Postcard #4 from Costa Rica: What were you doing last night?

Banana frogs have a unique feature—this genus has 30 chromosomes
Banana frogs have a unique feature—this genus has 30 chromosomes

Phil’s night walk is a ritual at Bosque del Cabo—who would want to miss seeing the infinitesimal creatures, even a dozen of the nocturnal habitants, that range around the main lodge?—but its 5:45 start coincides with happy hour. Just do it. Shining a light on the understory of the rainforest, his night walk is an elixir more potent than any cocktail.

Guiding at the lodge since April 2001 (after familiarizing himself with the area over the previous decade) Philip Davison is its resident biologist plus a research fellow for Friends of the Osa.

“I’m a Yorkie,” he told us earlier that day, explaining his British accent and showing us a photo taken in Norway where he worked after graduating, in 1979, with a BSc in Zoology/Geology from the University of Portsmouth. “Would you recognize me?” he asked.

(Those snake-gators you saw us wearing in photos from previous blogs were mandatory here, Phil cautioning the dozen or so of us to walk single-file, no dawdling, especially near the swimming pool.)

Having never been on a guided night walk, Magellan and I ditched our headlamps for the pen-like nightlights the lodge provides and paid attention to Phil’s directions: hold it on the right side of your head at eye level and scan the light into the rainforest, walking slowly, quietly. Nocturnal animals have tapetum lucidum, a retroreflector in their eyes that enables them to see in the dark, and when you shine your penlight on their pupils, an iridescent glow is reflected, the colour depending on the specific creature.

No easy task is it to have your nightlight reveal a frog on the forest floor, never mind an insect on the underside of a long leaf like Phil does, confirming why it’s essential, especially on night walks, to be led by a local guide. Otherwise, you are, literally, in the dark.

Many of these little creatures don’t wander far. If, like Phil, you live in the area, you know their address, their dining-out habits, their newest hangout.

Professorial, Phil brings to his night walks a Wikipedian knowledge of tropical ecology, adding layer upon layer of information about each critter he finds: its kingdom, phylum, class, genus, species, appearance, behaviour, reproduction, distribution, plus a story or two about its Osian life. Educational blanketing while you wait your turn, patiently (well, you start out that way) to zero your camera in on, say, a Dendropsophus ebraccatus (Phil’s words), a banana frog (my D-student take-away). Anthropomorphizing, I imagined the cat-eyed snake (sorry Phil, the Leptodeira septentrionalis), nodding her? (she seemed longer) approval of his description of her culinary habit of swallowing a whole red-eyed tree frog, alive.

After exploring nocturnal life in the quiet reverberation of the rainforest, we saw why this is truly happy hour—the beginning, for us, of what we did on many a night in Costa Rica.


To see more of what Phil is up to in the wildlife capital of Costa Rica have a look at his Twitter and his blog.

For more info on the tours we took, go to Backcountry Journeys.

Baker, Christopher P.  MOON Costa Rica. Berkeley: Avalon Travel, 2015. Our favourite guide to this wonderful country.

Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge—where the rainforest meets the ocean , where Phil is the resident biologist, has a comprehensive website that details everything you’d want to know about staying here, which we highly recommend.


4 Responses

  1. Love that Banana frog, my color blindness probably gives a different hue but I will take all I can get, very, very beautiful.
    Frogs/toads are probably at least a month away here, ( still snow and more coming) but we have a pond down by the river that is a honest chorus of amphibians once the melt happens, natures own concert and a joy to listen too. Not sure on how many varieties we have but they are in our yard all summer and into the fall, they just appear under any leaf or blade of grass. We have leopard frogs for sure as well. The numbers are great and that is a good thing as a strong population speaks well for our overall natural health. Remember from my youth the many toads down on the river, strangely many appeared to never get bigger than a thumb nail, tiny but just a pleasure to watch. I believe they eat a tremendous amount of insects so again a friend of ours.
    Self isolation continues to be our lifestyle, unlike others this is not uncommon, nor is it a bother, we have yet to catch a cold or any virus from our animal friends, may it stay that way, always.
    Stay safe out there.
    May this virus spare our family and friends, all.

    1. Between 1998-2000 we’d hear frogs in the pond in Vanier Park every night from our bedroom window. Since then, silence. Enjoy the abundance of life funnelled through nature in your corner of the Torch.

  2. Another exciting tour..Thanks..Happy hour has brought on a whole new meaning for us, Face time, whatsapp,etc. Continuing to “get together” with friends…A reason to get dressed in real clothes..Be safe, wash your hands..

    1. You are so right! Had “Happy Hour” with George & Marsha last Thursday and having “dinner” with Lynn and Ward tonight. As per the MacLeod motto, HOLD FAST.

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