Costa Rican rambles 7A – the Sueños del Bosque lodge and environs

And now my Costa Rican wildlife travelogue continues after a long absence. Busy projects and chores, a vacation abroad and illness all conspired to delay the writing of this next installment, And now one of my photo software programs is refusing to work, making photo processing a real pain. But I was still able to get some shots to share of beautiful creatures in the Costa Rican Talamanca highlands. 😊

 

We started our fourth day early, first going out to see if we could find local favorites at sites near the Sueños del Bosque (dreams of the forest) Lodge. Located near the town of San Gerardo de Dota, the elevation is 7200 feet at this spot. A few busloads of other birding enthousiasts were also there; the guides all knew one another.

When our guide ran into his brother – also a birding guide – we were told about a spot where some spotted wood quail were hanging out. I did get a photo but it was still so dark, that the photo was not all that great. Our next venture was to a spot where the resplendent quetzal had been seen – a few people with binoculars didn’t have much trouble spotting a really distant pair of birds building a nest across a valley, but I bird with a telelens and had no such luck. So I admired the flowers and plants– and saw some very nice ones throughout the day as you can see below.

      

 

Back at the Lodge, we had time to look for birds near our rooms and the dining area. This cute little mountain elaenia (Elaenia frantzii) was a pleasure to behold. The lodge’s pond had numerous domestic ducks in residence, including a crested duck (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus).

 

 

   

Next, we took a walk along trails leading away from the Lodge up the mountain. We passed a stream, stocked with rainbow trout, which were imported by Efraín Chacón, who discovered the Rio Savegre Valley and built the visitors’ accommodations.

   

 

 

Wasp nests were hanging above our heads in the trees in several places.

 

 

 

       

 

A beautiful white-throated mountain gem hummingbird (Lampornis castaneoventris) gave us a good view as it perched nearby, and a small grayish bird that I haven’t  yet identified was flitting about the flowers as well.

 

 

    

 

A black-billed nightingale thrush (Catharus gracilirostris) was smaller than I would have expected. Two tanagers showed themselves briefly – a sooty-capped bush tanager (Chlorospingus pileatus) and a pair of common bush tanagers (Chlorospingus flavopectus).

 

  

A rufous-collared sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) was busy collecting material for a nest.

  

A hummingbird was busy having a meal, while a sulphur-winged parakeet (Pyrrhura hoffmani) had a little rest and watched us.

  

For those of us interested in all wildlife besides birds, a treat was running into an emerald swift lizard (Sceloporus malachiticus) along the trail. We admired the reptile’s beautiful colors before setting up further along the rising path. (More on this day’s excursion follows in the next blog!)

A walk in the woods with a bit of local history

Ken Moore IMG_6384© Maria de Bruyn resOn a sunny afternoon in mid-April, volunteers at the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG) had the chance to learn about Bill Hunt, a horticultural expert who donated hundreds of acres of land for environmental conservation to the University of North Carolina. Hunt’s work laid the foundations for the expansion of the Garden with the Hunt Arboretum and the Piedmont Nature Trails in woods behind the cultivated gardens. The trails were “re-dedicated” during a walk to commemorate the Garden’s first public offering, which was originally dedicated on 10 April 1966. A walk in the woods was quite a nice way to help celebrate the NCBG’s 50th birthday.

Ken Moore IMG_6398© Maria de Bruyn resWe learned about how the Nature Trails were created and maintained from Ken Moore, retired assistant director of the NCBG and the Garden’s first employee.

Moore was accompanied by other Garden staff who offered other interesting tidbits of information. For example, Johnny Randall, NCBG Director of Conservation, told us about how Mr. Hunt visited his rhododendron bushes along Morgan Creek and invited friends to swim at Elephant Rock and to forest picnics at his personal grill located creekside, all the while wearing a suit and tie in his beloved woods.

elephant rock IMG_6443© Maria de Bruyn resHunt barbecue IMG_6436© Maria de Bruyn res

Staff pointed out some of the lovely native plants seen in the springtime woods, including plants that were rescued from other sites such as the trilliums.

