Costa Rica Photo Safari - September, 2004

I'll be using the same "Travelogue" type format that I used in the last addition to my website, as the feedback I received was positive, and it seems appropriate for the subject matter. As I had announced in the past, I had the wonderful opportunity of leading a "Photo Safari" to Costa Rica, working in conjunction with the wonderful people at Crocodile Bay Lodge. In addition to my wife and myself, we had 3 other photographers - Jack DeWolf, Jim Grasley and Juan Brown, who brought his wife Kay. An excellent time was had by all!

And even though these pages and photos may seem a bit much, there are just so many things I'm leaving out in order to keep it even this short. Every day was an adventure, where something new was seen. And even though we were there a week, we didn't even start scratching the surface of all there is to see.

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My wife and I left Charlotte, NC the morning of Thursday Sept. 23rd, and were able to travel non-stop to San Jose, Costa Rica. We were met at the airport by Carlos from Crocodile Bay, and discovered that Juan and Kay Brown had also been on the same flight. Since the flights to Puerto Jimenez, on the Osa Peninsula, were only in the mornings, we spent the afternoon and evening at the Hotel Herradura, and were taken there by Carlos. Jim and Jack arrived much later that evening, and the next morning, after enjoying a nice breakfast at the Hotel, we were brought by Carlos to the smaller airport for our flight to Puerto Jimenez. I'm normally a bit nervous about air travel in smaller planes, but we thoroughly enjoyed both the trip there, and the return flight as well. The twin-otter plane had very large windows, affording great views of the country as we flew from the city of San Jose, over the mountains, and finally landing on the Osa Peninsula.




We were met at the Airport by the people from Crocodile Bay Lodge, and after a very brief drive, were greeted with complimentary fruit drinks, and checked into our rooms. We met Johnny, one of the local guides who would spend a lot of time with us, and he took us around to get us oriented to the grounds and local area. Right off the bat, we saw a number of Caymans, and looked around the Butterfly Farm they have on their grounds, with a very wide variety of species.



Red-lored Parrot

Red-lored Parrot Head-shot

Olive-throated Parakeet

We went into town, and saw quite a few Scarlet Macaws flying around, and also came across a Red-lored Parrot in the bushes outside someone's home. It was incredibly friendly, and though wild, seemed to be the 'pet' of those who lived there. It afforded us a great opportunity to shoot it up close, along with a couple of Parakeets that were also in the area.

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Leaf-cutter Ants

Boat-billed Heron

We did some walking around, and were shown a rookery area, where there were quite a few Cattle Egrets nesting and feeding their young. We came across a trail of leaf-cutter ants, and saw these amazing insects quite a few times during our trip. They would cut apart fairly large leaves, and thousands of ants would carry the pieces along trails and down the hole in the ground where they lived. We were also thrilled to see a Boat-billed Heron and I was frustrated that I had only brought my 100-400 lens with me on this brief orientation tour.




Hoffman's Woodpecker?

Blue Dacnis Male?

Blue Dacnis Female?

We made plans to leave around 7:00 am the next morning for a trip into the Rain Forest, toward Matopalo. I got up before dawn, set up my big lens, walked around the grounds to see what I could find, and wasn't disappointed.




Northern Jacana

Crested Caracara

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

After a great breakfast, we loaded ourselves and our gear onto the truck, and headed on down the road. As we would find every time out, we saw as much while getting to our final destination, as we did once we got there. In other words, getting there was half the fun. Our guide and driver accommodated our frequent stops as different birds or other animals (or unique flowers or trees) were spotted. We couldn't believe it when we came up to an area where it turned out we would always see Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and found 3 of them in almost perfect alignment, posing for us.


Handholding the 600L!

I also couldn't resist including this shot, taken by my wife, Janice, as I struggled to shoot with the 600L without a tripod. Often there wouldn't be time to set up the tripod, and I wanted to try and get a shot off before the bird spooked.




