minutes photographing and video taping the viper and then descended down to the stream. There we found a couple of Glass frogs (Hyalinabatrachium colymbiphylum) within a foot or so of where we saw them the year before.
Onward to Sirena! (4/15)

Awake the next morning, we were still chatting with the excitement of last night’s eyelash viper, but it was time for the 11-mile slog to Sirena. While not a difficult hike, it’s a long march, and Mike wastes no time getting there. I was hoping we’d find another false-coral snake (Erythromlamprus mimus) like last year, but we’d have no such luck. We hoofed it along, stopping only briefly to tend to sore feet. There is a small stream at the ¼ point; the trail crosses the Rio Sirena at the ½-way point, and finally crosses the Rio Pavo (the last major river) at the ¾ mark. For the first ¼ of the trail, it goes up and down several times, following a narrow knife-edge ridge, until finally making a descent to the Corcovado Plain. As we were descending, Erik, Tracy, Chuck and I were lagging behind and fortunately, we stopped on a bank for a rest. Almost near the bottom, someone spotted a large, black, otter-like animal walking across a fallen log. At first, it was nearly 75 yards away and we could only make out the general shape. Although, we wished it was a big cat, we knew it we knew the chances of seeing a black jaguar or puma were slim, so it had to be something else. It turned out to be a Tayra, a large tropical member of the weasel family.

We made a brief stop at the ¼ point, and then cruised at a good clip from there to the Rio Sirena. At the Rio Sirena, most of us had sore feet, so we took off our shoes and sat in the river. While sitting there, small tetras would nip at any submerged exposed skin. Our rest wouldn’t be peaceful though, as a troop of Capuchin monkeys were noisily chattering in the canopy above.

After the Rio Sirena stop, I took my time and was sauntering along at my own pace. Even when hiking in the Catskills, I prefer to hike alone, taking time to just listen to the forest and take in the solitude of the forest. Although there are more perils in a Tropical rainforest, I found that I enjoy hiking alone there better than with a group as well. I did make sure that I was constantly watching for signs of large felines. Soon I spotted a large Ameiva letophrys- the Giant Ameiva- basking on a large log. When I arrived at the Rio Pavo, I found the group down river near a pool. Everyone was admiring our second prize of the trip: a 1m long juvenile American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). After a quick photo session, we let the miniature monster go—actually; he gave us the slip!

Again, as we left the Rio Pavo, it was Erik, Tracy, Chuck and I hiking cleanup. This would prove beneficial as about a mile from Sirena, Erik wrestled an impressive Tropical bird snake (Pseustes poecilonotus) from a tree. He maneuvered it and got a hold of the head, because this snake meant business! Although non-venomous, these snakes have large jaws and are intimidating when they stand 1 foot or more off the ground poised to strike with inflated throats. Erik stretched the snake out and it was taller than he was, making it a good six was ½ feet long! After a few minutes of photos, we released the snake and headed to Sirena. Mike was waiting along the trail, wondering what had happened to us. We explained that Erik had caught a big bird snake. Just 10 minutes later and we arrived at the Sirena Biological Research Station on the Pacific Coast. However, there was a bit of bad news!

Medical Evacuation!

As soon as we arrived, I expected Kenny, Gaye and the others to come out and rattle off a list of 50 things (no more, no less) that they had seen. He was nowhere to be found. Neither was “Jason”. As soon as we got to the porch, Gaye said they had bad news. Jason had come down with something that resembled food poisoning while hiking the first morning at Sirena. A set of German tourists helped Kenny, Gaye and Kate lift Jason about a ½-mile from the forest back to the bio station. After his condition seemed to deteriorate, Kenny and the park ranger decided that they should airlift him to the hospital in Golfito. Alvaro’s air taxi was on the Sirena landing strip in about 30 minutes and off they (Kenny accompanying Jason) went to the hospital. Once at the hospital, and after getting Jason admitted, Kenny contacted a friend of Mike Boston’s in PJ. This individual then radioed Sirena with an update. Through a few translations and radios later, Gaye had come to understand that they had admitted Jason and were giving him an IV to restore his fluids. Other then dehydration from vomiting, Jason was stable and they were probably going to keep him overnight. The message continued that if all went well, they would come back the following morning. If things got worse, they would consider flying him to San Jose, and possibly back home. There was the added note that Kenny was possibly going to call back that night or in the morning. We never heard back that night. Therefore, we thought no news is good news.

They’re Back! (4/16)

The next morning, we awoke and decided to take a short stroll down to the Rio Sirena on the Guanacaste trail. This was a short trail, and we didn’t want to stray too far, in case news from Kenny was received and we had to make a change to the itinerary. Gaye stayed back at the station to wait for a call. We had made the loop down to the beach, split up from the rest of the group, and were heading along the beach(where we saw a Ctenosaur similis) back toward the station, when we heard the whine of airplane engines circling then cutting off, as is typical when planes land (or crash) at Sirena. We figured it had to be Kenny and Jason! It took us another 20 minutes to go down the beach and up the grass airstrip to get to the station, but we could see Kenny and Jason standing on the veranda. The good doctors had given Jason an IV and released him the night before. Too late for a return flight from Golfito to Sirena, the two stayed in Golfito overnight in a $7 US room. In a humorous twist, the next morning at this little side road motel, it surprised Kenny and Jason to be joined at their breakfast table, by the very Doctor that had treated Jason. He was staying there too. In the end, the diagnosis was “stomach parasite” which translated to, “we do not know." Jason recovered fully and became an avid herper as the trip progressed. Kenny got free plantains, vanilla cream, and coffee for lunch at the hospital. He said the entire event went more smoothly than an emergency room visit in the US.

