Tag Archives: Costa Rica

A stroke of luck! (Costa Rica comes to an end)

One evening we went out on the kayaks onto the lagoons to find crocodiles. I am true to the people of my home country, terrified of water because of crocodiles. I had one school friend get eaten, two or three near scrapes and we all had mothers that would tick us off if we dared to step into murky waters. To go out at night in a flimsy canoe to deliberately look for crocodiles goes against my better judgment. Little fish skimmed the surface of the water, and some even hopped into the kayak. Laila was busy trying to catch baby crocodiles and found a few that evaded her. One that she was about to put her hand on, suddenly snapped a fish in its jaws, literally less than an arms length away! For me, the best part was seeing large Fishing Bats repeatedly swoop into the light beam, skim the water and flash past my face. One hit the water and sent spray over my feet! I thought I saw one fly off with something in its feet. Like small fish eagles these guys hunt in very much the same style, but I cannot imagine how they can echo-locate something under the water!

We drove a number of nights down the road searching with a spotlight, looking for Jaguars, and more likely to see, an Ocelot, known to live nearby. We saw Opossums mostly, and once, during the day the mighty Tyra. It is a long tailed wolverine or honey badger, without the bent elbows. Instead it is cat-like, with longer limbs. It must be a fearsome predator. From a bridge we watched two large Otters playing and fishing in a river next to a Tiger heron. On one trip we saw the tiny Pearl Kite, a diminutive and stocky version of the Black Shouldered Kite. We saw one of these too. Laila pointed out that it did not have black shoulders, and this remains a mystery.

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Pearl Kite (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The second most wanted raptor on my list under the Harpy Eagle and even above the OBF, was the Laughing Falcon. I have old pictures of it. It looks like a true falcon, but in a stumpy wing long tail body of an accipiter. It seems like a missing link between the very odd Caracaras and true falcons like the Peregrine. I had assumed it to be small. One evening we heard a Ha Ha…Ha Ha….Ha Ha, shouted out from the forest near Terrapin. The same day Jim Tamarack turned up and said that this could be none other than the Laughing Falcon! Next morning it called again at first light, with the growling Howler Monkeys, and I got a thick ear from Laila for not having dashed off to go find it. The falcon was taking on a new meaning to my list of priorities. It was around to be sure, but it was most likely sitting deep in the forest canopy hidden most of the day. I resigned myself to never finding it especially as it never called after 5.30AM, or before nightfall.

The White Hawk is another species that Laila had seen “hanging out” with foraging monkeys. I had not seen this either. While lying in the hammock I heard an unfamiliar, but buteo-like mewing and walked out to see two White Hawks sailing around in the valley behind. I savored the moment and did not bother to race for the camera. I’d remember this without resorting to digital memory.

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White Hawk (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The holiday was coming rapidly to its close. I had to think now about the future, which was pretty grim. Back home I had left things in the balance. This holiday had given me the time I needed to make a few painful life choices. I was in this reflective mood as I was being driven to the airport for my flight out. Now the chances of seeing what remained on my wish list were nil, when Laila stopped the car and grabbed the binoculars. Ha! A Laughing Falcon! In an open field, sitting in a lonely tree sat a big headed and large falcon. I walked over to take pictures. It was that simple.

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Laughing Falcon

A night-time trip to the Incredible Swamp

On the night of 24th June 2008, Laila, Guido and I went to an innocuous little pond just off the side of the road on Friends of Osa land. It did not look promising but the first step off the road revealed a Red-eyed Tree frog. This is the quintessential frog of Central America. Just like his photo in magazines, or on T-shirts sported in down town Nairobi, these medium-sized frogs are stunning to look at. Cartoon-like Kermits, with huge sticky hands and enormous globular crimson eyes. Along their sides is a series of stripes, and sometimes, on their backs, are a few white spots. Stretched out a big one would be about 10 inches or 25cm, much bigger than you think. Bunched up they are about 10-14cm.

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Red-eyed Tree Frog (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

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The swamp had risen, coming up to belly button level.

In the torch light, you could see eyes twinkling on the water, under water, in the reeds and in the palm leaves above. Water spiders, often 25 cm across stood dangling their arms in the water to catch insects and even small fish.

