Trip 22 – Costa Rica Herping Adventures

Costa Rica Herping Adventures

Trip 22

Day 1, Sat May 16, 2015

My day started with a quick breakfast and a 35 minute drive from our temporary home in Boquete, Panama to the airport in David, Panama the country second largest city. I had about a 2 hour wait for boarding and they had it freezing in the waiting room. Between the girl sitting next to me and myself we shaking so bad it felt like we were in a continuous earthquake. We flew out at 9:30 for a 50 minute flight to Panama City. My connection was pretty close but I made it on time and we were in the sky shortly thereafter for a 75 minute flight to Costa Rica. When I went to Immigration, it seemed that 5 planes disgorged 1,200 people at once. The lines looked like forever. After a few minutes I hear someone calling Jim, I looked around and saw Mark and Donna waving at me. After a while the lines we were in put us together close enough for me to shake Mark hand and give Donna a hug. We were together last May for a trip and here they were for their fifth trip with Costa Rica Herping Adventures. We found our luggage and cleared Customs together and shared a taxi to the Hotel Aeropuerto. I saw a lone guy sitting on a couch. He looked “Herpy” so I walked over; it was Bryan and  it was his first trip with us. He had flown in from Arizona on a red-eyed special last night and got to CR early in the AM. He managed to get a few hours sleep and was ready for a little herp talk. I believe Mike from Gulf Breeze in the Florida panhandle was the next to show up and this was his second trip with CRHA. Next up was Robert and Michael ; they had been in CR for a little extra herping on their own as they had done on their first trip with CRHA a couple of years ago; they were back for more and I’m glad to have them. Awhile later we all gathered around a table for a little herp talk and lunch. Later in the afternoon John and Logan from Wisconsin showed up for there first trip with CRHA. This was all I was looking for today. Tomorrow  we will meet Pete at the Arenal Lodge; this will be Pete’s 12th trip with CRHA. Around 7 pm we met again in the restaurant for more talk and dinner. At this point I tried to listen to what is being said and get an idea of the experience level of each Herper. It looked like we had a group with a high level of field herping experience, so this just might bring up our numbers for the number of snakes found. The first trip to this location in Nov. 2013 we found 29 snakes, May 2014 was 66 snakes and Nov 2014 was also 66 snakes. These are very good numbers for a trip of this nature. We have 6 days and nights of hunting, it you average 11 snakes per day you are doing above average work, especially in the Rain Forest. Some of the guys wanted to check out the hotel grounds to see if we might find a herp hanging around. Other then a few house geckos and a few Marine Toads , that was it. Soon we were all looking for a bed; travel days always wear you down.

Day 2, Sun. May 17, 2015

I was up early heading for the restaurant and a cup of the great Costa Rican coffee. I knew if anyone beat me to the restaurant it would be Mark and Donna, the early birds. There they were sitting at the table with none of our guys around. This was OK because our cars were not to be delivered until 8 am and it was just after 6. Finally the others got to breakfast. After eating we got our bags to the lobby and the cars were coming in; we still had an hour of passport, driver licenses, inspections to deal with. Of course this part was the usual zoo. A little after 9am we were on our way. We had a half hour ride to San Ramon, then once though San Ramon we were in the mountains where the driving slowed down, but we had good weather all the way to La Fortuna and made it in a little more then 3 hours. Another half hour and we were pulling up to the Lodge. On the way up I had John and Logan with me in the car; I told them that once we were in the lodge to look everywhere for snakes. This means every tree, ever bush, ever shrub because the snakes can be anywhere. We were unpacking the cars when Logan yelled “here’s an Eyelash Viper”. In less then 5 to 10 minutes we had found our first snake and it was a quality snake that was on everyone’s snakes-to- find list. I was shocked – never before had that even come close to that happen. Out came the cameras, I went for the keys and to get us all registered. I assigned rooms and told everyone it was time for lunch.  Pete showed up about that time and told he had found a Bird Snake that morning, so we had two snakes before lunch. After I took the group to the hotel main trail which they take the hotel guest that would like to see the Jungle, both primary and secondary forest, (This is were Pete found the Bird Snake.), we split into two groups for this hike, Pete led one and I the other. I saw a snake’s tail about 2 feet on it going into the woods judging from the part I saw I would think the snake was in the five foot long range, the tail was black and could be 3 or 4 different species. That turned out to be the only snake on that hike. My good friend and hotel guide Miguel was at the hotel when we returned. I told him about the Eyelash Viper that Logan spotted on are arrival, we checked it out on the same limb as before. He was about 15 steps from the door to my room. I told everyone to be at dinner by 5:30 so we could start hunting around 6pm. Before I could get to dinner, Miguel came to my room and told me he had just seen a large Bird Snake eating a baby bird on the ground. Apparently the snake forced the baby bird out of the nest and when he fell out, the snake went right to the ground to find and eat him. I said let go get the snake, we saw Logan on the way and he joined us. When we got there the snake had climbed back to the nest. He was hard to see from my position so I climbed up four or five feet and got the snake away from the nest and he went down and Logan grabbed him. We looked around a bit and saw a Coral Snake, he managed to get under a sidewalk before we could stop him. We got to dinner and told the rest of the group what just occurred they all wanted to skip dinner. No, let’s eat  – they will be around later; so we ate maybe a little faster than usual. We started find things right off the bat, by the time we finished,  we had 25 snakes for our first day in the field. 4 Eyelash, 2 Fer de Lance, 1 Earth Snake, 1 Cat-eyed Snake, 3 Bird Snake, 1 Calico Snake, 10 Snail Eater, 1 Coral Snake and 2 Non ID’s.

