Picado’s Jumping Pitviper (Atropoides picadoi)

The Jumping Pit Viper is another feared venomous snakes that occurs naturally in Costa Rica. They have a skin pattern similar to the Fer-de-lance, hence they might be confused on the field. Since both are dangerous, it is still a safe bet to stay away, whether the individual is one species or the other. The Fer-de-lance can be distinguished by the smaller head and ligher eyes; also the Jumping Pit Viper has solid brown triangles all along the body, while the Fer-de-lance features brown markings that are connected diagonally, but on the inside hey have lighter colors.

In spite of its common name, it is not more common for the Picado’s Jumping Pitviper to jump on top of their prey than any other viper species. Its Spanish common name also refers to a “Eye of Round” beef cut, not exactly helpful if someone shouts “Mano de Piedra!”. Their venom is very strong, so people are very cautious if they handle them.

Fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper)

Fer-de-lances are the most feared snakes in Costa Rica, even if they are not the largest species to be found here. They have grown a reputation out of casual encounters and deadly accidents. Part of the reason is that Fer-de-lances are more frequently found close to human settlements than other vipers, creating more chances to see them close. They normally do not display aggressiveness towards humans, preffering to stay concealed and motionless, however this very behavior make them hard to detect. It is common for people working on the field to tell stories of snakes passing through their legs; if not for that, they would have gone unnoticed. When a human is close, their usual reaction is to leave, but sometimes if they feel threatened, they will launch an attack, with potentially devastating consequences for the victim.

You can tell I kept my distance when photographing this specimen. Special care needs to be taken when handling them, and as long as they don’t feel threaten, there should be no accident. I would never handle one of this on my own. It has an habit for approaching homes, unlike many other venomous snakes that stay away. This increases the potential for accidents with unsuspecting victims, even in residential areas where one would not expect to find a venomous snake otherwise.

Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculatus)

Bellbirds are very unique birds, not easily confused with any other bird species in Costa Rica. As the name implies, the male has three protuberances on the faced called “wattles”, which by itself puts them in a category of their own. The head and throat are white, with a chestnut body, a color combination that is unlike every other bird in the country. The female is olive, with yellowish underparts that have red stripes; it could be confused with a Flycatcher, however it is a log bigger in size than the Boat-billed Flycatcher. Bellbirds in Costa Rica display altitudinal migration patterns and hence can be seen in coastal areas like Golfito, and mountainous areas like San Ramon. Males are found actively calling during the breeding season, which starts on March and ends by July. Juveniles resemble the females, but would try to sing with varied degrees of success, as they learn from their parents the delicate art.

Pale-vented Pigeon (Patagioenas cayennensis)

The Pale-vented Pigeon is relatively large sized, only falling shart to the Scaled and Band-tailed Pigeons. Unlike the Band-tailed, which is found in the higher elevations of Costa Rica, it inhabits the lowlands on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, along the northern region up to the border with Nicaragua, a range that is almost entirely shared with the Scaled Pigeon. In terms of appearance, it resembles a Red-billed Pigeon, but with a gray head, black bill and white belly and vent; also the wing has more red on the shoulder region than a Red-billed Pigeon. Like the other mentioned species, they are mostly arboreal, although when living within human settlements they can be found perched on man-made structures or walking in the ground as they grab food leftovers.

Northern Scrub-Flycatcher (Sublegatus arenarum)

The Northern Scrub-Flycatcher is a resident species, similar to the members of the Myiarchus family, which is notably difficult to identify at a species level. Like its name might imply, this small bird prefers scrub habitat, which is composed of small trees and tall grass. We found an individual at Tárcoles River, in the swampy area that surrounds the river. It was full of mosquitoes, which is probably the reason species like this one like the area. It was interesting to see this individual raising its crest, most probably a display to let us know we were in his/her territory.

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Sporophila nuttingi)

The Nicaraguan Seed-Finch is one of Costa Rica’s biggest finches species, only surpassed by the Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, which is even rarer and has a longer tail. It looks similar to the Thick-billed Seed-Finch, with the male being uniformly black and the female uniformly brown, albeit with a bigger size. Their bills are undoubtely specialized for breaking down seeds and the male’s bill is particularly conspicuous, given its pink coloration. In Costa Rica, it can be found in lowland areas of the northern area, near the border with Nicaragua, and in a thin strip along the eastern coast of the Caribbean.

Olivaceous Piculet (Picumnus olivaceus)

The Olivaceous Piculet is the smallest bird species in the Woodpecker family. Its sound as it pecks on vines resembles that of the Telegraph, hence its common Spanish name, “Telegrafista”. Both male and female show very small white dots all over the crown, with the male also sporting bright orange feathers on the front of the head. The flanks of both sexes look faintly streaked in light brown and white, while the upperparts are dark brown. The center feathers that cover the tail’s upper side are white. Its range is restricted to two main zones, one in the northern part of Costa Rica up to San Juan river, and another in the southern region, from Quepos down to Ciudad Neily and Rio Jimenez.

Colombian Chachalaca – Ortalis columbiana

Most Guans and Chachalacas are big arboreal birds, and can show great agility when jumping from branch to branch on the top of the canopy some 20 or 30 meters above the ground. They perch to eat fruits and also to roost in the night. Most species avoid the ground but come down sometimes in search of fruits and seeds. The Colombian Chahcalaca is found in the Andes Region, having brown coloration but with an scaled look thanks to gray tips of the feathers’ barbs. Their head and beak is gray, and it has a bright red dewlap that is folded and inconspicuous, although it can hang freely and thus be seen clearly when the bird is high in the trees. The legs are also red. While shy of people, this species will come to fruit feeders and stay there undisturbed unless you get too close.

Cross-banded Tree Frog (Smilisca puma)

The Cross-banded or Tawny Tree Frog is a drab frog with tan to light brown coloration, expanded disks on toes and fingers, and minimal webbing in the feet. They look very similar to the Masked Tree Frog, which is another species in the Smilisca genus. In Costa Rica, it is mainly found in the Caribbean lowlands. It has nocturnal habits and prefers to be on trees, however during the reproductive season, the males descend to the ground and emit their call from the edge of small ponds. Unlike other nocturnal species that I have photographed, this frog would never fully open the eyes. Its position suggests how sleepy they are during the day. They probably rely on camouflage rather than detecting predators and escaping from them.

Chiriqui Robber Frog (Pristimantis cruendus)

The Chiriqui Robber Frog is a rare nocturnal, arboreal inhabitant of humid lowland and montane forests in tropical countries, namely Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Their color and pattern is highly variable and cryptic, but overall includes varying shades and patterns of drab colors like tan, brown and black, which helps them to camouflage easily in the forest. It lacks webbing on the hands and feet, but shows greatly enlarged disks on the toes and fingers. The best field mark to identify this species is the black reticulum on the brown eye. We found a female resting on a leaf on a night hike, and then a pair in amplexus on another hike through a rocky stream in search of the Ghost Glass Frog, at Yatama Ecolodge.