Back to the tropics! Laura and I actually planned on visiting Costa Rica last year, but due to obvious reasons this did not work out. The pandemic made it very difficult to visit countries outside of the EU, so we had to put our plans on hold. Costa Rica is one of the countries where a lot of people go for herping, while Laura and I like to explore a bit more. We still choose Costa Rica as it simply offers a bedazzling diversity of herpetofauna in a relatively small country with excellent infrastructure. Last year we planned on going with just the two of us, so that would make Costa Rica a sensible choice. This year however we had several of our herping amigos keen on going to Central America as well, but not with the same amount of holidays. So we had a highly motivated but changing team. Besides Laura and myself, Sander also joined for the entire month while Jasper flew home after two weeks. Wouter and Jelmer joined for the salamander-rich final two weeks of the trip and only during our stay in Monteverde we were shortly with six people.
Our timing coincided with the rainy season, always a good season when you are looking for amphibians and reptiles. While on previous trips to Central America in the rainy season we didn't always have the conditions we wanted, this trip was different. It was like all the rain we missed in Guatemala and Mexico fell now. We never had dry feet for longer than 24 hours and flooded streets were a common sight. It fell in such biblical amounts that herping wasn't always possible, enjoyable or even safe. Still, it made this trip into a huge success with quite a lot of species, adventures and stories to remember it by. Being cut off from the rest of the world because of torrential rains, floods and a collapsed bridge while driving in a car with a broken windshield. Crossing raging streams at night with a bullet ant on your shoulder. Hiking double digits steep up and making your camp in the jungle in the pouring rain. Seeing all the trees around you swaying back and forth during an earthquake. Who said Costa Rica wasn't adventurous enough? It wasn't me :-)
All images © Laura & Bobby Bok (unless stated otherwise)
15th of July 2021
Our flight with KLM was as enjoyable as can be. The plane was not completely full, so we had some space to move around. And as it was a direct flight, we were in Central America before we knew it. Plans to already do some daytime herping had to be put on hold though, as the immigration at the airport took ages. Moreover, the short distance to our hotel took more than an hour with the heavy traffic in San Jose. Luckily, after a nice dinner in our hotel it was finally time for some herping. It didn't take long before we saw the first species of the trip: Golden-eyed Leaf Frogs (Agalychnis annae) have gone extinct in a large portion of their range, but seemingly thrive in urban environments. Many of these stunning frogs were to be found all around the ponds in the hotel garden and it was the best first species of the trip we could have wished for!
16th of July 2021
After an excellent breakfast in the hotel we did a little round to try and find any adult Green Iguanas, but it was still a bit too cold for them to be active. Time to move on to the next location! At higher altitude we searched at several places along the road to try and find some salamanders. At a dark patch of the forest there was a lot of dead wood laying around under which I could find the first salamander of the trip: a Common Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis). Finally our first Oedipina ever, and what a pretty little thing it was!
16th until the 18th of July 2021
We initially had planned a stay at the CRARC to witness its often praised amphibian bonanza, but only two days before our flight to Costa Rica, our stay was cancelled. Luckily this gave us the opportunity to meet Stanley Salazar and spend some time herping with him. Stanley is a frog finding machine - we barely had time to search ourselves, one species after another showed up, and after two days with Stanley we had already seen over 50 species of amphibian and reptile!
We stayed at Stanley's house, from where we could explore the nearby Braulio Carrillo NP during our first night. Although we had dry conditions at first, soon a drizzle started to fall. A drizzle that quickly turned into a very heavy downpour that lasted throughout the night. Photography became practically impossible, but we still managed to photograph some very exciting finds with an army of umbrellas held above our camera gear. One of these finds was our first Crowned Tree Frog (Triprion spinosus) which suddenly sat on a liana while our boots started to hold water above our ankles. Another precious little gem was a baby Shaman Fringe-limbed Tree Frog (Ecnomiohyla sukia), a species highly confined to the canopy and therefore rarely observed. But also more common species such as Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio) and Boulenger's Long-snouted Tree Frog (Scinax boulengeri) made our hearts beat faster and the rain more endurable.
During the second night with Stanley we drove to the Veragua Rainforest, the only other place in Costa Rica where Agalychnis lemur can be found outside of the closed CRARC. Again a frog bonanza followed, and we saw three species of Agalychnis, namely Red-eyed Leaf Frog (Agalychnis callidryas), Blue-sided Gliding Leaf Frog (Agalychnis saltator) and Orange-sided Gliding Leaf Frog (Agalychnis spurrelli), but sadly Agalychnis lemur wasn't one of them. This species can be very hard to find when they are not calling. Still nothing to be sad about, here we saw our first Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons), Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) and on the way back to the car, Laura found our first Costa Rican Coralsnake (Micrurus mosquitensis).
