Thursday the 6th of September 2018. It’s an early morning at Camp Osita. Five of us make ready for a bird survey. We’re setting out for a loop of trails around camp, hiking up Shady to Golden Ridge, and walking down Luna back to camp.
Despite its name, Shady is not a leisurely stroll under lush vegetation. The first half of the muddy trail is up a steep hill, zigzagging between trees and trying to avoid getting slapped in the face by a wayward branch. There’s a few fake ‘top of the hill’-s that make you believe your trial and tribulations are over, but then the trail hits you with some more uphill. It does not take that long to reach the actual hilltop (about 30 minutes), but your tired legs and the heat disagree with that time measurement.
Next up is Golden Ridge. It’s nicer than Shady, which is a very welcome change. Following the ridge of a hill, the vegetation opens up here and there and offers amazing views of the rainforest or the ocean. Somewhere around here, we reach our goal for the survey: plugged-in GPS coordinates where we sit down and search and listen for birds. It’s a nice break from the hiking, and we get to rest while listening to Scarlet Macaws, Riverside Wrens, and toucans.
Once the survey is done, we head out again, finishing Golden Ridge and reaching Luna at the bat tree. The bat tree is, as the name suggests, a tree where you’re very likely to find roosting Greater Sac-Winged Bats during the day. Today, there’s about seven of them clinging to the bark trying to sleep while we stare and gush at them. They’re probably very happy when we move along.
Luna is the last leg of this morning survey. It’s a trail that winds down from the hilltops to the coast road. Along the way, we’re lucky enough to spot a White Hawk flying overhead. But the absolute surprise of the day is another animal, much larger, terrestrial, and feline.
It catches us completely unawares; we’re hiking, chatting, laughing while we follow the trail. Suddenly, we spot a Puma lying in the grass ahead of us. We collectively freeze in our tracks, fall completely silent, and crouch down. There is some frantic whispering as everyone looks for their cameras.
The Puma is lying maybe 20 metres ahead, at the edge of the trial. It’s lying there, resting, grooming, completely ignoring us. It’s the perfect photo-op. Then, it gets up slowly, stretches, yawns and looks at us. It walks towards us for a few meters, then seems to rethink that idea and disappears in the vegetation. We try to get another glimpse of it, but it has disappeared, leaving us giddy and high on adrenaline. PI Emma is actually crying of happiness.
It takes us another 10 minutes to collect our wits and calm our shaking legs. From our collected photos, we conclude this was a young female, probably just independent from her mother.
On the way back to camp, we can’t stop talking about the Puma. At camp, we can’t stop talking about the Puma. At dinner, we can’t stop talking about the Puma. Puma, Puma, Puma. It seems the heavy trek uphill on Shady was more than worth it. It got us close to the second largest of the Osa Peninsula’s and Central America’s wild cats. All thanks to Luna. Luna and the Puma.