Sweet Betsy IMG_6405© Maria de Bruyn res Virginia pennywort IMG_6411© Maria de Bruyn res

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)                 Virginia pennywort (Obolaria virginica)

The woodsorrels have three-lobed, clover-like leaves.

Common yellow woodsorrelIMG_6429© Maria de Bruyn   Violet woodsorrel IMG_6423© Maria de Bruyn res

.Common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)   Violet woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea)

Indian plantain IMG_6439© Maria de Bruyn res         Spotted wintergreen IMG_6434© Maria de Bruyn res

Indian plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum)   Spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

We also heard about the non-native and invasive plants that were planted along the Nature Trails before conservationists were aware of how they out-competed native plants for space and nutrients. They pointed out that we should remove such vegetation during our volunteer hours and from our own gardens at home, such as Oriental false hawksbeard (Youngia japonica (L.)), which I realized is nestling in in my yard, too.

Special attention was given to the plant with the delightful name of Italian lords-and-ladies (Arum italicum). There were many clumps of these large-leaved flowers and numerous specimens were blooming. While Ken told us how to identify male and female plants so we could eradicate them, other staff demonstrated how to uproot them with gusto.

Italian lords-and-ladies IMG_6481© Maria de Bruyn res          Italian lords-and-ladies IMG_6494© Maria de Bruyn res

Listening IMG_6499© Maria de Bruyn res

As we climbed out of the woods after a couple hours, some last words were said about invasive plants and then Ken sped ahead to greet everyone as we re-entered the demonstration gardens. He kindly offered participants a small booklet about Bill Hunt’s life, a nice gift to commemorate 50 years of the Garden. It will be interesting to think about what the next 50 years might bring.

Ken Moore Ed Harrison IMG_6524© Maria de Bruyn resrue anemone windflower IMG_6450© Maria de Bruyn res                       IMG_6466© Maria de Bruyn res

IMG_6468© Maria de Bruyn res                   IMG_6458© Maria de Bruyn res Wild comfrey (right, Cynoglossum virginianum)

April’s fool – this is NOT a flower!

 

shagbark hickory I77A7704© Maria de Bruyn resDuring North Carolina’s early spring weeks, visitors to wooded areas may be delighted by newly emerging shagbark hickory saplings (Carya ovata).

shagbark hickory I77A7683© Maria de Bruyn

The slender young trees show off their new leaves at the ends of branching twigs, creating lovely patterns against the sky and other foliage. Eventually, they may reach a height of some 100 feet (30 meters) and, if not felled by storms, floods or other means, they may get as old as 350 years.

When I first saw these little beauties, I thought that they had wonderful spring flowers in hues of orange, rose and yellow. The “flowers” were at the base of clusters of pinnate leaves and they were often quite lovely.

shagbark Noah Shagbark hickory tree IMG_0185© Maria de Bruyn

It turns out that I had been fooled not only on April 1st, but the whole spring season in past years. Only recently did I find out that the shagbarks don’t have spring flowers at all – the curling petals are actually the scales of the buds from which the leaves emerge! The male and female flowers appear in late summer and early fall.

shagbark hickory I77A7708© Maria de Bruyn res

When the shagbark reaches the age of about 10 years, it begins to produce hickory nuts, reaching its full nut-bearing potential around the age of 40 and continuing to produce until about 100 years. The nuts are eaten by many species, including humans, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, black bears, mice, foxes and birds.

shagbark hickory I77A7679© Maria de Bruyn res

The shaggy bark, found in mature but not young trees, is used to help flavor syrups. I must admit that these trees attract my attention much more in the spring than other times of year – those flower-like bud scales are gorgeous!

 

Rain drops, dewdrops and frost – Mother Nature’s adornments

rain drops IMG_8843© Maria de Bruyn resDewdrops in the early morning, raindrops during the day, and frost covering everything outdoors can be seen merely as various manifestations of heavenly water on earth, but another way of looking at them can be as nature’s jewels. When light and sunshine illuminate the drops and crystals, they lend an air of elegance and beauty to whatever they have covered.

