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Bird Watching Fever. Ecotourism at its Best.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw

The Dance of the Red-capped Manakin

By Jack Ewing

For the uninitiated, a bird watcher’s enthusiasm for hearing, sighting and studying our feathered friends, is hard to fathom. Why would anyone rise with the sun, walk for hours while toting binoculars, spotting scope, tripod, field guide, check list and notebook just to observe something so mundane as a bird? We all see birds every day, so what’s the big deal? Hard-core bird watchers have even been the brunt of jokes and cartoons. One of my favorites is a Gary Larson Far Side Cartoon with a view through a pair of binoculars, showing a large nasty looking bird sitting in an equally large nest, staring evilly at the observer — the person looking through the binoculars. Dangling from the edge of the nest are several pairs of binoculars, a birder’s hat and a tote bag with a Field Guide to the Birds of America. No caption was necessary.

Hacienda Baru

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Hunting and Poaching

Paca

Paca

By Jack Ewing

At about 8 years of age I started going with my dad on Sunday mornings to his skeet club in Greeley, Colorado. I was too young to handle a gun, but loved watching him and his friends blow flying clay discs called “clay  pigeons” out of the air with their shotguns. Even though I wasn’t shooting, my dad hammered firearm safety into my head on those Sunday morning outings.

Hacienda Baru

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MORE ABOUT SNAKEBITE

By Jack Ewing

In the August issue of Quepolandia I published an article entitled, If You Are Unfortunate Enough to get Bitten by a Snake, Do it in Costa Rica. If you didn’t see it the article is available online at www.quepolandia.com/category/jack-ewing/.So much new information has come to my attention since those words were written that I decided to elaborate on the same theme this month.

Terciopelo head

Terciopelo head

The August issue of Quepolandia arrived at Hacienda Baru the same day that my friend and neighbor Randy Burns was bitten by a Terciopelo (Bothrops asper), Sunday, August 2, 2015. He was awakened at 4:00 AM when his dogs started barking. Concerned about what may have triggered the barking Randy got up and walked barefoot onto the front porch of the house. No sooner did he set foot on the porch when he felt a sting on his left ankle and thought he had been bitten by a scorpion. Returning to his bedroom, he illuminated his ankle with a flashlight and saw blood. Thinking it strange that a scorpion sting would draw blood he returned to the porch with the flashlight and a stick and shined the beam around the floor. There was the Terciopelo coiled up in a corner. He tried to hit it with the stick, but the snake managed to escape out into the yard. “Marie, Marie,” he called to his wife. “Hurry! We need to go to the hospital. I’ve been bitten by a snake.”

Hacienda Baru

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Hocus and Pocus – Strange, Creeper Cats

jaguarundiBy Jack Ewing

When I first laid eyes on the two black kittens a quote from a Robert Heinlein novel popped into my mind,. It has been so many years ago since I read it that I can’t even remember which one is was, but I remember the quote. In referring to a complex subject Heinlein said that making sense of it was “… like searching in a dark cellar at midnight on a moonless night for a black cat that isn’t there.” These two kittens were that black without a hint of any other color. Even their eyes were black. In addition to their extreme blackness there was always an air of mysteriousness about them. They didn’t walk like ordinary cats, rather they walked all crouched down, more of a creep than a walk, like they were constantly stalking something. They never made any noises other than purring; they never clawed the furniture; they were never underfoot and never got into trouble of any kind. There was always something strange about them. We named them Hocus and Pocus.
Hacienda Baru

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If You’re Unfortunate Enough to get Bitten by a Snake, do it in Costa Rica

Tercieopelo

Tercieopelo

By Jack Ewing

“…and our dog Maggie has been bitten on the muzzle by a rattlesnake,” read the afterthought at the end of the email from my brother Rex.

Knowing that the only poisonous snakes in that part of Colorado are prairie rattlers, I figured that Maggie would survive. These small pit vipers are not nearly as dangerous as some of the other species, but can still kill. I wrote Rex to inquire about the bite. In the correspondence that ensued it came to light that Maggie had been vaccinated against rattlesnake bite, the vaccine cost about $25, and apparently gave her a partial immunity. Other than severe swelling in her face for about 24 hours, Maggie recovered just fine. It wasn’t necessary to take her to a veterinarian. Apparently there is no vaccine for people.
Hacienda Baru

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White-tails and Brockets

White-tailed Deer — Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed Deer — Odocoileus virginianus

