Sunday, May 10, 2020

Costa Rica Part IV: Sarapiqui River Cruise

Back to Costa Rica. I am going to attempt to execute this post with concision and precision.

One afternoon I scheduled us for a boat trip on the Sarapiqui River. I didn't expect to see a ton, but afternoon birding is hard anyways, so why not just hang out on a boat for a while? It's pretty much like geri birding, you just sit there and look at the things that are presented in front of you. Plus, there was a realistic-albeit-not-high chance we could see Sunbittern. We could have booked a boat through Hotel Gavilan, but I ended up going with Oasis Nature Tours and booked our boat through their Facebook page. A very low and mostly unobscured two-toed sloth passed out next to the parking lot was a good sign when we arrived at the main boat dock at Puerto Viejo.

Our guide (Carmela) and driver were on time and our party of four had the whole boat. Carmela wasn't a great birder (I wasn't expecting one) but she was a good guide and really came through for us later in the trip. She also introduced us to something we had not previously noticed, the Tico/Tica habit of attaching an affirming short question ("yes?") or affirmative sound to the end of sentences spoken in English that aren't meant to be questions. For example, instead of saying "Here in Costa Rica, it is the dry season", one would say "Here in Costa Rica, it is the dry season, mmhmm!", where the second syllable of "mmhmm" is much higher than the first and both syllables are spoken rapidly, so it sounds really enthusiastic. It's rather similar in emphasis to the "su-wheet!" call of a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. We all thought it was a brilliant mannerism.

So much for being concise...

There were tons of Mangrove Swallows, many of which would feed right next to the boat or remain perched while we passed very close by (see above). Another common but more familiar bird worth mentioning (not pictured) was Spotted Sandpiper...I don't know if I've seen so many in one place in my life.

A mixed flock along the shore contained this Bay-breasted Warbler. It was cool to see them outside of spring and fall migration for the first time, even though they all looked like fall migrants.

I rarely see Anhingas up close so was happy to crush on this bird a bit. In the first two pics you can see it getting at the oil gland at the base of its tail. Mmmm, sweet precious Anhinga oil...

Cattle Egrets are common in the area, and a couple flocks were taking their afternoon egret tea down in the river.

We saw quite a bit of non-avian wildlife. I think these are Rhinoclemmys funerea, black river turtles aka black wood turtles. Life turtle! We also saw a guy on the riverbank mocking us for birdwatching. In response, I also mocked us for birdwatching, which guide and driver appreciated. Their English was good enough to know what "NERDS!" means.

This green iguana was a particularly fine specimen.

Of the three monkey species we saw on the trip (howler, spider, white-faced capuchin) I think I like howlers the most. They make the coolest sounds by far and have the best scrotums, as you can see here.

The nerds enjoyed themselves. Boat times are good times.

We also saw our first spectacled caiman of the trip. This one has a massive insect next to its eye, presumably trying to get tasty caiman tears.

Yeah, it happened. About halfway through the trip, Carmela let us know that we had an excellent chance at seeing a Sunbittern. She was right and the bird obliged. This was a life bird for all of us and I was beside myself. The bird gods were with us.

We got great, prolonged looks. This is one of those birds that you see for the first time and think to yourself, "I can't believe I'm actually looking at this". Sunbittern is an iconic species and there are not enough superlatives out there to do it justice.

And yes, we got excellent looks at everything it had to offer. I could not have been happier.

It was a winning afternoon on the river topped off by an unforgettable bird. Stoked!

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