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SafariChick

Some like it hot: a trek through Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula

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SafariChick

We recently returned from our second family trip to Costa Rica. The first trip was in 2011 and we visited the areas of the Arenal volcano near La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, which is a typical first timer itinerary. We loved the trip and ever since have thought of returning, but this time I wanted to visit the wilder area - the Osa Peninsula. There are two main areas of the Osa Peninsula and most people choose one or the other in which to base themselves. Me being me and being unable to give up anything, I decided to try to tackle both in one trip. There were reasons I wanted to visit both areas of the peninsula, and I wasn't sure if I would get back to this area of Costa Rica again so I thought it better to try to do it all. I wanted to go in dry season since the green season can have very hard rains. Also we had other vacation plans already for this summer, which would be the main time we'd have been able to go on vacation if we wanted to go during the green season so going in the dry season made more sense in order to spread out our vacation time. The dry season on the Pacific side of Costa Rica runs from December to April. Like other destinations, Christmas time is crowded and more expensive, so we decided to go during our kids' spring break from school in April. This meant we only had about 9 days - a week with two weekends on either side. I packed those days quite full of activity! Although it was very busy, especially the first few days, it was a successful and fun trip. Also: HOT!

 

Dates of travel: April 4 through April 13

 

Itinerary: 3 nights Drake Bay (Bahia Drake) area though one of those was camping in the Corcovado National Park

4 nights at Bosque del Cabo lodge near Puerto Jimenez

 

We took a red-eye flight from San Francisco on Friday night April 4 - that had been the kids' last day of school. We flew on Delta and flew from SFO to LAX, short layover, then straight to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. From there, we had a couple of hours layover, then flew on one of the two local airlines - Sansa - for about a one-hour flight to our first destination - Bahia Drake (Drake Bay in English). Drake Bay is a collection of mostly small bed and breakfast type places with a few high end "ecolodges." The streets are not paved. While many streets in Costa Rica are rocky, these were some of the rockier. The town such as it is consists of a couple of restaurants and a couple of tourist service places. Most people use Drake Bay as a base for activities exploring the wildlife of the bay and the most famous attraction in the area, Corcovado National Park. Most activities are arranged through your bed and breakfast or lodge. However, we'd arranged our first activity on our own.

 

I had read an article about Shawn Larkin, something of a "dolphin whisperer", and was very intrigued. His was not the only dolphin tour offered in the area, but he sounded much more intriguing to me than the others. In fact, he really doesn't seem to advertise; he didn't have a page at Tripadvisor like the others; yet he's guided the likes of Jacques Cousteau film crews and Bono of the band U2. I felt a strong desire to have him guide us on what he calls a Pelagic Safari - a journey to the pelagic ocean waters at least an hour's fast boat ride from shore where he's been known to locate "superpods" of dolphins sometimes numbering 1,000. I contacted Shawn months ago via email and set up a private pelagic safari for the morning we arrived. This meant that we had taken a red-eye flight of about 5.5 hours from LA, then flown to Drake Bay, then taken a bumpy 10-minute or so car ride up to our bed and breakfast, checked in and dropped off our things, quickly changed clothes, then were driven back to the village and the beach where we met up with Shawn and jumped onto his boat. It was a little more hectic than was ideal but ultimately worked out really well.

 

The only problem was that our younger daughter had started to feel queasy before we even got on the boat. We'd all taken Bonine an hour before we were to get on the boat but she'd gotten nauseous from the slightly bumpy small plane to Drake Bay and the very bumpy ride from the airport to the bed and breakfast. Before we even got on the boat, I think she had thrown up once. Things didn't improve for her the entire boat ride - if she kept her head resting on her knees or arm and if we didn't sit still and rock, she was stable, but a couple of times she lost it again. We felt really bad for her but she managed to do ok most of the time. She says she did manage to see some of what we were seeing even though she didn't raise her head up and look around that way. Up next: more about the actual pelagic safari.

