Tag Archives: Snake

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)

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