14 May 2014

Pacific Heights...(Costa Rica late Feb.)

At the end of our day around Cano Negro we headed from the northern Caribbean to the north Pacific, and Santa Rosa National Park. We arrived in the late afternoon, with no sleeping arrangements planned. Luckily we seemed to have arrived just in time, with the National Park employees being very accommodating and allowing us to stay and eat there, in spite of our late arrival with no reservations. We only had a short time to bird a little around the accommodations but still squeezed in a gaudy "Jaffa" orange Streak-backed Oriole, and admired the powerful-looking Pale-billed Woodpecker shinning up a tree, before dusk fell. 

At night, for the second consecutive night, we went on the hunt of another owl lifer (for me and Cameron anyway): Pacific Screech-Owl. Soon after dusk fell its distinctive "chuckling trill" was heard right outside our room, and the game was on. Having spent many nights tracking down screech-owls in the Americas and scops-owls in the Orient, I knew that a bird in the midst of calling constantly can often be approached and seen with ease, when it is thoroughly engrossed in proclaiming its territory during the early part of the evening. And so I went in, and that's when I discovered a well-named tree called the Ant Acacia Acacia collinsii. I did very well the avoid its substantial thorns as I groped around in the dark for a grip on something, but did not avoid its colony of ants which attacked me with full force, and justified their later learned reputation for a fierce sting. Pretty soon after I retreated, red-faced, from my failed owl quest, while Cameron and Andrew just chastised me for my foolishness, which, after my significant cries from the ant onslaught, had caused the owl to, unsurprisingly, fall completely silent! Interestingly (although not so much at the time of the stinging attack), a form of mutualism occurs between the ants and the acacia, where one species of Pseudomyrmex ants occupies the tree (often sheltering within the trees considerable thorns), and the ants forage on sugary secretions from the plant (from the leaf stalks), and also receive proteins which are found in the leaflets. For this, the plant receives protection when anything, like a hapless, and rather clueless human groping around under darkness for the sight of an owl!

With the owl silent and the stings over my torso still very real, we walked around in the hope of hearing another calling owl, which failed completely. We did, however, come up trumps with this Milk Frog Phynophyas venulosa sheltering in one of the camp toilets, which also comes equipped with a rather unpleasant armoury; its skin excretes a milky-like  substance when threatened, which contains skin toxins that can cause a burning sensation (something which I already was experiencing, post-ants), and also induce sneezing in some even without direct contact. Luckily, after my ant attack I was more wary of touching anything and remained at a safe distance!

On returning to the original owl spot, we heard again the same Pacific Screech-Owl, Megascops cooperi, used a little playback, rather than going in blindly, and Cameron watched the bird land just above us, where it blinked back impressively in the spotlight; job done!

The next day we spent more time around Santa Rosa National Park, with a handful of lifers available and whole new area to explore...

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