Exploring the Rainforest at Arenal Observatory
One March morning, Red-lored Parrots awakened us from their perch in the flowering trees above our cabin at Hotel Kokoro Arenal in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. After breakfast, we headed off to Arenal Observatory Lodge to do some hiking and bird watching.
Arenal Observatory Lodge is located inside Arenal Volcano National Park on a ridge amid tall Honduran Pine Trees and luxuriant rainforest. We could hardly wait to explore.
Even before parking the car, Bob and I spotted some Coatis.
Also capturing our interest were huge pendulous nests hanging from trees like oversized Christmas ornaments. We soon learned that they are the nests of Montezuma Oropendolas.
Our first stop was at the restaurant and observation deck.
To the delight of visitors, fruit feeding stations are erected just off the deck to attract the local birds.
One of the first that we saw was a Montezuma Oropendola. We quickly understood why their nests are so large.
It was especially gratifying when another Montezuma Oropendola arrived on the scene, and the two exchanged food in a courtship routine.
Just below the deck, White-nosed Coatis were taking advantage of dropped fruit.
White-nosed Coatis are related to Raccoons. In Costa Rica, they are responsible for the pollination of Balsa Trees.
White-nosed Coatis stick their noses into the flowers of Balsa Trees to drink the nectar. Pollen covers their noses in the process, and it pollinates other flowers of the Balsa Trees as the Coatis move around the forest.
A Great Curassow cautiously emerged from the vegetation at the edge of the grassy area.
Great Curassows are about the size of a Turkey and are hunted for their meat. The habitat at Arenal Observatory provides safety for these birds that are listed as a threatened species because of habitat loss and hunting.
From our lofty vantage point, Arenal Lake was visible to the west, sparkling in the morning sunshine.
After lingering on the observation deck, Bob and I thought it was time to explore the series of trails. We wanted to discover what Arenal Observatory was all about.
Arenal Observatory Lodge originated in the 1970s as a small lodge to accommodate Smithsonian scientists who came to study the seismic activity of Arenal Volcano.
Arenal Volcano last erupted in 1968 after centuries of inactivity. It was a short walk to the Museum where we found a collection of seismic monitors.
This location is perfect for monitoring volcanic activity because of its proximity to Arenal Volcano, and it is protected by the deep canyon carved by the Agua Caliente River.
Along the first stretch of trail, a colony of nests fashioned by Montezuma Oropendolas wowed us. Piercing the air were the sharp mating calls of these impressive birds.
Many of the Eucalyptus Trees were supporting large numbers of the substantial hanging nests.
We were pleased to see so many of the birds tending their nests and occupying the trees rather than just observing them at the feeding station.
A sign pointing us in the direction of The Danta Waterfall Trail had us descending from the ridge down to the Danta River.
A modest waterfall was our reward for the trek.
Continuing on, a hanging bridge conveyed Bob and me across the Danta River where we merged onto the Yellow Trail.
At the edge of one vast open area, numerous Coatis were foraging beneath some trees.
Within the 870-acres of Arenal Volcano Lodge’s property are verdant pastures populated with cattle.
Obvious everywhere was evidence of the farmland that once dominated this property.
In fact, most of the 11 kilometres of trails at Arenal Observatory Lodge follow farm roads that served the cattle ranch.
At the edge of one fenced pasture, a work shed and waterhole stood within view of Arenal Volcano shrouded in fog.
The owners of Arenal Observatory Lodge are to be commended for their commitment to environmental protection. Among the trees planted by the Aspinall family to reforest the one-time plantation are Rainbow Eucalyptus.
Adjacent to the Blue Trail was a nice stand of these trees. Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees get their name from the multi-hued bark.
Several times a year, a Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree sheds its bark to reveal a bright green inner layer. The previous season’s bark peels off in strips that expose the bright new layer underneath.
The new layer of bark then matures and darkens to myriad shades including blue, orange and even maroon.
Bob and I soaked up the bucolic atmosphere all the while taking in great views of Arenal Volcano.
Yellow-faced Grassquits kept us company all along the way.
Continuing along the Blue Trail had us descending into a section of Primary Forest nourished by a thin stream.