Before it was time to say goodbye to Stanley we drove to Frog´s Heaven to meet up with Andrey Solís. Here we saw one of our most wanted salamanders for Costa Rica: a Striated Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa striatula). Also, during another heavy but short downpour a Purple Caecilian (Gymnopis multiplicata) turned up in a compost heap. Many thanks to our new amigos for a fantastic couple of days in Costa Rica! Heavily spoiled with all we had seen we moved on to the next stay at the Caribbean coast.
18th until the 22nd of July 2021
We left our car at Sebastian's office and he drove us to the place from where we could reach his house in the forest. A small but steep hike through the jungle brought us to our home for the next four nights. A huge research station well above the forest floor with stunning views all around. We had cozy cabins and could enjoy delicious homecooked meals throughout our stay here. During the day we could hike through the forest in search of diurnal animals, enjoy the vistas from the watchtower, do some birdwatching or enjoy a very welcome refreshing dip at the huge waterfall. Herps came in slow during daytime but included some huge highlights.
Sebastian and his son Weymer are part of the Bushmaster Conservation Project. Several bushmasters are being tracked and monitored to learn more about these enigmatic snakes. During our stay, one of the biggest bushmasters ventured too close to a nearby town and was at risk of being killed by local people. Sadly this has occured in the past, and Sebastian and Weymer didn't want to take any risks. Naturally we joined them for the relocation. Over the steep slopes and through thick vegetation we ventured into a small streambed. And there she was, the lady of the slopes, the queen of the rainforest: a stunning Central American Bushmaster (Lachesis stenophrys) coiled up in the vegetation! What a beautiful snake, and such a big and healthy individual: she was as long as Sander! After relocating her to a safer location we could snap a few more pictures, and it was mesmerizing to see such a huge snake slowly making her way through the undergrowth.
During another hike we encountered a hollow tree full of bats including Common Vampire Bats (Desmodus rotundus). Suddenly Jasper spotted some movement in the guano on the floor. We saw some bright colouration first hinting at a coralsnake, but then we saw the head: a big Orange-bellied Galliwasp (Diploglossus monotropis)! A quick grab resulted in a hand full of guano and little else. Not quick enough... A sad ending to an excellent sighting.
At night the herps came in at a steadier pace. Frogs were plentiful, and my favourites were the Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs which are really everywhere here. We often spotted a "pumilio party" of three individuals sitting together. The hikes were steep and the rain fell hard, but we kept on going. Not every night was as rewarding, but like herping anywhere in the world, as long as you make meters you are bound to walk into something at one point. And then, sometimes the finds follow up quickly. Like finding an Allen's Coralsnake (Micrurus alleni), shortly followed by a Costa Rican Coralsnake, shortly followed by a big Annulated Tree Boa (Corallus annulatus). On another night we could spot an additional three individuals of this very pretty species. We saw two Oropel (Bothriechis schlegelii), both highly yellow and highly beautiful. Simply too much to name here but we enjoyed all of it! Many thanks to Sebastian and Weymer and their family for such a great time!
22nd until the 24th of July 2021
During the last day of our stay at Kekoldi the rains intensified. We also got a message from Sebastian saying "a little accident" happened at to the car at the parking. A brushcutter slung a pebble at the rear windshield of the car and there was "a small hole" in the window. It was apparently already fixed with a piece of plastic and some tape ensuring our luggage, which was still inside the car, would stay dry. But we also had to get down the mountain while the rainy weather intensified. Waiting a little while for the rain to get less didn't work, it only got more so we just decided to start walking. Tiny streams turned into knee-deep raging torrents but we pressed on and made it down. Back at the car we were soaked, but could investigate the little accident that had happened. The little hole turned out to be a bit bigger and we had to remove the remaining parts of the windshield to still be able to drive the car. Also, it was a miracle that our luggage was still dry despite the heavy rains and the - ehrm - provisional plastic cover. So we patched the car up with some thicker tarp and better tape and drove on to the next location. Or so we thought....
The rains weren't exactly local and the whole province of Limón was hit. Roads and towns were flooded and traffic was stuck. Laura did a sterling job navigating the car through knee-deep water, but at some point the road there was no way for any car to pass. As far as we could see there was brown water flowing over the entire stretch of road going towards Limon. No cars came from the other side anymore either, and we decided to wait it out in Cahuita. We had dinner, found a nice hotel and went to bed in a hotelroom full of wet clothes and equipment.
The next day the situation remained unchanged, massive lines of cars waiting to drive west, flooded streets and not a soul around who knew what was happening. We booked another night in Cahuita and spent the afternoon trying to arrange some herping in the nearby Cahuita NP. Apparently the entire park was flooded as well and the local staff was adamant in not letting us in. "You are not in Holland, you are in the jungle now!" Someone didn't take it too well being woken up from his afternoon nap by a yodeling Sander... At the other entrance to the park the staff told us there are no frogs in Cahuita because of all the salt coming in from the sea. Yeah, sure man. Communicating with these people was hopeless and we went back to the hotel. A bit of googling gave me a lead on a nearby lodge where we could at least do some frogging so our stay in Cahuita wouldn't be entirely wasted. The friendly lodge owner Pepo had dinner for us prepared and after some tasty chicken we went into the forest behind his lodge. Not for long until we came face to face with one of the most impressive frogs Costa Rica has to offer. Apparently Splendid Leaf Frogs (Cruziohyla sylviae) thrive here, and within minutes we saw three individuals high in the vegetation. Out of reach for a good picture, but Pepo had a solution for everything. He brought in a high ladder so we could admire these wonderful creatures from up close and snap some pictures.
