Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Elvis lives

  This weekend we went to a wonderful place that is both nearby and very far away at the same time. It feels like it's in the middle of nowhere but is only a short but difficult hike away. It's the San Gerardo Biological Station in the Children's Eternal Rainforest, Costa Rica's largest private reserve. The road down is rough, suitable for horses or all terrain vehicles. Not having either of those, we walked.
It takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to go down—and it's mostly down. The goal is to not fall because it's steep and always muddy. As you hike down and down, you can meditate what it's going to be like hiking back up.
  The station has rustic facilities. There are bunk beds from which you can see the Arenal volcano if you are lucky. We have even seen lava flows on it during the night but there are often clouds obscuring the volcano. The dry season is described as lasting 0 to 2 months and it rains more than 4 meters/13 feet each year. There are flush toilets and cold showers. Electricity is from a generator only in the evenings. Sheets, towels and meals are provided so you can pack light. The station is often used by school groups and the board walls have no sound insulation so I find earplugs useful. The good part is that everyone is usually so tired from hiking that it gets quiet fairly early.
  Why go to a lot of effort to go to such a rustic place? At this time of year for birder watchers a major draw is a chance to see the endangered Bare-necked Umbrellabird.
This reincarnation of Elvis in his later days has a large black crest, a glossy black body and an outrageous red throat sac which he can inflate to impress lady umbrellabirds. Attached to the sac is something that looks like a neck tie that ends in some bristles. Just like Elvis, he has a memorable set of moves. Males gather on a lek to attract females by inflating their sacs, making a hollow huumph sound and tossing their crested heads about. It's a spectacular sight and we've been lucky enough to see at least one bird on every one of our five visits to San Gerardo over the years.
  There is no guarantee that you are going to see Elvis. The best chance is to know where a fruiting wild avocado tree or a lek is. The station's caretaker can give you information but you still have to be lucky. Going to a lek at daybreak is no guarantee as we found out on Saturday morning. We have actually had better luck in midafternoon and have seen umbrellabirds at just about all times of the day. This trip we had a really wonderful prolonged look at a male on Saturday afternoon that gave Mr. Rududu opportunity to take some good photos. A black bird in deep forest is a challenge.
  There are lots of other interesting creatures to see as well. There are many different birds than Monteverde since San Gerardo is on the Caribbean slope and at a lower altitude. Among others we saw a few Resplendent Quetzals, some Three-wattled Bellbirds, and a King Vulture. Interesting insects included this colorful tarantula hawk wasp. Check out its curled antennae.
During a rest stop on our hike out,  my pack it was investigated by this Orange-kneed Tarantula. These spiders are rarely seen in the daytime and are not aggressive.This one seemed more curious than most.
The hike out involves a significant gain of elevation. Three quarters of the route is on the road rather than on forest paths, so if the sun is out it can be very hot. We were very happy that it was mostly cloudy and even misted on us for a short time. It takes us about 2 hours of strenuous hiking with frequent rests to make it back to the parking lot of the Santa Elena Reserve from whence one can take a shuttle or taxi. Or in our case, get a ride from some kind German tourists.
  For information about visiting San Gerardo, contact the Monteverde Conservation League which manages the reserve. April to June are excellent months for seeing birds as many are mating.


lindsay said...

I am sooooooo bummed I missed the trip... but luckily am mostly recovered and very glad you all had such an excellent time.

Carolina said...

Maybe we should plan another trip?

Grand Purl Baa said...

"Orange Kneed Tarantula!" Why does "orange kneed" take the bit out of "tarantula" .... so to speak....

TECHknitter said...

Oh Carol!! The tarantula seems terribly frightening. You are brave. G