Bob and I covered a lot of ground on our second day in Costa Rica. We began birding before sunrise and by early afternoon, we decided to check out Ecocentro Danaus on the outskirts of La Fortuna. The small private reserve was rich in wildlife.
After paying the entrance fee and having a look around the Reception Kiosk, Bob and I were tempted to sit a spell on the building’s porch. Flashes of bright plumage betrayed a well-stocked feeding station at the edge of the forest.
From a bench at the Observación Aves, Bob and I looked out on a continuous parade of feathered beauties that delighted us. A male Scarlet-rumped Tanager almost glowed in the dim light.
With more subdued plumage, a female Scarlet-rumped Tanager blended more easily into the background.
It would have been easy to confuse this male Olive-backed Euphonia with the female Tanager because the plumage is similar in colour. The bright yellow cap and orange rump helped with identification.
One of my favorites was a Blue-gray Tanager with electric blue wings set against a powder blue body.
Refusing to be overlooked, a Buff-throated Saltator boldly perched facing us and fended off other birds at the fruit buffet.
Taking Bob and me totally by surprise was this Agouti that crept from the shadows of the low vegetation to retrieve bits of fruit dropped by the birds. With a tasty morsel gripped in its teeth, the Agouti quickly disappeared back into the forest.
Deciding that it was time to explore, Bob and I set off on a self-guided tour to discover the wonders of that small patch of rainforest. The Main Trail covers a circular route that takes in a Butterfly Conservatory, Botanical Garden, Tree Nursery and a natural lagoon. Ecocentro Danaus is dedicated to the preservation of Costa Rican biodiversity and forest regeneration.
A rustling of leaves drew my attention to the forest floor thinking I might see an amphibian, but instead, a Wood Thrush was turning over leaves and probing for insects. These birds breed in our home country, Canada.
Piquing our interest was a sound nearby that seemed out of place. Repeated at intervals, it was akin to a childhood toy called clackers. Hunting down the source led Bob and me to this male White-collared Manakin.
Male White-collared Manakins use their wings to create a sound like that of twigs snapping in two. These birds are resident breeders in Costa Rica.
It wasn’t long before Bob and I found ourselves at the Butterfly Conservatory. Ecocentro Danaus raises 30 different species of these delicate beauties, so it was possible to see all stages of a butterfly’s life cycle.
Of course, we were most impressed with the Blue Morpho Butterflies, but so many other species dazzled us that I have featured the Butterfly Garden in a separate blog post.
Leaving the Butterfly Conservatory behind, Bob and I were once again in the corridor of natural rainforest populated by wildlife that has chosen to live there. The small pocket of regenerated forest is an isolated haven amid surrounding farms.
It was sheer luck that we espied this Rufous-tailed Jacamar where it sat shaded by dense tree cover. Perched a good 50 feet away from the trail, it blended in so well with the background that the bird was almost invisible.
Thank goodness it shifted its position so we could appreciate its beautiful orange underparts. It is quite a striking bird.
We were happy to find a sunlit stretch of trail where sunlight assisted with spotting creatures in the dark shadows.
We stopped to admire some stunning red flowerheads of the Brazilian Red Coat…
and yellow blossoms on a tall shrub, quite possibly a Cortez Tree.
Studying the interesting flora is what led me to notice this tiny lizard, a Yellow-headed Gecko. A pocket of water on a giant leaf made the perfect spot for it to have a refreshing swim.
We moved in for a closeup of the wee reptile only to see it clamber up the side of the leaf where it, too, could have a better view.
Within seconds, the Yellow-headed Gecko darted away to safety. The changing light made the characteristic colour of the species stand out more.
A little further on, an opening through the trees revealed a glimpse of the dark lagoon. The lagoon was formed in the reserve’s early stages of development when the owners dug a reservoir to hold fresh water.
One day, the owners discovered that 3 Caimans had found their way to the newly-formed lagoon, and the reptiles have been swimming in the water hole ever since. The wetland ecosystem continued to grow with reptiles, amphibians, insects and mammals discovering this small piece of ideal habitat.