The third day in Cahuita started with yet another attempt to get out of there. Much to our surprise the waterlevels had dropped, the lines of cars had gotten shorter and we could drive all the way up to the bridge over the Rio Estrella. Or at least what was left of it... The washing waters left a gaping hole in the tarmac and prevented any cars from crossing. All our high hopes sank again. It was back to the hotel for a third time. We had lunch and afterwards we heard a rumor that the backroads going to Limon were at least cleared this morning and open for traffic. We didn't think twice, packed all our stuff, threw it in the car and decided to check it out. Narrow, winding, slippery roads through the forest with the occasional line of trucks passing by, but indeed all the debris was pushed to the sides of the road. After two hours we did it, we were on the western bank of the Rio Estralla and back on track. Yatama here we come!
24th until the 26th of July 2021
Driving along the coastal road we witnessed the damage caused by the floods. Flooded houses and a brown Caribbean sea full of washed away trees. Just before darkness we arrived on the final stretch of road going up to Yatama. Despite the poor condition of the road we made it rather far, but a broken bridge along the way halted our progress. Friendly owner Pedro came down to meet us, had some of his staff improvise a fix for the bridge and on we went. We dropped our luggage in our cabin and went with Pedro and Luis into the forest. Lots of new species awaiting us! Here we could see more glass frog species, including the eerie Ghost Glass Frog (Sachatamia ilex), and the charming Red-webbed Tree Frog (Boana rufitela). We also got the chance to admire two more Crowned Tree Frogs without the heavens opening on us. Snakes also came in steadily and already on the road to Yatama I found a pretty White-headed Snake (Enuliophis sclateri) and Pedro pointed out our first Halloween Snake (Oxyrhopus petola). Near a big Bamboo bush Laura found two Mottled Snail-eaters (Sibon longifrenis), a species high on my wishlist. Also in the rafters of our house Jasper discovered a big Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus). Some species needed a bit more effort though. While trying to find another Glass Frog species we did a hike going up and down several times before we had to cross a wide, fast-flowing and rather deep stream. Laura knows no fear, but isn't too fond of these situations. While she stood on the other side, doubting to make that treacherous jump over slippery boulders, I noticed a big Bullet Ant on her shoulder. When I screamed at her: "Bullet Ant, right shoulder!" she just looked a it, flicked it away with pinpoint decision, and was back to worrying over the stream the next second. Apparently, some threats appear minor in the face of others...Needless to say, in the end she did cross the stream without problems.
26th until the 29th of July 2021
For some time now we had gotten used to driving on Costa Rican roads, which are full of traffic jams, fallen trees, hidden speed bumps or occasionally flooded by heavy rainfall. In fact, we got so comfortable that the traffic accident that happened behind us didn't seem to affect anyone in the car besides me. While another car and ours were just crossing a one-lane bridge, a third car came speeding around the corner from the opposite side, racing towards us. The driver saw us too late, tried to swerve to not provoke a full-frontal crash, and crashed into one of the bridge pillars with a loud bang. In the meantime my fellow travellers continued talking about how they thought the air pressure in our tyres was a bit low, completely unmoved by what just happened...Well, the pressure was indeed a bit low, and we followed our course towards the far northwest of Costa Rica. In this general drier part of the country a whole new range of species is to be found and we had high hopes. Sadly the rains here weren't enough to bring out some of our main frog targets (read: Rhinophrynus), and judging by the remaining pools the peak of amphibian activity had definitely passed. Luckily there was still some awesome roadcruising to be done here, we had been told. Sadly for us there was still a pandemic going on, and with it came a curfew starting from 09:00 pm. This meant that shortly after nightfall there was a LOT of traffic, as everybody tried to get home after dinner. We did the same stretch of road multiple times and every time we got to see new roadkilled snakes. After 09:00 pm the traffic got less, and we also found out why. Police stopped us and told us to return to our hotel immediately.... Naturally, after having seen seven individuals of our most desired snake species here freshly killed on the road, we weren't going to give up. So we drove on until we met the police again, and then decided to call it a night to not run into real trouble. The second and third night we roadcruisrd until the curfew and then drove into a quiet backroad to search on by foot. While we did find some snakes on the road, we still didn't see any (alive) vipers. But searching on foot was a pretty good decision, as we turned up more species this way. On the last night Jasper turned up a young but pretty Dry Forest Hognosed Pitviper (Porthidium ophryomegas). Finally a living one!