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Fishing spider (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The Marine Toad is a melon of a toad, huge and tame. The Smoky jungle Frog equaled it in size, but had bigger eyes. A young caiman floated a few feet away, and beyond it a much larger one was in the light. In one spot we saw 5 Cat-eyed Snakes, and all around were mating Red-eyed Tree Frogs. There were yellow frogs too. On leaf frond tips hung bunches of clear jelly housing a nursery of tadpoles. Occasionally a large log would nudge against the back of my leg sending me into spasms! I once slid down the back of a giant Nile Crocodile and it is an experience I have never forgotten. I had to remind myself that the caiman is small and local crocodiles very seldom hurt people.

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Baby caiman in the swamp (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

A small squirrel-sized Mouse Opossum sat in the base of a palm frond chewing a palm fruit, and nearby a possible Four-eyed Opossum. A Parrot Snake caught by Guido put on a threatening show, and finished this off by biting him fair and square on the hand. It took us by surprise, and none of us thought to help him as he calmly prized it off his bleeding hand.

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Parrot Snake (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

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(Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
A young Iguana sat with a large insect on its head, and a few meters further on a large menacing spider was consuming its prey.
Every step you took showed a new animal. Having been to a few of the world’s wildlife “hot-spots” I have never seen an example where so many species of animals occurred in so small an area no bigger than a garage. Although very tired we persevered to another stream to find the Glass Frog, a transparent frog in which you can see its heart beating. We saw many things but sadly not this frog.

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Glass frog (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Bringing the Harpy Eagle back to the Osa?

Visitors often make the mistake of rushing things. I took the next few weeks slowly. Some days it poured rain continuously and there was no choice but to stay house-bound learning to play cards and painting. I got to meet more people and socialise more often in those few weeks than in the last few years at home. Following monkeys was never boring, as there was always a special moment on each outing. We saw Spectacled Owls, leaf cutter ants in droves, Morpho Butterflies that flashed super-natural iridescence on forest paths, humming birds that stood fixed in mid air and then fled as fast as a bullet. Of plants and trees there was no limit. Fungi of weird shapes and colours sometimes offended by looking like orange plastic bottle tops.

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Humming bird (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

On one occasion, Laila decided to go straight up the mountain onto paths cut by less than legal loggers to a place she had earlier got lost. She had been turned around and confused up near the summit and as night-fall approached, had made a super human rush to get back. She got “in touch with her survival instincts”, a state of incredible fitness that is sparked by necessity and a little fear. It is a state that I have sometimes had to draw upon. It allows that extra mile to slip by easily, the scratches to be unnoticed and the aching limbs to plough on unheeded. Looking around me on top of this same ridge, I could easily see how one could get lost. Everything looks the same. On that day, we sat on a clear opening overlooking a ridge that Laila had previously seen Swallow-tailed Kites from. Then we heard the distinctive call of a falcon. On the far ridge top was a dead tree on which two falcons sat. The binoculars and camera lens were unable to distinguish between the Bat Falcon………..or the very much rarer Orange Breasted Falcon. I hinted at Orange Breasted (or OBFs if you want to be cool) and Laila refused to accept this, saying I based my argument on pure wishful thinking. Unfortunately, Laila has a keen eye for details and is never led to conclusions based on hope, and I had to grudgingly concede that she is probably right.

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Morpho Butterfly (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Corcavado National Park and the surrounding buffer area comprise the largest contiguous primary forest in Central America. In this forest, actually outside the park but in the buffer zone, lives one pair of Harpy Eagles. The details of this single pair are enticingly cryptic. There is an understandable reluctance to make the site common knowledge. Jim Tamarack gave me a T shirt with Mision Aguila Harpia. Censo Anual de Aves Osa 2005. (Harpy Eagle Mission. Annual bird census, Osa, 2005), financed by a few key people on the penninsula for the conservation of Harpy Eagles in Cocavado National Park, Golfo Dulce Reserve and the Osa Peninsular. At that time, one juvenile, presumably the chick of the pair, was seen at various sites. It is interesting that this one bird was so often seen as it implies a good method of survey was used, and sadly that there are very few Harpies.

