Costa Rica 2012: Coastal hike to Corcovado

 

 

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My companion Lars Skipper, standing among mangrove trees, near the town of Puerto Jiménez. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Corcovado National Park is situated on the coast of the Osa Peninsula in south-eastern Costa Rica. From the north, no roads lead into the park, and if you cannot afford to fly in, you must walk c. 20 kilometres along the beach and on trails through the forest to reach the park headquarters at Sirena – one of the few places in the park where you are allowed to overnight.

In the small town of Puerto Jiménez, my companion Lars Skipper and I book a room in a simple hotel, whereupon we seek out the national park office to get permits to enter the park. As it turns out, this is a rather difficult task. The entry fee must be paid in a particular bank, or at a local travel agency, before the permit can be issued. As it is a Saturday, the bank is closed, so we go to a travel agency. The owner informs us that he has to send an email to the bank, as well as to the park office, to confirm that he has received our payment. An answer to his emails may take some time, so he instructs us to return around 6 p.m. to collect our permits.

 

 

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Our hotel in Puerto Jiménez. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Painted church wall, depicting St. Francis of Assisi with a white horse and a scarlet macaw (Ara macao) – the latter was hardly known in Italy in the 1200s! (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are not exactly beautiful creatures. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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A beautiful male Cherrie’s tanager (Rhamphocelus costaricensis), displaying its scarlet rump. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lizards running on the water
Our hike into the park is going to take place two days later, and in the mean time we explore the town and its surroundings. The ubiquitous black vultures (Coragyps atratus) are not exactly beautiful creatures, having ugly, naked heads full of wrinkles. In the morning sun, many passerines are sitting on electric wires, e.g. wing-barred seedeater (Sporophila americana), southern house wren (Troglodytes musculus), and a beautiful male Cherrie’s tanager (Rhamphocelus costaricensis), displaying its scarlet rump.

In a small patch of mangrove trees, we notice several common basilisks (Basiliscus basiliscus), which distinguish themselves by being able to run along the surface of the water at a terrific speed, their legs moving so fast that they almost look like a whisk. In the forest above the mangrove, we observe a black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis), which somewhat resembles the Old-World monitor lizards, besides many leaf-cutting ants (Atta cephalotes) which transport leaf segments to their nest, holding them high as banners. Among numerous plant species we notice the gorgeous red ginger (Alpinia purpurata) and a reddish species of Tillandsia, growing as an epiphyte on a horizontal branch.

Bird life is rich and varied. The large scarlet macaw (Ara macao) seems to be fairly common – small flocks fly about, making a tremendous racket. We observe two species of caracara which, as opposed to true falcons, often walk about on the ground. A yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) strolls down the road in front of our car, and later we observe a southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus), collecting nest material at the roadside. A beautiful Amazon kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) is perched on a dead tree, and in a dense patch of grass we observe a male blue seedeater (Amaurospiza concolor), jumping vertically into the air and landing on the same spot – presumably part of its courtship display. Among the aerial roots of a large fig tree we notice a golden-crowned spadebill (Platyrinchus coronatus) – a peculiar bird with a flat bill, belonging to the tyrant-flycatcher family (Tyrannidae).

 

 

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Common basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus), perched on a rock among mangrove trees. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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The black spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura similis) somewhat resembles the Old-World monitor lizards. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Leaf-cutting ants (Atta cephalotes), transporting leaf segments to their nest, holding them high as banners. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Among numerous plant species we found the gorgeous red ginger (Alpinia purpurata) and a reddish species of Tillandsia, belonging to the pineapple family. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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A scarlet macaw (Ara macao), eating fruits from a tree. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Caracaras are relatives of true falcons, but, as opposed to these, caracaras often walk on the ground. This picture shows a yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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A southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus), taking off from a road with nesting material. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Wildlife along the beach
Two places along the coastal route through the park to Sirena, vertical rocks block the beach trail, and these two places hikers must wade through the sea water, as no trail leads through the forest above the rocks. This must take place during low tide, as the water level will be too high at other times. On the day of our hike, low tide is around noon, which means that we must start our hike from the village of Karate around 6 a.m. We shall have to get up at 3 o’clock, as the drive along the horrible road to Karate will last at least two hours – a fact which we found out the previous day.

