Pat’s Wildways: Wildlife viewing from our seats in Costa Rica

By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
February 10, 2022


Bucko, with his bad leg, relaxes by the beach.

Poor Bucko, with his bad leg, could only watch.Bucko and I were on the second day of our Costa Rica vacation when the whole character of the trip changed for us. We were on a “float safari” along a small river near the town of La Fortuna, billed as a calm nature-watching experience suitable for one and all. Perfect. But getting out of the raft, Bucko slipped on the rocky steps and badly scraped his leg and twisted his ankle. Uh, oh.

For the rest of the vacation Bucko could barely walk, and we bandaged and re-bandaged him, in one place with the help of a hotel paramedic (at no charge to us!) to prevent any infection. For the rest of the trip, anything involving walking, or water immersion (hot springs, pool, ocean) or whatever were mine alone to partake in. Bucko was confined to mostly sitting.

A troop of coatis begs for tidbits along the road in Costa Rica.  It is illegal to feed wildlife here but apparently, these critters did not read the signs.

But Bucko had a great time regardless. On a private car ride from one hotel to another, we stopped to get out and view sloths in the trees, a giant turtle crossing the road and a group of coatis begging for handouts. These coatis are a raccoon-relative, and like their cousins on Amelia Island have become well-adapted to humans. We saw our first coati on a tour of the “hanging bridges” in a pristine rainforest and were quite excited about it until we found out that they are everywhere. But watching a group of them gathered around our feet was still exciting.

At breakfast another day we were fascinated by all the colorful tanagers that swooped into the open air restaurant trying to steal tidbits, as bold as crows and grackles but far prettier for sure. The hotels we stayed at all had well-maintained gardens that attracted many kinds of birds and butterflies that were visible from any chair on the premises. Our hotel in Montverde even had its own trail down to a small stream where I surprised a sun bittern that showed off its brightly colored wings in a classic threat display. Although Bucko didn’t see it, he was happy for me.

Another day I was off on a pre-booked hike through a reserve, and Bucko went along as far as the ranger station, where he could sit and look, while I walked alone with the guide. The guide was a retired professor, with lots to tell me about the wildlife and trees and the effect of global warming there but the only distinctive birds we saw were a pair of owls only visible through his binoculars. Bucko, back on a rock in the sun by the ranger station had the best wildlife sighting of all. An agouti (a large rodent related to guinea pigs) walked right out of the brush and nearly over his feet as he quietly sat there.


Brightly colored tanagers, like this blue-grey tanager, were all around, even in some of the outdoor restaurants.

Probably the best chair-watching experience we both had was from our poolside seats at a resort on the Nicoya Peninsula. In the afternoon the trees above our head rustled with the activities of a large group of capuchin monkeys including some mothers with babies. In the sky overhead pairs of scarlet macaws flew towards their evening roosts in the jungle and brown pelicans just like ours in Fernandina flew in their v-formations off in the distance.

On our last afternoon there we were relaxing in our poolside chairs and were thrilled to see two humpback whales right offshore. These whales migrate from Alaska south to Baja California and Central America during the winter months, and it turned out that we were in the midst of the whale-watching season. It was a perfect end to our vacation.

If you want to go to Costa Rica like we did, I highly recommend Holbrook Travel in Gainesville, Florida. Check them out online to see what they offer. We did a “private custom-tailored” trip. I choose the dates and places we wanted to go and choose some hotels; they filled in the blanks with other hotels, private transportation, some field trips with expert guides and lots of suggestions, which made it perfect for us. AND they were always available by email or phone, 24/7. When our initial flight was cancelled by the airline at 4 AM someone there on the phone got us all sorted out again! I know we will be going back to Costa Rica again soon. Check it out yourself—you won’t be disappointed!

Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island.  She welcomes your nature questions and observations.  [email protected]



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Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 year ago

Thanks for the travelogue! Costa Rica is the safest of the central American countries to visit. They have the highest literacy rate and recognize the importance protecting their natural environment.

Pat Miller
Pat Miller (@guest_63873)
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing Costa Rica is on my bucket list

Janice Clarkson
Janice Clarkson (@guest_63883)
1 year ago

Loved the pictures of your adventure to Costa Rica.