Travel

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By Derek Stoner, Seasonal Program Team Leader

A Red-eyed Tree Frog dazzles with colors when illuminated by a flashlight, as it hunts at night for insect prey in the Costa Rican rainforest. Photo by trip participant Joe Flowers.

A Red-eyed Tree Frog dazzles with colors when illuminated by a flashlight, as it hunts at night for insect prey in the Costa Rican rainforest. Photo by trip participant Joe Flowers.

Continuing our “flashback tour” from our Costa Rica 2015 adventure:

As our group settled in at the comfortable Evergreen Lodge on the banks of the picturesque Tortuguero River, we could hardly imagine the bounty of wildlife could be any greater than what we found right around our accommodations.    Dazzling hummingbirds fed from fire-red Heleconia flowers all around us while White-faced Capuchin monkeys scrambled about in the treetops in search of ripe fruit.   Rainbow-hued land crabs scuttled underfoot to hide in their burrows as they avoided the feet of distracted nature enthusiasts.

A White-faced Capuchin monkey prepares to leap from the tree towards the onlookers. Photo by Derek Stoner.

A White-faced Capuchin monkey prepares to leap from the tree towards the onlookers. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Our evening adventure took us into the dark and narrow canals cut into the nearby rainforest, allowing special access to a world of trees, vines, flowers, and teeming wildlife.  The captain of the boat deftly brought our vessel with close range of the animals while our guide provided a running commentary on the interesting life history of these unique species.

A male Northern Jacana displays for the female while dancing across a bed of Water Hyacinths. Photo by Derek Stoner.

A male Northern Jacana displays for the female while dancing across a bed of Water Hyacinths. Photo by Derek Stoner.

We encountered a very confiding pair of Northern Jacanas, rail-like birds with impossibly long toes that help them walk delicately atop the floating aquatic vegetation.  At point-blank range we witnessed the male showing off his bright-yellow wing spurs while pumping his chestnut-colored wings and chest.  The display continued as we motored on to view the next wildlife spectacle around the bend.

The reclusive Black River Turtle, found only in a small region of Costa Rica, basks on a river-side log. Photo by Derek Stoner.

The reclusive Black River Turtle, found only in a small region of Costa Rica, basks on a river-side log. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Our exploration led us to close encounters with the endemic Black River Turtle, a bright red-and-black Red-capped Manakin, Howler Monkeys hooting overhead, and Great Currasows (a turkey-like bird) scrambling through palm fronds.   As the boat gently nudged a log, a Caiman (small crocodilian) splashed into the water from its camouflaged hiding place.  Our group spied a Boat-billed Heron resting amidst an umbrella of vegetation, staring back at use with its large eyes used for nocturnal hunting.  The rattling calls of Green Kingfishers and Amazon Kingfishers seemed to greet us around almost every turn.

Exploring the river by boat is a fantastic way to encounter wildlife and access unique habitats. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Exploring the river by boat is a fantastic way to encounter wildlife and access unique habitats. Photo by Derek Stoner.


As our blog journey back to last Fall’s Costa Rica trip continues in future posts, we invite you to look ahead on your calendar and consider joining Delaware Nature Society this November for a bigger and better Costa Rica exploration: a twelve-day Tropical Wildlife Adventure.  From the Caribbean to the Pacific, from the lowlands to the cloud forest, we will visit unique habitats and stay at spectacular lodges during this grand tour of the best  natural areas in this tropical paradise.  Guided by Costa Rican native Jose Saenz.

Costa Rica: A Tropical Wildlife Adventure, will run from November 10 to November 21.   Delaware Nature Society staff Judy Montgomery and Derek Stoner will be the hosts and provide you with a first-class eco-tourism experience as we travel together to the tropics.  Member pricing is $3,920 (airfare not included) and includes all lodging, meals, ground transportation, and special experiences like snorkeling.  Call 302-239-2334, extension 127 or email judym@delnature.org for trip details.

Registration deadline is July 31.