 

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graceland

Well that is a shame to start off sick, but sure hope it gets better as the day progresses. My sneak peak on

FB looked like a great time!

There are out of the way great adventures in CR; good you researched and found them!

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SafariChick

Yes, in retrospect I probably should have planned things giving us a little more time to acclimate to the climate, rest a bit after arriving, etc. I think I underestimated just how hot and humid it would be which really hit all of us in addition to the little sleep on a red-eye flight. That combined with the jostling of the small plane and rocky road were too much for the 11-year-old, and then throwing her right onto a boat on the open ocean wasn't very good planning on my part. I was just so anxious to fit everything in. I probably should have just given us one less night at the last place in order to have a day to recover and acclimate on arrival. Oh well - lesson learned.

 

However, the rest of us had an amazing experience. Shawn knows so much about the ocean ecosystem, talking to us about the species that are found in the pelagic waters vs. the area of the ocean closer to shore, the depth of the water in various areas, the behavior of the various species, etc. We came upon a small group of pantropical spotted dolphins first, we could see about 8 of them, though Shawn told us that there are always more underwater than the number you see on the surface. There were several juveniles in the group who were coming over to try to play with the boat's wake, but then their mothers came and gave them some gentle nips to say it's not play time. Shawn said it was early enough that they were probably still feeding, so we continued on our way out to the deeper waters. On the way, we also saw many turtles - I believe Shawn said they were Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. Each one was by itself but he said he thought they could have been floating around looking for mates. We lost count after seeing about 12! We also saw two huge manta rays!

 

When we finally reached the pelagic waters, you could tell as the ocean was more blue and clearer. Shawn said it was about 5,000 feet deep there. Suddenly, we saw a dolphin, then another, then many. We had found a superpod of bottlenose dolphins. Shawn estimated there to be about 800 of them! Again, we didn't see 800 but there were many very close to us and then others spread out all around us fairly far off but still visible with the naked eye. He said they could swim off in seconds if they didn't want us there but they were having a blast swimming in our wake, some in front, some on the sides and some behind the boat. We went slowly at this point. A few went right in front of the boat and swam along just ahead of us, so close that their tails appeared to almost be under the front of the boat. Shawn told us we could climb out onto the very front of the boat and we did, and trailed our hands in the water at times. The ones in the front turned over on their backs, swimming on their backs and showing us their stomachs. Shawns said that is how they greet friends, and it's a sign they like you and are being friendly. They are of course more vulnerable in that position. It reminded me of dogs showing submission and saying hello. They splashed us a little, blew bubbles at us and did lots of jumping out of the water. They did all kinds of things you see at the places like Sea World - but voluntarily on their own out in their own natural habitat. It was truly a beautiful experience.

After a while, Shawn said he was going to get into the water and see if the dolphins were comfortable with that. He does not try to approach them, he simply has a rope that goes along each side of the boat and he puts his foot of the leg closer to the boat into a loop that is towards the back of the boat and holds onto the front of the rope with the hand on the side closest to the boat. He has a waterproof GoPro camera which he holds with the other hand so he can film the dolphins. He said if the dolphins were not comfortable with it then he'd come right out, but he does this all the time - he has probably hundreds of videos on his website! The dolphins seemed ok with it so then he got out and asked if any of us would like to try it. My husband Steve went first and said it was amazing. Shawn had brought snorkels for us so we could put our heads just below the surface and watch the dolphins underwater while the boat pulled us slowly along. Then our 15-year-old daughter tried it and loved it, and finally I tried it. It was super cool and there WERE more dolphins just below the surface than you saw surfacing at any given time, which was amazing since we saw so many surfacing. My poor youngest daughter wasn't up to trying it, but she says she saw everything going on even though she had to keep her head sort of down. We took a lot of photos and video. A lot of the photos aren't that great as it would be hard to snap a shot at the right moment, but I will post a few and will try to post a couple of videos as well. For some reason, I couldn't get the videos to upload to youtube but they posted to Flickr and I managed to post one on my Facebook from iPhoto so I will see what happens when I try to put them on here.