One of the biggest highlights of the entire trip was our boat ride on the Pacific. We arrived a little late on the beach and I was keen on getting a boat to look for a very special snake. I saw two guys pushing their boat into the water, but no other people with boats within reach. So I quickly approached them, told them what we wanted, and with one phonecall they arranged someone with more knowledge on the snakes. It all went very smoothly, and before we knew it we were scanning the surface of the (luckily!) calm waters from a small vessel bound for open water. After about an hour or so we got a little nervous, but our captain told us to relax. He was confident we would see our desired snake and not 5 minutes later we saw a Yellow-bellied Seasnake (Hydrophis platurus) floating in ambush at the surface of the water. Absolutely amazing to see this gorgeous species in the wild!
29th until the 31st of July 2021
In the highlands of Monteverde, dry, windy and cold nights didn't provide the best conditions for herping. But as always, we put in some extra effort and still saw the species we wanted to see! And we even got reinforcements. Jelmer and Wouter only just arrived and could immediately hop in our car (six adults in a regular car isn't ideal) to join us in the forest. That night we did make the mistake to join a commercial guided night tour. We thought it would be just the guide and us searching a pristine forest at night; Little did we know there would be dozens of other groups in the same forest patch. A bizarre experience which I can not recommend to any herper. To see your first lateralis hanging in a tree surrounded by 25 other people while you are not able to make pictures.... Horrifying! I told our guide this is not the experience we want. We want to see less sweaty tourist wearing flipflops who can barely stand on their feet, let alone hike up a hill, and more amphibians and reptiles. Luckily he understood our wishes and brought us to a remote trail where the regular groups don't go. Here we could do our own thing and herp in a more relaxed way. This soon paid off, as I spotted one of our main taxa here: a Ring-tailed Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa robusta) next to a pile of wood (or did I find it under the wood? I don't remember). That lifted our spirits and afterwards we searched on our own in a different part of the forest. The wind got even more, but luckily Laura spotted a juvenile Side-striped Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis), which was almost being blown off his perch. Pushing our luck, we even tried to search inside the national park, but the police showed up in force not long after. After realizing we were just some loco tourists looking for frogs, they apologized for interrupting us, and were remarkably friendly. We decided to call it a night in any case. On the second night, the conditions deteriorated even further and we didn't get to see any glass frogs or brook tree frogs sadly.
31st of July 2021
When driving from Monteverde to the far south, a stop at the Rio Tárcoles is a must. We saw multiple huge American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) swimming and basking below the bridge. The nearby Carara NP also offered us a very welcome place to stretch our legs. Well, maybe a bit more than that - the suffocating heat and sultry air made us sweat out the best part of our electrolyte reserves, which some of us would notice the next day in form of severe muscle cramps during the big hike...Apart from some of the more common species, we didn't see much here although we would have liked to find some worm salamanders.
31st of July until the 3rd of August 2021
While Monteverde provided us with ample observations of other tourists in Costa Rica, our time in La Amistad was the complete opposite. Tucked away in a remote corner of the country, this vast nature reserve is very little explored and receives few visitors. Our first night was spent at the basecamp of AsoProLa (the Aossociation for the Protection of La Amistad) in Biolley, where we could rearrange our bags for the big hike the day after, meet with our guide Scoth, and search a bit in the nearby forest. Wouter spotted the tiniest Wood-colored Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa lignicolor) and a nice Emerald Glass Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon), while Jelmer had his focus on snakes and turned up a second Halloween Snake and a Banded Coffee Snake (Ninia maculata).
We rose early and after a short drive to the Estación Biológica Altamira we left the car and ventured into the wilderness. The hike towards the Valle del Silencio goes steep up for the majority of the 14 kilometers, and it wasn´t for long until we started to notice the decrease in oxygen levels. Muscles cramped, bodies fatigued, but we pushed on. A small flock of Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) gave us renewed energy and we trotted on towards the camp. We passed the continental divide at 2550m absl and after the final few kilometers through dense bush and muddy trails with the occasional Tapir turd and Puma scratch mark we arrived at the cabin. A basic wooden structure with bunk beds and a kitchen to prepare some food. Perfect! The air was cool and humid and we were right in the middle of some of the most amazing cloud forest I have ever seen. The trees here tower high above the surroundings and are carpeted with moss, orchids and bromeliads. The clumps of moss dangling mid air from lianas are full of epiphytic plants, making for the most 3D terrestrial landscape one can imagine. Probably something like a coralreef on land. We rested our bodies, tried to warm up a bit in our sleeping bags and awaited nightfall. When the air filled with the sounds of a smoke detector running out of batteries, Wouter and I couldn't resist to set our first steps in this unique ecosystem, right before dinner. The sounds we were hearing are made by the endemic and range restricted Spot-bellied Dink Frog (Diasporus ventrimaculatus), a beautiful and highly variable little frog that is seemingly everywhere, but not easy to spot. Wouter also found the first Red-spotted Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa compacta) of which he and Sander would find three more after dinner. Beautiful salamanders that were climbing the thick carpet of moss that is covering the branches of every plant here. After a successful day we crawled into our sleeping bags fully clothed in an attempt to not freeze in the drafty cabin.