By Jack Ewing

Hunters in general and deer hunters in particular are one of the most serious causes of forest fires in Costa Rica, especially in the tropical dry forests of the northern Pacific part of the country. Every year during the dry season forest fires rage in many parts of the country, but the Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste is usually one of the hardest hit. Even though it is illegal to hunt in the park poachers continually pursue the deer there. Since animals have a natural fear of fire, the hunters start a blaze in a place where they think it will scare the deer into running in a particular direction. Their buddies will be waiting, rifles ready, where they think the deer will emerge from the burning forest. The problem is that the fire has a mind of its own, and doesn’t always burn in the direction the hunters want it to go. And, of course, it usually gets out of control and burns vast areas of forest destroying not only the vegetation, but also the wildlife that lives there.Hacienda Baru

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CHEPE – Becoming One with Nature

El TigreFiction by Jack Ewing

At the edge of the trail a single paw print was outlined clearly in a small patch of moist earth. “El Tigre,” uttered Gómez. His burly hand wouldn’t cover the track, even with outstretched fingers.

“I told you before, it isn’t a tigre, it’s a jaguar. If you want to be a Costa Rican Park Ranger, you can’t talk like a country hick.” Ramírez turned away.

Gómez started to answer, thought better and closed his mouth.

“Let’s go. Old Chepe went this way. See the scuff mark from his walking stick.” Ramírez moved out.

At midmorning the two stopped for a breather. Ramírez sat on a fallen log, removed his sweat-soaked head band and wiped his face. Gómez settled his chunky frame onto the forest floor and looked up at his boss.

“Why do you think old Chepe came in here, all crippled up with rheumatism like he is. He gone crazy or something?”

Ramírez pondered momentarily. “No, not crazy, but Chepe hasn’t been right since Doña Marta died last rainy season. His kids are all gone except for Rosa. Maybe he just had a hankering to go back to the jungle. It’s where he lived most of his life.”

“Maybe so boss, but Chepe can’t hardly git around even with his stick. We been following them scuffs marks for goin on two hours. How long did it take him to git this far?”

“That López kid said he saw Chepe walking into the reserve late yesterday. He’s got a big head start, and we’ve rested long enough. Let’s get going.”
Hacienda Baru

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What on Earth is a Chiropterologist

Vampyrum spectrum - False Vampire Bat

Vampyrum spectrum – False Vampire Bat

By Jack Ewing

“Would this be a good place to put the net?” I asked Otto. “You said you wanted an open path through the jungle.” I stepped into the shallow water of the narrow stream. “I can take one end of the net to the other side and hold it while you secure this end. Then you can join me.”

Otto hesitated. “Is there anything in this water that will hurt you,” he asked in heavily accented English.

“There are caimans and crocodiles” I replied, “but with all the noise we’ve been making they’re probably all gone by now.”

“No, no,” he exclaimed, “I mean little animals that live in the water.”

“Not that I know of. We walk through this water all the time and have never had any problems.”

Finally he agreed to string the mist net across the stream, but was extremely careful not to get water inside of his rubber boots. The natural corridor formed by the stream was a good choice. Over the next hour we captured five different species of bats in the net, including one bulldog bat.

Hacienda Baru

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Defending an Old Friend?

Rio Barú

Rio Barú

by Jack Ewing
Back in the 1970s Diane and the kids and I lived in the casona, the old Hacienda Baru home. We didn’t get around to digging a well until the early 1980s, and every year, the free flowing spring that supplied our water would dry up in mid February. To deal with the situation we carried drinking water in 5 gallon plastic containers from another spring two kilometers away and water for washing dishes and flushing toilets in 55 gallon drums. The girl who worked for us went to the Barú River to do laundry, and every afternoon around 4:00 PM everyone went to the river to bathe in the crystal clear water. The village of Dominical was out of water too, so most of the town – about 8 people at that time — met us there, and the afternoon bath became as much a social event as one of personal hygiene.

Hacienda Baru

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El Hinchdor, Fuzzy Fire & a Couple of Other Things That Can Ruin Your Vacation

stinging caterpillarBy Jack Ewing

Every place in the world―from the polar regions to the deep ocean, from the streets of a big city to the tropical rain forest―has its own particular hazards, of which you need to be aware. If you live in the city you learn about the dangers there and how to deal with them. It’s the same when you live in the jungle. When you’re walking around in a rainforest it’s a good idea to watch the path so you don’t step on any snakes; everyone knows that. But there are lots of lesser known dangers, things that you may not have heard about, that can cause you grief. These include everything from chiggers to stingrays. Some are better known than others and some have interesting stories. Here we’re going to have a look a couple of insects and plants that you may not know about but should definitely be careful with.

