Close encounters with Costa Rican wildlife!

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

Hello again from Costa Rica! I hope you’ve enjoyed my updates from our Get Going Costa Rica family sweepstakes trip! Our travels through the country have been nothing short of amazing, and filled with so many encounters with wildlife.

One day last week was particulary memorable for our group. A small number of us braved the early morning hours to get a bird walk in before breakfast. In less than an hour we saw an incredible variety of bird species without even leaving the grounds of the hotel! We saw brightly colored birds like the cherries tanager, blue-grey tanager, great kiskadee, rufous-tailed hummingbird, and the bananaquit. My favorite, however, was the fiery-billed aracari and the chestnut-mandibled toucan. We watched the toucan for several minutes. He foraged for fruit at the top of a nearby tree and dazzled us with his bright colors.

After breakfast we took a bus to Marino Ballenas National Park where we boarded a boat to go whale and dolphin watching. As excited as I was to get out on the ocean, it was hard to ignore the absolute beauty of the park itself. It’s miles of undeveloped sandy beach, with lush tropical forests in the background and strikingly beautiful blue-green water in the foreground.

Soon after leaving the beach, our captain got word that other boats had spotted a female humpback whale and her 3-week-old calf. Female whales migrate from the south this time of year to give birth off the coast in this area. We got to watch the pair for close to an hour as they swam slowly and came up for breath. What a spectacular sight. Every time they emerged, it took my breath away. The baby seemed so small — although easily bigger than our boat — and came up for breath much more often than its mother. They swam close together, almost touching, for the entire time.

After leaving the whales, we headed south to check out the cave formations nearby. Along the way, our guide spotted sea turtles bobbing in the waves. It was a mating pair of olive ridleys. Again, it was truly amazing to have a chance to see this. The two were clasped tightly together in some odd sort of “twister” pose.

We never see the olive ridley in the Mid-Atlantic. Our Marine Animal Rescue Program often sees its close relative, the Kemp’s ridley. We currently have one undergoing rehabilitation right now and have released several already this year. There are only seven species of sea turtles in the world, and all of them are considered threatened or endangered. Every time I see one in the wild, I’m hopeful that we can help bring these turtles back to healthy population levels once again.

Our guide told us that it’s common for these turtles to nest on nearby beaches beginning in October. They have, however, already seen three nests so far this August. There is a sense among a lot of people here that things are changing. Species are increasing or moving their ranges, and breeding/calving/nesting seasons are shifting.

Our next stop was a quick loop around whale island. This small rock formation is home to several nesting seabirds including the magnificent frigatebird, brown booby, and white ibis. New chicks were clearly visible by their contrasting colors.

After whale island, it was off to look at some caves and then find a calm spot to go snorkeling. Our group saw parrotfish, triggerfish, angelfish, and filefish. A pretty dizzying array for such a short time. We saw all of these amazing sights and animals before lunch!

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