The next day we felt like we didn't hike enough, crossed the stream and made our way to "El Jardín" over muddy trails, climbing through the dense jungle. "The garden" is located close to the border with Panama and from this raised bog you have otherworldy vistas on the surrounding turbera landscape. On the way there we kept our eyes peeled for some snakes we knew to occur here. Somewhere halfway through the hike I couldn't believe what I was seeing, as a stunning adult Black-speckled Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis nigroviridis) was basking next to the trail just looking at me. At this altitude these animals are largely diurnal and often spotted near open areas in the forest - and as there are so little of those, the trails make for welcome basking spots. The second indiviual was basking even more boldly on the middle of the trail. In my opinion, this species is one of the most beautiful vipers in the world and also one of the three snake species I wanted to see most this trip. The second night was even colder and didn't deliver any more salamanders, but Laura did make a remarkable discovery and found a baby Dark-footed Tree Frog (Isthmohyla pictipes), a rarely seen species that suffered tremendous declines due to chytrid. This species hasn't been seen here in decades so this tiny frog was a very unique find!
The hike down went much smoother and Scoth even stumbled upon a Montane Pitviper (Cerrophidion sasai) which we could all admire due to swift action by Jelmer. Shortly after, it did start to bucket down again. Under the sound of rolling thunder we slithered and slipped our way down the mountain, arriving drenched once more but very pleased with all we had seen.
3rd until the 6th of August 2021
After spending two nights in a cold, damp and drafty cabin, the Cabañas Bambú were a delight and we all enjoyed a warm shower (or ten). After a very tasty pizza in town (what else can you eat in a town founded by Italian immigrants?) we moved into the nearby forest. Surprisingly dry conditions didn't really give us a frog spectacle, but once we got closer to a stream we found two species of Imantodes and indeed some frogs. Then I spotted a pale shape hanging rather high in a tree, deep in the forest and once more I couldn't believe my eyes at first: A Blotched Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis supraciliaris) was clinging to a tree trunk and one of our main targets for this area was in. Such a beautiul snake with a vague minty colouration!
The next day we tried our luck with an amphibian that only occurs in two small populations in Costa Rica after having suffered massive declines caused by chytrid. We had special permission to enter the private land where Atelopus occurs, but we didn't find the exact spot and the pouring rain also didn't help. The day after we could try it again. This time we did find the exact place, but again our luck seemed to have run out. Despite extensive searches we didn't find a single Atelopus. Very unwillingly, we gave up and decided to spend the remainder of the day at the Las Tablas area. But also here we didn't have much luck. During our first attempt to reach it, the waterlevels of a stream crossing the road were too high. During the second attempt the waterlevels had dropped enough to make a go for it, and we did make it quite a bit further. At one point the road suddenly got very steep and muddy though, and before we knew it our car was stuck after sliding into one especially deep track groove. In an excellent team and driving effort, we managed to navigate Laura out of this mess again, backwards and bit by bit - but decided to play it safe from here on and walk the last kilometer or so. Our efforts to reach this place did not get profusely rewarded though, and we only found some of the more common snake species of the area, not the much desired salamanders that occur here. Too little time in a too vast area, and definitely a place to return to with more time on our hands...
During our last morning in the area we visited the Las Cruces Research Station. I followed my instincts and searched along one of the streams that flow through the forest. A Water Anole (Anolis aquaticus) escaped and I didn't want to destroy the entire streambed to retrieve it, but a Water Tegu (Centrosaura apodema) proved a much more willing photo subject. I am in love with all these highly variable Gymnophtalmidae and I also would have loved to see the closely related Anadia that is known to occur here. Definitely another place to revisit!
6th until the 10th of August 2021
Over 50 species of salamander are known to occur in Costa Rica, but there is one salamander that stands out above all others. A splendid jewel of the forest, the Splendid Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa splendida). This species was discovered in 2007 and formally described in 2012, based on a single individual. Since then, very little people have searched to find another individual, and there have been no other observations. It was without question that we would try to reach its known habitat and hopefully see a second individual. Going on a camping trek in one of the wettest places on earth in the rainy season - what could go wrong?! It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Our journey started in the city of Ujarrás, where we stayed with Marvin and his family, the most hospitable hosts one could wish for. Here we could arrange all the logistics such a buying food, arranging tents and tarps and all other things we needed for our trek into the forest. Here we enjoyed an excellent warm meal and a good nights rest before the alarm would wake us at 04:00 in the morning. In darkness we hiked towards the foothills of the Central Talamanca Mountains, while we picked up our porters and guides along the way. More and more people joined, and when we started our ascent we were a group of 14. Under the rising sun and on the ever rising hills we made our way up. Deforestation gives way to an endless sea of grass and it took us quite some time before we reached the forest. Still, the path continued up, up, up until we reached the continental divide for the second time this trip. A cold wind started to blow and rain began to fall. The path turned into a vague memory of human encroachment and while our socks started to act as bogs, we crawled through the dense undergrowth, crossed streams and hacked our way through the jungle with a machete and a knife. By early afternoon we arrived at the first camp and prepared our shelter for the night. With rain still falling like it only can in a rainforest, we first put up the tarps to get all the gear out of the rain before putting up the tents. Inevitably, a lot of our stuff still got wet, but luckily we all had some dry clothes and a (moderately) dry sleeping bag left. After resting our feet and preparing a simple meal over the gas cooker we went into the forest to explore. It was eerily quiet and we all started to fear the worst. Would we have undergone all this effort for nothing?