Day 3, Mon. May 18, 2015

After doing my 25 minutes of Pilates daily routine , I headed to the restaurant for a hearty breakfast. A plate of fresh fruit, then a plate scrambled eggs and rice will do it for me. I know I’ll need the energy for this morning walk; it’s easy going down and a little challenging coming back up hill. We will be walking in a wide clear area and working the edges and all small trees in between. Round trip it’s a 3 to 4 hour hike. At breakfast everyone seem ready to go after a great first day of 25 snakes. The day looked good with strong sun light and blue skies which is typical for this time of year. We found some Anoles and Ameivas but no snakes after about an hour of hunting. A while later Mike O said he thinks he has a snake in a pile of brush. A second later he said it’s a Boa. Turned out to be a nice easy-going 4 foot Boa, not aggressive at all. Some Boas this size will just eat you up if you give them the chance. We all took turns holding the Boa and had our pictures taking with the Boa. We were just getting near the bottom of the hill when Bryan found a nice yellow Eyelash Viper. We all took pictures of this guy who was sitting in an easy place to get some nice photos. On the way to the top we saw a few more lizards but no snakes. After lunch I took everyone interested in another hike to an area that was going to be homes and condos but went belly up in the Great Recession of 2008. They did put in a gate house and a few roads. This was in much better shape than the last time I hunted the area in Nov ’14. They had cut the brush back and had been grazing horses nearby. It was easier and safer walk than in Nov with grass 18 to 30 inches high.  I was walking by myself when a glanced ahead and said to myself I don’t remember seeing all those rocks on that small hill a good distance away. I looked again and saw one of those rocks move, and then some more movement. Then I recognized what I was looking at: It was a group of 12 to 15 Collared Peccaries, they were on the move and soon moved out of sight. This was my first time sighting  these guys in the wild. We covered the area pretty well but did not come up with an snakes. Finding snakes in the day time is not easy; we will get one here and there but night time is when it happens.

That afternoon I was walking around the grounds I walked by the area I planned to hunt tonight. We did pretty good in this area on the last trip, what would tonight have in store for us? We would find out after dinner. We were now on our way looking as we walked. It was not far to the gate, we took down the barbed-wire gate and entered the area. Within five minutes, I believe Logan spotted our first snake of the night, a small Jumping Viper, we spent about 10 minutes taking pictures. Mark found our next snake, a small Fer De Lance, out came the cameras. Soon we were at a line of trees and pretty soon we were photographing some Eyelash Vipers. We found some Snail-eaters as we progressed in a big ark that would lead us to the road that goes up to the Lodge. Out in an open field Miguel found about a 10 inch Banded Coffee Snake. It was not a great find, but in an open field to find a tiny pencil size snake to me is an accomplishment. Once we started up the road we started seeing more Eyelash Vipers and I believe John found a Coral Snake. We ended the night with 18 snakes.

