RFI - Costa Rica advice

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chrish
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RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by chrish » July 6th, 2014, 9:17 am

I have to opportunity to spend about 10 days in Costa Rica next month. My main goals are to see some new species and maybe record some frogs.

I have a free place in the to stay at a resort in the Alajuela region between Aguas Zarcas and Quesada just outside the boundaries of the San Juan Castro National Park. Because my lodging is free, I am not especially inclined to go traipsing all over the country just to add to my species list. I will probably do a day trip or two within a few hours drive and herp my way back, but mostly I plan on being lazy :beer: .

I will have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. I will probably do a few days of birding (to see that damn Resplendent Quetzal which has eluded me on several trips into its range!! :evil: ). Actually, I imagine my schedule will be get up and bird early (always herping of course), relax in the afternoon, head out in the evening and herp 'til I drop (walking or driving).

I am familiar with neotropical herping (southern Mexico, Panama, Ecuador), but have never been to CR. I have driven in many countries so that isn't a concern to me unless there is some weird CR specific driving advice someone could offer.

I know there are seasoned CR travelers on here and I thought I would ask for whatever advice you could give.

I will get Jay Savage's book but probably leave it at home.
I have the Tweeder's book but it looks like its coverage is limited to the atlantic versant.
I have Fiona Reed's Mammals of Central America and SE Mexico (1st edition :( )

So my million questions are:

1. Anyone herped in/around that area? Any suggestions?

2. If I were to make a day trip to increase my chances at diversity, which direction would you go? The tropical deciduous forests of the Guanacaste region are tempting, mostly because I want to find a Coniophanes piceivittis (a personal quest, just humor me!).

3. Anyone have/seen this book - Federico Muñoz Chacón's "Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica: A pocket guide"? Its only 11 bucks so I ordered it anyway, but just wanted to know if it was worth carrying. Is there another book?

4. I am arriving at SJO (obviously) and headed up to NE of Quesada. Would you drive north out of SJO to Carrizal and go around the east side or drive west out of SJO and drive around through Zapote and Quesada? I just want the easiest route for my first day in country. I might drive back the other way just for the tour once I get a feel for local CR driving customs.

5. I arrive at SJO at 7:10pm. By the time I get through customs and get my rental car, I suspect it will be 8 or 8:30. Would it be worth trying to get out of San Jose and do some roadhunting? Are there places to stay that are easy to find north (or west - see question 4) of SJO?

6. What are the rules about accessing National Parks in CR? Do you need a permit/pass to get in? Are they day passes or can I get one for a week? Can you get those at the gates? Does one pass work for all CR NPs or do you need a different pass at each park? Can you access NP after dark?

7. I see a lot of folks reporting about road hunting in CR. Is it easy to find roads to hunt that aren't full of speeding buses/trucks/taxis? I know in Mexico that can be quite a challenge.

8. Is it cool to travel around with a snake hook? Do you get hassled at customs or at the parks? Of course, I have no interest in collecting anything but like to have a hook to pose hots and get them off the road.

Is there any other advice you could proffer?

Sorry for all the questions, but I know there are some with extensive CR experience on this forum and why not learn from the experts who understand the needs of the traveling herper?

Big TIA

Chris

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blacktara
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by blacktara » July 6th, 2014, 11:44 am

I've only been go CR once. So a few notes from that experience. Best option for a day trip from around Alujuela would be to go up around Arenal Lodge. That's a long day trip. Remember that ALL wildlife is protected in CR. Do not even THINK about manipulating or collecting in any of the parks. Road herping anywhere near San Jose, forget it. Maybe WAY south of Jaco, around Sierpe or points south, but still would say its not likely to be your best use of time. IMO the place to herping in CR is absolutely the Osa unless u r specifically looking for something not found there. Lots of slitheries and just as important it is the only place we went that wasn't overrun with tourists or teeming with locals looking to get into your wallet legally or otherwise. That said we did not go up northwest at all so can't comment on that

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cbernz
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by cbernz » July 6th, 2014, 12:15 pm

Hey Chris,

I'm by no means a CR expert, although I've spent about 5 weeks there over the course of 4 separate trips. I'll give you what advice I can.

Get Savage's book, if for no other reason than the fact it is awesome. I leave the book home when I go, but sometimes I print out and laminate ID guides that I make based on information in the book - the best one I did was one that described how to differentiate the venomous and non-venomous bicolor and tricolor snakes. I try to take detailed photos of everything, particularly frogs (toe webbing, plantar surfaces, concealed areas of the thigh, etc.) That helps a lot with keying stuff out later at home.

Good luck with the Quetzal. From what I understand they are altitudinal migrants, so they can be tricky to find. When I was at Monteverde in August, the guides told me that you won't find them up in the park, but lower down at fruiting avocado trees. It's worth finding someone who can find these trees for you. Our guy found us a tree that had Quetzals, several toucan species, tanagers - we spent probably 90 minutes at that tree.

I have not herped that area. The closest I've been is La Selva, which is maybe an hour east. You have free reign of the forest if you stay there (it's actually a pretty good deal), but if you take a day trip, you have to go in with a guide. La Selva has a great trail system, and is fantastic for birding and herping. There's also Braulio Carrillio NP a little further south, but I'm not sure exactly how different that is from where you're staying. If you're interested in frogs, and you are willing to go an additional hour or so, there's the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center (CRARC). I was there in August 2011. We had something like 32 species of frogs in two nights there, including Red-eyed Stream Frogs, Lemur Frogs, 6 species of glass frog, Anotheca spinosa - it's a world-class place, and Brian Kubicki is a great guide.