In the morning there was a bit of sun, so we cleared a few small trees to create a sunny patch to dry our stuff. That went remarkably quick and increased our moral. We broke up camp and marched on towards the second camp. Again this involved quite some climbing and crawling and we had to hack our way through the dense forest once more. At the end of the hike the Río Lori provided one last obstacle, and after crossing it we set up camp once more, this time under much better circumstances; it didn´t pour out of the skies, we had more space and more experience. Also, now we were as close as can be to the place where our much desired salamander had been discovered 14 years earlier. We rested a bit, again cooked up some delicious food over the gas cooker and set out as soon as it became dark. While Wouter and Laura crossed the Río Lori again to search as close to the original spot as possible, Jelmer, Sander and I stayed at the northern bank to search suitable habitat there. During the day our senior guide Tomas (aka Opa) and Jelmer had already cleared a stretch of forest trail along the shore of the Río Lori and this came in pretty handy. We first found several Talamanca Cloud Forest Anoles (Anolis cf. alocomyos), Leaf-breeding Rain Frogs (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus) and a Enigmatic Litter Frog (Craugastor aenigmaticus) before I spotted a salamander. In its own right, Brame's Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa cf. bramei) is an interesting find, but not what we came for. It did give us hope to already see several herps in such a short amount of time, amongst them even a species of salamander. Jelmer and I searched to the end of the trail until it stopped and the vegetation became too dense again. We started to walk the same way back again, when I spotted a red shape sitting on a leaf. Something that certainly wasn't there when we passed earlier, but which made us very VERY happy. The second individual of Splendid Webfoot Salamander ever recorded was sitting right in front of us! Much like the first specimen, our individual was found around 08:00 pm, sitting on a heliconia leaf, a little more than one meter off the ground, and was also lacking an intact tail. But what a beauty it was! When the other team came back from across the river and we told them of our discovery, tears were shed and we all felt our hardships were being rewarded.
The hike back to the civilized world proved to be tough. We first had to hike back to the first camp and then all the way down again. Over 2000 meters in height and with a length of around 17 kilometers this was a tough one. Surviving on the last remaining Oreo's and M&M's we kept on going and felt incredibly lucky that today proved to be a rare day without rain. While we left shortly after sunrise, we arrived back at the paved road with darkness falling. Our backs were sore, my calves didn't have any hair anymore thanks to the rubber boots (in fact some skin was scraped of), the horse flies left their marks in our skin, we were dirty, tired and sweaty but oh man, were we a happy bunch of herpers coming down that mountain!
10th until the 12th of August 2021
Some warm meals and a good night´s rest and we were good to go again. We drove up to the mountains with the ominous name 'Cerro de la Muerte' and had our first stop at 3400m absl. It wasn't for long until the first salamanders and lizards showed up, and we found some very pretty Red-legged Webfoot Salamanders (Bolitoglossa pesrubra) and Highland Alligator Lizards (Mesaspis monticola). We stayed at the Paraiso Quetzal, a nice place to explore the surrounding area. After dinner we went into the forest and it wasn´t for long until we found more salamanders, such as several Tico Web-footed Salamanders (Bolitoglossa tica) crawling through the moss and a single Yellow-dotted Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa sooyorum) sitting in a bromeliad. Despite the low temperatures, Picado's Bromeliad Tree Frogs (Isthmohyla picadoi) were calling all around us, but despite intensive searching (including some powerline wrestling) we couldn't track down a single one. Elusive bastards.
The next day we tried to find the final Costa Rican species of Bothriechis (nubestris) that is known to occur here, but we weren't lucky. It was only dry for half an hour before it started raining and continued throughout the day. Also that night it cooled off considerably, so the rain didn't bring out any more amphibians apart from a single salamander. Our final morning was sunny again, so we all decided to give that viper one last try. Before breakfast we hiked several trails, but didn´t have any luck. I decided to skip breakfast to spend some more time in the forest, but also to no avail.
