A Walk on the Beach

Hermit Crab

After breakfast Doran and I walked down to the beach. To get there we had to pass by the small group of mango trees, cross an open lawn, and descend a few Palm-shaded stairs before emerging onto the sand. There was a wide swath of sand exposed by the low tide, and a large crust of rocks protruding from the water that reminded me that the geological history of Central America is very different from that of eastern North America. The land bridge connecting North and South America – which includes Costa Rica and Panama – didn’t exist until about three million years ago. Costa Rica was formed when the movement of the western edge of the Caribbean plate forced the Cocos plate beneath what is now the Pacific Ocean to slide beneath it, creating a subduction zone which birthed a number of volcanoes. The relentless grinding of the Caribbean plate over the Cocos plate and the numerous volcanic eruptions over the millennia caused the land mass to grow, resulting in a today’s mountainous west coast with its steep cliffs overlooking rocky tidal lagoons.

Gulf of Papagayo

Out on the rocks, we could see the red-flowering trees near our room while looking back at the shore.

Gulf of Papagayo

I was happy to see the Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring through the air overhead. I first added this species to my life list last year in Mexico where they were common off the coast of Cozumel. I was happy to see that they were equally common here.

Magnificent Frigatebird

We took a walk southward on the beach, and I got another life bird when Doran pointed out a cormorant swimming through the water with only its head and neck exposed. Although it looked a lot like the Double-crested Cormorants in Ottawa, Costa Rica has only one species, the Neotropic Cormorant. A little later we found three of them standing together on the rocks at the southern-most part of the beach. One of them was paler and appeared to be a juvenile.

Neotropic Cormorant

We also saw two Black Vultures on the sand near the base of the cliff. They appeared to be checking out a puddle formed by the water running down the cliff from the previous night’s rain.

Black Vulture

Those were the only bird species we saw on the beach; as I had expected from checking eBird, we were too late to see any shorebirds, and gulls and terns are very uncommon this time of year. Brown Pelicans are still very common, but we didn’t see any on our walk.

We spent some time scrambling over the rocks out in the water, examining the tidal pools for signs of life. We saw several small fish, something that looked like a swimming centipede, and a couple of these sea urchins. The sea urchin is a member of the animal kingdom, and there are nearly 200 different species worldwide. They live on the ocean floors in every region except beneath the polar ice caps, and while some are covered in long thin spikes, others have a hard shell made up of chalky plates. Their circulatory system consists of water-filled channels that run through the body of the sea urchin, and they do not have a brain. The mouth of the sea urchin is located on the underside of the sea urchin’s body and has five tooth-like plates for feeding. It has five pairs of tiny feet located among the spines; the feet are covered in suckers which are used to move around, capture food, and to grip the ocean floor. The only ones we saw were black and spiky, some of which were larger than others.

Sea Urchin

As it was getting hot we moved toward the shade created by the few scattered trees at the base of the cliff. We spotted these two lizards on a branch; it appeared as though each was using the branch to cross to the other side and met in the middle. The next photo I took showed only one of the lizards, so it appeared the other managed to swing around on the side of the branch in order to continue on its way.

Lizards on a limb

One of the trees was dropping fruit onto the ground, and several insects were feeding on the fruit. I’d been seeing these pale butterflies floating by all morning and was thrilled to photograph one sitting still. The upper-side is a nice bright white with a lemon-yellow bar at the top of the forewing; the under-side is pale green with prominent veins. Other butterflies and dragonflies were flying around too, but no others stopped in our vicinity.

White Angled Sulphur

We had to watch where we stepped for the beach was covered in small shells and shell fragments, and we never knew when a tiny shell on the sand would pick itself up and start scuttling away. I was thrilled to see a couple of these tiny Hermit Crabs, though they were quite shy and withdrew into their shell whenever I tried to get close enough for a photo. I was hoping to see some interesting sea shells on the beach, but other than a few small partially-intact fragments, they had all been claimed by the Hermit Crabs.

Hermit Crab

There was a second type of crab living on the beach, one that emerges from a small hole to draw lovely designs in the sand. The wavy lines are created by the crab as it processes the sand looking for organic matter in the detritus left behind by the tide. Although we saw one a few days later creating these lovely shapes while lounging on a beach chair, I never did get a photo of it as we had come down to go swimming, and I didn’t bring my camera as I didn’t want to leave it unattended.

Crab Sand Art

I’ve read complaints online that the beach is disappointing. I thought it was amazing due to variety of wildlife we found – from the little Hermit Crabs to the huge Magnificent Frigatebirds, from the critters living in the tidal pools to the butterflies floating in the air. We enjoyed our walk on the beach, and its beauty just reinforced our view that we had chosen a great play to stay for the week.

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