The national parks are cool, but access is pretty limited. Most of the ones I've visited have comically short visiting hours - like 8am to 4pm. Not sure why exactly, but it's probably to discourage unsavory nighttime activities. If you want to do night stuff in the national parks, I'd definitely try to get in touch with whoever's in charge. They may have special access permits, or may let you in with a vetted guide or something, but I'm not sure since I've never tried it. This leads to my number one piece of advice, which is to get in touch with a local guide. The local guides, whether or not they are the best herpers or birders around (because many of them aren't), will often know about spots off the beaten path that you can access at night, and places that you would probably never find on your own. Even just having someone to sit by your car while you go off into the jungle is worthwhile for the peace of mind.

I've never road cruised in CR. The people I've talked to down there generally seem to agree that it's not usually worth the effort, and you are better off walking through the jungle. I have seen trip reports that included successful road-cruising, though. Maybe it depends where you are. For me, the biggest worry about driving at night isn't speeding cars but invisible pedestrians/cows/cyclists, who casually amble about on the roads in pitch darkness. Of course, if you're cruising at 10 mph, you probably won't hit anyone, but the truck driver who passes you at 60 and can't see the donkey cart in front of you is another story.

That's all I have for now, but I might think of some other advice later.

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Ribbit
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by Ribbit » July 6th, 2014, 10:09 pm

chrish wrote:3. Anyone have/seen this book - Federico Muñoz Chacón's "Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica: A pocket guide"? Its only 11 bucks so I ordered it anyway, but just wanted to know if it was worth carrying. Is there another book?
I have Chacón's book and I really like it. It is indeed pocket-sized, but it is also remarkably complete, and uses the latest taxonomy (well, at least as of 2013). It has good photos of nearly every species, and even multiple photos in some cases where there is significant variation or sexual dimorphism. It has a small range map for each species, and a small amount of well-chosen text, mostly just the most pertinent details for ID'ing.

Another good book (but probably another leave-at-home-on-the-same-shelf-as-Savage one) is Alejandro Solorzano's Snakes of Costa Rica/Serpentes de Costa Rica. It's in Spanish and English, so is heavier and takes up more room on your shelf than it would otherwise.

John

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jason folt
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by jason folt » July 7th, 2014, 5:36 am

Chris,

I just returned from a trip and have visited twice. My brother is living in country for a year and has visited 6+ times in the past 4 years. By no means are we experts though, every trip is different. You have a bunch of questions and I would be glad to help the best I can. Email or a phone call might be best.

foltjr AT gmail.com
313-622-3667

Jason

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Roki
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by Roki » July 7th, 2014, 2:08 pm

Hi Chris,
I would recommend looking at trip posts form Costa Rica as they are plentiful here and many are a good indicator of what folks found in different regions of the country. I will second cbernz entire post. Good advice. Also you are within easy striking distance of the Caribbean side of the country that will be better for the herping you are looking to do. I also agree with cbernz that the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center (CRARC), Brian's place is incredible if you want the most bang for your buck in terms of time, money, and effort. I think I had 28 species in a day and a half there and Brian is a great guy. Several national parks of the Caribbean slope have great habitat for looking for herps and birding. For Quetzals I would say hit Monteverde or there are a few good spots for them to the south along the Pacific slope. And I only post this because the word is already out, but San Gerado Det Dota is a pretty good bet for those guys and not far from San Jose. Great for hummingbirds there too. For road cruising I never had much luck there. This is by far the straight to the point response for you. Hope it helps and hope you have a great time.
Roki

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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by Lloyd Heilbrunn » July 7th, 2014, 9:11 pm

Since you are driving yourself, a GPS is a must.

I brought a good map, and it was useless since the road signage is abysmal.

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Trey
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by Trey » July 8th, 2014, 5:15 am

I find Solorzano's book to be more complete and have superior information compared to Savage's. Its worth it to pick up for sure.

I just returned from Costa Rica for my first time and had an amazing trip. Check out the post on the main forum. If you have any questions feel free to PM. I will say that road cruising proved to be very fruitful. If we had counted DOR individuals we would have been well over 30 species of snakes.

The road signage there is horrible... with that being said, a map worked just fine.

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cbernz
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by cbernz » July 8th, 2014, 6:26 pm

Trey wrote:I find Solorzano's book to be more complete and have superior information compared to Savage's. Its worth it to pick up for sure.

I'll have to get that book, but how can it be more complete than Savage's if it only has snakes? Or are you talking about a different book?

Also, your trip report was unbelievable. You guys put in some serious work!

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Trey
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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by Trey » July 9th, 2014, 5:02 pm

I guess I meant it has more information (on snakes that is!).

That trip was awesome! Can't wait til next years.

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Re: RFI - Costa Rica advice

Post by John Williams » July 10th, 2014, 3:11 pm

Hey Chris-

Haven't looked at the distance from where you'll be staying but I worked at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for a few weeks years ago and there were at least 2 pairs of Quetzals we saw routinely off some of the trails. This was in June/July; I'm not sure when they change elevations. That place is worth whatever the drive is though.

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