 

By Derek Stoner, Seasonal Program Team Leader

A young Two-toed Sloth nestles on its mother as she hangs upside down in a tree at our lunch stop. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

A young Two-toed Sloth nestles on its mother as she hangs upside down in a tree at our lunch stop. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

The Delaware Nature Society led a trip to Costa Rica recently, journeying from coast-to-coast in this verdant Central American country for twelve days in late October and early November of 2015.  The group, led by Derek Stoner and Judy Montgomery, began our adventure in the capital city of San Jose.  Aboard a tour bus with 20 participants, two trip leaders, a tour manager (Jose Saenz of Collette Travel) and our jovial bus driver Juan Carlos, we quickly exited the big city and headed into the wilds.  Here is the first installment in a series of five posts detailing our discoveries…

How often do you get to have lunch with a sloth?  After a delicious meal at Restaurant Ceibo, we turned our attention to the riot of wildlife that surrounded the building.  Right beside our tour bus, four different Two-toed Sloths could be observed in classic sloth-pose:  hanging leisurely upside-down and half-asleep.  A female with a young baby stole the show, as the youngster (showing very pale blonde hair on its head) changed positions on the nursing female.

Blue Jean Frogs, a species of poison dart frog named for its blue legs on a bright red body, clamber around the base of a Kapok (Ceibo) tree. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

Blue Jean Frogs, a type of poison dart frog named for its blue legs on a bright red body, clamber around the base of a Kapok (Ceibo) tree. Photo by trip participant Rod Ellingsworth.

Soon we loaded up in the bus and continued our day’s journey towards to Caribbean coast.  At the end of a dusty, bumpy road we came to the “boat ramp” which consisted of an eroded bank plunging into the crocodile-inhabited waters of the Tortuguero River.  Jumping aboard with our luggage into a 40-foot long, shallow-draft boat, we held onto the sides of the vessel as we rocketed down the narrow channel of the river.

A Basilisk lizard lounges along the Tortuguero River in Costa Rica. Photo by Derek Stoner.

A Basilisk lizard lounges along the Tortuguero River in Costa Rica. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Along the high banks of the river, we spied droopy-eyed Brahma cattle– the type of bovine that thrives in the heat and humidity of the tropics.  Around one bend we came across a large American Crocodile (12+ feet long) hauled out on the sunny sandbar.   Cattle Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and other wading birds flushed and swirled away as our boat encroached on their zone of comfort.

But the real excitement came when we began spotting the beautiful Basilisks, a species of large golden-green lizard that is most famous for its ability to skip across the water on its hind legs.  The moniker of “Jesus Christ Lizard” is what makes this species most famous, and the question in our minds was:  Would we get to see these amazing reptiles actually walk on water?

Stay tuned for the answer to that question and more highlights from our Costa Rica adventure…

By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager

West Texas is a land of few people, wide open spaces, and rugged mountains at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert.  This desert extends far south into Mexico, and is far from a lifeless, brown expanse.  On the contrary, it is a land full of birds, wildlife, and a wide diversity of plants.  In the third week of April, I led a group of 11 DNS members to west Texas for a week of wildlife, wildflowers, and wild scenery. John Harrod, a Texas native and Dupont Environmental Education Center Manager was my co-leader and did a great job identifying the multitudes of wildflowers we saw.  West Texas had received a healthy dose of rain prior to our trip, and we were told it was the best wildflower bloom the area had seen in 30 years.  Lucky us!

Large areas of desert were awash in color during the DNS April trip to West Texas.  Pictured here is Bitter Rubberweed and Verbena.  Photo by John Harrod.

Large areas of desert were awash in color during the DNS April trip to West Texas. Pictured here is Bitter Rubberweed and Verbena. Photo by John Harrod.

Our trip focused on exploration of the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.  These are mountainous areas that rise above the low-lying Chihuahuan Desert that are cooler, wetter, and contain stands of pine/oak/juniper forest.  The first part of our trip found us in the Davis Mountains which are a hotbed of bird activity.  We focused on finding some of the specialties of the area and stayed at Davis Mountains State Park which has a nice bird feeding station.  This is the most reliable spot in the world to see the Montezuma Quail, one of the most sought-after birds of our trip.  In the days leading up to our visit, however, it had not been seen.  Luckily, while we lingered at the feeding station on our first morning, a beautiful male waddled down out of the grassland and into plain view below the feeders.

