Category Archives: 2022 Costa Rica

US Short Trips in South-West, including Archeological Footprint site, late 2021 to early 2022

Covid has halted all trips in the last year except for several short hops around the Southwest. I am on my way, finally, on an international trip to Costa Rica for 3 months of wild park visits.  Before going I will post a few pictures of birds, petroglyph sites and the famous White Sands “footprint” site  I found interesting in the last year.

The rock art is from a hodgepodge of cultures; Sears Point and Painted Rock sites, along the now dried bed of the Gila River in southern Arizona, contain a combination of Hohokom and Patayan petroglyphs from about a 1000 year ago, along with a fair number of much older archaic petroglyphs. The Three Rivers site in New Mexico is an unusual site with Mogollon petroglyphs from about 1000 years ago.  The VBarV Ranch site has the fabulous Sinaguan puebloan petroglyphs, also about 1000 year old.

The one really special trip I was fortunate to make involved tagging along with a weekend field trip for a graduate archeology class from the University of Arizona – the seminar subject was the peopling of the Americas.  For almost 80 years most archeologists have believed the earliest humans arrived in the Americas, crossing over the land bridge to Alaska, at the end of the last ice age about 12 to 13 thousand years ago and could only have migrated down into North and South America after the glaciers started melting in Alaska and Canada.  For over 40 years occasional finds at sites as diverse as Florida and Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of S America have presented suggestions of much earlier human presence, some over 20,000 years ago, but in all these cases the dating had problems.  Further, there were no convincing theories of how humans could have arrived from alternate routes before the end of the glaciation.

Last year a newly published report from White Sands in New Mexico revealed the first “solid” dating of  human footprints along an ancient lake bed, finding tiny grass seeds both on top and immediately below the footprints which for the oldest layers consistently dated to 21,000 to 23,000 year ago. These human footprints exist along with thousands of Pleistocene animal footprints of ground sloths, bison, mammoths, dire wolves, bears and saber tooth cats. The site now is worked every January when the weather best permits.

Dr. Vance Holliday is teaching the graduate class and led the field trip – he is one of the authors of the published paper on the footprints.  I drove to the site from the White Sands National Park with Clare Connelly, the Park archeologist and another of the paper’s authors.  The ancient lake edge and most of the thousands of footprints are located in an area at the far northern reaches of the Park (well beyond any roads or visitor areas) and extend far into the Army’s White Sand Missile Range.  No roads exist to the site, which is approached by 4-wheel drives over the gypsum white sand desolation.  Passing through the site are multiple lines of mammoth footprints leading presumably to the lake edge.  At the human footprint site, Clare uncovered and showed us several examples; one small area, about 2 X 2 feet, contained a large cave bear footprint, half covered by a human footprint, and just behind were prints of a baby bear, dire wolf, bison and sloth. A little deeper were footprints of children, and at another spot a perfectly preserved hand print as if an adult tripped and caught herself with a spread hand in the mud.

I have included a couple of photos of mammoth prints at the site, but provided no details on the approximate location of the site nor photos of the human prints, as those we saw have not yet been subject to a published report.  Other than the professionals working the site, it will never be open to the public, though the footprints are being plaster cast and a replica of parts of the site will presumably be built in the coming years near the National Park touristed areas.

Tomorrow I fly to San Jose and should be uploading periodic reports and photos in a couple of weeks.  Later Dave

Dave along suspension bridge over Sarapiqui River, Tirimbina, CR

Dave Cox in Costa Rica, Tirimbina Rainforest Organization Lodge along Sarapiqui River, Apr 8, 2022

Hello all.  After 2 ½ years without foreign travel, it finally seems like heaven to be on the road again.  I flew to Costa Rica March 28.  After 7 days in the top floor suite of the El Presidente Hotel in downtown San Jose, spending much of my time planning the specifics of my visit and arranging transportation, I finally am off on a birding photography adventure.  First two stops are along the Sarapiqui River in lowland tropical rainforest. I have been 5 days in the Tirimbina Lodge and tomorrow move on for 7 more days to the nearby La Selva research station of the Organization for Tropical Studies.  From there I will spend close to the next 3 months visiting various different environments, some cloud forest along the volcanic flanks and other mangrove swamps and lowland rainforest.  I have used a private bird guide daily to help locate and id the birds, and hope to continue this way.

I have selected a few of my favorite shots from the last five days and posted them below. I especially favor the poison dart frogs (the Strawberry would fit on my thumbnail), the Trogons and the Toucans.  I should routinely be posting new bird and wildlife photos from here out. Later, Dave

Seven Days at Organization for Tropical Studies’ La Selva Lodge, April 18, 2022

Hello.  I last reported on Tirimbina Rainforest on the Sarapiqui River.  From there I moved just a few miles to La Selva’s Lodge on the Puerto Viejo River which controls a large swath of primary rainforest adjacent to the Braulio Carrillo National Park.  This mostly is Caribbean lowland rainforest with a huge number of animal and bird species.  The center offers many dorms and cabins for visiting scientists and students participating in onsite research.  All meals are included and served in a cafeteria style – the food, while not exactly top flight, was always more than filling.  I spent 5 to 7 hours daily walking the miles of trails through the rainforest.  While in the trail system, except in occasional spots where a giant tree has recently fallen, one seldom sees the sky, and only hints of scattered specks of light indicate whether it is cloudy or clear.  This is where the forest floor is not much brighter than night under a full moon. Around the station’s administrative center, dorms and labs, the area is somewhat cleared and attracts a huge number of birds.  I believe it rained some every day, and on occasion there were huge downpours.  Under the canopy one often can only hear the rain – after maybe 20 minutes the drops will begin to fall from the leaves and reach the forest floor.