Hacienda Baru

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We Certainly Didn’t Kill Any Orangutans

Oil Palm workerBy Jack Ewing

Most of our clients at Hacienda Baru Lodge come here by way of the coastal highway which takes them through all of the oil palm plantations beginning in Parrita and extending a total of 40 kilometers all the way to Portalón to the south of Quepos. I often hear comments such as; “Aren’t all of those oil palms horrible. I hear they are really bad for the environment, and somebody told me that palm oil causes all kinds of health problems.” In recent years oil palms and palm oil have gotten a lot of bad press and an extremely bad reputation, some of which is deserved and some of which isn’t.

Hacienda Baru

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GREAT WEATHER FOR BARE-THROATED TIGER HERONS

Bare-throated tiger herons

Bare-throated tiger herons

By Jack Ewing

The Season is Here for Bird Watching Fever

The patter of raindrops lightly pelting the leaves far above our heads was the first warning of a change in weather. It would take a minute or two for the rain to filter down 50 meters, through the layers of canopy to the jungle floor. We covered our binoculars with plastic bags.

“Maybe it’ll pass,” I offered weakly.

“You think so?” queried John, hopefully.

“No, not really, but let’s wait and see. When the rain comes this early in the day, it’s not usually a passing shower. If we go back, we’ll be soaked by the time we get to the house anyway, so we might just as well wait a while and see.”

The first bloated drops burst and spattered on the broad-leafed plants of the understory. The sound above was now a dull drumming. John pulled out a small “Write-in-the-Rain” notebook where he had been noting every bird we sighted. He checked the list.

“We’ve got 27 so far. The Orange-collared Manakin is a new one for me.”

“Not bad. We’ve only been out a couple of hours. With descent weather, we could easily top 50 for the day. With this we’ll be lucky to see any birds at all.” We turned our backs to a light gust of wind and hunched over to keep the water out of our eyes.

“So, what do you think we ought to do?” Asked John.

“Why don’t we go on ahead to the jungle camp,” I suggested. “It’s less than an hour from here and it’ll take longer than that to go back. We can’t get any wetter, and who knows, maybe the rain will stop,”

“Yeah, who knows?” he answered.

Hacienda Baru

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The Return of the Scarlet Macaws

By Jack Ewing

Scarlet macaws“There used to be so many of them that the branches of the trees would sag with their weight,” commented one old timer. “They used to love a big old kapok tree on Hacienda Barú near the road to the beach. It was hollow and some of them nested there.”

“What happened to them?” I asked.

“People shot them. I remember one guy who shot a whole mess of them. He had a 22 rifle and just picked them off one at a time right out of the tree where they roosted.”

“Why did he shoot them?”

“Some people did it for the feathers, but that guy did it just for the fun of seeing them fall. I haven’t seen a guacamayo in these parts since the 1960s. Now that I think back on it, it seems like they disappeared overnight. It wasn’t a gradual thing. One day everybody noticed that there weren’t any more of them. Those that didn’t get shot just left.”
Hacienda Baru

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Quest for the Silky Anteater: The Golden Tennis Ball

Silky AnteaterBy Jack Ewing

Back in the 1980s, the economy in this part of Costa Rica was still driven by rice farming and cattle ranching. Tourism was something we all knew would come later, but nobody had a clear picture of how it would work. In 1986, the government paved the road between San Isidro and Dominical, and the bridge across the Barú River was completed. Work on the Coastal Highway south of Dominical was in progress and proceeding slowly. A few tourists started filtering into the area, and cabins to accommodate them started appearing here and there. It was the very beginning of a new way of life for the rural community. In a few years it would come to replace farming and ranching as the most important economic activity in the area.
Hacienda Baru

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Fat-Handed Cats: The return of the Ocelot

Ocelot

Ocelot

By Jack Ewing

The sleek, spotted cat rested with her chest and thick front paws on the log, her eyes peering over the top, waiting patiently for a spiny rat or some other small rodent to scurry along the other side. She had been there since moon rise, but so far no prey had ventured past. An uneasy feeling enveloped her body like a mist that penetrated to the very core of her being. She waited and watched. A faint sound reached her ears, and she became aware of the source of the unpleasant feeling: dogs, their distant howls drifting on the cool night breeze. The unwelcome wail was not new to her ears; it signified the most fearful thing in her environment. The thought of climbing a tree briefly flickered across her mind, but if the dogs caught her scent and found the tree, she would be trapped, an easy target for the humans that always come with the dogs. The other choice was to put distance between herself and the howling dogs, but the forest wasn’t that big, and she could only run so far. The female ocelot decided to wait and listen.
Hacienda Baru

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