When tackling Costa Rica’s jungles or navigating its bustling cities start to wear you down, you find that all you really need to become perfectly content are a few days at the beach. Although we had merely planned to indulge in Jacó beach’s warm Pacific Ocean waters and slow, gentle waves, our encounters with intriguing intertidal life from the sky to the sand proved that in Costa Rica, natural wonders present themselves even when you’re not on the lookout.
Walking along the fine, gray sand, you’re stepping over a myriad of life. As the foamy ripples of a crashing wave subside back into the ocean, the sand is puckered with tiny snails hurriedly burrowing into the moist layers of the substrate. When the remnants of the next wave lick the shore, the snails resurface, use their fleshy muscles to propel themselves forward in a way that is reminiscent of a sea lion using its flippers on land, and then—after this running start—slip into a smooth, gliding crawl. Viewed from above, they look like tugboats traveling between city ports on a map of the world’s oceans.
Shifting our gaze from the sand into the lapping waves, we notice zig-zagging darts of movement that could only be fish swimming in dangerously shallow waters. From the distance, pelicans soar inland, looking for a meal. While they’re still at least a hundred meters in the air from the water’s surface, however, something else plunges from out of the sky, swoops low on the water, and snatches the hefty fish with ease. This bird had wings too narrow and a bill too short to be a pelican, but we couldn’t quite make out what it was until it gained altitude directly over our heads. All at once we saw the kinked wings, forked tail, and white chest against an all-black body—unmistakably, it was the magnificent frigatebird.
Over the next couple of days we would see these large waterbirds soaring overhead, but interestingly all of them appeared to be females (males have a distinctive red throat pouch).
Another avian friend that likes to scan the beach every few minutes is the scarlet macaw, flying in pairs or small groups from one treetop to another. Once you know the particular squaaak! to listen for, you can’t miss them. Often we would watch them overhead until they faded into the mountains, but one morning we were lucky enough to follow their flight to a tree right on the beach. Apparently ravenous, the pair spent at least twenty minutes feasting on seeds while we gazed, enamored, from below.
As always when spending time at the beach, our trip came to a close too soon—but getting a taste of the ocean piqued my hunger for more explorations with sea life at the coral reefs of Bocas del Toro, our next field site!