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Black Hawk

Laila and I hatched the obvious solution. Across the border in Panama, the Peregrine Fund (Fundo Peregrino, the neo-tropical branch of the same organisation with which I worked) had captive bred Harpy Eagles for some 10 years for release projects in Panama and Belize. The project was a success, but they are unfortunately closing down the operation this year which leaves the Osa out of luck. I emailed Angel, and Rick Watson and tried to get to either Panama or Belize to see their operation. But being a Kenyan citizen can be difficult for traveling and it proved not to be possible in the end. However, whatever the situation it is clear that there is a large area of suitable habitat (some 15 to 40 pairs could theoretically live here), and very importantly, the current move towards the creation of forest corridors the enlargement of the park, the inclusion of reserves and the overall decrease in the incidence of gold mining, timber and poaching could mean an improved environment for Harpy Eagles.

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Toucan

Laila took the lead in this, writing to Adrian Forsythe, and spurring Guido in his position as science director for Friends of the Osa to resurrect the former interest in this magnificent eagle. First, there should be a re-count of all possible nesting sites. Secondly or in parallel, there should be a public awareness campaign to bring on board the residents of the Osa. Then one can make a decision regarding the captive breeding and re-introduction of the Harpy Eagle, if at all it is necessary. As of now, Laila is keeping these objectives alive. If I could I would dearly love to work on such a project for this species is so similar to my favourite animal, the Crowned Eagle. Crowned Eagles would do fine here. I cannot imagine why the Harpy Eagle does not.

Trekking through Corcovado NP

Five of us, led by Guido Sabario, walked 18km into Corcovado National Park, to stay 2 nights at Sirena, the park’s central HQ. I was impressed by the lack of vehicle access to the park. It was only accessible by foot, or by boat or plane, no cars. To back-pack without park or local community guides among potentially dangerous wildlife is a luxury these days and virtually unacceptable in now over-regulated Africa. Guido was a valuable source of knowledge, especially on reptiles. He leapt upon every snake he saw and pointed out reptiles and amphibians. Costa Rica is an amphibian/ reptile haven, and while these were largely ignored in Africa they came to the fore here because they were so numerous, noisy, colourful, diverse and sometimes huge! Guido pointed out a poison dart frog that shimmered a phosphorescent green.

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Poison dart frog (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The reptiles had their fair share of lethal contenders, first and foremost the dreaded Fer-de-Lance, a pit viper responsible for more deaths than any other animal here. You do not mess with the Fer-de-Lance because it lies like a Puff Adder and chases like a Mamba. It strikes readily and boots are the formal wear. Being an old bush hand familiar with snakes, I wore sandals at first and scoffed at the chances of being hit. But as the days went on, I saw more snakes than one ever would see back home. I began to notice that macho young men strode about in gum boots and wore a huge panga (Machete) that hung from the belt almost to the ground. “Good for whacking the Fer-de-Lance” said Juanky. We were up in the hills one day and I was briefly allowed to lead the way when I saw, to my horror, that my left sandal was coming down in slow motion upon the back of a Fer-de-Lance. God intervened and I was able to step away, as if walking on thin air, and the snake slid away.

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Fer-de-Lance (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

During my stay, a young woman had been bitten on the toe a few kilometers away, and had collapsed within less than an hour with blood coming out of her nose and mouth. It may not have been a Fer-de-Lance but one of the Coral Snakes, one of which we came upon at night walking back through the forest. Laila, in flip flops, nudged the 2ft snake into the open and was angry that she did not have a camera. Despite having a very similar snake (Gunther’s Coral Snake) as a resident in my guest house back home, I was alarmed at the much higher chances of being bitten by a snake here and started wearing more appropriate footwear.

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Corcovado NP(Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

We spent only 2 nights at Sirena in the Park, but we saw a good number of wild animals. The trip started out well with a large pug mark of a Jaguar walking near the beach along the main road long before we entered the park proper. The very reasonable pre-booked fee of $10 per tourist (as apposed to 4 times that in Kenya) allows one in at a small guard post. The Coati’s were very tame in the park and foraged around, digging and rooting up insects, crabs and tubers with their pig-like snouts.

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A rather mangy Coati (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The route follows along the beach much of the time and rivers and tides had to be negotiated carefully and to the hour, lest one get stranded for 6 hours. Huge crystal clear rivers of fresh water poured into the ocean, and here Caimans and the American Crocodile live in large numbers.