The male Montezuma Quail certainly has to be one of the most bizarre-looking birds in North America.  Photo by John Harrod.

The male Montezuma Quail certainly has to be one of the most bizarre-looking birds in North America. Photo by John Harrod.

This trip was timed to take advantage of relatively cool temperatures, the peak of the cactus bloom, as well as the onset of bird migration.  It made for a very full and exciting adventure with many thrilling discoveries.  The cacti bloom was a treat, and some of the names bring to mind painful images. Horse crippler, devils’ head, prickly pear, pincushion, and fishhook cactus all conjure dense thorns and bloody fingers.  Seeing these amazing plants in bloom, however is a different story.  Most sport large, lovely, colorful flowers, and some have names that reflect this quality, such as rainbow cactus and strawberry cactus.  One of the most abundant in the Davis Mountains is the Claret cup cactus, which is eye-catching, and set a high bar early in the trip.

The Claret Cup Cactus was abundant and beautiful around the Davis Mountains.  Photo by John Harrod.

The Claret Cup Cactus was abundant and beautiful around the Davis Mountains. Photo by John Harrod.

Part of our visit to the Davis Mountains included a guided tour of the botanic gardens at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  Our plant identification skills were boosted considerably by their very knowledgeable and friendly staff.  We ended up staying there the whole day, and hiked into a beautiful canyon and to the top of a rocky hilltop for amazing views and a geological interpretive experience of the area.

Our group was warmly welcomed at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our group was warmly welcomed at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The second half of the trip was an adventure deeper into the Chihuahaun Desert and much further from civilization.  The much-anticipated Big Bend National Park rose in the distance as we neared it.  It’s tall desert peaks began as small hills, but arose as fiery, wild and craggy snags as we approached.  This is one of the most beautiful places in the desert southwest, if not the entire United States.

As we entered Big Bend National Park, we were in awe of the wildflower covered desert and gorgeous mountain scenery.  Photo by John Harrod.

As we entered Big Bend National Park, we were in awe of the wildflower covered desert and gorgeous mountain scenery. Photo by John Harrod.

On our first full day in the park, half of the group hiked 11 miles around Emory Peak while the rest of the group ventured to the west end of the park.  The avian reward of the 11-mile hike is the chance to find one of the rarest birds in the United States…the Colima Warbler.  This small brown bird lives mostly in the mountains of northern Mexico, but it is also found in the oak forests of the Chisos Mountains in the park…the only place they nest in the U.S.  After speaking with multiple people who where hiking the trail opposite us who had ALL seen a few of the warblers, the pressure was on to find it.  We found ourselves in the spot where they are most likely to be heard and seen.  (Click below to hear the song).

It was a steep slope of dense oak high up on the mountain.  We heard two of the birds singing, but could not find them.  We zig-zagged up and down the switchback trails to get a look.  Finally, it was singing very close, and was in plain view!  Everyone got a wonderful look at it, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

To see a Colima Warbler in the United States, you must hike the trails around Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park.  The oak forests here are the only place in our country to find one.  Photo by Joe Sebastiani

To see a Colima Warbler in the United States, you must hike the trails around Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park. The oak forests here are the only place in our country to find one. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

After we all saw the Colima Warbler, we excitedly breathed a big sigh of relief!

After we all saw the Colima Warbler, we excitedly breathed a big sigh of relief!

Meanwhile, the other half of the group was having fun along the Rio Grande.  This river courses through high-walled canyons in sections of the park, and it is extremely dramatic.  The only disappointment is the size of the river itself, which is pitifully small compared to what it once was.  Most of the water is siphoned off for human uses before it reaches the park.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park was about the size of the Brandywine River.  Photo by John Harrod.

The Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park was about the size of the Brandywine River. Photo by John Harrod.

View through "The Window", which is a short walk from where we stayed at Big Bend National Park.  Photo by John Harrod.

View through “The Window”, which is a short walk from where we stayed at Big Bend National Park. Photo by John Harrod.