Canoeing amidst Sharks and Crocs (4/17)

We decided to take a hike on Saturday afternoon, but couldn’t decide where to go. After some discussion, I suggested to Mike that possibly a few of us take a canoe up the river. Since we couldn’t take everyone (one of the park’s canoes had a hole in it), Kenny would lead some of the group out herping in the forest, while Mike, Katie and I would take the canoe up the Rio Sirena. Mike was particularly interested in checking to see if there were baby crocodiles in the same area where we spotted them in 2003. We decided to take Ferenc along as well, since we could squeeze one more person in the canoe. The canoe was ceremoniously christened the “S.S. Schmich Draginy”. Some of the others departed on the Ollas trail, which meanders up into the hills behind the Sirena station. Erik and Tracy took a walk to the beach. We later learned that the forest hikers, just minutes into the forest, had come within inches of a Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana). The Tamandua, unbothered by their presence, went about lifting rocks and logs for ants and termites.

The four of us that were heading up the Sirena, decided to walk straight down the airstrip toward the beach, and take the beach up to the mouth of the river. Whichever route we chose would offer up some interesting creatures. We were about half way down the airstrip when I looked out beyond the surf and thought I saw something spray water. It reminded me of the Maid-of-the-Mist at Niagara Falls. I wasn’t sure so I mentioned to Mike, “I think I saw something spout out there!”. The others focused their eyes out to sea, and there it WAS AGAIN! “Oh yes,” Mike said nonchalantly, “It’s a pod of humpbacks!” There was a group of Southern Humpback whales moving about ½ mile off shore. Man, this place has it all!

We continued up the beach and ran into Erik and Tracy sitting at the rivers mouth, hoping to spot a Bull shark feeding while high tide was in. They hadn’t spotted any, so we headed ½ mile up river to where the canoes are tied up. We got in the canoe, and started paddling. We hadn’t gone more than a couple hundred yards, when Mike said matter-of-factly, “We’ve got a leak!” He took off his rubber boot and started to bail, and somehow, we found a twig in the boat which he broke off and plugged the leak sufficiently to keep us afloat. That was a good thing, because we hadn’t gone very far. About that same time, Katie and I happened to be looking to the right (Don’t ask me if its port or starboard---BUT IT WASN’T FAR OFF THE BOW!) and we both yelled “SHARRRRRRRRKKK!”

Like right out of JAWS, a Bull shark’s dorsal fin broke the surface! The shark was maybe 6-8 feet and dark brown, a chestnut to coffee color. Well, this was just great! Not only is the canoe leaking, but we’ve got sharks around us at feeding time! We saw another one a little ways up the river, and a couple more break the surface. What was creepy was seeing an eight or 9-foot shadow cruise underneath the canoe. In many places, we could see or hit bottom with our canoe paddles, so if a shark passed underneath, there was a good chance it could hit and tip the canoe! Man, I would have considered a crocodile at port- or is it starboard, a godsend at this point!

We kept paddling up river and stopped near a couple of fallen trees to rest by wedging the canoe between the tree roots. The river from here got tricky, as there were logs and rocks to navigate. We headed up river and came to the bend where we had seen the croc nest and babies the year before. It was identifiable by a tall bank on the right hand side, which had fallen away due to erosion. We slowly went around the corner and started glancing toward the sandy bank for signs of small crocodiles. At first, we saw nothing, and then someone said, “Look on the log!” To the left of the bank stacked three and four high on an exposed log were 2 dozen baby crocodiles! In the SAME SPOT AS LAST YEAR! We approached cautiously and beached the canoe near a stump. Katie held us steady, while I filmed and Mike made repeated attempts to get an accurate head count. Our most accurate count yielded 26 babies. This was fantastic as the year before we counted 28.

We left them alone and headed up river to where the Rio Pavo flows into the Rio Sirena, where a roseate spoonbill was poking around for invertebrates. On the way back down river, we stopped again at the crocodile rookery, and re-counted. This time we got closer to get better video footage. We hadn’t yet gotten close enough to the crocodiles, when Ferenc whispered “Ta-peer, Ta-peer”. I thought to myself, “what is he talking about?” Then Katie said, “Look, there’s a tapir, and it doesn’t have a collar.” Sure enough, along the far bank of the river, underneath some overhangs, mostly submerged was a Baird’s Tapir. Clearly, it was not one of the Proyecto Danta study animals; it had no radio collar. We approached slowly, until it started forcefully exhaling through its trunk-like snout blowing bubbles in the water. This appeared to be a defensive posture warning us to not get closer. We left it alone and paddled closer to the crocodiles.

As we approached this time, we spotted a juvenile crocodile (approximately 1m) cruising across the river then disappearing into the reeds. We decided to head downriver because we had turned around at the Pavo at 3 o’clock, and there were impending storm clouds moving in. On the way back down, we spotted yet another 1m juvenile crocodile basking along a shallow gravel bar. We approached him but couldn’t get close enough without him “high-tailing” it into the water. As we got further down river, beyond the tricky parts and where the river flows slower, we saw a large adult crocodile slide into the river. What a sight! It was reminiscent of a National Geographic film of Nile crocodiles being spooked and sliding en mass into the Zambezi River. Ferenc also spotted a well-hidden caiman underneath some tree roots. This was a really spectacular find, considering how well hidden it was!

Next Issue: El Remanso, Terciopelos!! Dart Frogs and Boa Constrictors!! BUENO!! BUENO!! BUENO!!

(Click here to go to Part II)


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