Hiking Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
NSTA Costa Rica Trip Day 8
July 30th, 2012
(posted on behalf of Greg Neff)
Today we are returning to San Jose, but before we do we will explore the Cloud Forest reserve. This reserve is part of the reserve protected by George Powell’s conservation efforts to preserve critical habitat and migration ranges in the Montverde area. The reserve is managed by the non-profit, Tropical Science Center. This Preserve is part of a complex ecosystem, which includes: six distinct ecological zones and is helping to protect birds and butterflies, mammals, insects, and thousands of species of plants.
There are several senderos (trails), and our hike began on the Sendero Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest trail) where we observed many stages of development of strangler figs. These plants can be of several different species. What gives them their name is the habit of growing around the host tree and becoming tree size themselves, thus restricting the growth of the host. This growth habit is an adaptation for growing in dark forests where the competition for light is intense. The plants begin life as epiphytes, germinating somewhere in the canopy of the host. As the seedling grows, its roots grow downward encasing the tree. When the roots reach the ground, it can derive its nutrients from the soil and it is no longer an epiphyte. The host eventually dies and the result is a hollow area inside the strangler tree. This hollow area becomes roosting area for 40 different bat species, as well and many other organisms.
A large percentage of the surfaces in the cloud forest are covered with moss. Mosses can hold up to 8 times their mass in water. This water makes moisture available to the rest of the forest; epiphytes often are embedded in the moss. The vast majority of the biomass is actually found in the canopy of the cloud forest, much less on the floor.
The trail intersected the El camino trail (the road) which was on old oxcart trail before the preserve came into existence. We saw and heard a small portion of the 400 possible bird species. Birds seem to be shyer and were very difficult to photograph. We did see Trogans, several species of Wrens, Nightingale Thrush, Black Juans, and Wood Creepers. Also discovered on this trail we’re several of the 420 possible orchids, ranging from plants the size of a bunch of thread with flowers the size of pinheads, to plants with flowers the size of my hand.
The Wilford Guindon trail lead off to a suspension bridge which brought us into the canopy layer. Here we were able to get a closer look at the massive quantities of moss, embedded with epiphytes. There is far greater quantity of light up here. This trail returned us to the reserve center where we were able to board the bus and head to San Jose.
We had to make a decision whether to return directly to San Jose or to take a side trip to the town of Sarchi, where we might be able to peruse the large souvenir store. The concern was that the side trip would add 2 hours to our return. We were scheduled for a follow-up lecture at the hotel and our schedule would be tight.
Suggestion was made by this writer that instead of the side trip, we take the quicker route back and visit the tourist market in the center of San Jose. We voted on the suggestion that was a quicker, but beautiful route back to San Jose. When we arrived in San Jose, traffic quickly came to a crawl in the neighborhood of the market, as the small farmers union of Costa Rica was holding a demonstration, protesting land taxes. Our schedule had to change and we lost out on the final lecture. However we did make it to the hotel in time for dinner.