Clay colored robin

Costa Rica has so many colourful birds that it was suprising to discover that the national bird is the rather drab looking clay colored robin. I mean, the bird is not unattractive, but compare it to rainbow toucans, scarlet macaws, various hummingbirds, and on and on…

Early morning in the grounds of our hotel near Arenal volcano gave a different perspective. Here we were sublimely serenaded by the song one of these robins from just outside our patio. The sound is rather akin to that of a British songthrush, which is not entirely surprising as American so-called robins are of the thrush family and much larger than European robins. Indeed, Wikipedia prefers to call it a clay colored thrush.

clay colored robinAccording to our guides, what really makes this the national bird is that its song is regarded as the harbinger of the rainy season, which is vital to successful farming in some parts.

Grey necked woodrail

One of the prettiest birds we saw in Costa Rica seemed quite common – the grey necked woodrail.

About the size of a chicken, we saw a number of them wading on the edges of watercourses. The variety of colours is quite amazing – the green-yellow beak, red eyes, grey neck, brown top of head, reddish brown (rufous) chest and lighter wings, black rear and tail, and coral red legs.

The grey necked woodrail is totally unlike the less brightly coloured water rail found in the UK, a rather secretive bird which we’ve rarely seen at RSPB reserves when they are supposedly present.

The coots and moorhens commonly seen in UK are also rails, and they are of course far from secretive.

Road to Monteverde

We were travelling along the unmade road to the cloud forest at Monteverde in Costa Rica, and stopped by several vehicles at the roadside. A sloth was visible high up in a tree, gawped at by those standing by the vehicles. There was also a troupe of howler monkeys, swinging rapidly from branch to branch, difficult to photograph.

When I examined the images of blurred swinging shapes back home, there was this one really good frame of a monkey looking down on the motley crew of tourists. Who was observing whom?

His look says to me, what are you doing in my world? Even the unmade road and the occasional roadside shack have invaded his wilderness, his world.

We were told that there is controversy in Monteverde over whether to tarmac the road to improve access for tourists. Sadly, the coming of the tarmac seems inevitable, of course followed by more dwellings, hotels and so on. Development seems to be a one-way street away from the wild, even in the name of the tourism that aims to protect it.

At least Costa Rica still has a relatively large amount of virgin, fertile and protected land, so nature has a better chance than in most countries.

The call of a howler monkey can reach 128Db and be heard over several miles
– one of the loudest animals on earth.


Costa Rica

So we took a family holiday in Costa Rica, which proved to be a delightful country with mostly friendly people, particularly in the tourist industry,  its biggest industry. Well informed and passionate guides introduced us to the flora and fauna of three major national parks and to Costa Rica itself.

The national parks are prolific in vegetation, with a wide variety of birds and animals – well worth visiting. And you see and understand so much more with an experienced guide.

It was said that over 25% of the land is protected as national parks – which puts most other countries to shame. Yet there are still apparent tensions between conservation and development that are not going to go away.

The biodiversity is incredible. Costa Rica lies at the junction of two continents, resulting in an ingtermingling of species, and the history of volcanic activity ensures great fertility. This is truly precious resource for mankind that we cannot afford to lose. So tourists are actually helping in this process, so long as the tourism is managed sustainably, which appears to be the case today. Loss of tourism could actually jeopardise the whole enterprise.

In US and Europe, particularly UK, the pressure for development too often trumps that for ‘the environment ‘,  so our protected land area is much less, with little wilderness. Our biodiversity is much impoverished and under constant threat. In days of ignorance that may have been OK, now we know that our biodiversity for future generations is at stake – life as we know it, inherited from our forebears.

The effects of global warming are being felt in Costa Rica, as elsewhere, with changes in the seasons. This will put even more pressure on this biodiversity,  but who knows how nature might respond to this challenge?

There is no separate ‘environment’,  just us as an integral part of our earth and cosmos.

Featured map by Peter Fitzgerald, via Wikimedia Commmons