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Camera Trap

Camera Trap

A Fun New Way of Monitoring Wildlife

by Jack Ewing

“Oh my God”, I blurted out to no one in particular. “Absolutely incredible”. A full grown puma was walking straight toward me on the computer screen. The two receptionists who were in office and heard my exclamation hurried over to see what I was so excited about.  I restarted the 15-second video so everyone could see. An adult puma came walking straight at the camera, its eyes glowing from the infrared illumination. It looked like it was stalking the camera. At the last moment the large carnivore veered to the right and walked out of the field of view. It was a very exciting day. The presence of large carnivores in the Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge was a clear indication of a healthy ecosystem. Since that first video in December of 2012 we have captured 87 more of pumas at four different locations within the refuge.

Hacienda Baru

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Twice-in-a-Lifetime Experiences

13571260-Cayman-Caiman-crocodilus-fuscus-with-butterfly-feeding-in-its-mouth-Cano-Negro-reserve-Alajuela-Cost-Stock-Photo

Caiman

The Best Job Ever

By Jack Ewing

“The biggest caiman in the swamp always takes possession of the pool that surrounds the area where the cattle egrets nest,” I told the guests. “Whenever a clumsy egret chick falls in the water he grabs it.”

We had been observing a nesting site with hundreds of cattle egrets. It was nesting season and the small island of woody shrubs was full of egrets. It was located in a large open pool in a mangrove estuary. The egrets loved it because predators like raccoons, and coatis wouldn’t cross the water to get to the nests. I assumed they were afraid of the caimans.

Hacienda Baru

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Battling with the Africanized Bees

My struggle with what has been called the most successful biologically invasive species ever to plague the western hemisphere.

By Jack Ewing

beeHacienda Barú Lodge has been in operation since 1990, and I thought that I had experienced all of the problems that could possibly confront a hotel manager. That was until one warm March evening in 2012 when a swarm of africanized bees invaded one of our guest rooms. The guests had returned to their room about 6:30 pm and found it full of bees. The first hotel employee they encountered was the guard who they told about the problem. He went to see for himself and called the office on his radio.

“There are a lot of bees in #24” he told me.

“How many is a lot?” I asked, “10, 20, 50?”

“Oh no, lots more; I mean that there are 1000’s of bees in #24.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said, and headed out the door.

Hacienda Baru

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Wild Animals are Smarter than We Think

A Glimpse of Intelligence and Adaptability in Tropical Nature

by Jack Ewing

Great Tinamou

Great Tinamou

The Jungle Chicken

The great tinamou, called gallina de monte or jungle chicken in Spanish, looks like a grouse. With great effort it can fly, but not far or high. When you are walking through the jungle and a horrible ruckus that scares you out of your wits erupts from the base of nearby tree, it is almost certainly a tinamou. The interesting thing about these chicken-sized, gray colored birds is that they don’t always startle easily. At Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge we discovered years ago that we can use them as a barometer to indicate the prevalence of poachers in the reserve. When lots of illegal hunting is going on the tinamous are very skittish and will take to flight at the slightest provocation. Although the poachers are usually after paca or peccary they will kill the great tinamou as well. On the other hand, after several months without being shot at, they become very tame. I have seen them walking along no more than three of four meters away from people who are hiking through the jungle. What amazes me about this is that the change in their behavior takes place within a short period of time. They apparently learn quickly when people are a threat to them and when not.

Hacienda Baru

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Quest for the Silky Anteater

Silky anteaterThe Golden Tennis Ball

By 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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Exploring the Rainforest Canopy

Santo Domingo Andrivel

Santo Domingo andrivel

By Jack Ewing

Everyone I know who has ever crossed a river on one of those old cable cars has gotten their fingers pinched at least once. Years ago this was the only way to cross some of the major rivers in rural Costa Rica. There was one over the Guabo river at Barú before the bridge was built in the early 60s, and I have ridden in the one that used to span the Savegre River at Santo Domingo. Up until about 2010 a cable was stretched across the river there with a platform hanging from it on a couple of pulleys. In Costa Rica this type of cable crossing is called an “andarivel”. Everybody knew that the carrying capacity of the one at Santo Domingo was two passengers, but people often overloaded it anyway. In order to make the platform move along the cable it was necessary for the passenger to pull on the cable. Since the only place to pull was between the two pulleys people often got their fingers caught in the second pulley. I can testify to this from personal experience. The andarivel at Santo Domingo was replaced with a suspension bridge about five years ago. There is still a functioning andarivel on the Savegre river between Silencio and Santo Domingo. I jokingly say that the andarivels were Costa Rica’s first zip lines.
Hacienda Baru

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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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