A Surreal Day in the Rainforest

I have just spent an extraordinary four hours in the rainforest. I often feel euphoric when I am communing with Mother Nature, but today was more than that, it was surreal. When I tried to analyze it, I realized it had the qualities of the idyllic childhood days I spent lazing on the banks of the Elbow River; days that seemed endless and all thoughts were for the moment.
I can’t explain the sense of timelessness I felt and how sharpened all my senses were. Was there some chemical in the perfumed air? Was it the unadulterated oxygen put off by all the green life around me? I’m not going to analyze anymore, I’m simply going to accept it with gratitude.

Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)
Click on photo to enlarge.

Even before entering ‘dreamtime’ I had a better than usual day. The Short-tailed Swifts were back! I had such a hard time ID’ing these guys last season and I had to get help from Birdforum. Today, a small flock of them flew low and very close. They spoke to each other in sweet whispers as they flew by me and rose to fly high overhead. I was thrilled to see them again and wondered if they had taken up residence in the dead palm they lived in last February. I decided I would come back and see them in the evening and headed for the shady road that goes through the forest ‘proper’. (The swifts are in a clearing very close to the marina.) As I turned to connect to the road out, I saw a raptor flying fairly low toward me. It went by and I had a very good look. At first I thought it was a Peregrine because my eyes went straight to a dark hood, but it had a very light underbody, and the wings were broad. As it flew off, I grabbed the camera and took a few shots. I got her back in my binoculars as she turned and came back my way, then she turned away again and rose to join a group of Black Vultures. I later identified it as a Short-tailed Hawk.
Female Slaty-tailed Trogon
At this point, I was really happy that I had decided to get off my behind and go birding. It was 1:30 and it was a bit too hot and still. I was tempted to stay in the air-conditioned comfort of the boat and play bridge or Myst on the computer and start early on icy Cuba Libres.
By the time I got to the shaded road, a breeze had come up and the temperature in the shade was comfortable. The breeze carried a delicate perfume and I was reminded of the big pink lillies that popped up in my Costa Mesa garden in winter. I wondered if it came from the lily-like epiphytes that grow here.
I have terrible eyesight and sometimes I have bad vision days. My eyes can feel dry or puffy or here in the ‘steamy jungle’ my glasses will sometimes fog when I put my binoculars up to them. Today everything seemed to have a sharp edge and was clear and defined.
My sense of smell has always been excellent, but it was so tuned in today it was…cubed. Even on ‘normal’ days, I have smelled the musky or strong scent of mammals in the forest. Monkeys marking their territory?? But today every breath was an inhalation of scent and freshly made oxygen. The earth was damp and I could smell it and the decaying limbs lying on it. I could smell different leaves and barks.
I hadn’t gone far on the road before a sound close by got my attention. I saw the leaves at the top of a vine encased shrub moving and a small three-toed sloth raised its head above the greenery to look at me. He was nearly at eye level which is unusual. I always see them high up in the trees. I think it must have been very young. I took some pictures while I talked to him and moved on so he would not feel threatened.
I turned off the main road to a narrow one that leads to an old American installation. I could hear some Bay Wrens bickering in the underbrush and when I went to see if I could get a peek of them, a heavy dark thing flew up from the forest floor and went further into the forest as it rose to a limb. That was about twenty feet from the wrens and when I got to the spot I followed the movement and was rewarded with a Keel-billed Toucan. It was the best view I’ve had of one. Three or four noisy Black-chested Jays flew back and forth across the road ahead of me, chastising me for being in their forest. I won’t name all the birds I saw or this post will go on forever.
I walked to the locked gates of the complex and turned around to go back to the main road. I happened to look up and see a two-toed sloth stretched out on a high limb of a huge tree. I have seen the three-toed six times, but this is only the second time I’ve seen this type.

Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)
I continued on and when I came to the main road I noticed a small spot on one of the big heart shaped leaves of the understory across the road. I walked to it thinking it might simply be a leaf of lighter color that dropped onto the bigger dark green leaf. As I got closer, I thought, no, it’s a bug. Maybe it’s one of the cicadas (or whatever it is that buzzes here). It was a little green tree frog, one of those kind that is always shown in rainforest ads. After I watched him for a few minutes he opened his eyes wider to show fantastic red eyes with the elongated black irises. Then, like one of those transformer toys the grandkids have, he opened from his closed oval to reveal orange feet and inner legs. He was so beautiful! I have been hearing several different frog calls (mainly in the evening) but have not seen one.

Poor little guy has a foot injury and some growths on his back.
I had been standing in one place too long and the mozzies were after me. I got out my tropical scent spray and covered my lower legs and ankles. I had just zipped the bottle back in the bum-bag and looked up in time to catch a small black cat slink into the forest after it had crossed the road. I researched later and found I had seen a jaguarundi.
I was thinking how strange it was that I noticed that little spot and having seen the cat in broad daylight. As I walk, I’m kind of meditating and I get this weird idea that the forest is revealing things to me. Showing me treasures. I realize that I am feeling almost….what? Hypnotized? After three hours in the forest, I finally acknowledge how dreamlike things are; how strange this day feels. My thoughts are interrupted by a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. An armadillo! It didn’t look like what I’d imagined and I thought there must be different species of armadillo or this one was just recently born. It was so small! It wasn’t much bigger than a guinea pig. He wasn’t sluggish and as he went from spot to spot digging with his snout, his little rubbery ears bounced back and forth. He was adorable! I had been hearing thunder rolling for some time, but it was sunny and I had ignored it. Now, it crashed and loudly rolled close by. I could smell rain hitting the earth (roads?) at some distance. I decided it would be a good time to head home. I hadn’t brought a plastic bag for my camera and binoculars.

Nine Banded Armadillo
A sense of reality returned as the first drops of rain hit and I emerged from the tree lined road to the cleared area of the old military complex.

I went online to find out a bit about the mammals I saw. I think the reason I saw the Three-toed sloth down so low was because it was doing its weekly business. They come down once a week to defecate. While holding on to vegetation, they reach down, dig a hole, go in the hole and bury their dropping.
The jaguarundi is endangered.
There are different species of armadillo, but this one is a Nine Banded. They get to be 20 to 42 inches long from head to tail and weigh 12 to 22 pounds. Reproduction is interesting.


  1. What a great day for you ! Do you suppose that discarded can had attracted ants that, in turn, attracted the armadillo to feed upon them ? Who says that our improperly disposed of trash ALWAYS despoils the natural environment ? ? Luvya - Dad

  2. ..."Who says that our improperly disposed of trash ALWAYS despoils the natural environment ? ?"...
    I DO!!!:);)
    It was ironic that the only half-way decent photo of the armadillo was next to litter; litter that showed the size of armadillo! I almost made a comment under the photo that I didn't haul away the beer can. I have given up, there is far too much litter. I mentioned to Gene last night that I should organize a "Cruiser's Litter Walk" and get a dozen or so sailors to clean up the edges of the road in this gorgeous place. It's not nice to trash mother nature. It was a great day. Living in the Dream!
    Love You Too

  3. The sloths are so interesting and cute! I cant believe you get to see and experience all these things in such an up close and personal way! I love you

  4. Yeah, I was Dreamin'. Do you suppose I breathed in some mushroom spores or something? ;)


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