My favorite trail, the Sendero Arboleta, had recently produced a camera trap photo of a jaguar a few weeks before my arrival.  Of course, the chances of actually seeing one live are nil. The weather was unalterably hot and humid, broken only by being hotter if under sunlight, and a little less hot during the rains.

I did manage some interesting photos.  If you go through the photos below you might notice quite a number of them have birds appearing on the same tree-shrubs thick with packets of small berries, the unripe ones a pretty pink-red and the ripe ones dark blue-black. I think I counted over 20 species of birds on these shrubs eating the ripe berries.  I was very lucky to spend time watching a Three-toed mother sloth with a 3-month-old baby clutching to her chest, and I managed a couple of pretty neat photos of the pair.

The Howler Monkey families roared at all hours.  A large suspension bridge crosses the Puerto Viejo River connecting parts of the Station, and the Howlers use the suspension cables as their highways across the river.  Often two families would sit in the trees over opposite sides of the bridge and for hours hurl what I took to be insults back and forth over the river.

From La Selva I arranged a private driver to transport me onward to the touristy town of La Fortuna on the eastern flanks of the Volcano Arenal, one of the most perfect volcanic cones on earth.  Some eruptions occurred from 1968 through 2010, but the mountain is docile now.  I will be here at the Monte Real Hotel for some 8 days.  Later.  Dave


Report from La Fortuna, Costa Rica, Apr 24, 2022

Hello.  I have been in La Fortuna for 8 days.  It sits just a couple of miles directly east of and under the Volcano Arenal, which was active as recently as 10 years ago.  The volcano presents an almost perfect cone, visible about half the time and covered by clouds the rest. La Fortuna is sort of the center of adventure sports in Costa Rica and so is full of young (and some old) tourists – the tour vans constantly ply the streets, and tour store-fronts are everywhere.  I came for some of the area birding. My best luck was on a small secondary forest reserve just outside of La Fortuna proper, called Bogarin Trail, with some impressive wildlife finds not commonly seen. One of my favorite sightings was a large male Emerald Basilisk – basilisks are the dinosaur looking lizards, with crests on their heads and sails on their backs, and most impressively they get up on their hind feet and run, including the ability to run on top of water. The male in the photo below was trying to chase off a Striped Basilisk male, a different species.

I spent a day on the backside slopes of the Arenal Volcano at the Observatory Hotel’s grounds high in the rainforest.  It was not nearly as productive as some other photographers had indicated to me earlier, but it had some stunning views of the volcano and Lake Arenal, along which I will be visiting in the next 3 days.

Among my favorite pictures, a small but colorful Boa Constrictor (probably only about 5 feet long), a Black and White Owl, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, two baby Rufous-winged woodpeckers in the nest, a Coati on the Arenal Volcano’s slopes and a mother Agouti with a very rambunctious baby.

It has started to rain daily as the rainy season approaches on the eastern side of the country. I am making use of a high-quality poncho which protects my pack and camera gear.  I will now be traveling to the western half of the country where the rains start a month or so later.  The restaurants in La Fortuna are quite good, though I have been eating mostly in the sodas, which are the small, usually family owned, cafes all over the country. The domestic beers, as in much of the world outside the US, are nothing to brag about – mostly watery pilsners. The cheap red Clos wine (which started in Guatemala), available in liter cartons, travels well and keeps me going in the jungle research stations where no alcohol is otherwise available.

Today I travel to Nuevo Arenal, a small community on the shores of Lake Arenal, the largest inland body of water in the country. I may look at lakeshore property, with an eye to possible purchase. From there I travel west to the edge of the Nicoya Peninsula to visit waterfowl in the mangroves and dry forest flood plains.

Later Dave


Nuevo Arenal & Palo Verde NP, May 2, 2022

From La Fortuna I traveled to the northern shores of Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica, dammed about 45 years ago for hydroelectric power.  Now banks of wind generators also cover the northern hills. The gardens at my B&B and the lake shore provided a few new bird pics.  It rained every day as the seasons change for the eastern half of the country about a month before the western half.  From Arenal I traveled deep into the dry forests on the north of the Nicoya Peninsula, into the heart of the Palo Verde National Park which western boundary lies on the banks of the Tempesqui River.