 

Testing first with one photo as it's been a while since I posted any on ST:

 

13914660774_0bc06773f8_h.jpgP1030597

Edited by SafariChick

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kittykat23uk

Looks like a wonderful experience! :D

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SafariChick

Ok here are some more:

 

13891132551_65f0d05d29.jpgP1030598

 

13891132116_7933354c4f_h.jpgP1030599

 

13914666734_77d3bd449e_h.jpgP1030604

 

13914248925_db825788d9_h.jpgP1030605

 

This shows my husband, Steve, holding the rope alongside the boat and looking at the dolphins in the water

 

13891139361_58c3c05f0e_h.jpgP1030623

 

13914307873_dffcf55a19_b.jpgP1030624

 

Finally, a shot of one jumping!

 

13891140491_716caf9976_b.jpgP1030625

 

But there were so many jumping at the same time at times, I hope I can get a video to post ... stay tuned.

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SafariChick

If anyone is interested in reading a bit about Shawn Larkin, our guide, this is the article I first read about him that intrigued me and made me want to go on a dolphin trip with him:

 

http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/7/23/4546328/dolphins-costa-rica-superpods-shawn-larkin-profile

 

and here is his website:

 

http://www.costacetacea.com/

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Atravelynn

Your test shots work--many dolphins and a knee appear. I am most interested in a getaway to Osa for about a week so your report is made to order. I was going to speculate this was a Spring Break trip and one of your first lines confirmed it was.

 

Your poor daughter. Nausea is the worst. Thanks for the Shawn Larkin hint.

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SafariChick

Ok I uploaded one of the videos to Flickr so let's see if you can view and play it. Warning: you might want to turn the sound down as there is some whooping and hollering as Shawn said the dolphins get psyched up when they hear sounds from the humans. They did put on quite a display of jumping when we made this final loop around the area before heading back to shore (note: this was at a much higher speed than when we were hanging around for most of the time).

 

https://flic.kr/p/nayKDj

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kittykat23uk

Takes a little while to load but it worked! :D

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SafariChick

Oh good, glad it worked - thanks @@kittykat23uk

 

@@Atravelynn is it possible that I have visited a destination before you??? I cannot believe it! But happy if I can share anything helpful to you as you've shared so much wonderful destination information with me!

 

For those that are not familiar with Costa Rica or the Osa, here is a little map that shows the country.

 

http://geology.com/world/costa-rica-satellite-image.shtml

 

The Peninsula de Osa is the yellow area at the southern end that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. You can see marked on this map the words Drake and Puerto Jimenez. Drake is Drake Bay or Bahia Drake were we began the trip and where we took the dolphin trip. Puerto Jimenez is where we went for the second half of the trip. You can fly from San Jose into either Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez. Or you can drive from San Jose but my understanding is it's about an 8-hour-drive and especially not to be attempted during the green season as some roads become impassable.

 

I was interested to learn from Philip, our naturalist at Bosque del Cabo during the second part of our trip, that the Peninsula de Osa supposedly broke off of the Galapagos and drifted into the rest of the land mass that is Costa Rica - so it is supposedly not actually attached to it? I have to research a bit more to see if I understood that right. He said if anyone asks you if you've ever been to the Galapagos, you can now say you have ^_^

Edited by SafariChick

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Atravelynn

I have been to Costa Rica, but not Osa, which I believe is a real gem. If it broke off from the Galapagos, that would help explain it. Maps always help, thanks!

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graceland

Dolphins are amazing creatures.I saw thousands of them off the coast of I believe Cabo at one time , but would love to do a trip as you and the family! We see them regularly entertaining us in the Atlantic Ocean off Outer Banks NC; ...Jumping higher than one could ever imagine, but I'd love to be on a rope riding beside them!

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SafariChick

@@graceland you are fortunate to have seen so many dolphins at once - quite an experience!

