The Ornate Hawk-Eagle is one of the most sought-after birds in Costa Rica due to its elegant appearance and striking name. Juveniles are dull brown with white head and belly, while adults have a barred belly, black crest and chestnut sides of the face and throat. Its most flamboyant feature is the big crest that adults have. It also have feathered legs. Its preferred environment is the forest, where it catches a variety of prey, including big arboreal birds like the Great Currasow. It is most usually seen circling high on the sky, where it is difficult to identify in silhouette, however their vocalizations give them away easily.
The Middle American Rattlesnake is a large, venomous snake. It has a drab color pattern, consisting of dark diamond-shaped blotches on a light brown base coloration. The key differentiator with all other venomous species in Costa Rica is the rattle, which produces a loud, menacing sound when it is vibrated rapidly. Indeed this sound causes fear in most people, as it is associated with the killer nature of these animals. Rattlesnakes however use this sound more as a defensive strategy, trying to scare off potential predators. As long as one is careful not to approach this snake more than it allows, it should be safe to watch them on their habitat.
The Side-striped Palm-Pitviper is a venomous snake, sharing its genus with the Eyelash Palm-Pitviper. The Side-striped is green, which helps to camouflage them in the rain forest, as it mainly has arboreal habits. It has a prehensile tail, which means that it can be coiled around branches that work as an anchor to keep its balance. It is moderate in size, less than 1 meter in length, typically between 60 and 70 centimeters. It has a light-blue postocular stripe. Juveniles are rather drab, having a brown skin.
The Annulated Tree Boa is a large arboreal species that inhabits the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Unlike other Boa species like the Mesoamerican, one morph of this species are brownish-red in color, which renders them rather conspicuous against the dark green background in the tropical rain forest. Their nocturnal habits and preference for staying high in the trees make them difficult to spot. The color pattern consists of a series of diamond-shaped blotches, which are darker over the dorsum and lighter towards the venter. Some individuals have a cream base color instead of the brownish-red of the specimen shown below.
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.
Hognosed Pitvipers are dangerous beauties. They can reach a size of 60 centimeters of length, which is rather small. According to the WCH assessment, their venom is not letal, but can cause uncomfortable symptoms including pain and swelling. This species has two morphs, one with deep red-brown skin and another with brown-gray skin, both of which display small black markings from neck to tail. Each morph is found in different areas in Costa Rica, although being the same species, they can probably still mate and produce viable offspring. Species having multiple morphs feature individuals with different appearances (usually different skin color or patterns in amphibians and reptiles), but each individual will normally only express one morph.
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-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.
The Eyelash Palm-Pitviper is an arboreal venomous snake, found in Central and South America, with a diverse array of skin colors, the yellow color potentially being the most impressive and rendering them unmistakable, which gives them one of its most recognizable nicknames: “Oropel”, whose root is “oro” that means gold. It shares its genus with the Side-striped Palm-Pitviper.
It is called Eyelash due to the scales right on top of the eyes. They grow up to 82 centimeters in length, which is not very long between viper species. Its head is triangular in shape and its tail is prehensile, helping it grab branches to maintain its balance. They hunt by ambush, waiting in a spot for prey, particularly birds during the annual migration.
Boas are not venomous snakes, instead they are constrictors as their name implies, which means that they use their powerful muscles to wrap itself around their prey and asphyxiate them. It combines gray skin with big red blobs and yellow-black lines that form a distinctive pattern; its skin is somewhat iridescent though, showing some blue and green hues sometimes. Since the red blobs are bigger towards the tail, it is sometimes called “Red-tailed Boa”. The eye is black, with the typical vertical pupils of most snakes. They inhabit rain forests, due to their preference to stay in warm, wet places with plenty of potential prey, which includes mice, birds and amphibians. Their preferred hunting technique is the ambush, waiting for prey to get close enough before launching an attack.
As for the images taken during sunset, there is a back story. The guide at Mirador El Pizote told me that he envisioned a picture with a Boa and San Carlos river. Initially, I did not think it was a good idea. During the afternoon, I was just sitting on a bench, when I saw the raging sunset colors over the river, and then the idea made a lot of sense. It was a humbling experience to see how other people’s ideas about photography can be really wonderful and I learned not to dismiss any ideas without at least trying.