We were unsure if this was a tributary of the Agua Caliente River, but it was essentially dry.
Every so often, a punch of colour in the shadows had Bob and I stopping to appreciate some of the local flora such as this example of a Calliandra Flower. It is also called Scarlet Powder-Puff.
A side trail to a seasonal waterfall, Los Cangrejos, was bypassed since other hikers indicated that there was no water flowing over the precipice at that time.
With tropical beauty surrounding us, even the threat of a developing afternoon shower didn’t concern Bob and me.
Opportunities for closeup views of some of the cattle were frequent in concert with a number of Cattle Egrets.
Brahman Cattle are the main cattle of choice because of their high tolerance to heat.
It is the hump over their withers that has evolved over time to store water.
All of the farm roads cum hiking trails interconnect throughout Arenal Observatory property.
We branched off onto a series of trails, first Red, then Orange, followed by a section of road.
The Red Trail conducted us through some primary forest.
It opened up where it connected with the Orange Trail. Off to the side of the gravel surface, we noticed some quick movement. A Central American Whiptail popped up giving us a bit of a start!
Rows of fence posts marched along one farm road leading up to White Hawk Villa.
From White Hawk Villa, a look-off again provided a wonderful view of Arenal Volcano and the surrounding rainforest.
In one of the cultivated flowerbeds near White Hawk Villa, a Dorantes Longtail Butterfly was nectaring.
As Bob and I made our way back in the direction of the main observation deck, we passed through a nice stand of Honduran Pine Trees. When the Aspinall family acquired the farm, natural primary rainforest only remained on about one-third of the property. Honduran Pine Trees are one species of trees that they planted to reforest and prevent erosion.
Soon enough, it was time to again revel in the kaleidoscope of colour provided by the myriad birds coming to the fruit feeding station. A Brown Jay squawked its approval with a mouthful of papaya.
A male Hepatic Tanager joined the fray.
The brilliant blue plumage of Red-legged Honeycreepers amazed us.
And then it was off to explore another section of the landscaped property as we walked toward the Spa.
Imagine our delight when the rustle of leaves above our heads alerted us to some Spider Monkeys.
As Bob and I observed, the Spider Monkeys were actively searching for fruit or insects to eat. Though they usually forage in the morning and relax for the remainder of the day, this was late in the afternoon.
It is the inordinately long limbs and prehensile tail of a Spider Monkey that gave rise to the name of this species.
There must have been an abundance of delectable fruit because we next identified a Howler Monkey sharing the same trees.
A quick amble around the Frog Pond turned up no frogs. They are most active after dark. But a pretty lizard, perhaps a Striped Forest Whiptail, scurried through the leaf litter at our feet.
I think it was as surprised as we were!
Planning on one last look from the observation deck, Bob and I meandered through the beautiful grounds in that direction. I nearly jumped out of my skin when some loud honking emanated from a branch above our heads. It turned out to be a Crested Guan vocalizing.
Crested Guans are often characterized as playful, chasing each other and running around in circles. Well, we couldn’t testify to that fact, but we were pleased to see this one take a short flight.
Crested Guans are also very large, again the size of a Turkey, and as such are hunted as a source of meat.
Now on the Near Threatened List of birds, it is places like Arenal Observatory and Arenal Volcano National Park where Crested Guans find refuge and are more readily observed by people.
Bob and I were immensely pleased that we made one last stop at the observation deck. Whereas we had seen a female Great Curassow in the morning, this time a male Great Curassow showed up.
When a female Curassow lit on a branch below, the games began.
The male Great Curassow was in hot pursuit.
The female promptly ducked into the cover of vegetation with the male hot on her heels, all the while showing off his petticoats, typical courtship behaviour.
Tearing our eyes away from that action had its rewards when we noticed another Howler Monkey far in the distance beyond the observation deck.
It, too, was gleaning fruit or seeds from the trees.
We had spent the day at Arenal Observatory, from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. In total, our untrained eyes and ears only picked out 26 species of birds, but we came away with a real appreciation for what Arenal Observatory is all about through exploring 8 kilometres on the trail system.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean