Report prepared by Karl Zuzarte.
Costa Rica is a rugged, rain-forested Central American country that exuberates with color. Hummingbirds have always fascinated me but unfortunately for us here in the Northeast we see just one kind – the Ruby-throated. Costa Rica is known to have 54 species, of which I saw around 25! It is hard to remember all their names , especially since I am more of a nature photographer than a birder. I can tell you that there is a distinct advantage to being good at both ….some day.
Having chosen to visit Costa Rica, I had to decide whether to do a pure wild nature trip or go with a organized group that would make my life easier and in the process increase my yield tremendously – I chose the latter – with Greg Downing and Greg Basco, who knows Costa Rica thoroughly.
I am a Nikon shooter, used D4s and D810 bodies . For flash set-ups, the 810 worked great – lots of pixels to play around with. For high shutter speeds and frames per second, the D4s was more appropriate.
After landing in San Jose, the capital, we spent the first night at Hotel Bougainvillea . They have a nice backyard with a variety of birds and more importantly, excellent food – the fruit especially. The next morning we were off!
First stop – in the Atlantic Lowland Rainforest. Lodges in Costa Rica are built on slopes. They are geared for “ photography “ if you will. Birds will fly in and on to perches and trees that are at eye level with the lodge platforms – how better to make that eye contact that we all yearn for. Here is a Chestnut Mandible and a Keel-billed Toucan.
It was here that we were treated to several Coatimundis (raccoon family – behave a little like “monkeys” ) and the Great Currasow among others. Lowish light , hence f 3.5 to get decent shutter speed. But that’s the beauty of Costa Rica – a nice photographic challenge!
We did see a couple of woodpeckers including a Black-cheeked family that had a young one in its hole and yes – at eye level from the lodge – However we had to watch this Long-tailed Tyrant try for at least 2 hours to get to it and the poor parents simply had to watch and pray.
One evening we got to photograph the Long-tongued Pallas’ Bat that loves nectar. This was made possible using infrared triggered flash. All one had to do was make sure the shutter was open!
Reptiles are a plenty in tropical Costa Rica – I did photograph a couple of snakes and frogs. Here is a Red-eyed Tree Frog.
Next onto the Atlantic Slope Cloud Forest – 4500 feet above sea level. We drove through rushing mountain streams, cool air and orchid, vermilion and moss-festooned trees. On the way we stopped at a local ranch for lunch where we were treated to a flock of the endangered Scarlet Macaws and Great Green Macaws . I got my exercise here trying to anticipate their movements and in the end I felt rewarded.
A bonus here was the White-faced Capuchin monkeys who showed up out of nowhere . They kept climbing up and down trees and there was a moment here that I felt I might run out of card space!
By that evening I was exhausted and found myself in a nice lodge with a stream running through the grounds and a different variety of hummers feeding at the lodge feeders. For the next couple of days we photographed these hummers either in natural light or using multi-flash set ups and the natural flora around. I was fortunate not to clip the tail of this Long-billed Hermit.
Hummingbirds can be very small or large like the Violet Sabrewing – my favorite and it can be difficult deciding which lens too use –I used the 300mm 2.8 for the most part.
In between hummingbird sessions I got a view of this chestnut-colored woodpecker in the tropical forest.
Here is an innovative night-like effect – reduce the background light flash power.
And finally into the Talamanca Cloud Forest 8000 feet above sea level – did get quite chilly here. Again a whole bunch of hummingbirds via set ups or purely wild approaching a flower or feeder. There were plenty of opportunities to photograph other birds too when not in the set-up rotation. One evening we witnessed a gorgeous sunset – tough to get the White balance right – managed a Green Violet eared and a Fiery-throated perched together.
We did get a half decent look at the endangered Resplendent Quetzal – just wished he would have shown us his red breast!
All said and done, this was my best trip for “birds“ so far. There is so much more to photograph in Costa Rica – not just birds. Landscapes too are amazing. I have to make it back there sometime…… soon.
Unfortunately there simply isn’t enough space here to reveal all that I was able to photograph in Costa Rica. But please do visit my website if interested.