Costa Rica Part 2: Cool Vibes on a Hot Coast

The change of scene from our rustic log cabin in the misty and ethereal cloud forest to the ‘Cool Vibes’ hostel in the bustling coastal town of Dominical was like entering a whole new world. We would have one day in Dominical to ‘relax’ before our field course began, but with green iguanas roaming the streets and tropical birds galore it would’ve taken a lot of persuasion to do yoga or embrace the hippie feels…

Green Iguana1
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

The evening of our arrival in Dominical we were excited to see what creatures we could find after dark. The ‘nightlife’ in the valley we had travelled from was few and far between, presumably because of the low temperatures, but on this warm tropical coastline the night-time activity – both human and animal – was much more abundant. We strolled down to the beach, heading away from the bright lights of the bars and restaurants, scanning all around us. We had to watch where we were treading as the sand was littered with dozens of hermit crabs scuttling up the beach. These land-dwelling hermit crabs, which I think are the Pacific Hermit Crab (Coenobita compressus) were scavenging for detritus that was littering the beach.

Pacific Hermit Crab
Pacific Hermit Crab (Coenobita compressus)

Just along the beach we came across a small lagoon. Around the edges numerous large pairs of eyes glared back at us, glowing brightly in our torchlight. Looking at them through our binoculars and judging by the size we thought that they were caiman… for a moment at least! We noticed one of them beside us. It was a huge and bulging frog with devilish red eyes. This beast was the aptly named Savage’s Bullfrog (Leptodactylus savagei). At first glance it may seem harmless enough but beware – this frog has a dark side! If disturbed this frog may exude large amounts of noxious foam and apparently this frog will eat pretty much anything that will fit in its mouth. Considering they’re about the size of a dinner plate this includes snakes, birds and even small mammals! There must be plenty of prey around as these frogs were a familiar sight for the rest of our trip.

The temperature barely dropped at all overnight and by the time we set off for a pre-breakfast walk the sun was blazing. We knew it would only get hotter as the day progressed so we made the most of the relative morning low. The tide was far out and the wet golden sand and sea spray glimmered in the light. Dozens of brown pelicans flew in formation low over the breakers, clinging close to the surface of the sea and flapping one-after-another in sequence. Our bird list soared that morning as almost every bird we saw was new to us. Common Tody-Flycatchers, Royal Terns, Orange Chinned Parakeets and much more!

Brown Pelicans and Dominical Beach at Sunrise

By midday, all we could do was take measures to cool off. We joined the array of sun-seekers and locals on the beach and spent a good hour body-surfing the waves. We weren’t the only ones in these waters though. Rather unexpectedly a large mobular ray leapt out of the water, spreading its large wing-like pectoral fins before crashing back down into the waves!

By early afternoon the sky had clouded over, providing a little relief from the sun. We strolled along the Río Barú. Ben tried to scale a coconut tree but was shown up by a local old man who climbed the tree with skill and ease. For Ben’s efforts we were rewarded with a couple of ripe coconuts. These were super fresh and sweet compared to those you buy in the UK.

Despite all the people the wildlife sure didn’t disappoint us. I was delighted to see black-mandibled toucans which were just as funky as I thought they would be. One peered down at us from a tree, staring curiously, before continuing to feed on the fruits.

Black-mandibled Toucan1
Funky Toucan

As our walk was drawing to a close we paused by the mouth of the river to take in the glorious sunset which set the sky ablaze with a burning array of warm reds and oranges. High in a prominent tree on the opposite bank of the river, James spotted a small falcon sitting proudly overlooking the vista. It was a bat falcon. It may have been small, but it sure was mighty. A ringed kingfisher, larger in size and certainly more chunky than the bat falcon, flew past. The falcon raced after it like a spitfire and kingfisher made a swift retreat. The bat falcon had other quarries in its sights. It tried its luck racing after some dragonflies and even the swifts and swallows that were gathering over the river. Again the falcon had no luck but its determination and agility was incredible. As soon as bats started to emerge the bat falcon set off – chasing after them with speed and stamina that was a thrill to witness, filling us with adrenaline!

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Watching the Bat Falcon at sunset!
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Page from my field notebook from our day in Dominical.

Arriving back at the beach it was now dark, but we needed another swim in the sea to cool off. In the distance an electric storm flashed and sparked, illuminating the sky with rapid flashes of light. As we splashed around in the shallows the aerial light show was accompanied by bioluminescent glows glimmering green in the water. A magical ending to our pre-field course trip.

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