Category Archives: bird watching

Panama – in the (Green)Spotlight

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Panama_boat_gas_station

We’re putting Panama in the spotlight this week. Sometimes found in the shadow of other Central American countries, this unique and intriguing destination has a glow all its own and deserves to be celebrated.

panama_sunset

Speaking of celebrations…the Carnival of Panama (also known as King Momo’s party) recently took place. Each year, in the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the cultural festivities come alive – complete with night parades, elaborate costumes, dance festivals and musical groups, along avenues and in city squares. If you are an advanced planner, you might want to consider this for your next February travels.

carnaval_panama

Albeit a spectacular display of cultural pageantry, if glitzy festivity is not your thing, the remarkable natural beauty and assortment of adventurous opportunities in Panama might catch your attention more. Slightly smaller than the U.S. state of South Carolina and hugged by the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, there is an astounding amount of diversity to be found in Panama. Not only does Panama City have the largest urban population in Central America, much of the country’s flora and fauna cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

panama_parrot panama_sloth

Whether you are hiking through the rainforest with one eye peeled for the Resplendent Quetzpanama_snorkleals, or on a snorkeling expedition, spotting vibrant tropical fish, there is no shortage of wildlife viewing in Panama.

As always, the activity level of your adventure is entirely up to you. With some of the best eco-lodges around, you can wake up surrounded by the sounds of life in a tropical rainforest or with waves lapping the shores. Get out there and do something active, or enjoy unsurpassed hammock views and unwind, knowing that tomorrow is another day in paradise.

 

 

Yaxhá or Tikal. Which one would you choose?

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Our travels in Guatemala wrapped up with a visit to the magnificent Yaxhá archeological site. Many of you may have been to Tikal, or heard stories. As amazing as our visit to Tikal was, we found what we think is an even better site to learn about the Maya. Why? One of the main attractions for us was to see some parts of the temples and edifications still buried under ground and covered by plants. The guide explained to us that it takes a lot of money and time for the archeologists and volunteers to keep excavating the site, so Yaxhá hasn’t been totally uncovered yet, and I think this gives your time there a more unique and authentic feeling Add to that the fact it doesn’t get as many visitors as Tikal, so spider monkeys, huge varieties of tropical birds and other wildlife are all around you while exploring the grounds.

La Cusinga Rainforest Lodge

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We arrived at La Cusinga Rainforest Lodge after dark, and all that could be heard were the waves crashing below and the sounds of night. Here there is not only the wildlife you hope to see, but a variety of insects unimaginable. There are huge praying mantises, bright green grasshoppers, and lots of other unidentifiable creatures.

La Cusinga rooms Solar water heater at La Cusinga

La Cusinga’s range of initiatives in sustainability include construction that fits well into the natural landscape, built with natural materials including the wooden lampshades, solar panels for electricity and water heating, extensive contribution to conservation and support to local schools, organic food grown onsite, and efficient water and energy conservation.

Howler monkey at La Cusinga Howler monkey at La Cusinga
Our first walk in the morning greeted us with an abundance of wildlife. Only a few minutes onto the trail that leaves right from the outdoor dining area and main viewing deck, a family of howler monkeys were hanging lazily in the trees. They didn’t move an inch and let us watch them for quite a while and take pictures. The call of these small black monkeys can be heard, especially in the morning, in the distance and it sounds like a bunch of angry gorillas. When you see how small they are it is surprising that they can make such a loud, growling noise.

Next on the way we saw the rare and endangered green and black poison dart frogs. They are tiny but beautiful creatures. They even stuck around for us to take more pictures on the way back.
Poison Dart frog at  La Cusinga Poison Dart frog at  La Cusinga facing front
Down the trail towards the waves crashing on the rocks, our young guide told us he sees turtles every time he comes to this spot. We waited a few minutes, and sure enough, we saw the round brown shells just under the surface, and then a couple of heads pop out just enough to make it easier for us to see them. You can’t get close up to them here as they are down below swimming around the great big rocks but knowing that they are there and getting a small glimpse is exciting enough.

The beach at La Cusinga Usha at the beach at La Cusinga

We ventured down another trail that led us to the beach which is part of the 800 acre nature preserve that makes up La Cusinga’s property.  The beach is wild, no amenities or development of any kind. Just you, the dense forest as a backdrop and the big, warm, waves.  We crossed through a cavernous tunnel under the rocks to a smaller cove to take a dip in the almost hot ocean waters.

On our way back the monkeys were still hanging about, not wanting to move in the heat we figured.

Then we were off for lunch, and we ate at a nearby cooperatively-owned ecolodge called Canto de Ballenas (Call of the Whales).  I have a friend who works there so he got the kitchen to whip us up a filling and tasty lunch of flavorful vegetables, rice & beans, and my favorite, garlic fish fillets.  Of course we had frescos of banana, pineapple and orange juice and fresh, strong coffee.

View of Punta Uvita from La Cusinga  Uvita national marine park Iguana
After lunch we continued down the road to the entrance to the National Marine Park, and “whale’s tail” where the long stretch of beach goes into a point shaped exactly as a whale’s tail. Pretty coincidental considering this is the part of the country the hump-backed whales visit each January and February as they migrate up the Pacific Ocean.  We walked along the beach to the end point where we sat down to take in the beautiful sunset.

Sunset at Punta Uvita 1st stage Sunset at Punta Uvita 2nd stage

We capped off our last night at the best restaurant in the region, called Citrus. It is absolutely beautiful, with luxurious details, outdoor candle-lit tables, mozaic tiles, pre-Colombian inspired art, not to mention delicious food and surprisingly good prices. Oscar, our great driver and I both had fish ceviche in coconut milk and cilantro, Jim and Usha shared a hot goat cheese salad and an eggplant lasagne and we toasted with a glass of wine to a wonderful week in Costa Rica.

– Kelly Galaski

La Finca Escondida "The Hidden Farm"

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Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor

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– Kelly Galaski

Today we arrived in another rural area of Costa Rica, the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. It is named after the ornithologist (bird biologist) that lived here on 100 acres of pristine rainforest for 60 years, with his wife, studying the birds and writing books about the nature he was surrounded by and the birds that fascinated him. Dr. Skutch is author of Birds of Costa Rica, the book carried by avid birdwatchers that visit the country. Today his home is preserved inside the Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary which is open to the public for birdwatching tours and to see the ancient petroglyphs that lie deep within the forest.

Alexander Skutchs preserved home in Los Cusingos info about Los Cusingos Bird Refuge and Alexander Skutch

The “Corridor” is so called because it is a designation given by the Ministry of Environment for areas that are between two protected nature reserves – in this case the Las Nubes cloud forest and Los Cusingos – which has the goal of increasing the total forested area to create one larger forested area for species to have a broader range of habitat.

Las Nubes Cloud Forest We protect the environment

The communities within this corridor mostly have sugar cane, coffee farms or pasture and therefore the forested areas are fragmented or separated by open spaces which means that species cannot move easily throughout the area. This necessitates initiatives such as the community-run tree nursery which grows and sells trees to farmers to dispurse throughout their coffee farms to create more sustainable shade-grown coffee. This also creates a need for incentives for the people to plant more trees, therefore there is a need for more demand for shade-grown coffee, more awareness on the benefits the tree cover can provide, and for more tourism to the area so that they can benefit monetarily from preserving the private forested farms.

Jim by a big Matapalo -strangler fig tree  pasture and mountain view in Quizarra

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