Costa Rican rambles 1: a flower-laden arrival

Traveling to countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas was a privilege I really enjoyed as part of my work in health care, gender and rights for immigrants and people living in developing countries. That frequent travel came to an end due to the circumstances of my retirement, so it was with enormous pleasure that I just participated in my first post-career trip to Costa Rica, giving me the first stamp in my most recent passport!

    

This was only my second time traveling as part of an organized tour (the first time was in the 1970s on a visit to the Soviet Union). While I would have liked to linger longer in some places, the accommodations and good food arranged by the trip organizer, our birding guide’s wit, our driver’s helpfulness, and my fellow travelers’ good spirits made for lots of laughter, interesting sightings and delicious, companionable meals – and it was relaxed as I didn’t have to worry about how to get somewhere and find a place to stay.

Costa Rica’s natural beauty was a daily delight, and I’d like to share some of what I saw in a series of blogs. Many blogs nowadays are short on text; my blogs will be long with lots of photos, which may be a challenge to some readers in these days of imited time (attention spans) and Internet surfing. But I hope those of you who stick it out will enjoy the descriptions!

Since this was a birding trip, the series will mostly feature avians, but I managed to get some photos of mammals, insects and reptiles, too. But to start, we’ll take a look at the abundant flora in the 10-acre Santo Domingo hotel garden where we spent our first afternoon and next morning. The Hotel Bougainvillea received the Costa Rican National Gardening Association’s award as the best botanical garden in Costa Rica and it was a pleasure to visit.

Not being a botanist and having never studied plants, it took me an inordinate amount of time to identify some of the plants; half-way through my searching, I finally understood that this garden also features tropical plants from other continents. I wasn’t able to ascertain the names of many flowers – if anyone can identify the unnamed ones, please leave a comment!

The bougainvillea were blooming and an African blue butterfly bush (Rotheca myricoides) also caught my eye.

 

The native Heliconia flowers were abundant and varied, appealing not only to humans strolling about the gardens, but also to the birds who sheltered among them, searched for insects there or drank the floral nectar. Some of these plants are also called lobster claws, parrot flowers and wild plantain.

 

 

 

Some of the 40 species of heliconias can grow up to 30 feet high; there are heliconias whose flowers grow upright and others that hang. Their bracts – modified leaves or scales that surround a flower – may be larger and more colorful than the actual flower.

 

 

        

 

I quite enjoyed the bromeliads, like this one (Guzmania lingulata); we saw them in abundance throughout the trip and it made me long for some in my own trees.

There were plants with which I am familiar such as lantanas and lilies.

 

 

      

I’ve seen the Angel’s trumpet in the NC Botanical Garden; all parts of this plant are toxic, as my Costa Rican friend Esmeralda pointed out. All seven Brugmansia species are listed as extinct in the wild. These flowers were either Brugmansia versicolor or insignis.

 

I had also seen the Anthurium and passion flowers (Passiflora coccinea) before.

  

One tree had me stumped; it reminded me of a mimosa but was different. It took more than an hour searching the Internet but I was finally able to identify it as the pink shaving brush tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum)! It became one of my favorites.

 

Another favorite, which I would love to have in my garden, is the torch ginger (Etlingera elatior). Near it were some attractive golden shrimp plants (Pachystachys lutea).

 

A few plants had handy name signs by them, like this mateares cactus (Pereskia lychnidiflora), which is almost extinct in Costa Rica (but abundant in other parts of Central America). It was right next to what looked like a type of prickly pear cactus.

Some of the non-Central American plants were really lovely. The bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) is endemic to Mauritius. The fan palm may have been a native though.

 

The blue-green jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), which looked like someone had dyed it, comes from the Philippines, while the bright orange flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) is a Mexican plant.

  

    

The lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) is native to Uganda and Kenya.

The balloonplant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), native to southeast Africa, didn’t look like a type of milkweed to me!

There were some lovely orchids, like a purple one that could be Guarianthe skinneri or perhaps Guaria morada (the national flower) and a yellow one, which I thought was Oncidium sphacelatum.

 

This type of lady slipper orchid had a name tag but unfortunately I forgot to write down the name!

    

And then there were the ones I couldn’t figure out.

  

  

 

 

The garden also featured a couple tables with examples of geological specimens for the mineral and rock collecting enthusiasts.

 

 

One part had what I think was petrified wood.

If you visit San José, I’d definitely recommend a visit to the hotel garden. Next up –  wildlife in the garden!

  

Birds and blooms at Sandy Creek Park – more of the “good ones”

moon I77A9993© Maria de Bruyn res

Birds are a favorite photographic subject of mine, even though catching them in late spring and summer is challenging when the lush foliage offers them many places to hide. Their songs and calls and warbles tell me that they are there, but often I need to wait quite a while until I finally catch a flutter of movement out of the corner of my eye to locate them.

