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Costa Rica Trip Report

Pale-Billed Woodpecker

Having been to Costa Rica so many times, but it is still not enough to click all the birds you find here in one go. Costa Rica beckons you again and again to come and explore her natural abundance, no wonder the word ‘Pura Vida’ or “Pure life” makes so much sense here. With a wide range of subjects, there was never a dull moment shooting at Costa Rica. It is not just the megadiversity of this Latin American country that drew us to her, the opportunity to experience different climatic zones with a short time was just hard to miss!

We met our five fellow photographers for this photo workshop at the San Jose airport and after a round of introductions, we headed straight to the lodge Paraiso Quetzal in the serene Talamanca Cloud Forest Range. This misty and mountainous cloud forest is the home to the legendary Resplendent Quetzal. This poster-boy of Costa Rica lives up to its regal name with its shiny emerald coat and red chest, with a long tail bigger than its body. We trained our lenses to capture this unique bird in its nesting site and watch its daily activity so closely. This itself is a lifetime experience, and we were surely the fortunate ones!

Amazing Facts About Resplendent Quetzal!

This legendary poster bird of Central America is well known for its bright emerald green coat, striking red plumage on its chest and a fairly long tail. The male Quetzals are far more attractive than the females. They live in the higher altitude tropical and subtropical forests where the mist hangs low.

Apart from the beautiful Quetzal, the guests captured various local Hummingbirds that came to drink nectar from the tubular flowers. The Fiery-Throated Hummingbird, Green Violet-Ear, Magnificent Hummingbird, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and the prized Hummingbird Snowcap well known for its milky-white crest which is a perfect contrast to its purple body bowled us over completely. This is when we indulged in multi-flash Hummingbird photography to its maximum! It was quite a challenge to capture these fast flying birds in motion and flight, but there lies the fun.

Fiery Throated Hummingbird

We also had amazing sightings of the Great Green Macaw, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and the Black and White Owl. We also had a chance meeting with the Mantled Howler (Monkey), Spider-Monkeys, Blue-Morpho butterflies and Collared Peccaries right here at Talamanca. The beautiful Chirripó National Park and the tallest peak Cerro Chirripo provided an ideal backdrop for landscape photography. Though our focus is always birds, we can hardly side-line the wildlife and the pristine beauty of the highland cloud forest of Talamanca.

After a two-day fruitful session at Talamanca, we traveled to Sarapiqui Rainforest Preservation Area with a quest to find more endemic birds and wildlife there. The guests witness and captured the reclusive Honduran White bats and the nerdy looking Spectacled Owls during our bird-walk at a private farm in the area. The same afternoon we did Macro photography session with the Eyelash Viper, the Red Eyed Tree Frog and the Glass Frog. The photogenic Red and Green Macaws were also seen. The two days at Sarapiqui was super productive and memorable due to the sheer numbers of birds and wildlife we spotted here.

Quick facts About the Spectacled Owl

These serious looking guys have a dark face with contrasting white eyebrows that frame the eyes like spectacles and thus the name. They have a round head and no ear tufts.

From the highland forests, we traveled down to the lowlands of Laguna del Lagarto the next day. This lodge is not far away from the Nicaraguan border and the Harpy Eagle habitat. After a short lunch break and rest, we got busy shooting at the lodge’s feeders that were buzzing with activity. The catch here is if you hit the snooze button and go off to sleep you miss out on most of the important sightings, so our photography starts very early in the morning. There was no strenuous activity during the trip except of course carrying your camera gear from one point to another, but us being seasoned bird photographers it didn’t matter as we were overwhelmed with the birds that gave us several amazing photo opportunities.

In the afternoon, we spotted the three iconic species of Toucans- Yellow-throated Toucans, the Keel-billed Toucan, and the slimmed down Collared Aracari. No wonder Toucans are the pin-up birds of Central America, their multicolored long beaks set them apart. We also spotted the gorgeous Montezuma Oropendolas, Passerini’s Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, three types of Honeycreepers namely- the Shining, Red-Legged and Green, Long-tailed Tyrants, Black-crowned Tityras, Slaty-tailed Trogon, The Brown-hooded Parrot, Mealy and Red-lored Parrots, Great Green Macaws and the King Vulture. Another exciting and unique experience is to shoot the King Vulture through the specifically designed hides. We also spotted Costa Rica’s famed Pygmy Owl. There was a macro photography session with the non-avian species like the Strawberry or “Blue Jean” Poison Dart Frogs and an Eyelash Pit Viper. We clicked the owl species after the afternoon shoot was over.

Long-Tailed Silky Flycatcher

These thrush size Passerine birds are only found in the mountain forests of Costa Rica and Western Panama and are well known for its bright and silky-soft plumes.

While we were shooting from the canoes, we spotted the White-nosed Coati, a pair of green Kingfishers and the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. Even though we didn’t spot the Great Tinamou it was a thrilling experience to canoe in the lagoon and soak in the lush greenness of the tropical forest., a luxury for city-dwellers like us. Our three days were well spent at the Laguna del Lagarto.

After a very fulfilling session at Laguna, some of the photographers took a flight back home and some stayed back for the extended trip to Sarapiqui and Tarcoles, this time to spot the aqua fauna. In Sarapiqui, we traveled down to the Pacific Lowlands near the banks of Tarcoles river. The leisurely boat ride yielded some remarkable sightings of the Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Green Heron that live in the shadows, Boat-Billed Herons, the intimidating American crocodiles, the Turquoise-browed Mot Mot, three species of Kingfishers like the Green Kingfishers and plenty of Scarlet Macaws. We explored the deep mangrove forests during the boat ride of the Tarcoles river. We also spotted many Mangrove Swallows and Mangrove Warblers common to this area. The guests also shot a couple of shorebirds along with Herons like the Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibises, Southern Lapwing, Double-Striped Thick Knee (basically nocturnal), Panama Flycatchers to name a few.

Acorn Woodpecker

After the extended trip, we went back to San Jose to take a flight back home super rich with these life changing experiences. Our super addictive ten-day photo trip finally came to an end, with a silent resolve to come back to Costa Rica for some more photography very soon.

Click here to see our upcoming Costa Rica workshops.

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