 

After the dolphin trip, we went back to our bed and breakfast, Finca Maresia, at which we'd only spent about half an hour previously. We had mixed feelings about it but one thing we (the kids especially) enjoyed was the several dogs that lived there and were very friendly and enjoyed patting. Finca Maresia also served lunch and dinner for reasonable additional prices so we had dinner there that night. We went to bed early, having set out an overnight bag that we would need for the next day's adventure.

 

The next morning, we woke up at 5 and had to be at breakfast at 5:30. Finca Maresia served exceptionally good coffee which was good since I needed fortification for the day ahead! A little before 6, our host drove us down to the beach where we were to meet the boat that would take us to Corcovado National Park. We were meeting our private guide Nito also, who I'd read about on other forums and arranged to hire via email months ago. We shared the boat with about 8 other passengers and a couple of guides as only our family would be guided by Nito. We later learned that Nito is based out of Puerto Jimenez on the other side of the Osa Peninsula, even though it seems a lot of his work is guiding in Corcovado. PJ is a bigger town but to get to Corcovado by boat, it is better to go out of Drake. Visiting Corcovado is the main reason I wanted to be based in Drake for the first part of the trip. It is about an hour or an hour and 15-minute boat ride, going fast, from Drake. Nito had had to leave PJ at 4:30 a.m. to meet us at the beach at 6 as it takes about 1.5 hours on terribly rocky roads to get from PJ to Drake on a motorcycle. We all had taken bonine again as soon as we got up at 5 in order to hopefully not suffer any seasickness on this boat ride and it worked - luckily, my daughter did not feel sick this time.

 

We arrived at Corcovado and waded through the water to get to shore, then began the approximately half hour walk through the rainforest to get to the La Sirena Ranger Station where we would sleep. There are a few ranger stations in the park and for those who are better and hardier hikers than we, one can actually hike in to Corcovado (an all day hike on a very hot and exposed beach, apparently) and do a several-day camping trip hiking from station to station. It was already extremely hot and humid and we were constantly sweating. We arrived at the Ranger Station where we'd reserved spots to camp on the tent platform. It has a roof but is otherwise open to the air. There are also bunk beds in very basic dormitories but we'd heard it is even hotter in those than on the platform. Nito has tents that he keeps there for his clients' use and the idea is to go leave your stuff that you don't need for your day hiking in the tent and then head out. We had arranged to eat the meals prepared by the kitchen staff at La Sirena so we were on their schedule - lunch at 11:30, dinner at 5:30 - it gets dark in Costa Rica by about 6 pm. You can also choose to bring in your own food but you aren't allowed to use the kitchen or cook in any way or use their refrigerator so that would mean only bringing in items that were not perishable and needed no heating.

 

As we were first walking in to La Sirena from the boat, this beautiful creature landed nearby and my daughter tried to pick it up but it wanted to land on my hand instead so she had to settle for a photo of it on my hand. You may think, as we did at first, it is a butterfly but it is actually a moth:

 

13918975323_d38cacb73c_h.jpgUntitled

 

Our first morning of hiking was about 3 hours. We went slow but I have to admit it was hard with the heat and humidity. After lunch we also hiked for another 3 hours or so. This was a lot of hiking for me! Rather than trying to set everything out in the order in which we saw it, I'm going to just post photos and/or descriptions of different wildlife we saw but in no particular order - though I WILL try to keep the two days we were there separate!

 

Nito was fantastic at finding wildlife.

 

For instance, he knew where to look to find tiny bats attached to a rolled up leaf with suction cups on the bottoms of their feet

 

13881211023_90a0206b38_b.jpgUntitled

 

and a hummingbird in its nest

 

13881218013_a4a10a41b7_c.jpgUntitled

 

When the animals were farther away, he would set up his scope (he had a Swarovski scope and binoculars - very nice! Much better than our binocs - even the better ones we'd left at home) and he offered to take photos through it with either our camera or iphones - we gratefully accepted as these came out much better than those just using our cameras.