Day 4, Tue. May 19, 2015

Today started off with a bright sunny sky but that didn’t last long, the clouds came in and the wind picked up. Soon we were having light showers. Then it cleared up a bit. Most of the Herpers spent some time photographing snakes and taking a dip in the pool. It seem that everyone was figuring out that we needed to save our energy for the nighttime when the snakes come out. This happens around the half way point of most trips. After lunch a few of us got together in small groups and hunted around the Lodge but not much was going on and we had no luck. We had dinner and were ready to hit the field again. We hunted the main road to the Lodge, there was some activity but not as much as we had been having. We closed out the night with 10 snakes.

Day 5, Wen. May 20, 2015

Today some of our crew are going on a tour from the lodge to Rio Frio . Some went last year and enjoyed it very much. It is a boat tour once they get to the river. Last year they saw a huge number of different species of birds, caimans, green iguanas, turtles..  They will be back around 4:30pm in time to have dinner and then find some more snakes. At dinner our travelers talk about the things they saw today and they were happy with their trip. Tonight we are going to a place I have not been to before. This property abuts the Lodge property. We got  permission from the owner to hunt for snakes on his property. Miguel has been on the property in the day time and knows the lay of the land so to speak. We had good roads all the way there but no snakes on the road. Cattle had been grazing the fields and the grass and scrubs were very low making it safer and easy to hunt. Before long someone yelled “Snake” it turned out to be a Cateye Snake up in a tree.  We are starting off with one snake but with 10 minutes we found a Blunted Tree Snake, our first one of this trip. A while later Bryan said he had a snake over here. At first look we had a Many Banded Coral Snake, we bagged this one for pictures tomorrow. A little later we thought we had another but once we saw its belly, we knew it had to be a Calico Snake. The Calico has a solid colored belly not bands like a Coral. We kept working the area in small groups or a single here or there, we found two or three Dart Frogs Oophaga (Dendrobates) pumillo. These frogs are never found on the mountain owned by the Lodge. As we headed back to the Car, Miguel found an Eyelash Viper way up a hill. Most of the guys climbed up to get a photo. I headed for the car area that was on flat ground. We ended the night with 17 snakes, which I considered a nice rebound from yesterdays 10 snakes.

Day 6, Thur. May 21, 2015

Well at breakfast I hear the trip to Rio Frio yesterday was just too much for Robert, Logan and John. They signed up for the trip today. The rest of us took some more herp pictures ;then I went to the desk and ask them to turn the hot tub for me. It would be ready in twenty-five minutes, boy did it feel good. My back had been hurting for a couple of days. I got low in the water and let the jets hit the place on my back that was hurting. Twenty minutes later I got out feeling like a new man, ready for another day and night of hunting. I had plans to hunt another field with small hills that we had not worked yet. I wanted to check it out before tonight. When I got there, there was a worker with a machete working on the small trees and underbrush. I said to myself I hope we don’t we don’t fined any snake pieces tonight. I decided to walk the hotel trail to see if I could come across any herps. When I come on these trips, I don’t want to sit around waiting for it to get dark, every minute in the field is a change to find a snake. Just before coming to the entrance, I noticed something in the tall grass under a small tree. Then a noticed a second movement and a third. It turned out to be 3 White Tailed Deer. I had seen this type of deer on the road at night a few times back in the early 90’s when I use to road cruise in the Guanacoste area. This is the first time I have actually seen one on a CRHA trip, it’s alway nice to add a new species to our ever growing list. I hunted the trail alone and came up with zip. We all seat down to dinner and I brought everyone to date on what our tally was as of this minute we are at 70 snakes, there been talk all we week of reaching 100 snakes. So, tonight is very important in having a good hunt if we’re going to get close to that goal. The first snake of the night was a Eyelash Viper on the top rung of a barbed-wire fence. Our next snake was a Jumping Viper, a nice size one; but there was a problem with this snake its body was cut above the cloaca about 3/4 of the way though. No dough a victim of the machete I was worried this afternoon. I sure the worker never so this snake, it he had the head would have been off. Sorry to see it but there is nothing we can do about it. We worked the area pretty good and came up with a few more snakes; we finished there and moved into another area. We saw a lone good size tree standing with no other tree nearby. It took us a while to get there and It was an up hill climb. Soon Miguel spotted a Eyelash Viper, we all gathered around to take pictures when John spotted another on the trunk of the tree about head high, I’m glad no one put their hand up to lean on the tree. He was hard to notice with moss on the tree; he just blended right in with the bark and moss. I said keep looking there may be more. I few minutes later I spotted another one on the tip of a limb about 15 feet above the ground. Three snakes in the same tree, this was a record in itself. We had two snakes in the same tree a couple of times before, but never three until now. We end the day with 15 snakes bring us up to 85 snakes with one more night to go. Will are luck hold??

