Posts Tagged ‘costa rica’

In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal

Friday, May 25th, 2012

James Karr, Smithsonian Study LeaderSmithsonian Study Leader Jim Karr is Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the University of Washington, Seattle, specializing in tropical ecology, ornithology, water resources, and environmental policy. He also served as deputy director of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama for four years in the 1980s. On his most recent trip with Smithsonian Journeys, he guided a group to some of his favorite locations in Costa Rica. Below is the second of two posts about the trip.

At our welcome meeting in San José, several participants spoke of their hope to see the legendary quetzal, the near mythical trogon with an iridescent emerald green back and, in the male, a ruby red breast and belly. Making the male even more gaudy, he sports on his 15-inch body, iridescent green feathers that extend up to 30 inches beyond his tail.

The group had its chance to look for the quetzal a few days later while visiting the Monte Verde forest. The search for quetzals often involves finding a fruiting tree in the avocado family, a favorite food of quetzals; the search also involves listening for their characteristic “kyow, kyow” call. To our dismay, we reached the end of our trail at a waterfall without finding a fruiting tree or hearing the call of the quetzal. Local workers even noted that the quetzals had moved out of the area.

But fear not, we had an even better treat ahead. Shortly after we turned back to return to the visitor’s center, we found a pair of quetzals, with the male working diligently to excavate a tree cavity for a nest site. After watching the birds for an extended period, we moved down the trail. As a bonus, our return route took us past yet another pair of quetzals, also excavating a nest cavity. In this case, the female was excavating while the nearby male called. By the end of our walk, we saw as many as 8 to 10 quetzals. I have visited this area of Costa Rica many times, but this was the first visit giving an opportunity to see adults excavating nest cavities.

Quetzals, Costa Rica

Quetzals excavating nest cavities. (The dark forest made it difficult to obtain high quality photographs without disturbing the energetic birds only a few feet away.) Photos (left and bottom right) by R. Tinko-Russell; photo (top right) by Jim Karr.

A Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica.

A Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Jim Karr.

Another highlight of our travels in Costa Rica was seeing a male green basilisk lizard sunning on a streamside rock.

Basilisk lizard

A male green basilisk lizard. Photo by Jim Karr.

Throughout the trip, the tour director, coach driver, and I were able to show participants things that I have seen many times before. But I was also delighted to see plants and animals not seen on earlier trips. We saw more in two weeks than many early explorers were able to see in months of demanding travel.

Smithsonian Journeys group by a waterfall in Costa Rica

The Smithsonian Journeys group near a waterfall at Monte Verde before the first quetzal spotting. Photo by Jim Karr.

Read Jim Karr’s previous post, “Sampling Exotic Fruits in Costa Rica,” and learn more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Costa Rica adventure trip here.

Sampling Exotic Fruits in Costa Rica

Friday, May 25th, 2012

James Karr, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderSmithsonian Study Leader Jim Karr is professor emeritus of ecology at the University of Washington, Seattle, specializing in tropical ecology, ornithology, water resources, and environmental policy. He also served as deputy director of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama for four years in the 1980s. On his most recent trip with Smithsonian Journeys, he guided a group to some of his favorite locations in Costa Rica. In the post below, the first of two about the trip, Karr provides a guide to some of the exotic fruits encountered (and sampled) by the group along the way.

Volcan Poas

Looking down into the crater of Poas Volcano. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Carlos Reusser Monsalvez.

Poas Volcano, the primary destination for our first day in Costa Rica, is one of several active volcanoes in the country. After a short walk to the caldera rim at 8,740 feet, we descended the mountain and encountered the roadside fruit markets so characteristic of the Costa Rican countryside. A quick stop yielded a basket of plump, sweet strawberries grown in the rich soils on the slopes of the volcano. The strawberries disappeared within a few minutes!

The next day, en route to our hotel at the base of the Arenal Volcano, we again stopped at a roadside market to see and taste fresh tropical fruits. The group recognized many familiar supermarket staples. Even familiar fruits, however, picked locally at the peak of ripeness, provided unexpected taste sensations: pineapples, bananas, mangoes, papayas, and others.

Papaya and Guanabana (soursop) fruit

Papaya and Guanabana (soursop) fruit. Photos by Jim Karr.

