Trekking into Biodiversity- ALO Magazine

Rain wasn’t falling in the rainforest of Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park.

It was raining leaves, bushels of them floating beneath the canopy that was so dense it blocked out the sun. The wind wasn’t blowing either, yet the leaves continued to fall. Instead, there was a lot of thrashing going on in the trees above.

All that ruckus in the towering Sabre and cashew trees was a thoroughly determined northern tamandua, also known as a collared anteater. They are nearly blind but equipped with thick, long claws, a 16-inch-long tongue, and a powerful tail to wrap around tree trunks and branches to stabilize themselves. This enables these tree-climbing anteaters to extract ants and termites from cavities in precarious positions throughout the rainforest.

Marine biologist Holly Lohuis and I were in the middle of a 5-day trek through the Corcovado, a region of the Osa Peninsula that National Geographic states “is the most biologically intense place on earth”. We wanted to see as many species as we could within those five days, so my binoculars and camera gear were seemingly affixed to me, always at the ready. Within the first few miles of our trek, the Corcovado was living up to its reputation.

Staring up into the canopy of the rainforest in Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula.

Staring up into the canopy of the rainforest in Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula.

Scarlet McCaw_OsaPeninsula_ ALO Magazine

Scarlet McCaw and rainforests go hand in hand in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.

Up and down the tamandua climbed, stirring up other fauna, birdlife and insects concealed in the rainforest, most of which we would have never seen without a guide. Marco Umana of Osa Wild had been guiding in Costa Rica for 7 years. An avid birder with a keen eye, Umana has seen 725 of Costa Rica’s 935 bird species and has even accomplished a “Big Year” in Costa Rica, which means spotting as many avian species as one can in one country in 365 days. In Umana’s case, he nailed down 649 species in 2017 alone. That’s a lot of brilliantly colored feathers and oodles of sounds to detect hidden in the rainforests of this Central American country.

Through trek from ranger station to ranger station in Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Through trek from ranger station to ranger station in Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Minimal Impact

Corcovado became a National Park on October 24, 1975. It is the largest National Park in Costa Rica. It covers 164 square miles within the largest primary rainforest on the American Pacific coastline, but it also includes one of the last remaining areas of notable lowland tropical forests on the planet.

To access the heart of the Corcovado National Park, all visitors are required to be accompanied by a guide. There’s no wiggle room there, but it’s to everyone’s benefit. The guides are incredible, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable. Holly and I guesstimated that we would’ve only seen 10 percent of all the wildlife we encountered if we had been on our own.

The Corcovado does not allow camping. Trekking is from ranger station to ranger station where everyone sleeps in bunkbeds, beneath mosquito netting on raised platforms. Meals are included. Visitors don’t go hungry in the Corcovado. The National Park doesn’t want anyone cooking within the park, so all meals are prepared and served buffet style at the Sirena Ranger Station.

After spending a couple of incredible nights at Danta Lodge, Holly and I began our trek in the northern sector of the Corcovado at the Los Patos Ranger Station. We trekked 13 miles in the mud, and scrambled up narrow canyons, while crossing several tranquil rivers to the Sirena Ranger Station. The station is near the coast, and it’s the main hub of the Corcovado.

Depending how long visitors stay at Sirena, days are filled with several guided hikes. Guides are armed with guidebooks, spotting scopes, binoculars, and the E-bird app as they work extremely hard to locate the rich flora and fauna thriving in the Corcovado. Seriously,

Holly resting easy in a hammock at Danta Lodge in the Corcovado National Park.

Holly resting easy in a hammock at Danta Lodge in the Corcovado National Park.

Water is Life

Jesus Christ walked on water, but we didn’t know he could drop from a tree or a rock and cover five feet per second across its surface.

Actually, the green basilisk lizards are lightning quick while running upright. When they feel threatened, they can sprint across the water with relative ease, hence its status as the Jesus Christ lizard. It seems appropriate though, moving across water at biblical proportions. Its unique capability coming in handy while eluding throngs of predators in the steamy rainforest.

Whenever we were around a water source, we were virtually guaranteed of seeing these sleek, 2-foot-long reptiles sprinting upstream, bank-to-bank, along serpentine streams, and rivers. Those water sources were also occupied by black-mandibled toucans, spectacled caimans, American crocodiles, and tiger herons.

Umana also nabbed all four of Costa Rica’s species of monkeys, which was a real hoot. It began with a bellowing howl that momentarily drowned out all other sounds in the rainforest. The sound of howler monkeys dominated the canopy. Not to be outdone though, were sightings of white-faced capuchin, spider, and squirrel monkeys.

At one particularly broad river mouth and tucked into the fork of a dead tree above the runnel, we watched a common black hawk successfully dismantle a large, freshwater crab. Patiently waiting below was an opportunistic crested caracara (another type of raptor) scarfing up the remains. Nothing goes to waste in the rainforest as one species benefits from another.

Above the birds of prey were a breeding pair of scarlet macaws enjoying the blossoms in a huge cashew tree. They would first drink the water caught inside the blossoms and then consume the blossoms themselves. These neotropical parrots light up the canopy of the rainforest like no other bird with their stunning plumage of multi-colored feathers. That and their raucous RAAAK, RAAAK, resembled what a prehistoric pterodactyl may have sounded like millions of years prior. They can live up to 75 years and the Corcovado National Park is an important bastion for this iconic rainforest species.

Rainforests teem with flora and fauna, including these dainty mushrooms

Rainforests teem with flora and fauna, including these dainty mushrooms.

No Sunscreen Required

There was one more massive river mouth to cross before leaving the Corcovado National Park, reaching Carate and catching our ride back to our car in Puerto Jimenez.

This was our last stretch of the Corcovado, a short 2-mile hike that didn’t disappoint. Holly nearly stepped on a well-concealed brown vine snake. I had never seen her jump so high and move so quick, but the inhabitants of the rainforest can do that to you. We were snorted at by a couple of white-collared peccaries and watched a band of coatis ripping through a dense grove of banana trees.

It also occurred to me that we hadn’t used sunscreen the entire five days. Didn’t need to. The always-shady rainforest took care of that. We were sorely reminded of it in Carate when we emerged from the rainforest and into the blistering sun.

However, we quickly forgot about the heat and humidity, diverted by a pair of breeding scarlet macaws just underneath the canopy of a lone cashew tree. Not paying any attention to a minimal audience, the two lovebirds went on with their business while we enjoyed ice-cold Coca Colas in a glass bottle.

Brilliant rainbow touching down along the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Brilliant rainbow touching down along the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

If You Go

Pacific Trade Winds for general information, Enter Costa Rica website.

Danta Lodge is located within the Osa Peninsula, and it’s a great place to hike, rest, and relax. It’s nestled on the northeast fringe of the Corcovado National Park, and a great base to begin a trek. Danta Lodge website.

For guided trips into Corcovado National Park, Osa Wild can handle all the logistics without a hitch. Osa Wild Travel website.