The only place one can stay inside the park is the Organization for Tropical Studies Research Station – the accommodations are spartan, dorm rooms with fan and cold showers, and an abundance of insects finding their way inside – the last night produced a large red-black scorpion in the bathroom (I am glad I always use a red flashlight at night to walk around inside). I am too late for the early dry season when the lowlands are flooded and hold a large variety of migratory waterfowl, but a month too early for the rainy season when things green up, but the roads become almost impassable.  Although the mosquitos are not the most repellent-resistant I have encountered, they certainly form among the densest clouds unless one stands only in the tropical sun clearings.  The food is consistent, huge piles of boiled vegetables, beans, rice, plantains, etc.  It certainly passes through the alimentary canal in a hurry. Other than a couple for two nights, I am the only person staying at the station for these 5 days, other than a young guide, cook, maintenance man and housekeeper – it would be very lonely but for the monkeys.

I arranged for a private boat on the river for two of the days, where the resident wildlife is plentiful. The huge Bare-throated Tiger-Herons are very common here, and two started building a nest high over my dorm room. The Mantled Howler monkeys have been in residence overhead also for the last two days, the old male constantly roaring, and the Capuchins came through twice. The area is filled with dozens of Spiny-tailed Iguanas, huge and menacing-looking, but always running before getting stepped on. I am pleased with good photos of the various herons, the Black-headed Trogon, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Spectacled Owl, Laughing Falcon, Crested Caracara and Turquoise-browed Motmot. My last day, going down the dirt road, I was fortunate to see the Laughing Falcon cross with a large serpent in its claws.  The Crested Caracara followed, and off to the side a ferocious but very short aerial battle between the two large falcons occurred. The Laughing Falcon appeared to have won and maintained his position over the dropped snake.  Both birds refused to leave the area and so permitted me the exceptional close photos. I spent many hours under a special old fruiting tree trying to get a decent photo of the Long-tailed Manakin male, but it seems resistant to my efforts, being small, dark and always high behind leaves.

Today I move onward to the mountains and cloud forests of Monte Verde.  Later. Dave





Report from Monteverde Cloud Forests, Costa Rica & Emergency Return to US May 21 2022

I last reported from Palo Verde National Park, and moved from the lowland dry tropical forest to the high cloud forests of Monteverde.  I visited the Santa Elena Bosque Nuboso, the CuriCancha Reserve adjoining MonteVerde, and the Finco Ecologico San Luis over a 6 day period with guide Adrian.  At the entrance to the cloud forest Santa Elena I was shown one of the more unusual creatures I have ever encountered.  On a mossy orchid plant on the side of a tree was a irregular looking moss covered and mossy shaped twig which turned out to be a moss stick insect.  Very rare to see, it had been observed by one of the rangers since birth and had lived in the same spot for 8 months as it fed on the orchid plant.  See if you can spot all six legs in the photo below – from the tip of the back legs to the end of the front legs it is about 5 inches long.  I also was fortunate to hear multiple times, and spot (at a distance) the Three-wattled Bellbird, an exotic which all birders look for.  A number of other bird sightings led to some decent photos. I also got some great shots of a Side-striped Palm Pit Viper deep in the rain forest – the snake is deadly venomous, but very beautiful.

It rained every day at various times and was often foggy, and so the area lived up to the name cloud forest.  Whether walking the roads or trails, nothing is level – all is either steeply up or down. I had a lovely polished wooden cabin with private veranda overlooking a small forest ravine with huge trees, where I enjoyed wine each afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon, May 8, after photographing birds in Curicancha all morning, I was working on photos on my computer when I kept being bothered by a greying of my vision from the left eye in toward my nose.  After an hour, and closing each eye and checking my peripheral vision, I soon realized I had the start of a major retinal detachment in the left eye.  Leaving such unchecked for even a few days can result in total blindness.  After a hellish 6 hours extending well into Saturday night, and with some major help and luck, I was able to arrange a return flight for the next day back to the US and an early Sunday morning taxi to take me from the cloud forests down to the international airport.  I was able to get the required negative covid antigen test and boarded the United flight to return me to Tucson via Houston, arriving Sunday night.  First thing Monday morning, after a slew of telephone calls (finding my retinal specialist had moved to the Nebraska Medical School to teach), I was able to get an emergency visit with a top rated retinal specialist.  After 5 hours in the Drs. office, with a number of laser procedures to protect my right eye from a similar fate, I was scheduled for major eye surgery on the left eye the next morning, May 12, less than 70 hours after I discovered the detachment.

After surgery I have spent almost 10 days with a required “face-down” position, including during sleep. A large bubble of gas was injected into the left eye after the reattachment, which in the face down position rises to press against the retina at the back of the eye to hold and help keep the retinal reattachment In place. Except for one taxi ride to the Drs., I did not leave my house for 10 days and remained face down at all times. As of today, 10 days later, I finally can look up and ahead again and start walking and driving carefully.  However, my left eye will essentially be blind for up to 9 weeks as the gas bubble slowly is absorbed.  The official report as of yesterday is that the surgery seems to have gone well, and I have a 90% chance of recovering most of my vision in the left eye.  I cannot fly or change elevation for the next 2 months, and probably will be unable to travel for up to 6 months.  I may take a year to fully learn how much vision is restored.

So, unfortunately, my Costa Rica trip was cut short by 7 weeks, but chances are good that my rapid return to the US will have saved my eyesight.  Later Dave