Other fruits were unknown to most on the trip. A refreshing drink from guanabana (soursop) tempted us often over the two week trip, and we sampled the soft flesh of cacao to find the seeds, which are ground to yield chocolate.

Cacao fruit

Cacao fruit. Photos by Jim Karr.

Another exotic fruit, the marañón has two distinct segments, a soft apple-like fruit and an appendage that includes the nut we know as a cashew. One can make a jam, a refreshing drink, or ferment the fruit to produce wine. The attached shell contains the cashew nut, but it must be roasted to avoid its naturally toxic content.

Marañón (cashew nut) fruit

Marañón (cashew nut) fruit.

Read Jim Karr’s second post from the trip, “In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal,” and learn more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Costa Rica adventure trip here.

Book: Columbus, The Four Voyages

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Cover image - Columbus - The Four Voyages.This week’s travel read is Columbus, The Four Voyages. Most of us remember Columbus’ famous expedition of 1492, but many of us have forgotten that Columbus returned to the Americas three more times.

In these later voyages, Columbus continued to try to prove that he could get to China, where he wanted to convert the people he met there to Christianity. These three later voyages, all to the Caribbean and nearby regions of the Atlantic, were more violent than his first and contribute to his controversial legacy.

Biographer Laurence Bergreen captures each voyage in rich detail, recreating these adventures and providing the context and perspective needed for each of us to draw our own understanding of what Columbus’ expeditions mean to the world at large.

If you’d like to sail some of the waters Columbus sailed, now’s a great time to book your adventure in the Caribbean with Smithsonian Journeys.

A Costa Rican Adventure

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Suzan Murray is the Chief Veterinarian and the Smithsonian National Zoo. She’s also a world-class Study Leader on our Smithsonian Journeys tours. Here, she shares a day in Costa Rica with Smithsonian travelers, and with you.

The violet sabrewing hummingbird

The violet sabrewing hummingbird. Photo: Kate Desvenain

Today was our first full day in Costa Rica. The group had breakfast together and it gave us a chance to get to know each other. From our breakfast table we could see numerous brightly colored birds outside as we chatted and got to know each other. Our tour guide, Herman, has been working in Costa Rica for over 30 years. He is a warm, knowledgeable and friendly man and our group immediately took to him. We also immediately bonded with our driver, Marco, who not only was an incredibly safe driver, but personally took the time to help everyone on and off the vehicle every day. He also took a great liking to my personal traveling companion, Evan, my 10-year-old son. Marco and Evan became fast friends on this day.

Our trip for the day was to visit a close by, beautiful volcano, which from the base appeared to be shrouded in clouds. As Herman explained, the weather in Costa Rica changes rapidly, and one minute it could be cloudy with poor visibility, particularly at higher altitudes, while the next minute there could b excellent visibility. The bus dropped us off just a short distance from the crater’s edge, but at the high altitude the short hike to the rim created an excellent way to get our hearts pumping. Herman showed us plants along the way and pointed out various biological and volcanic features. When we arrived at the rim, the clouds had moved in and we were not able to see the rim of the crater. Although we were somewhat disappointed, in the end, we all appreciated the beautiful walk and the early morning exercise. It was the perfect way to start our trip.

Our next adventure was a visit to a coffee farm. During this trip we learned everything you every wanted to know about coffee. We learned about the types of beans used (arabica only in Costa Rica), how the plants are cared for, when the seeds are collected and how they are first separated into different grades based upon several factors, including size, we were able to observe the drying and roasting process, and the tour ended with a taste test and an opportunity to buy samples as souvenirs. Evan was able to take part in the coffee bean drying process while the rest of us were able to relax and taste the coffee samples. This was a big hit with the coffee drinkers in the group. The plantation also had a butterfly garden through which we walked prior to resuming our journey.

Click here for more on travel to Costa Rica and here for more about Costa Rica on the Journeys Blog.

Morning in Costa Rica

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s  biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land. In fact, fully 25% of Costa Rica’s land is in protected areas, like national parks and conservation areas. With about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica, it’s a bird-watcher’s paradise and any nature lover’s dream getaway. Start your week right with this video of early morning in Costa Rica, which showcases the incredible beauty of the country’s coastline.

Packed yet? Travel to Costa Rica with Smithsonian Journeys on any of these educational tours.

What’s your favorite way to spend a free morning alone? Please share.