Caimans are easy to confuse with crocodiles, however both belong to different families in the Taxonomic hierarchy. While each species in both families has its specific characteristics, there are a few physical traits that differentiate species from each family:
- Jaws: The Crocodile has a V-shape, while the Caiman and Alligator have a U-shape. This can be seen most notably from above or the front, not so easily from the side.
- Teeth: In Caimans, due to the way the teeth are placed, the lower jaw’s teeth are not visible when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles do show both upper and lower teeth at all times.
The Spectacled Caiman in particular has become established and common in Costa Rica. Like most reptiles, being cold blooded, they bask in the sun during the morning to warm up their bodies, before going for a day’s hunt. During that time, they may lie motionless in almost any place, like fallen trees, beaches and riversides. Adults have a length between 1.4 and 2.5 meters.
The Brown-crested Flycatcher is a resident species, member of the Myiarchus family, which is notably difficult to identify at a species level. The Brown-crested is found only in the northern Pacific area, up to about the Tarcoles river. It shares distribution with the Nutting’s Flycatcher, and are difficult to differentiate given its essentially equal coloration except for the rump; their song is an important trait to identify them. The Brown-crested is found in mangrove forest edge, whereas the Nutting’s is not. It was interesting to see this individual raising its crest, most probably a display to let us know we were in his/her territory.
The White Ibis is, well… entirely white in plumage. When spotted from a distance it can resemble a Great Egret, Cattle Egret or Snowy Egret, however the pink legs and face, along with the long, skinny downcurved bill is diagnostic. The tips of the wings are black, although that is only visible during flight. The juvenile has brown upperparts, and the neck is striped in brown and white, with gray legs and a darker bill. It is found in ponds and marshes in Guanacaste and the northern area of the country; also along the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Given its habitat, they usually wade in the shallow waters and mudflats, where pick small crustaceans and fish, just like Egrets do.
The Surfbird is a medium-sized coastal bird that appears in September in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, as they migrate towards the south to escape from winter. They are mainly grayish-brown on the upperparts, throat and chest, white with some dark spots on the underparts, bright yellow legs and a relatively small black bill with a little yellow on the base. Its color pattern helps them camouflage easily among the dark shore rocks.
The Whimbrel is a mid-sized coastal bird with a relatively down curved, long bill. Its body is grayish brown with a mottled appearance, where some of the subspecies having a white back and rump. Its call is a high-pitched whistle. They appear very similar to the Curlews, however those species are much larger in comparison. They forage in the shallow waters along the coast, grabbing small invertebrates and crabs from the surface.
The Semipalmated Plover is a small migratory bird that can be spotted in early September at the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The upperparts are gray-brown, with a white collar around the neck, white forehead, black mask on the face and small bill with orange basal half and black tip. The underparts are mostly white, except for a black breast band. The delicate legs are orange. It looks very similar to the bigger Killdeer. They wade in beaches and shallow mud flats where they can grab crabs and small insects.
The American Oystercatcher is the only species that reaches Costa Rica, out of 12 species that compose the family Oystercatcher family. They are all very similar, mainly varying in terms of their plumage color. The American species has a brown-gray back, white underparts, pink legs and black head. The eye is yellow with surrounding orange orbital skin, and the bill is large and slim, orange in coloration, which is used to grab and eat shellfish. The inner plumage of the wing is also white, and is shown during flight, or also during displays when wading in the shallow water.
Due to their peculiar look, they are easy to identify among flocks of migratory birds, which normally are composed of gulls, terns, plovers and sandpipers, but are not as abundant during migration and any of those families. They are among the largest of such migratory bird groups. They prefer mud and salt flats that are exposed and shallow, where they can wade to grab prey. They feed by either severing the muscles that enable the mollusks to close tight, hereby getting the meaty interior out, or by grabbing the entire body with the shell, and hitting it against rocks to slam it open.
The Common Black Hawk is one of Costa Rica’s predatory birds. With an almost entirely black body (only interrupted by a white tail band), it can look similar to a Black Vulture, however the yellow bill with hooked black tip sets it apart. The common name in Spanish is derived from their diet, which is mainly crabs and crustaceans. This means it is more common to find them at beaches or near a river’s mouth, where crabs are found in great numbers. We watched this hawk as it grabbed small crabs from the beach, then flying away and landing in nearby palm trees to eat them. While soaring, they resemble a Black Vulture, except for the white tail band, so it is better to look closely when a group of Black Vultures are flying overhead.
The Spotted Sandpiper is a common sight at the Pacific coast during the migration period, from August when they are going south, through April when they are returning to the north to spend the summer and raise their chicks. This species has a strange behavior, which helps to identify them very easily: They teeter their tails up and down continuously, as they forage in shallow waters. Even when they are not walking, they continue to display this movement.