A Blue Crown For a Dragon’s Funeral   5 comments

Philip Davison. Costa Rica. Blog. Nature Diaries

Dry and Sunny.  Cold and Wet

We are well into the wet season now.  Both July and August had particularly high levels of precipitation with July receiving a total of 37 inches of rain, (918 mm), and August 33 inches, (842 mm).  Mostly the rain fell in the evening and so did not disrupt the day too much.  The first ten days in September had been very sunny and dry but that has now changed and increasingly the rains are becoming heavier and more prolonged which is the norm for this time of year.  Several days ago over 9 inches of rain dropped from the sky in a 24-hour period.

Heliconius cydno

White-barred Longwing

But when the sun does shine it changes everything.  The dark and dank atmosphere lifts and the butterflies take the air again.  The grounds are teeming with groups of female White-nosed Coatis, (Nasua narica) with the young interspersed among the adults.  They all move slowly in the same direction with heads down and striped tails stuck vertically up.  They are omnivores and so when it comes to food anything is game.  Follow the group through an area and you will see small pits where their keen noses have found a tasty grub or crab and the sharp claws have extracted it.  Any fallen fruit will halt progress and keep the group occupied in a feeding frenzy for a while.

Pyrgus oileus

Tropical Checkered Skipper

Crossing through or sitting to the side of the groups of coatis you will see large rodents which look like oversized Guinea Pigs.  These are Agoutis, (Dasyprocta punctata).  These relatively large rodents are seed eaters and will normally be seen beneath the palm trees feeding on the fallen palm nuts.

Antigonus erosus

Antigonus erosus

The picture would not be complete without the background sight and sound of the birds.  Up in the trees, if not always visible but easily heard, are the Black-mandibled Toucans, (Ramphastos ambiguous) and the visually stunning Scarlet Macaws, (Ara macao).  Hopping around on the ground are the ever present Black Vultures, (Coragyps atratus) which like the coatis take advantage of whatever food presents itself.

Shocking Blue

Last week I was out on doing my weekly butterfly counts.  I always carry the camera with me as occasionally something will turn up out of the blue.  Because my focus is on the Lepidoptera and I don’t want to lug around too much weight I normally only have the 105 mm macro lens and a flash gun with me.  If something larger or farther away appears then I am a bit stuck.  This is what happened on this day.  I had just finished photographing a small butterfly close to the ground.  As I stood up I noticed a Blue-crowned Motmot, (Momotus momatus), about 30 feet away but close to the ground.  I had no real hope of getting a good image but thought I would try for something anyway.  The end result was not brilliant but more than I had expected.

Momutus momata

Blue-crowned Motmot

There are only 9 species of motmot and they are largely confined to Central America.  They are very handsome birds and the Blue-crowned Motmot is possibly the most striking of them all.  The long tail feathers end in two distinctive ‘tennis racquet” shapes below a bare area of the shaft.  While perched on a branch the tail flicks to a fro like a feathered pendulum.  The name motmot comes from the call which is a soft but distinct moot moot.  Motmots are distantly related to kingfishers and share the same habit of bank nesting.  Around the grounds of Bosque del Cabo, if the path cuts through an area leaving steep earthen sides they will quite often have many entrances leading down into tunnels.  Some of them may be land crabs, some of them maybe entrances to a Leaf-cutter Ant nest and some of them maybe Blue-crowned Motmot nest holes.  If they do have chicks, then listening at the entrance you will hear the cheeping of the young inside.

Momotus momata

Blue-crowned Motmot

Flat Top

Later on that same morning as had almost finished my walk I perceived a shape on the ground in front of me that, although bearing the color of dead dry leaves was most certainly not.  The creature was a Helmeted Iguana, (Corytophanes cristatus).  These lizards, if seen at all, are usually found head up holding onto the side of small tree trunks and branches.  When approached they move almost imperceptibly to keep themselves at 180⁰ on the opposite side of the trunk to the observer.  This one however was on the ground so it had nowhere to go.

Corytophanes cristatus

Helmeted Iguana

I slowly lowered myself to my knees then leaned forward till I was lying on my belly close to the iguana.  As I lowered myself the lizard also lowered its head and turned away from me presenting just the large flat expanse of the top of the skull.  I got several body shots and then re-positioned myself for the portrait.  Always moving slowly, I managed a couple of profiles before it took fright, raised up on its hind legs and ran off into the undergrowth.

Corytophanes cristatus

Helmeted Iguana

A Short Jump

When the sun does shine, one group of animals you can count on seeing are the grasshoppers.  Particularly on hot, bright days just strolling along paths in more open garden-like areas your movement will likely as not disturb grasshoppers which are laborious flyers.  Their wings don’t carry them too far before they land in the vegetation again.  To get close, once more stealth is of the essence. They can be seen setting the hind legs in readiness for takeoff again.  If you do spook one, it doesn’t take much to watch where it flies to and lands.

Acrididae sp

Tropical Grasshopper

Although I like grasshoppers I have to admit I do not find them the easiest of creatures to identify.  The reference material available tends to be for American or European species which doesn’t help a lot in Costa Rica.  Nonetheless when viewed close up their almost armor-like exoskeleton make them good macro subjects.

Acrididae species

Tropical Grasshopper

The Funeral Dragon

Although not as obviously abundant as butterflies are the dragonflies.  They can be found around most damp or wet areas from ponds and streams to water filled ruts on the trails.  Each individual has a variety of preferred perches where they settle momentarily before taking to the air to catch prey or chase off neighboring males.  Their activity is endless particularly if it is a hot sunny day.  To capture an image all you have to do is concentrate on one perch then sit and wait, the individual to whom it belongs will return.

Erythrodiplax funerea

Black-winged Dragonlet

This species is Erythodiplax funerea, I am assuming so called because of the black coloration on the lower two thirds of the wing.  It is one of the species that I do not find near water, these ones were in the middle of the tropical garden.  I also commonly find them very low in the vegetation along the forest paths.  Their behavior is the same though constantly taking off flying to a new vantage point then returning a few seconds later.

Erythrodiplax funerea.

Black-winged Dragonlet

So all in all despite the rains, those sunny days still provide for ample opportunity to get out, enjoy the sights and sounds and maybe take some photographs too.

Philip is a biologist, writer and photographer based in Costa Rica.

5 responses to “A Blue Crown For a Dragon’s Funeral

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  1. Thank you Philip! I love your newsletters about life around the Cabo! Any photos of those coatis and young?

    What a great life you have there!



    • Thanks Fain. Glad you are enjoying the blog. I will see what I can do with some coati photos but you have probably realized I don’t normally point the camera at anything larger than a couple of inches in length.


  2. Your written commentary makes me feel like I am walking the grounds and trails with you, Phillip. Even if we can’t be there, we can visualize the diversity and beauty that surrounds Bosque del Cabo through your words. Thanks!


  3. Great post Philip. I love your shots of the Helmeted Iguana. Mine haven’t turned out anywhere near that good. Guess I need to come back.


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