Sunday, July 21, 2013

Costa Rica, Pura Vida! Part I

A Walk on the Pacific Coast               13 July 2013

Damsel fly along a mangrove stream, Hacienda Baru

The sun rises just after 5:40 AM at Hacienda Baru.  Animals are quick to respond to the cool morning light, and the world is a symphony of songbird songs, hummingbird scolds, raucous parakeet flight calls, and insect sounds.  Gray-necked Wood Rails explode in a comically musical chorus that recalls the whimsical xylophone instrumentation of an old Laurel and Hardy sound film.  The distant crashing of Pacific surf soothes the acoustic landscape.   My feet find a well-worn trail, and I am quickly in pursuit of new things to see.  Almost every species here is new to me, and the ecological interactions, though somewhat familiar, are laced with extraordinary features that I have never had the good fortune to explore.

Black-hooded Antshrike, forested edge, Hacienda Baru

Sunbittern foraging in a mangrove stream, Hacienda Baru

The Cherrie's Tanager is ubiquitous, ever calling, filling the world with thin, tropical tanager sounds.  The males flash brilliant, scarlet rump patches as they flutter along branches in search of insects and berries.  The females form small crowds, sometimes chasing one another around in squawking groups.

Cherrie's Tanager, forested edge, Hacienda Baru

Cherrie's Tanager, male and female, forested edge, Hacienda Baru

By 7:30 AM, the sun has crested the mountains.  Almost instantly, I feel the heat on my neck.  The air grows humid, and sweat runs freely.  I head home to the cabina, home to find out what my family is doing.  They are up and eating breakfast, so I join them and cool off.

White-faced Capuchin monkey, mid-morning rest...

...and the contemplation of being...

Red-naped Woodpecker, possibly a hybrid with Hoffman's Woodpecker, enjoying over-ripe bananas.

As humidity is now part of the day, we plan a gentle hike for the day and resign to any sense of control about photographic light, weather, or anything else.  I have learned, reluctantly, that the tropics are less predictable than my own temperate home.   But I have also learned that photographic light here changes often, for better or worse, all day long.  The only way to chase the light here is to chase all day long.  This slow and silent "chasing", by the chances of intersection, will always result in something fascinating and new, an encounter with a spectacular animal.  So we slowly, merrily chase on.  Bruce reminds me to be open to what is there, to find art in serendipity. He is a good teacher.

Anole lizard, termite nest, and bamboo...

...unknown to me, a lizard with silvery eyes...

Colorful, yet cryptic, a group of skipper butterflies...How many do you see?

My friends, Bruce and Tamy Leventhal, have reminded me that food is abundant and everywhere.  Animals keep on the move.  Silent areas in the forest suddenly spring to life as a flock of birds follows a swarm of army ants or as a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys moves through the area in their omnivorous pursuits.   Finding wildlife in Hacienda Baru is as much about chance as it is about the rich and growing abundance of life in this successful experiment in ecological restoration.

White-necked Puffbird, forest interior, Hacienda Baru

White-faced capuchin...

...determined, yet dainty...

Hacienda Baru was once a cattle ranch.  Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and mountainous highlands, it was a fragmented mosaic of agricultural clearings and young forest.  Loving stewardship of the land and time, coupled with good science, are allowing Hacienda Baru to blossom into excellent wildlife habitat.  Large mammals are returning, and it is hoped that it will one day be a viable part of the corridor project to support Central America's tapirs.  If the tapirs will thrive, jaguars may thrive.  Tapirs, small relatives of elephants, and jaguars, the largest cats of the Americas, are umbrella species, animals that prove by their very presence that an ecosystem is strong, vital, and intact.  This year, Bruce has noticed that the coati population has been greatly checked into balance.  The coati is neither over-abundant nor tame anymore, proof that pumas are lurking.   The Hacienda Baru experiment is working!

Great Curassow, male and female in a forest clearing, are proof that this ecosystem is rapidly improving!

All images were photographed with a refurbished Canon 7D and a Canon 300mm f4L IS lens.  The tropics have transformed my technique, and most images were made using a Gitzo basalt tripod and Gitzo head and a Canon DSLR cable release.   Pura Vida!  (Pure Life! This is spoken often and so true of the Costa Rican people I have met! Gracias amigos! )  For an excellent ecological education, be sure to purchase and read Jack Ewing's "Monkeys are Made of Chocolate."