Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Journey's End

Our last few weeks away were full of travel. Following the Pantanal, we headed to the Osa Peninsula, our favorite spot in Costa Rica. This was actually our second attempt on the trip; we'd gone once in June (after Panama), but some heavy flooding prevented us from getting to Parque Nacional Corcovado. 
Red-eyed tree frog from our June attempt at the Osa Peninsula
Found at La Danta Lodge
This time, we made it to the park, and stayed at Sirena Ranger Station. We met some nice folks and took a lot of hikes. Collared peccary (or, "ze savage pork," as one French girl had called them), multiple species of monkeys, coati, and agouti were among the animals we saw. Best of all, after a brief glimpse at a shy female tapir, we came upon this male tapir as he waded into the river, wallowed for a while, then crossed.
Note the bite marks: another male tapir? Jaguar? This tapir is a little too thin, with heavy parasitism on the ears.
Following the Osa, we made our way back to San Jose, where we met up with the other Mike, my (Emily's) brother. With our rented Suzuki Jimny (no, not Jimmy, JimNy), a two-door 4x4 nearly big enough for three people and some luggage, we headed to Rincon de la Vieja. This volcano has some excellent features, including boiling mud pots at lower elevations. Many of the sights in this region were very impressive.
Close-up of bubbling mud pot
Phallus indusiatus: one of the best mushrooms we've ever seen
Geothermal power plant
Our next stop was a few laid-back beach and mangrove days at Nosara, where we stayed at Lagarta Lodge, a very nice place run by a Swiss couple. Then, we made the bumpy climb to Monteverde, where we spent a few days, followed by a trip to Volcan Poas.
Bromeliad seen from hanging bridges in Monteverde
Following the other Mike's departure, we spent a few days in the mountainous corridor along Rte 2, including a few nights at the friendly, scenic Paraiso del Quetzal. We also went to nearby San Gerardo de Dota in search of quetzals. We saw one very wet male...but perhaps even better, our favorite woodpecker.
Acorn woodpecker. What's not to love about social, chattering woodpeckers?
Misty view from one of the roads in San Gerardo de Dota
Above and below: fiery-throated hummingbirds at Paraiso del Quetzal

From there, back to San Jose to meet up with our good friends Jesse and Eyal. Spending time with them in Arenal was the perfect way to end our trip. 

We just got back on the 21st, and are glad to be home. We''re not done here quite yet, though: at some point, we'll have a few more thoughts about the trip overall, including a list of the best and the worst of our travels.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pantanal: Creatures and Landscapes

While the jaguars were a major highlight of our June trip to the Pantanal, the beautiful landscape, many other animals, and spending time with our friend/guide Ailton Lara contributed to making this a fantastic experience. 
Capybara (above) and Paraguayan caiman (below) abound in the Pantanal and are a large part of the jaguars' diet. The big family groups of capybara are adorable; we never got tired of seeing them.
It's been a while since we got to write about birds. So many exciting species in the Pantanal! Here are a few that we particularly liked. 
Burrowing owl on fencepost. We also got to
see a pair of great horned owls later in the trip.
Social grooming: guira cuckoos. We're suckers for big, social groups of birds.
And speaking of social grooming...hyacinth macaws! The world's largest (flying) parrot. And cutest?

Among the mammals we saw were red brocket and marsh deer, crab-eating fox, southern tamandua (anteater), and these giant river otters, snacking on delicious fish (catfish and piranha).

We felt really lucky to have seen so much wildlife. At the beginning of the trip, we saw a tapir (our favorite--more on those to come in our upcoming entry on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica). This one was wallowing chest-deep in broad daylight, but when we slowed to look at it, took off too quickly for a photo. On our way back to Cuiaba, we got a few more surprises. An ocelot--the first we've seen in the wild--ran across the road in front of us (also too rapidly for pictures). What a thrill. There was just one more animal we'd been craving a glimpse of, but it seemed like too much to hope for, given its rarity in this part of the Pantanal. We stopped at dusk by a field for some landscape photos. A few local people were passing, and we heard them say two magic words to our driver: "tamandua bandera." Lo and behold, there it was:
 The giant anteater. Every bit as unusual, shaggy, and fantastic as it looks, and more so. 

Above is a view of the Transpantaneira, the dirt highway through the northern Pantanal, with Ailton and Mike sitting on one of the many wooden bridges over the seasonally flooded land. The water levels were on their way down during our visit, but a high percentage of the land was still inundated.

Below, land that was decimated by a fire started by a rancher attempting to clear part of his land several years ago. It grew out of control, as fires often do, and blazed into the park, leaving few trees standing, and fewer living. 

Navigating through lillies at the mouth of the San Pedrinho River, where we saw the giant otters
and the pair of jaguars.
Us with Ailton. We highly recommend trips to the Pantanal with him and his company.