12th of August 2021
The traffic to San Jose was awful as usual, but in the afternoon we eventually arrived at our hotel. Rain was falling hard, so no garden iguanas for us, but we all enjoyed a warm shower for the first time in 6 days. After dinner there was only one thing left to do. See our last Costa Rican frogs before the long journey home. The Golden-eyed Leaf Frogs were really going at it tonight and we saw fresh eggs, several couples in amplexus and many calling males. And with that, the circle was round again. Our first species of the trip was also the last. What a trip it had been and it exceeded all our expectations!
I can't believe I waited so long with visiting this beautiful country. From friends who have been before, we knew it would be one of the coolest countries to go herping. The biodiversity is through the roof, and many locations are easy to access. Despite these monumental expectations it lived up to its reputation. Even on quiet herping days you still turn up a few species. When you put in a little bit of extra effort and push a little harder you are sure to be rewarded. Never on a trip to the tropics could I tick off so many target species. There are great places to stay throughout the country and the staff is used to visitors keen on seeing certain species. People in general are super friendly and always eager to help. Food is great and we didn't go hungry for a single day. And even apart from all the more touristic places we visited, there are so many places left to explore, as there simply is a lot of forest still standing in this country (in contrast to many other countries in Central America). We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the Talamanca Mountains. Searching for species that are not often seen and walking in such remote forests was a very special experience. This simply was one of the best herping trips so far and I am already looking forward to my next visit!
Also make sure to check out Laura's Flickr albums!
Purple Caecilian (Gymnopis multiplicata)
Brame's Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa cf. bramei)
Ridge-headed Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa colonnea)
Red-spotted Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa compacta)
Wood-colored Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa lignicolor)
Red-legged Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa pesrubra)
Ring-tailed Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa robusta)
Yellow-dotted Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa sooyorum)
Splendid Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa splendida)
Striated Webfoot Salamander (Bolitoglossa striatula)
Tico Web-footed Salamander (Bolitoglossa tica)
Common Worm Salamander (Oedipina uniformis)
Pacific Forest Toad (Incilius aucoinae)
Dry Forest Toad (Incilius coccifer)
Green Climbing Toad (Incilius coniferus)
Smooth-skinned Toad (Rhaebo haematiticus)
Western Cane Toad (Rhinella horribilis)
Granular Glass Frog (Cochranella granulosa)
Emerald Glass Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon)
Diane's Bare-hearted Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium dianae) sound only
Green-striped Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium talamancae)
Reticulated Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium valerioi)
Cascade Glass Frog (Sachatamia albomaculata)
Ghost Glass Frog (Sachatamia ilex)
Dwarf Glass Frog (Teratohyla spinosa)
Enigmatic Litter Frog (Craugastor aenigmaticus)
Bransford's Litter Frog (Craugastor bransfordii)
Slim-fingered Rain Frog (Craugastor crassidigitus)
Common Rain Frog (Craugastor fitzingeri)
Red-eyed Masked Litter Frog (Craugastor gollmeri)
Atlantic Broad-headed Litter Frog (Craugastor megacephalus)
Masked Litter Frog (Craugastor mimus)
Noble's Masked Litter Frog (Craugastor noblei)
Highland Litter Frog (Craugastor podiciferus)
Coastal Plain Litter Frog (Craugastor polyptychus)
Pacific Litter Frog (Craugastor stejnegerianus)
White-lipped Rain Frog (Craugastor talamancae)
Underwood's Litter Frog (Craugastor underwoodi)
Striped Rocket Frog (Allobates talamancae)
Green-and-Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus)
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio)
Striped Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobates lugubris)
Common Dink Frog (Diasporus diastema)
Spot-bellied Dink Frog (Diasporus ventrimaculatus)
Golden-eyed Leaf Frog (Agalychnis annae)
Red-eyed Leaf Frog (Agalychnis callidryas)
Blue-sided Gliding Leaf Frog (Agalychnis saltator)
Orange-sided Gliding Leaf Frog (Agalychnis spurrelli)
Red-webbed Tree Frog (Boana rufitela)
Splendid Leaf Frog (Cruziohyla sylviae)
Hourglass Tree Frog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus)
Small-headed Tree Frog (Dendropsophus microcephalus)
Veined Tree Frog (Dendropsophus phlebodes)
Rufous-eyed Brook Tree Frog (Duellmanohyla rufioculis)
Shaman Fringe-limbed Trede Frog (Ecnomiohyla sukia)
Picado's Bromeliad Tree Frog (Isthmohyla picadoi) sound only
Dark-footed Tree Frog (Isthmohyla pictipes)
