Palo Verde National Park
Not far to the northeast, only separated from the Barra Honda by the Rio Tempisque, is the famous wild bird preserve of the Palo Verde (Green Stake) National Park. The 17,000-hectare park is renowned for the 300 bird species that make it their nesting ground. The park takes up a large part of the Tempisque Delta, the most arid region of Costa Rica. The water level of the river varies up to four meters and creates 15 distinct habitats in the park, including mangrove swamps, marshes, meadows, forests and limestone formations.
In the dry season (which is totally free of rainfall), from December to March, many forests suffer drought, drop their leaves and survive on the water reserves stored within their cells, until the rainy season brings the steady precipitation that floods the forest floor.
The river and swamps teem with waterfowl, especially from September to March: from spoon-billed herons (approximately 800 of them) to common herons, gray herons, ibises, geese and storks. Among the latter is the magnificent, majestic jabiru stork, also found in the tropical north of Australia. Palo Verde is the only place in Costa Rica where this, the largest of all storks, nests. Its long black legs and bright red beak make the jabiru instantly recognizable.
An estimated 200,000 birds live in Palo Verde. The park gives visitors to Costa Rica their best chance of discovering the country’s incredible variety of bird life. Thousands of black-breasted ducks and green-winged teals with their striking coloring flutter into the air at the approach of a human being and land in the river a few meters away with a braking action, visible in the curl of spray they leave behind them.
Every now and then the visitor is rewarded with a glimpse of the largebeaked toucan or a flash of red indicating the presence of a member of the park’s colony of red macaws – the only permanent colony in the tropical dry zone of the Americas.
In addition to the toucans and macaws (parrots), the forests are full of other birds. Palo Verde also provides an ideal habitat for iguanas, crocodiles, porcupines, peccaries and monkeys.
The bird island, Isla de Pajaros, lies in the middle of the broad Rio Tempisque. The island shelters many rare birds, including roseat spoonbills, egrets, shy forest storks, white ibises and even the large jabiru stork. Ornithologists have also identified a large colony of Cayenne night herons on the island.
The best time to visit is during the months of December, January and February. In these months migratory birds as well as those indigenous to the park are easiest to spot. During this dry period the birds are also easier to see in the bare trees. A further advantage of the dry season is that the paths remain dry and passable, and the mosquitoes are not as prevalent as at other times of the year.