Natural Treasures of Costa Rica

Posted Apr. 20th, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

Costa Rica license plate

Costa Rica license plate

What day is it? I literally have no idea. All I know is that Tanya and I flew from San Jose, Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and landed in Tampa, Florida at about 1:00am this morning, finalizing the last leg of a four week photo odyssey through the natural wonders of Costa Rica. To say it was a fabulous trip would be understating it to the extreme.  I knew it would be incredible!. Tanya had been organizing and researching Costa Rica for nearly a year. This was our first time to the jungles of Central America and as is often the case, the Natural Treasures of Costa Rica unfolded by way of the persistent appeals from several of our traveling guests. I had never been, wasn’t planing to go and only contemplated that maybe someday I would.

Getting close to a red-eyed leaf frog.

Getting close to a red-eyed leaf frog.

Throughout the late 80’s and most of the 90’s I spent a lot of time traveling the world, going to all  sorts of exotic locations. Unfortunately I was on the same path that dozens and possibly hundreds of other photographers were taking. With so many people shooting the same subjects, the law of supply and demand kept rearing its ugly head and in the end it was impossible to make a living doing the same old thing. It seemed virtually everything had been photographed to death. At the turn of the new century I decided to specialize even more than I had, and it was that decision that took me more often to the far north than any other place on the planet. And that’s where I’ve been for nearly a decade.

View collection of my favorite images from Costa Rica

View collection of our guests having a good time in Costa Rica

Resplendent quetzal, Costa Rica

Resplendent quetzal, Costa Rica

Fast forward to 2008 and the decision to start seeing the world once again. With the incredible logistical skills Tanya possesses we decided to start sharing our travels with those who wanted to explore, learn photography, and have a great time. Costa Rica was on the radar.

Like our other trips, each of the three Costa Rica groups were limited in size. Our first group of guests consisted of twelve, our second was ten, and our last had just seven. Keeping the numbers limited allows for more intimate shooting situations, tighter camaraderie, and the ability to get into places large groups aren’t allowed.

For nearly everyone, the first night of the trip began at a beautiful boutique hotel high in the mountains of San Jose. Like all the places Tanya comes up with, it was unique in many different ways. Each room was tastefully decorated with custom art, woodwork with tools, and tapestries, the beds as comfortable as anything in the states, and the food produced by a professional chef that rivaled anywhere we’ve eaten. It was a great way to start our adventures.

On our second day we left the comfortable climate of San Jose and traveled to the cloud forests of the Talamanca Mountains in search of birds. Our main desire was the nearly legendary resplendent quetzal, a bird so beautiful it’s considered one of the most magnificent species in the world. Each group was rewarded with observations and some great photo opportunities of this spectacular species. Along with the quetzal we spent time documenting hummingbirds, waterfalls, the emerald toucanet, and the astonishing array of wildflowers and forest fauna throughout this special preserve.

After two mornings in the mountains of Talamanca we ventured south and considerably down in elevation to the southern shores of the Gulfo Dulce. For the next two days we spent time hiking and photographing the many varied creatures of the forests and seashore of the Gulof Dulce region. Each morning we were awakened by the sounds of birds, but it was the Central American squirrel monkeys that posed the most difficult to capture photographically. Along with this miniature form of primate that weighs barely six pounds, we had opportunities with the white-headed capuchin, mantled howlers, Halloween crabs, hermit crabs, frogs of several varieties, a two-toed sloth, the white-nosed coati, toucans, and more. It was a hot and humid paradise for animals of nearly every stripe.

A mating pair of chestnut-mandibled toucans.

A mating pair of chestnut-mandibled toucans.

On day 6 we left the lowland jungles and ventured once again into the cooler mountains to a local botanical garden.  Here we had opportunities to see and photograph plants of various kinds as well as lots of smaller free roaming bird species that call the gardens home. Birds photographed included clay-colored robin, summer tanager, Cherrie’s tanager, speckled tanager, golden-hooded tanager, silver-throated tanager, blue-gray tanager, green honey creeper, streaked saltator, buff-throated saltator, sharpen hummingbird, and the violet-crowned hummingbird. It was a little bird bonanza.

From the central mountains we headed back down in elevation and further north to the Osa Peninsula and it was there we found the most wild Costa Rica of all our prior stops. Upon arrival at the lodge we were told of a dozen or more puma sightings along the trails just beyond the manicured lawns of our jungle abodes. More than one had been seen in the past four weeks. Our first morning we were treated to scarlet macaws in the almond trees surrounding our open air cabins. In the afternoon we had a parade of squirrel monkeys and howler monkeys make their way past our deck, heading for trees to sleep through the night. On the trails to the ocean we photographed poison arrow frogs, birds of many varieties, and at night we spent time at a small pond documenting the local amphibians. It was an amazing place and one we plan to return to.


A mix of coffee beans.

From the Osa Peninsula we caught our chartered plane for the trip back to San Jose. There we spent our last day and evening at a unique hotel and coffee plantation overlooking the city. Here, as well as all throughout the trip, the food was superb. Costa Rica serves probably the most healthy meals I’ve ever eaten on a regular basis. So much fruit, rice and beans, fresh fish, and local vegetables. It sounds plain as day, but the wonderful spices and flavorings made our Costa Rica mealtimes seem like food heaven. The freshly roasted high mountain coffees of the region were an added bonus.

Throughout the four weeks I shot just short of 12,000 photos. Several pieces of photographic equipment on this adveture were fairly new to me. For example I brought a Nikon Macro lighting kit that I’ve had for probably five years that I never really used. It was exciting to finally put it through the paces and come to realize the joy of macro photography; I wrote an earlier blog about my experiences with macro in Costa Rica. I plan to expand on that in the next couple of weeks. Additionally on this trip I switched from Adobe’s Lightroom photo editing program back to Apple’s Aperture. When Aperture came out several years ago I changed from PC’s to Macs specifically to use Aperture. Unfortunately, Aperture wasn’t quire ready for primetime so I stuck with Apple and put Lightroom to work. Now that Aperture 3 has made its debut, I’ve once again gone back to this program and though there are still a few issues I hope to see ironed out in future version, I’m finding Aperture to be immensely powerful with many more options than what I was getting from Lightroom. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts about working with Aperture in a coming blog entry.

That’s all for now. We’ll be doing this again next year although it will be only one trip instead of three. Not enough time for more than one trip between India and Africa. So if Costa Rica is on your list of places to see, drop us a line and we’ll discuss the possibilities.

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