Meadow Tree Frog (Isthmohyla pseudopuma)
Boulenger's Long-snouted Tree Frog (Scinax boulengeri)
Olive Long-snouted Tree Frog (Scinax elaeochroa)
Mexican Tree Frog (Smilisca baudinii) sound only
Masked Tree Frog (Smilisca phaeota)
Drab Streamside Tree Frog (Smilisca sordida)
Swamp Tree Frog (Tlacohyla loquax)
Milk Frog (Trachycephalus typhonius)
Crowned Tree Frog (Triprion spinosus)
Túngara Frog (Engystomops pustulosus)
White-lipped Foam-nest Frog (Leptodactylus fragilis)
Brown Foam-nest Frog (Leptodactylus poecilochilus)
Smoky Jungle Frog (Leptodactylus savagei)
Montane Leopard Frog (Lithobates taylori)
Vaillant's Frog (Lithobates vaillanti)
Brilliant Forest Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii)
Leaf-breeding Rain Frog (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus)
Clay-coloured Rain Frog (Pristimantis cerasinus)
Golden-spotted Rain Frog (Pristimantis cruentus)
Pygmy Rain Frog (Pristimantis ridens)
American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
South American Snapping Turtle (Chelydra acutirostris)
Black Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys funerea)
Ornate Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima)
White-lipped Mud Turtle (Kinosternon leucostomum)
Highland Alligator Lizard (Mesaspis monticola)
Orange-bellied Galliwasp (Diploglossus monotropis)
Common House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)
Turnip-tail Gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda)
Yellow-headed Gecko (Gonatodes albogularis)
Leaf-litter Gecko (Lepidoblepharis xanthostigma)
Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons)
Striped Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus)
Helmeted Iguana (Corytophanes cristatus)
Talamanca Cloud Forest Anole (Anolis cf. alocomyos)
Water Anole (Anolis aquaticus)
Green Tree Anole (Anolis biporcatus)
Pug-nosed Anole (Anolis capito)
Green Giant Canopy Anole (Anolis frenatus)
Ground Anole (Anolis humilis)
Slender Anole (Anolis limifrons)
Stream Anole (Anolis oxylophus)
Thick Anole (Anolis pachypus)
Golfo Dulce Anole (Anolis polylepis)
Cuban Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)
Costa Rican Cloudforest Anole (Anolis tropidolepis)
Black Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura similis)
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
Green Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus malachiticus)
Rose-bellied Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus variabilis)
Guanacaste Skink (Marisora brachypoda)
Brown Forest Skink (Scincella cherriei)
Water Tegu (Centrosaura apodema)
Deppe's Racerunner (Aspidoscelis deppii)
Central American Whiptail (Holcosus festivus)
Delicate Whiptail (Holcosus leptophrys)
Rainbow Whiptail (Holcosus undulatus)
Yellow-spotted Tropical Night Lizard (Lepidophyma flavimaculatum)
Annulated Tree Boa (Corallus annulatus)
Burrowing Python (Loxocemus bicolor)
Speckled Racer (Drymobius margaritiferus)
Satiny Parrot Snake (Leptophis depressirostris)
Salmon-bellied Racer (Mastigodryas melanolomus)
Short-nosed Vine Snake (Oxybelis brevirostris)
Bird-eating Snake (Phrynonax poecilonotus)
Northern Scorpion-eater (Stenorrhina freminvillii)
Striped Crowned Snake (Tantilla reticulata)
Central American Lyre Snake (Trimorphodon quadruplex)
Striped Spotbelly (Coniophanes piceivittis) DOR
Black-faced Thirst Snake (Dipsas tenuissima)
White-headed Snake (Enuliophis sclateri)
Pacific Long-tailed Snake (Enulius flavitorques)
Common Earth Snake (Geophis hoffmanni)
Ruthven's Earth Snake (Geophis ruthveni)
Talamanca Earth Snake (Geophis talamancae)
Common Blunt-headed Vine Snake (Imantodes cenchoa)
Yellow Blunt-headed Vine Snake (Imantodes inornatus)
Ornate Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira ornata)
Common Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira rhombifera)
Banded Coffee Snake (Ninia maculata)
Checkered Coffee Snake (Ninia psephota)
Red Coffee Snake (Ninia sebae)
Halloween Snake (Oxyrhopus petola)
Mottled Snail-eater (Sibon longifrenis)
Red-bellied Pygmy Snake (Trimetopon slevini)
Allen's Coralsnake (Micrurus alleni)
Costa Rican Coralsnake (Micrurus mosquitensis)
Central American Coralsnake (Micrurus nigrocinctus)
Yellow-bellied Seasnake (Hydrophis platurus)
Side-striped Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis)
Black-speckled Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis nigroviridis)
Eyelash Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis schlegelii)
Blotched Palm Pitviper (Bothriechis supraciliaris)
Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper)
Montane Pitviper (Cerrophidion sasai)
Central American Bushmaster (Lachesis stenophrys)
Dry Forest Hognosed Pitviper (Porthidium ophryomegas)
Many thanks to Cesar Barrio Amorós, Eduardo Boza-Oviedo, Sylvere Corre, Tobias Eisenberg, Twan Leenders, Eberhard Meyer, Ananth Miller-Murthy, Bryan Minne, Nate Nazdrowicz, Joachim Nerz, Laura Ruysseveldt, Jeroen Speybroeck and Gert Jan Verspui for providing valuable intel. And of course a huge thanks to all the new friends we made on our trip!