Palo Verde National Park


Location: From Bagaces, 17 miles (28 km) SW on unpaved road; From Liberia, -14.miles (54 km) S.

Size 48,936 acres (19,804 ha). Hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Information: Telephone hotline 192 , telephonelfax (506) 671-1290, (506) 671-1062. Bagaces office, Tempisque Conservation Area: staff can arrange for a local guide to accompany you (some bilingual).

Palo Verde National Park lies along the east bank of the Tempisque River above where it flows into the Gulf of Nicoya. The area encompasses lakes, swamps, grasslands, savanna woodlands, and forest, probably 15 habitats in all. It is one of the most important sanctuaries for migrating waterfowl in Central America and is habitat for many resident species. About 280 bird species have been counted.

Herons, ibis, ducks, storks, and jacanas are among those that descend on the lowlands to feed and mate. The rare, endangered jabiru nests here, most commonly seen from November to January. 'Me largest stork in the world, the jabiru. has a white body, gray neck and head, and a rose-red necklace. The only scarlet macaws left in the tropical dry forest of the Pacific live in this area.

In the rainy season, flooding of the plains is widespread. In the dry months of November through April some waterholes disappear; those that remain attract birds and other wildlife, allowing the patient visitor a good chance to see them. An observation tower open to visitors is near the large marsh.

A trail system takes visitors into the forest past flowing springs that attract wildlife, past a natural cactus garden, to a superb lookout over the Tempisque floodplain, through a marsh (a printed guide recommends this as the best place to see a tropical rattlesnake or boa constrictor), Through second-growth forest that is reclaiming pastureland, and to virgin tropical dry forest.

From the entrance it is 7.5 miles (12 km) to Puerto Chamorro on the bank of the Tempisque, where huge iguanas forage. On the way, pass trailhead signs: Sendero Pizote (Coati Trail) and Sendero Venado (Deer Trail), a 2.5-km (1.5-mile) loop. Near the station operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) are mango trees; approach quietly for a chance to see some of the 145 mammal species that make their home in the park. Peccaries, iguanas, deer, monkeys, and coatis feed on the fruits. The white- tailed deer who watched me while I watched him did not seem the least bit frightened.

In dry season the Catalina sector can be reached by car (about 7.5 miles or 12 kin), but rainy season is another story. The Manigordo Trail takes off from the station there, as does a trail to a viewpoint on Cerro Pelon the highest place in the park, 774 feet (236 m).

The Tempisque River has a 13-foot (4-m) rise and fall with the tide. Sometimes it flows backward. River trips are a popular way to see some of the park's wildlife. Crocodiles and caimans can often be seen on its banks, along with howler monkeys and a multitude of birds. Tours pass by Isla de los Pajaros in the Tempisque, part of Palo Verde. An important nesting site, the small island at times seems covered with birds. You can generally see the lovely color of the roseate spoonbills as they nest and fly overhead. There are wood storks, glossy ibis, anhingas, and great egrets. Many boas inhabit the island, feeding on bird eggs and nestlings.

Park rangers at the entrance can give you information. On one visit, the friendly guard on duty rushed from the forest to urge me to come with him quickly-he had just come across a snake eating a frog and wanted me to see it.

You may see cattle grazing inside the park, part of a controversial management plan to keep marshes open for waterfowl, free of invasive cattails, as well as to control jaragua grass as a fire-prevention measure. Forest fires are a threat in this dry forest.

Park relations with neighbors are important; nearby rice farmers lose more of their crops than they like to birds, who do not recognize boundaries.
Some have automatic cannons whose sounds help keep birds from the fields.
Annual rainfall is 90 inches (2,295 mm); average temperature is 81'F

(27'C), though it can reach 10 5'F (4 VQ at midday. Nights and early mornings are generally cool. While it's windy in the dry season and insects are scarce, the rainy season brings humidity, little breeze, mosquitoes, and gnats.

In dry season most trees lose their leaves to conserve water, but many wear bright flowers. The palo Verde tree, which gave the park its name, has pretty yellow flowers that adorn its green, thorn-clad branches.

Getting There

By bus: Take a bus to Bagaces; take a taxi from there.

By car: In Bagaces, turn west at the Palo Verde sign. Pavement ends but the road is generally passable year-round. Keep binoculars and cameras handy; birds are everywhere.

Other: Tour companies and lodges offer both land and water trips. Boat trips on the Tempisque usually include Isla de los Pdjaros.

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