Turning back to the trail, I nearly jumped out of my skin when quick movement at the edge of the leaf litter had me thinking “Caiman”!
The joke was on me because it was only a small lizard called a Common Basilisk. It was about 20 inches long.
Incongruously, a sighting of a young Common Basilisk is not that common at all. A Basilisk is otherwise known as a Jesus Christ Lizard for its ability to walk on water. This feat is possible because of the lizard’s large feet and flaps of skin between the toes.
In terms of the trail, Bob and I were about halfway around the 600-metre loop. It was amazing that we could spend so much time in such a small area. Noticing an unusual silhouette in the canopy, Bob and I used our cameras to zero in on a Broad-billed Motmot.
We were lucky to catch the Motmot sitting quietly between sallying forays to catch insects. I am particularly intrigued by the unusual tail racquets that project beyond the ends of the tail.
Ever been in the forest and feel that you are being watched? Well, that is the eerie feeling Bob and I had as we moseyed along the banks of the lagoon. Looking to our left, our eyes met those of a Boat-billed Heron.
We had been informed that a family of Boat-billed Herons annually nest alongside the freshwater lagoon, and within minutes, we spotted the other adult Heron perched overlooking the water.
It soon became apparent to Bob and me that the parents were keeping a keen eye on their fledgling. Knowing that these birds can be quite aggressive against a potential threat to their offspring, we cautiously photographed the birds from a distance.
Shadows were growing longer as we picked up our pace on the back half of the trail. Our ears were acutely tuned to the sounds of nature around us, and we constantly scanned our surroundings.
Ecocentro Danaus still had more to offer as we returned to the reception area. A Torch Ginger Plant refused to be ignored where it grew tall and sturdy.
Surprisingly, these perennial flowers can achieve heights of between 17-20 feet. So glad that this one was at eye level so we could appreciate the intricacies of the blossom.
Bob and I decided to spend another few minutes observing the bird feeding station. To our delight, the Agouti had returned and gave us better views.
Agoutis are rodents that feed primarily on fruit, seeds and nuts. As a matter of fact, they are one of only a few species that are able to crack open Brazil Nuts. They have amazingly strong and exceptionally sharp teeth.
With the fruit recently replenished on the feeding station, birds such as this Red-legged Honeycreeper started to return for their late-afternoon feast. Time was getting on.
We were entertained for several minutes by a male Black-cheeked Woodpecker with a very showy abdomen.
Black-cheeked Woodpeckers consume a large number of insects but will not turn down a meal of fresh fruit or nectar.
We were so preoccupied with the flamboyant Woodpecker that this elusive Russet-naped Wood-Rail nearly slipped by without us noticing. A denizen of swampy forests and forest edges, the Russet-naped Wood-Rail would find the habitat at Ecocentro Danaus perfectly suited to its needs.
Moving on toward the parking lot, Bob and I had to pause and admire this Lesson’s Motmot. A bird often seen in Costa Rica, it is another species exhibiting elegant tail racquets. Earlier in our walk, we had witnessed one of these birds entering a tunnel in a small ditch alongside the trail.
We later learned that these birds nest in tunnels in banks. They lay eggs in Costa Rica between March and May, so the bird might have been preparing its nest tunnel or attending to eggs that had already been laid.
As we were about to hop in our car, an employee from Ecocentro Danaus came rushing up to us. He was keen to point out a pair of Collared Aracaris that were busy feeding their nestlings.
Collared Aracaris are small, slender toucans, and this pair had laid their eggs in an old woodpecker nest high in a tree trunk overlooking the parking lot. The chicks would be fed insects initially with fruit being introduced to their diet as the babies grow larger.
By the time we left Ecocentro Danaus, it was 5:30 p.m. With Arenal Volcano throwing long shadows across the landscape, we knew it was time to head back to our lodgings for a rest. It had been a full and rewarding day!