Green Kingfisher 1

3-Toed Sloth & Baby

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

The diversity of wildlife was just incredible. As Jack commented at one point, he felt like he had Attention Deficit Disorder, as there were so many animals to shoot, demanding his attention, he didn't know where to turn and shoot first. On our trip to Costa Rica last March we had seen a few sloths, but they were usually virtually hidden in the trees, and very difficult to shoot. On our way back from Matapalo, we came across a sloth, with her baby, in almost plain sight, a relatively short distance up in some trees! It was just incredible. One photographic challenge we had throughout the trip was having the birds, monkeys, sloths, etc., fairly high up in the trees, shadowed, with very bright, typically white skies in the background. But you do what you can do, and in the sloth image above, I took a little 'license' and used Photoshop to lend a little color to the sky, which was pretty bright grey/white.



Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Scarlet-rumped Tanager

The next morning I again got up at dawn, and was able to shoot an incredibly beautiful Grey-headed Wood Rail, which I had never seen before. It was literally less than a one-minute stroll from my room. I also had a limited chance to shoot one of the Scarlet Rumped (Passerini) Tanagers that we saw on a number of occasions. It was still just around dawn, and in the shadows, so light was extremely limited (and my off-shoe flash cord hot-shoe was having mechanical problems, so flash wasn't available), but again, you do what you can do.

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Humpback Whale & Calf

Brown Booby

After breakfast, we were taken out on one of Crocodile Bay Lodge's boats, to look for whales, and just enjoy the views around the Gulfo Dulce. Some approaching rainstorms limited us somewhat, but we eventually found a pair of humpback whales - a mother with her calf - and saw them surface several times. We also saw a fair number of Brown Boobies, which I hadn't seen before.

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Juvenile Purple Gallinule

Social Flycatcher

I was out again at dawn the next morning, and took a few shots of a juvenile Purple Gallinule which I had seen almost every morning I was out there. We next headed north, to a different section of Rain Forest. A few minutes away from the Lodge, we made a quick stop to shoot a few different things people had spotted, one of which was a beautiful Social Flycatcher. I had a bit of fun trying to take the shot with the 600L/f4 IS without a tripod, sitting down in the truck, and propping it on my knees to try and get a shot!




White-necked Puffbird

Green Kingfisher 2

Smooth-billed Ani




Roadside Hawk

Red-lored Parrots in Flight

Pearl Kite

We saw quite a few new species on this trip. We returned for lunch, as we were scheduled to do some kayaking around 1:00 pm, when the tides and currents would work in our favor. This turned out to be an awesome experience. We launched at the Crocodile Bay Lodge dock, and headed into the Mangrove Swamp. We saw an Amazon Bird Snake, Mangrove Hawks, Black Hawks, some unique looking crabs, and the Mangroves themselves were extremely impressive. We also saw quite a number of Squirrel Monkeys, and were thrilled as they were jumping from branch to branch, tree to tree, sometimes crossing above the water from one side to another. At one point, several of us wedged our Kayaks near the bank, and just watched them for about 15 minutes. One of them came down to just above water level, and was completely in the clear, perhaps 10 feet from me, and for a minute or two we just watched each other. It was just incredible. For better or worse, I had made the decision not to bring my camera, which would be somewhat cumbersome and subject to damage. I also made the decision that this would be something I would like to just experience directly, without photography intervening. So I have some incredible memories, but no images from this portion of the trip.




Lineated Woodpecker 1

Lineated Woodpecker 2

Black-shouldered Kite

The next morning our plan was to head out into the Rain Forest where we had gone on our first trip out, but instead of going to Matapalo, to head across the mountains and go to Carate Beach. On our way out, we came across a Lineated Woodpecker which, for me, was one of the highlights of the trip. The skies were fairly cloudy, and light was limited, but diffuse. He posed quite a while for us before he eventually flew off. He was just exquisite! There was no room to set up my tripod on the truck, and I didn't want to take the chance of 'spooking' it, so I just rested it at a couple of different places and shot as best I could.




Scarlet Macaw in Flight 1

Scarlet Macaw Trio

Scarlet Macaw in Flight 2

As time went by, unfortunately, the clouds darkened and the rain began, but we headed on, hoping for better weather. We had to drive across several small creeks and rivers, but finally had to turn around at one of the larger ones. Our guide knew the family who lived there, and they indicated that while we could get across then, it was likely that the river would rise enough later to delay our return for several hours. It ended up being quite an adventure, and though we were a bit cold and wet, had an enjoyable time. On our way back, we also had a chance to see and shoot a beautiful Black-shouldered Kite from quite a ways off.

