Tag Archives: Osa

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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