 

white-eyed vireo I77A0007©Maria de Bruyn

One early morning, when the moon was still in the sky, I was fortunate enough to see a lot of fluttering in trees near the park’s parking lot – and I discovered an immature white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) with a parent who looked as if she or he was really practicing forbearance.

white-eyed vireo I77A0010©Maria de Bruyn      white-eyed vireo I77A0006©Maria de Bruyn

Carolina wren I77A0188©Maria de Bruyn res

Nearby, a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) was singing loudly; these little avians have an outsized voice so that you can hardly miss them even when they are hidden behind leaves.

A handsome male goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was in a field, while a female was visiting the coneflowers (Echinacea), of which there were various species in the cultivated butterfly garden.

 

 

American goldfinch I77A0382©Maria de Bruyn res American goldfinch I77A0177©Maria de Bruyn res

coneflower I77A7325© Maria de Bruyn res      coneflower I77A6365© Maria de Bruyn res   coneflower I77A6250© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A6188© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Other birds were busy finding insect meals, like the male, female and immature Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern bluebird I77A6022© Maria de Bruyn res    Eastern bluebird I77A5558© Maria de Bruyn res

Common grackle I77A6377© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) scored a meal, while the pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) and blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) were busy in the trees searching for caterpillars and insects.

Other birds (and mammals, I think) had been getting crayfish from the ponds but I guess there were so many that they only ate the tastiest parts.

Pine warbler I77A5605© Maria de Bruyn res   Pine warbler I77A5598© Maria de Bruyn

 

blue-gray gnatcatcher I77A0302©Maria de Bruyn res     crayfish IMG_4926©Maria de Bruyn res

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) were looking for earthworms on the ground, and the song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) alternated between the ground and shrubs in their search for food.

American robin IMG_0550© Maria de Bruyn res     song sparrow I77A6195© Maria de Bruyn

The male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) were calling and flying from shrub to shrub, showing off their handsome black plumage with a red highlight.

red-winged blackbird I77A6090© Maria de Bruyn res  red-winged blackbird I77A6126© Maria de Bruyn res

Over at a nearby pond, the Northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) were swooping over the water and then sharing space on a snag; meanwhile, a mother wood duck (Aix sponsa) led her brood along the shoreline.

rough-winged swallow I77A0234© Maria de Bruyn res    wood duck I77A7225© Maria de Bruyn

In a tree beside another pond, the immature great blue herons (Ardea herodias) were still at their nest at the start of June; later in the month, they were no longer hanging out there.

great blue heron IMG_0430© Maria de Bruyn res   great blue heron IMG_0402© Maria de Bruyn res

milkweed I77A0079©Maria de Bruyn res

 

Botanists can have a great time at Sandy Creek, too. The milkweed plants in the butterfly garden attract both butterflies and bees.

Carolina horsenettles (Solanum carolinense) are common but pretty little plants, while the orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) enjoys a good reputation as having stem juice that relieves the pain caused by poison ivy for many people.

Carolina horsenettle I77A5581© Maria de Bruyn res      orange jewelweed I77A0511© Maria de Bruyn res

The fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) grows profusely on the edges of Sandy Creek ponds and the swamp rose (Rosa palustris) sprouts near them as well.

fairywand I77A7293© Maria de Bruyn res      swamp rose Rosa palustris I77A5621© Maria de Bruyn res

Japanese honeysuckle I77A5711© Maria de Bruyn res

 

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), an invasive plant, attracts pollinators but so does the more vibrant and native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens L.).

 

 

 

coral honeysuckle I77A0159© Maria de Bruyn res      coral honeysuckle I77A0127© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

In the fields, you can see lovely brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and coreopsis.

Brown-eyed Susan IMG_0504© Maria de Bruyn res  brown-eyed Susan IMG_0497© Maria de Bruyn res

 

coreopsis flower IMG_0494© Maria de Bruyn res   coreopsis flower IMG_0486© Maria de Bruyn res

Stoke's aster I77A6353© Maria de Bruyn resThe cultivated garden in the park gets plenty of color from the Stoke’s asters (Stokesia laevis) and red bee balm (Monarda didyma), which is a real magnet for hummingbirds. I recently bought a couple for my home garden and was rewarded with seeing the hummers visit them within 2 days.

 

 

red bee balm I77A7307© Maria de Bruyn res    red bee balm I77A6390© Maria de Bruyn res

What makes my walks so interesting is discovering new species. A native grass (Bromus) was lovely; helpful facebook group members gave me suggestions for possible species but we couldn’t narrow it down. The group also helped me identify a plant that I hadn’t seen before, a Germander (Teucrium canadense).

grass Bromus IMG_4811© Maria de Bruyn res   Germander Teucrium canadense I77A0544© Maria de Bruyn res

I managed to find an ID myself for a common flower that seems to grow all over the place – the Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis). It is considered an invasive plant and is on the watch list for North Carolina, but I have to say that I find it quite attractive. Each flower blooms for only one day and to me they look like little faces and make me smile. And so I continue learning as each new walk invariably ends up teaching me something new. Enjoy your day!

Asiatic dayflower Commelina communis I77A0667© Maria de Bruyn res    Asiatic dayflower I77A0677© Maria de Bruyn res