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White-faced Monkey

Spider Monkey




Squirrel Monkey

Howler Monkey

Spider Monkey Silhouette

The weather seemed more promising for the next day, so we headed back out toward Carate Beach, and this ended up being an incredible trip. The weather was warm and sunny all day long - simply beautiful. We ate lunch at the beach, and spent some time just exploring. While traveling, we saw all 4 species of monkeys present in Costa Rica: Howler Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Spider Monkeys & White-faced Monkeys. With the last Spider Monkey shot, I decided to use Photoshop to accentuate the silhouette effect we were constantly battling.

And as if that wasn't enough, we saw a White Hawk, a Mangrove Hawk, and plenty of Scarlet Macaws in the trees along the shore. For the flight shots above, I stood on the beach, and when they were finished shooting, Jack and Juan were kind enough to flush out a couple of the macaws for me.




Carate Beach Scene

White Hawk

Loggerhead Turtle

The people in Costa Rica are extremely involved with maintaining their environment and wildlife, with many doing their own personally-funded conservation projects. The gentleman (Miguel) who lived near the river mentioned above, was one of these, and arrangements were made for us to be there when he released about 50 loggerhead turtles to the sea. It was quite a sight! The usual mortality is quite high, and I was amazed at how long it took the majority of these turtles to make it off the shore and into the water, despite frequent waves washing over them. All in all, I think this was everybody's favorite day in the trip.




Juvenile Yellow-headed Caracara

Bare-throated Tiger Heron eating a Crab

Yellow-headed Caracara

As usual, I was up at dawn the next morning, to see what I could find on the grounds, and once again I wasn't disappointed. I was shooting a beautiful Tiger Heron, and heard some squawking behind me. I was intent on the Heron, but finally turned around to see where the noise was coming from, and was astonished to see what I later found out was a Juvenile Yellow-headed Caracara standing on the ground, perhaps 20-30 feet from me! I carefully and slowly turned around, and was able to get off only a single shot before he took off! A few minutes later, I spotted what was likely one of its parents in a tree behind me, and took a few shots. And a short while later, we spotted the Tiger Heron, and shot him again while he was eating a little crab!

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Smoky-brown Woodpecker

Scaley-breasted Hummingbird

And a few minutes after that, I spotted a Woodpecker that I hadn't seen before, and even though the shot has numerous technical flaws, I had to include it. Our guide identified it as the Smoky Brown Woodpecker, which he indicated was a fairly rare bird to see. Later in the morning we went back north to a secondary Rain Forest area, and although this trip was cut a little short by rain, we did get to see a White-throated Jacobin hummingbird in its nest. We had seen the vacant nest a couple of days prior, but were pleasantly surprised to find it occupied on this trip.

And as they say, all good things have to come to an end, and we finally had to say good-bye to Costa Rica. The trip back to San Jose was gorgeous, and as a 'parting shot' I leave a different kind of image. I was on the left side of the plane, and was intrigued to see the appearance of a circular rainbow when the sun, plane and clouds were in just the right position, with the plane's shadow directly in the center. A very beautiful visual effect!


Airplane Shadow in a Circular Rainbow

We were just continually amazed at the diversity of the wildlife, the beauty and variety in the trees, flowers, vines, landscape, etc. So many times, there was such a variety of beautiful things to shoot, it was difficult to pick a subject and stay with it! For example, during our ride back from Carate Beach, one spontaneous roadside stop was simply incredible - within 50 feet of us, and over perhaps 15-30 minutes, we saw a sloth in the trees, 2 species of monkeys, a pair of Blue-crowned Mot Mots, and a pair of Scarlet Macaws flying across the sky!

In speaking with the folks at Crocodile Bay, we are planning on doing this on perhaps a semi-annual basis, with the next trip probably around May or June of 2005. If you are interested, email me, and I'll keep you posted on our plans.

And a special thanks to Mike Laptew, and the people of Crocodile Bay Lodge, without whom none of this would have happened.