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American Croc

My most memorable moment was seeing the retreating rear end of what looked like a medium sized hippo entering the forest from the beach, accompanied by a second, smaller rear end. I was amazed that the female Tapir with her baby stayed there eating unconcerned by our party of five, all of us clicking away with cameras. There was no question of danger, and although a Tapir can weigh some 700lbs and possibly flatten a human as readily as a rhino, they do not even think about it. They stood there eating with their elephant-like short trunks curling around the vegetation. This allowed us to approach to some 25m. They stepped back into the forest, and were gone from sight. Vanished without a trace or hint of disturbance to the foliage. No smell either. We saw many of their tracks, four sharp toes arranged around a small pad, but no feces.

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Tapir

Of raptors we saw relatively few, but plenty of vultures eating dead fish on the beach, possibly poisoned by a very obvious red tide off shore. The terrain frustrates the viewing of birds high in the canopy above. But we did see the Double-toothed Kite following, as Laila predicted, the Squirrel Monkeys. The Crane Hawk was identified only because it copied the behaviour of the Harrier Hawk. It was seen flying in a sloppy manner and clambering clumsily on branches before sitting and craning its head about listening. The face was long and thin, and its legs (doubled jointed like the Harrier Hawk) were also long. It had a bit of a waving crest, but otherwise it seemed to follow the same colour scheme as a few other raptors here. It had a black/dark grey body and a white tail band. (as does the Black hawk, Great Black Hawk and Black Hawk Eagle). I was feeling unwell at the time and when it came to the opportunity to foot it around the heart of the park on the second day, both the weather and my energy were not favourable. I began to accept that the chance of seeing Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot or jaguarundi was going to be in the hands of the Gods. If they cared to share, it would come to us. Rain in a forest jungle denies one the senses of sight, hearing and smell.

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Double-toothed Kite

The Osa (Costa Rica part 3)

The Osa has undergone changes, from pristine forests and glades, to cleared farmland, to private property investments and tourism ventures, to secondary growth and back to emerging primary growth. The sequential progression from one habitat to another is rapid, due to the enormity of the rainfall and land fertility. Plants grow fast and take over fast. Equally the human change of direction from one enterprise to another changes the landscape quickly. Now the ‘in thing’ is ‘eco-tourism’, the same questionable goal on which most of Africa places the responsibility of conserving its natural environment, national health and water catchment areas. The term is poorly defined here as is it elsewhere and subjected to personal interpretation, as is evidenced by the individual property owners.

About 10km from the park the various eco-ventures/private homes number about one per 800m. Inversely the density of these ventures increased the closer one got to the national park (a typical if illogical feature seen near Kenyan conservation areas). Some owners lived on the premises and had tourist cabanas (bandas) on their property, others went the whole way with lodges equal to the finest up-market places one would find in the East African parks. One property had as its contribution to environmental improvement a goal to have as many exotic trees as possible. While some enjoyed having Jaguars and Pumas in their property others were unsure. Another property was busy grading roads up hill sides, cutting down trees and putting in a large education facility to promote conservation. Others wanted true representations of indigenous nature on the property, recognising the need to pull out exotic tree invasions and rid the area of domestic livestock, dogs and cats. Tempers warmed, neighbours with different ideas of what was right despaired. The sum of all this was a hodge podge of ideals. Nothing new, but without consensus and direction, it will fall short of its full potential.

Monkeys are not that picky about where they live so long as they have a regular source of food, high tree shelter and little persecution. Secondary forest/old farms/eco-ventures seemed to harbour more monkeys than true pristine growth. The result may be biased due to the sporadic fruiting within the pristine primary forests that encourages movements of all frugivorous species over long distances. Here, in secondary growth, the old fruit and oil plantations offered secure and year round food, albeit unnatural. Also, predation pressure was probably much less, although Puma, Jaguar and Ocelot walk unchallenged in the gardens. Again, the absence of the Harpy Eagles who, unlike the big cats, are unable to live in proximity to humans, may have allowed these monkeys to live uninhibited.

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Spider Monkey (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Tucked back into the forest was Terrapin Lodge, a self admittedly humble place with a focus for relaxation, birding and kayaking in a generous crocodile-filled lagoon. Laila used this as a base, and we both helped to run the place in the absence of the managers. Juan Carlos, or Jaunky as he is fondly called, is the cook and indispensible. He shared an unorthodox relationship with Polly, the Scarlet Macaw, who would lie on her back to have her belly tickled. She remained semi-wild, however, foraging and spending nights in the forest.