As it turns out, our morning drive is a marvellous experience. The Full Moon sets behind a mountain, while a blanket of fog covers fields with grazing cattle. It is daylight, when we arrive at Karate. We have learned that we can park our car at a pulperia – a small grocery store, selling daily supplies and soft drinks. The owner gets grumpy, when we park our car in front of his ’fine’ store – we have to park behind it! How on Earth were we supposed to know?

However, he soon calms down, and we can start our hike along the beach, where coconut trees (Cocos nucifera), beach almond (Terminalia catappa), and a few other tree species grow. On numerous spots, lots of debris has been washed ashore, and among this debris, many coconuts have sprouted. The beach is alive with hermit crabs of all sizes, transporting their protective snail shells, which come in all sorts of shapes – round, oblong, spiraled. The tracks of the hermit crabs create fine patterns around pebbles on the beach.

A common black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), which mainly feeds on crabs, is sitting in a palm tree, and in an area of low coastal rocks, a bare-throated tiger-heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) is feeding in a rock-pool, while long lines of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) glide effortlessly along the coast. Occasionally, one of the birds will plunge headlong into the water from a great height, indicating a school of fish. For a long time, a white-nosed coati (Nasua narica) walks on the beach in front of us. Like their near relatives, the raccoons, these long-nosed creatures are omnivorous, often feeding along the coast.

 

 

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Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) are ubiquitous along the coast of Corcovado National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Washed-up coconuts, which have sprouted among debris. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Beach almond (Terminalia catappa) is very common along the coast of the national park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Tracks of hermit crabs create patterns around pebbles on the beach. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Washed-up dinosaur? – No, just driftwood, polished by sand and water. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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A common black-hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), feeding among coastal rocks. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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This bare-throated tiger-heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) is searching for food in a tidal pool. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Coastal rock with resting brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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White-nosed coatis (Nasua narica) often feed on the beach. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Into the rainforest
After about an hour’s walk, we arrive at the national park border, where we must show our entry permits in a tiny office. From here, a trail leads through the rainforest, which, due to the proximity of the sea, is low and stunted, in places dominated by dense thickets of spiny palm trees. Here and there we encounter taller trees, among these a huge tree with large, wavy buttresses.

We are lucky to be able to join company with a tourist group, who have hired a local guide. He has eyes like a hawk, pointing out various animals, which we might otherwise have missed. A small anteater, named northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), is sprawled along a branch, sleeping comfortably, while elegant Central American spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) swing from one branch to another in a superior style. On several occasions, we observe coatis and small, brown squirrels. Birdlife is surprisingly scarce in the forest, but we do observe e.g. chestnut-backed antbird (Myrmeciza exsul), red-crowned woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus), and a woodcreeper, belonging to the family Dendrocolaptidae.

 

 

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On several spots, the vegetation along the trail through the forest was dominated by dense growths of spiny palm trees, in this case black palm (Astrocaryum standleyanum). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Rainforest tree with buttresses. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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This northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) is sprawled along a branch, sleeping comfortably. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Around Sirena
Our hike is long and strenuous. We round the two vertical rocks during low tide without problems, but in the forest, we must cross several rivers, of which the last one, Rio Claro, is so deep that the water reaches the crotch. Before wading across, we take off our trousers. We are rather exhausted, when we arrive at Sirena, so we rest for a while before going out on an evening stroll to the coast. Several nightjars are feeding over the tiny airstrip, and from the forest, far away, a chorus of golden-mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata ssp. palliata) can be heard. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean is gorgeous.

As we intend to get up around 5 a.m. to experience morning life in the rainforest, we go to bed early. At dawn, the howler monkeys are making a racket, and we observe several forest birds, among others a great curassow (Crax rubra) and two great tinamous (Tinamus major). Tinamous resemble game birds, but constitute an ancient order of their own, Tinamiformes. On our way back towards the lodge, we have great luck, spotting an ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), crossing the runway about 200 metres away.

Unfortunately, we have only been able to book a single night in the park – all other days were fully booked. This means that we shall have to start early, walking back the way we came. On our return trip, we again observe a tamandua and spider monkeys, but also a troupe of feeding white-headed capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus), searching for edibles by biting off bark of lianas and branches.

We are indeed tired, when we arrive at Karate, but we have yet to face a car ride of at least two hours back to Puerto Jiménez. At our hotel, we have a much-needed shower, before we go out to eat – and then to bed.

 

 

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On our way, we had to cross several streams. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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Sunset and clouds over the Pacific Ocean. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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White-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus), biting off bark in search of food. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

(Uploaded February 2016)

 

(Revised October 2017)