 

There are four types of monkey in Costa Rica, and we saw them all in Corcovado. Here are a few shots of an adorable squirrel monkey, the smallest of the four:

 

13881165235_e5fc3126af_h.jpgUntitled

 

13881233963_5fabf9d5f2_h.jpgUntitled

 

13881238123_a24448fcd1_h.jpgUntitled

 

Here is a large bird which I think is called a Curassow

 

13881581204_acf68368df_h.jpgUntitled

 

(Note: I know very little about birds so if I get names wrong and anyone knows what is correct, please feel free to jump in! I have some other photos of birds that I really don't know the names but if they are decent I will post - I have an email out to Nito who said he'd ID them for me if I sent a link to my photos but I don't know when he'll get back to me!)

 

Here are some more birds that I do not know the names of:

 

 

13918922435_571f2dc801_h.jpgUntitled

 

13918919005_66e0180de9_h.jpgUntitled

 

13895809536_f5eae729ca_h.jpgUntitled

 

This one has some lunch --

 

13895808871_17052009ed_h.jpgUntitled

 

That's enough for this post - more to follow ....

Edited by SafariChick

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michael-ibk

The dolphin experience looks wonderful, would really like to do that some time. That moth is very beautiful, as are the birds. I think that´s a female Great Currasow, a Blue-Crowned Manakin, a Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, and Black-Throated Trogons (male and female). (Having never been to Costa Rica I could be very wrong of course...:))

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TonyQ

@@SafariChick

Great start to your report

Seeing the dolphins must be exciting (the video link does work but it takes a little while to load)

The forest looks interesting - very cute sqirrel monkeys

Looking forward to the rest!

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kittykat23uk

Those bats are very cute! Love those trogon shots too.

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graceland

The birds are beautiful, great start to your adventure!

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SafariChick

The dolphin experience looks wonderful, would really like to do that some time. That moth is very beautiful, as are the birds. I think that´s a female Great Currasow, a Blue-Crowned Manakin, a Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, and Black-Throated Trogons (male and female). (Having never been to Costa Rica I could be very wrong of course... :))

 

I think you are very right - all the names are ones I remember our guide saying, but I wouldn't have been able to say which was which - thank you! @@michael-ibk

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SafariChick

Continuing on our trek through Corcovado, Nito suddenly said shh stay here as he thought he heard or saw something off to the side of the path a bit. Sure enough, it was one of the animals I had really hoped to see - peccaries! They are a type of wild pig that is native to Costa Rica and this was a herd of about twenty of them! They were hanging out in the water of a shallow creek that was just off the trail. Here are a few photos:

 

13881416393_9d02ea026a_c.jpgUntitled

 

13881359965_c9166a00e3_c.jpgUntitled

 

13881762114_1ee4b7057f_c.jpgUntitled

 

The kids and I and Nito were standing just off the path looking at them and Steve had stayed on the path. After a few minutes the peccaries decided to walk across the path and into the woods on the other side of it, one by one. Their vision is not so good but their sense of smell is. Steve squatted down as he saw them crossing the path so he would seem less obtrusive. A few of them sniffed the air as they neared him but kept on walking, but one was not sure about him. It stopped and sniffed, then changed direction a bit to walk a few steps closer to him and sniffed some more. We were wondering how close this encounter was going to get, but then the peccary decided to follow its buddies into the woods.

 

Here's a video of that last bit (again it's on flickr so it might take a minute to load) The peccary that is especially interested in Steve starts sniffing around at about :50 and then towards the end of vid is when he gets rather close to him.

 

https://flic.kr/p/nbMhDu

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SafariChick

We next ran into two different sloths - one with a baby and one without. The photos don't show the baby.

 

13881426513_b90fa60aa4_c.jpgUntitled

 

13881216325_8f9c413ce5_c.jpgUntitled

 

Also ran into some howler monkeys - usually you hear them but don't see them, and they were the one monkey I heard but didn't see on the last trip to Costa Rica so I was glad we got to see some.