Day 7, Fri.. May 22, 2015

At breakfast a lot of the talk was about anything but the number of snakes we were up to and how many more we needed to reach our goal of 100. I think we all want to put that kind of talk off until tonight. We all put an effort in during the day but no one found a single snake during the day. At dinner we had the waiter take a couple of pictures of us as a group. Where our table was had glass in the background that caused reflection messing up our group shot ,so we moved to another area. Finally dinner was over and we were ready to hit the field in an area we had not hunted before on this trip. This area was hilly and had citrus trees planted on these small hills. The grass was high making it hard to see the ground, we were all spread out and the going was tough. Finally someone found an Eyelash Viper and we all tried to converge on that location to see the snake and get some photos. By the time we all made it to the spot where the snake was the one Eyelash Viper had grown to an Eyelash and a Parrot Snake in the same tree, as we were trying to get photos, a small snake was spotted in the same tree. I knew it was a Sibon of some type but I could not say which sub-species it was. Here we are with 3 snakes in the same tree again like last night. We caught the Sibon for positive ID as we were bagging him another snake climbed from another into the tree with all the action. This snake I could not ID this one either; it was approximately 3.5 feet long and about twenty feet above us. We want this one so we could ID him also. We all looked at all the trees around to see if we could climb one and get into the tree he was crawling into, but he was at the end of the limb which would not hold anyone’s weight. John started throwing small limb at the limb he was on; he missed by a mile on the first two tries. The third try was perfect, knocking the limb out from under him and he fell to the ground and we got him. We were delighted to find 4 snakes in one tree and all were different species, it made us all crazy but it was great fun. We finished that area and formed small groups and everyone went here and there looking for more snakes. We knew we had a shot at getting to 100 but we still had a ways to go. We were getting ready to drive Miguel home when he got a call from the guard at the gatehouse saying he had a snake in the house and want him out. Well, we were heading his way anyway so it was no problem for us. We got to the gatehouse and the guard took us in and pointed to the ceiling and where the board met we could see the belly scales. Now the problem was how to get him, we found a long piece of wood and Miguel managed to touch his belly and the snake moved he kept doing it until the snake was at the end and then the snake went outside. We ran outside to the back of the house and found a ladder and Miguel went up and spotted him and managed to grabbed him. He was holding a near six foot Bird Snake. On the way to Miguel’s house, I saw something in the road and stopped, it turn out to be a Purple Caecilian. This a was the first one I had even alive, I seen them before a half dozen time but away as road kills. So this is a first for me. We needed 15 snakes to reach a 100. We got 17 for a total of 102, going over the list many times I had to eliminate one that had been counted twice making the final TOTAL to 101 snakes and 18 different species.

Day 8, Sat. May 23, 2015

After breakfast we took some photos of the snake from last night. We were able to ID the two snakes in question and they were Sibon annulata common name Red-ringed Snail-eater. The second one was a juvenile Bird Snake moving into adulthood;  this guys didn’t have the body structure of an adult yet. I thought it was a Bird Snake at first glance but I’m always looking for a new species to add to our list and I can always talk myself into thinking I’ve got something new here. But when the excitement dies down, I get back to reality. We didn’t find a single new species of snakes on this trip. This is the first time we missed a new species at this location in 4 trips here. Maybe next time? We wanted to start our trip back to San Jose around 11am but it was closer to 12 noon before we pulled out. The trip back was OK no problems we returned the cars and they took us back to the Hotel Areopuerto. We had a good evening together for the last time. Tomorrow we all will fly out of Costa Rica to the place we call home. We all know that all the trips that follow will have a hard time beating TRIP 22 record of finding 101 Snakes!!

For Photos of some of the 101 snakes we found click on this link:

Happy Herping!!