Friday morning , 2/18
The bus trip across the cordillera to the Caribbean slope was lovely and one of our longest trips. We stopped for lunch in Bijagua, at a soda. (Soda is a term for a small diner-type restaurant.) As it seemed everywhere, food was fresh, tasty, and plentiful. As if to prove that we were indeed on the Caribbean slope, it rained while we were having lunch. Yep—the moist Caribbean air raising up along the cordillera, dropping its moisture on the Caribbean side.
We stayed at Natural Lodge Caño Negro, just west of the town of Los Chiles (click on the map at the left for a larger version) and about a mile from the Caño Negro dock. The lodge is located on spacious, beautifully landscaped grounds; groupings of single-story “bungalows” offer 2 double beds, air-conditioning (although read about our AC challenge next), and spacious bathrooms (but no television in the rooms). The restaurant is open on all sides; the pool has a swim-up bar (2nd photo from the right, below).
We reached the lodge by mid-afternoon. After the refreshingly dry air of La Ensenada, the humidity and heat of the Caribbean slope made its presence felt here. One of our first challenges at the Lodge was to figure out how to work the air conditioning. It became rather a group effort among our neighbors. We found a remote control (left photo) that matched the name of the AC unit—Innovair (right photo)—out of reach high on the bedroom wall. But after repeated clicking of various buttons, nothing seemed to be happening. Our neighbors came by and asked if we had figured out how to work it. She mentioned that you had to do something with your electronic key card in the slot by the sliding door. Aha—the missing link! Z then figured out that you left the key card in the slot then used the remote control to turn on the unit and to set the temperature you wanted in the room. We spread the word to the neighbors on both sides of us. A little piece of paper explaining this would have been helpful and would have saved us 15 minutes of fumbling around. Oh, well—no harm, no foul.
NOTE: Not surprisingly, the temperatures were reported by the unit in Centigrade. So it was useful to know that 20 o C was about 68o F and that 30 o C was about 85 o F. We settled on about 24o C. If you wanted to lock your room when you left, you had to remove your key card from the slot, which turned off the AC. The unit was powerful and quickly cooled down the room, so we didn’t mind this energy-saving device. But we did need to mindful of putting our cameras and binoculars in the bathroom and shutting the door, to avoid fogging up in the heat and humidity of the outdoors. (If this were a movie, ominous, foreshadowing music would be welling up in the background here…)
We had some time before dinner, so we wandered around the lovely grounds. Zell and I triumphantly identified 3 tanagers all by ourselves: Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, and Golden-hooded Tanager. That last one was quite an accomplishment for us, since we hadn’t seen any of those so far this trip. However, the bird is almost impossible not to identify, as long as you can place it in the tanager group, since it is so distinctive. In Costa Rica, this bird is called siete colores or 7 colors. Let’s count, using Birds of Costa Rica’s (Henderson, 2010) description. A golden (1) hood covers the head, with rufous (2) on the nape and throat, and is set off by a black (3) face mask that has turquoise (4) and blue (5) highlights on the forehead and cheeks. The upper chest and back are black; the belly, white (6); the sides and rump, turquoise; wings, yellowish-green (7) streaks. Siete, it is!
Our photos capture only a whisper of the beauty of the distant bird we saw. Below is a photo from Wikimedia Commons (photographer—Dominic Sherony) shows these colors (although you only get a glimpse of the golden hood). Amazingly, this gorgeous species is not at all uncommon—we saw them in numerous habitats.
The bird world was rather quiet, so Z headed back to the room. I stumbled on Roger with another member of our group, so I tagged along to see what they might find. Roger tuned our ears to a Little Tinamou calling a ways off—as with the Great Tinamou, a very distinctive and identifiable sound. (Click here to listen to a brief clip. It’s quiet and distant, so you may need to turn your speaker up a bit.) He also pointed out a furry blob high in the canopy that he identified as a two-toed sloth—el perezoso or the lazy one. Although I could see it in the binos, I had to take his word for it that it was a sloth. Costa Rica has 2 species of sloth. Two-toed sloths—officially, Hoffman’s two-toed sloth— have 2 toes on the front legs and 3 toes on the back legs; all 4 limbs are about the same length. They are primarily nocturnal and spend days high in the canopies, where the sun hits their the long hair on their backs. As a result, a greenish algae grows only there, so these sloths have greenish backs. (You can get a sense of this from the photo on the right, thanks to Wikimedia Commons and photographer D. Gordon Robertson. It kind of looks like a 1960s movie monster in this photo.) On the other hand, 3-toed sloths—more formally, brown-throated three-toed sloths—are more diurnal and move around in the sunlight. As a result, 3-toed sloths tend to have a greenish tinge all over. I made a note of the location of the sloth and gathered up a few of our group later to see. (You can read an interesting New York Times article about the sloth as its own ecological system here. It’s primarily about the three-toed sloth, but it talks about both species.) Since the 2-toed sloth is a nocturnal animal—and doesn’t move much even when it’s out and about—I figured I had a good shot at finding it again. And I did.
Both the morning and afternoon outings of the next day were boat trips on the Río Frío. As a group, we decided to forgo birding the lodge grounds early in the morning in order to get to the boat tour of the river super-early, hoping to catch as much wildlife as we could while they were still lively. We’d come back for a late breakfast after the boat tour. The morning’s boat trip was upstream; for the afternoon, we returned to the dock and went downstream.
Click here to read about the day’s adventures on the Frío.