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Polly playing with Matcha (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Monkey Time (Costa Rica part 2)

mWe were to stay the next few nights at Cheryl Chip’s house, a beautifully designed and built three-storied rondaval that pushed discreetly up beyond the high canopy. The view from the top stared south down to the rolling surf of the ocean, to its east a crocodile lagoon, to the west beyond the deep forested valley, Corcovado National park, and to the north, the steep ascending primary forest. We were surrounded by parrots, Macaws, Toucans and the ever present vultures. Jim asked if I wanted tea and duly offered me a cup made from the Aberdares and purchased in Nakumat Nairobi. Sipping on my national brew surrounded by things so similar yet so very different made my brain take a spin. I had no idea where I was.

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The view from Cheryl’s house (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

While swimming in the infinity pool a few days later, some vultures cruised past at nose level. We joked that it was quite possible to do vulture research from looking at their reflection in the pool. Even in this state of complete extravagance, I was questioning why it was that back home we only had vultures in large conservation areas and that they were rapidly decreasing. This constant comparison could have spoiled the moment, but it did not. It offered hope.

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Turkey Vulture (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Laila’s work centred on transects in modified areas of old farms, residential areas, secondary growth and primary undisturbed areas. Four species of Monkeys: the Howler, Spider, White faced and Squirrel Monkeys live here. As we walked along forest paths, I was told that some have profited from secondary growth while others have not. The Squirrel Monkey, for example, has certainly expanded its range into former farming areas, eating palm nuts, guaver, bananas, citrus fruits and secondary forest products. These tiny monkeys are the only ones without a prehensile tail. The other monkeys, in a possible order of preference favour these areas too and or other more pristine areas. Troops of different species forage together but apparently not in so well organized fashion as do the African monkeys. I suspected the lack of a main predator may have led to this in-orderly behaviour. Put a Harpy Eagle among these and I bet you’ll have a well-disciplined regimental group of monkeys in no time!

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White-faced Capuchin monkey (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

The Howler is the thug of the community. As a fast breeding, quick maturing, heavily built leaf eater, it has an advantage over the more gracile Spider Monkey that has a more particular taste and slower reproductive rate. Spider Monkeys, although common here, are endangered. The White-faced Capuchin Monkey is the most intelligent and well disciplined of them all. They feed on fruits and insects and whatever small animal they can catch. I liked the Squirrel Monkeys the most, they fussed and talked constantly in large groups, and were curious to see you staring up from beneath.

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Squirrel Monkey (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

My trip to Costa Rica (Part 1)

The night I arrived in Costa Rica, it poured with rain. I stood on a balcony outside my hotel room in San Jose, overlooking a small street and could only see vague details through the torrent. It pounded down on the roof till 3am, yet the electricity stayed on. As soon as it stopped, I could hear motorbikes speed through the city as if nothing had happened. Obviously these guys are used to it, for back home this would have brought things to a standstill.

The next morning, still confused with jet lag, I sat in a small plane on my way to the Osa Peninsula. I stared out at the mountains and forests beneath. The orderly arrangement of towns, farms and homesteads seemed in contrast to the staggering amount of forest surrounding them. I had learned back home to associate indigenous forests with ragged human ‘informal’ settlement and was equally surprised to see undisturbed lagoons and wandering rivers fringing the beaches and scattered pristine forested islands stood off-shore.

As always, I could not but make comparisons with Kenya, now sadly very different to what I saw beneath. I could see huge swathes of cleared forests, old farmlands and open glades now turned into oil palm plantations. This well sold “environmentally-friendly solution” to fueling the ever growing demand for fuel is obviously not-so-eco-friendly on the ground. Even so, this medium sized country with some 25-30% of the forest under protection did not from this altitude look to be facing the same critical problems as much of Africa. It is the size of Switzerland and has no armed forces. Like Kenya, it has freezing highland moorlands, sloping down cool forests to hot humid coastal rainforests. From this height, it was better than I had expected and I knew that I was going to enjoy Costa Rica. I had few expectations and had earlier written that I would be happy just seeing some frogs. Forests are tough places to find wildlife on the same scale as the savannahs. Predictably, species would be numerous even if their density was small or that they were difficult to see.