We spent 3 glorious days in Big Bend National Park, learning about the geology, plants, birds, and other wildlife, and took in the scenery around every curve of the paths and roads we traveled.  After we left the park, we stayed at the famous Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas.  This hotel combines Texas, Cowboy, and Mexican architecture, art, and culture with luxurious accommodations and food.  What a top-notch way to end the trip!

One of the many splendid corners of the Gage Hotel.  Photo by John Harrod.

One of the many splendid corners of the Gage Hotel. Photo by John Harrod.

This week-long Delaware Nature Society trip will be offered again in April of 2016.  If you are interested, please contact us at 302-239-2334 ext. 134 to be added to the list of interested persons.  More information will be available soon.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader 

In early November, 2010 I had the pleasure of leading 10 Delaware Nature Society members on a two-week bird survey trip to Cuba.  Organized through the Caribbean Conservation Trust (CCT), we assisted with long-term ornithological surveys taking place in western Cuba.  

It took me a few days just to get over the fact that I was actually in Cuba, which is still off-limits to Americans as a travel destination.  We traveled legally under a humanitarian/environmental license.  On our first full day, we received an orientation to our ornithological mission and recuperated from our long day of travel in the beautiful city of Havana.  

Sunrise in Havana from the Hotel Nacional.

As part of our orientation, we visited Orlando H. Garrido, author of “Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba.”  He summarized the island’s endemic birds through a guided tour of his personal taxidermy collection and his vast experience as an ornithologist.  Orlando is one of Cuba’s greatest naturalists, but is also a noted tennis player, having played in Wimbledon, 1956-1961 and the U.S. Open in 1959.

Orlando H. Garrido, author of "Field Guide To The Birds of Cuba" signs copies of his book and explains the natural history of Cuba's endemic birds.

For a lunch stop, we visited another famous Cuban, Jose Fuster, who is known as the “Cuban Picasso.”  Jose is an acclaimed artist who has turned his entire neighborhood into a vast art project.  His house itself is a work of art and contains his gallery, work station, a visitation area. 

Our group was amazed at the sight of the neighborhood and house of one of Cuba's most accomplished artists, Jose Fuster.

The architecture in Havana is a combination of old Spanish colonial mixed with art-deco, and a twist of New Orleans French Quarter design.  Many of the structures are long overdue for repair, but it is an extremely beautiful and historic city nonetheless.  We experienced a good deal of it driving to and from our appointments for the day. 

Plaza de la Revolucion is a huge gathering site for political rallies. On one side is the Memorial a Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero. The 17m marble statue sits overlooking the square.

Across the square is the Ministerio del Interior with a huge mural of Che Guevara. Che, who fought alongside Fidel Castro, is another national hero in Cuba. His image is seen everywhere on billboards, houses, hats, shirts, and even car headlamps.

Speaking of cars, if you are an antique vehicle enthusiast, you could spend all day “car-watching” in Havana.  American cars from the 50’s are everywhere, and I estimated about 10% of the vehicles we saw were old American models.  Otherwise, European and Asian vehicles were the main method of transportation other than lots of bicycles, motorcycles, old buses, and lots of interesting taxis.

If you know what kind of car this is, please let me know. "Car-watching" was almost as fun as "Bird-watching."

There were lots of old American cars that were being used as taxis in Havana.

A typical city street in old Havana.

Historic buildings, old forts, monuments, statues, and incredible architecture is everywhere in Havana.  The most grandiose and incredible building in Havana is the Capitolio Nacional which is similar to the US Capitol building but a little taller and richer in detail. 

The most incredible building in Havana is the Capitolio Nacional, which used to house the Cuban Congress. Since 1959 it has been the home of the Cuban Academy of Science and National Library of Science and Technology.

After a day getting the feel for Havana and an orientation to our bird survey, we were ready for the countryside, national parks, and biosphere reserves…and of course…Cuba’s birds!  More on that to follow in future posts.

Register for the DNS Travel Year In Review on December 9, 6-8:30 p.m.  The program, which includes a dinner and evening presentation of our travel programs from 2010, will include highlights from the Cuba trip.  For more information and to register, click here.