 

13881386043_9dd4bf357f_c.jpgUntitled

 

13895810541_a59092e11a_c.jpgUntitled

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graceland

Sloths! Never saw one- elusive for us...Pecarries,never saw one...you guys had great luck!

So glad the girls loved the trip!

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SafariChick

Some more birds - @@michael-ibk perhaps you can tell me what these are too :)

 

13881289473_f800603e6f_c.jpgUntitled

 

13919352844_5032a3fd49_z.jpgUntitled

 

13881272343_eed86f5ed5_z.jpgUntitled

 

13881297603_592b59252d_z.jpg[url

 

13881312263_90b614ab00_c.jpgUntitled

Edited by SafariChick

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SafariChick

Sloths! Never saw one- elusive for us...Pecarries,never saw one...you guys had great luck!

So glad the girls loved the trip!

 

I don't know if I'd say they loved it - the first part - which I am still writing about - was physically tough on all of us, though my older one did love the dolphin trip - the hiking in the heat and humidity was really kind of brutal for us. Even Steve who is really fit and slim and trains bike riding daily was having a hard time. But for me, it was totally worth it, and the girls were good sports and perked up a lot when we got to Bosque - but I am getting ahead of myself!

 

The morning and the heat wore on and I was beginning to wonder if it was time to go back for lunch yet. We passed a guide that Nito knew (well, he knew all of them it seemed) and I got super excited when Nito explained that the guide told him that there were some tapirs resting up ahead! This was great news for me because that was the animal I really hoped and thought I might have a decent chance to get to see at Corcovado. It was unlikely we would see one at Bosque del Cabo later so seeing one here would make the whole hot, sweaty hike and overnight at Corcovado worth it. Nito went to check in the area the guide had indicated, and came out and confirmed to us that two tapirs were resting there. We quietly crept into the thicket where the tapirs were, but not too close, as we obviously didn't want to disturb them. It was quite special to see this beautiful animal at last. One was lying down and one standing up. We took a few pictures, but it was hard to get a good view - I'll just post one - But don't worry, as it turned out, this was not the only time we were to see tapirs in Corcovado :)

 

13881281185_90d71dabfb_c.jpg

 

 

 

After about five minutes watching them, we left them to their rest and continued on our way.

Edited by SafariChick

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kittykat23uk

The things we put ourselves through to see wildlife eh? Seems you are seeing some great mammals and birds. I am not that familiar with costa rica but I think the first one is boat billed heron.

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SafariChick

After that sighting, I really felt the morning had been chock full. I did make some kind of casual comment about how cool it would be to see an anteater as I knew they exist there. We walked on about five more minutes when suddenly Nito said look, anteater! I could not believe it. He pointed up into a tree and there was a beautiful Tamandua. He set up his scope and looked in and said it was a female, he could see her nipples. Wow, these scopes are amazing. We all took a look at her walking along a branch, looking for termites, Nito said. Why do they call them anteaters if they eat termites by the way, I wonder?

 

We all got to look at her through the scope, though we could see her pretty well with the naked eye also. Then Nito took some photos with our phones/camera through his scope.

 

13881664544_ed0c0a5b15_c.jpgTamandua 1

 

13881267285_e1186b12ed_c.jpgTamandua 2

 

13895810412_937a2d9eba_c.jpgUntitled

 

We watched her for a few minutes and then were about to move on when we heard some noises coming from the direction of where the tamandua had been. We had noticed a vulture had landed on the tree near her but hadn't thought much of it. Suddenly there was a second vulture and they were not happy with the tamandua being there. She did not want to leave. A confrontation ensued, progessing to the point where the tamandua reared up on her hind legs and showed her long, sharp claws to the vultures. At that point, they let her stay and continue on her branch. Nito thought that she might have inadvertently gotten close to a nest of theirs and that was the reason for the commotion. It was quite exciting, and Nito said he'd not seen anything like that before - pretty cool! And that was really a lot for one morning - it was finally time to head back for lunch!

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