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Spider Monkey (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

Laila picked me up in Puerto Jimenez, a small town of four streets on the southern shore of the Osa Peninsula. Laila, a good friend and fellow raptor enthusiast with a contagious enthusiasm for all wildlife, had asked if I wanted to ‘check out’ the Neo-tropics. She had been working on monitoring monkeys there and I had not much to do at home and was drifting between jobs. I jumped at the opportunity. I had long dreamed of the peculiar wildlife and raptors of the region and I secretly hoped to see the Jaguars, Harpy Eagles and Tapirs of the South/Central American jungle.

In Puerto Jimenez, I met Jim Tamarack who is a zoologist, but also teaches baseball to school kids just down the road from me back home in Kenya. Guido Sabario, manager of the Osa Biodiversity Centre, also formed part of the welcome party. Just before getting into the car, Laila pointed out both the Turkey and Black Vulture above the airfield. As we sat and had lunch in town, I got more familiar with the differences between these two species as they cruised by. Scarlet Macaws made a sudden and noisy appearance! On the way to Carate where I would be spending the next three weeks, Laila and Jim stabbed fingers in the air or at the top of trees and pointed out Road-side Hawks, Yellow Headed Caracara, Crested Caracara, Black Hawk, Jesus Christ Lizards (the dinosaur type lizard that dashes across the water on its hind legs), and yet more vultures.

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Jesus Christ Lizard (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)

We past immediately out of the town into a mixture of fincas (ranches) rich in trees of indigenous and exotic variety, palms and bananas. We saw huge, well-fed cattle with long droopy ears, and men on horseback followed by small runty dogs. We drove through old planted avenues of figs and cashew nuts through which one could just see the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. I was shown Panama, distant hills across the ocean, before my orientation was so confused by the circumnavigation of the peninsular which led us through large dark tunnels of primary forests. These massive stands of gigantic trees at first cut across the road in long fingers flowing down the mountain sides inland toward the sea. The route would suddenly change from open ranch land to dense forest. It would have been easy to have overlooked secondary forest had it not been pointed out. But it is separated due to its scraggily nature and thin trunks topped with big broad leaves (as opposed to tiny leaves of primary growth).

The trip covered 47 kilometers and I had already seen more birds of prey per kilometer than in most of East Africa, and certainly more forest. True to expectation, raptors were easily observed in the human modified ranches, not in the indigenous forests. A less acute observer would conclude that human interference is good for wildlife, had they not appreciated the difficulty in seeing things in primary forest.

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Roadside Hawk

An idea is born

With my newfound passion for birds of prey, it was obvious that Simon and I would be crossing paths again. I was working at Kipling Camp by Kanha Tiger Reserve at the same time as Munir, Pat and Simon were planning their twice-a-year vulture census in India. As you might already have read from Simon’s entry, vultures have suffered a disastrous decline in South Asia due to poisoning by diclofenac. I was invited to join the team for part of the expedition and jumped at the chance. It turned out to be another great experience. We took a boat down the Chambal River, with cliffs on both sides on which we saw vultures, peregrines, eagles and owls. We also spent time in Ranthambore (where I saw my first wild tiger) and Bandhavargh National Parks.

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A Brahminy Kite fishing in Kerala, India

Another continent. A few months later. This time, I was studying primates in the tropical rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in south-western Costa Rica and helping to manage a lodge there. Simon had long been interested in seeing the birds of prey of the New World, for reasons that he can explain in his own entry. I thought this to be a good opportunity to repay Simon for his kindness in looking after me so well in Kenya. Knowing him to be going through a transition stage, with his mind open to travel, I invited him to come and stay.

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The stunning New World King Vulture

During the frequent rainy afternoons at Terrapin Lodge, Simon painted birds of prey as I went through photographs and attempted some of my own paintings (which I will not be showcasing). We started talking about producing a book, full of beautiful photographs and paintings, on the birds of prey of Africa, and what began as the germ of an idea started to take root and grow. As we bounced ideas off each other and started to make plans, we realised we would be embarking on an incredible adventure that would take us through much of Africa. More about that in my next post.