My journey began in a little fishing village called Esterillos Oeste, where my friend has a house and had graciously offered to let me stay. It’s a really special place. The ocean is close enough to hear the waves and smell the salt air. Every day at dawn the parrots fly from the beach (where it’s safer to sleep) back to the jungle, and reverse that course at dusk. It is not a quiet gathering, you can hear them chattering and calling a long way off.
The pace of life here is dramatically different from the states, and it invites you to savor the many colors and creatures that are found in such abundance.
The first stop on my search for wildlife was Carara National Park. This park has a lot of primary forest, meaning it is very old and has never been cut. It is dense and dark, covered by a thick canopy of trees. Even on a bright sunny day only about 2% of the sunlight ever makes it to the forest floor! That makes photography extremely challenging, because the animals are far away and moving, and you have very little light to work with. Fast lenses are a must.
The next day we took a boat ride down the Tarcoles River with Jose Eduardo and his Crocodile River Tour. I had never really thought about photographing birds from a boat, but it was simply amazing. We met there at dawn and were out on the water before sunrise. The birds seemed to be far less wary about people on a boat than on foot, and we also had the advantage of seeing many of them at eye level. When the sun came up it bathed the entire river in warm sharp light, and also reflected off the water. Incredibly beautiful. The big draw on Jose’s tour is the crocodiles, and a couple of 20 foot males showed up to make the point!
Next we took a road trip to La Fortuna. This was a 4 hour drive on mountain roads that twisted and turned constantly. If you are craving adventure try driving in Costa Rica! It seemed like we had to dodge pedestrians, dogs, and cows at every turn. La Fortuna is where the Arenal Volcano is located, and we stayed in a house literally in its shadow.
Our first destination was the Bogarin Trail, and what a beautiful spot that was. So many incredible and exotic birds! The colors and patterns defied belief, they don’t even look real, more like an animation artist’s imagination gone wild.
Next up was the Ecocentro Danaus Reserve, and again, you could not have asked for more beautiful birds to photograph. Hiking through the jungle there was magical and mystical for me, and I worked hard to capture the creatures we found in photographs that would do justice to their otherworldly beauty.
My last wildlife encounter before leaving was unexpected. After driving up the mountain to Arenal we were completely rained out, it was coming down so heavy the birds had all taken cover and were nowhere to be seen. We aborted the mission and started back down when we saw a large male Coati foraging on the side of the road. Rain or not I was determined to make some pictures of him. I jumped out of the car and maneuvered around him for probably 20 minutes, even lying in the road at one point to get at eye level and get a clean background. He was fairly cooperative and I got some pictures.
This was such a fantastic trip for me. I have been approached about doing a book on Costa Rican birds, and I want to do it, but first I am planning to return and visit some other areas of the country to photograph more species and make a more complete document of them. Costa Rica has such an incredible variety of birds alone (nearly 1000 different species) that I suspect you could devote a lifetime to shooting them and not cover them all. But I’m willing to take a stab at it 😊 Pura Vida!