When it rains, leaves and blooms may look uniformly slick with moisture but we often see them covered in rain drops. Have you ever wondered why the rain drops are of different sizes?

dewdrops IMG_7571© Maria de Bruyn res day lily with rain drops IMG_5259© Maria de Bruyn res

The US Geological Survey’s Water Science School reports that water vapor wraps around particles in the air (salt, smoke, dust) which are of different sizes; then when the drops begin falling to earth, they bump into other drops and merge. The drops that merge with more “neighbors” become larger. Rain drops suspended from branches and leaves are quite lovely.

rain drops DK7A8019© Maria de Bruyn res rain drops DK7A8052© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

rain drops DK7A8020© Maria de Bruyn resruby-throated hummingbird DK7A8190© Maria de Bruyn resThey often roll right off birds’ feathers but occasionally adhere, as was the case for this ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) at a feeder sheltered by a roof overhang.

Dew – water droplets on surfaces of objects and vegetation – forms when an exposed surface cools down by radiating its heat and the moisture in the atmosphere then condenses faster than it evaporates. It looks beautiful on flowers and other plants, such as these grasses, the Virginia meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica) and the Orange mahogany esperanza (Tecoma stans “Orange Mahogany”).

dewdrops DK7A2989© Maria de Bruyngrass dewdrops DK7A3012© Maria de Bruyn res

Virginia meadow beauty DK7A3083© Maria de Bruyn res

Orange mahagony esperanza IMG_6425© Maria de Bruyn res Orange mahagony esperanza IMG_6414© Maria de Bruyn res

Some plants actually mimic dewdrops, like Tracey’s sundew.

Tracy's sundew DK7A5228© Maria de Bruyn res Tracy's sundew IMG_4952© Maria de Bruyn

On spider webs, water and ice droplets outline the architecture created by the arachnids, showing off the symmetry and beauty of the lines.

spider web DK7A6479© Maria de Bruyn res spider web with dewdrops IMG_2683©Maria de Bruyn res

spider web with dewdrops IMG_6438© Maria de Bruyn res spider web with dewdrops IMG_6396© Maria de Bruyn res

sheetweb dwarf spider IMG_0959©Maria de Bruynsigned

 

The webs of sheetweb dwarf spiders (Florinda coccinea), often not so visible in the grass, become quite noticeable when covered in dewdrops and then you can often spot the little red spider hanging underneath waiting for its prey.

sheetweb spider DK7A4086© Maria de Bruyn sheetweb dwarf spider DK7A4076© Maria de Bruyn res

spider web splendor IMG_2727©Maria de Bruyn res

 

In this case, the plant looked like a natural jewelry stand for strings of glass or diamond beads.

It was interesting for me to learn that the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) and the International Organisation for Dew Utilization (OPUR) created a dew harvesting system for a semi-arid area in India. Their condensers can collect more than 200 liters of dew each night from October through May and could provide an additional water source for people in arid coastal regions.

Leaves and flowers, like this coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) can seem bedecked with glistening jewels when the ice crystals of frozen dewdrops adhere to their surfaces and edges.

Coral honeysuckle DK7A6792© Maria de Bruyn resCoral honeysuckle DK7A6805© Maria de Bruyn res

frosty morning leaves IMG_7351©Maria de Bruyn Nat GeoFrost may appear to be translucent or crystal clear; when a mass of crystals are together, they look white in color because they scatter light in all directions. The ice crystals of wind frost (also known as advection frost) arise when a very cold wind blows over tree branches, leaves and flowers; they can form gorgeous borders on these surfaces.

Early morning can be a great time for nature walks – beautiful sunrises, brisk (or cooler) temperatures and awakening wildlife make for interesting viewing. And raindrops, dew and frost can add extra scenes of beauty for us to appreciate!