We found this anole sleeping on a branch as we hiked in search of the Ghost Glass Frog at Yatama Ecolodge. It did not move an inch, but after a few shots it opened its eyes, presumably awakened by the camera flash. Compared with the much more common Slender Anole, this species is big and stocky, and its green coloration helps it camouflage effectively on leafs and branches. Its colors are rather bright for an anole, but I suppose it might be helpful to attract potential mates.
This animal has a rather curious name in Spanish: “Perro Zompopo”, which would translate to “Dog Leaf-cutter Ant”, but does not make any sense. I have always wondered why someone chose such a weird name for this magnifient individual. The first time I had the opportunity to see one of them was in July 2021, during a night hike at Yatama Ecolodge. As a photographer, I would have wished for a different location with a better background, but anyways just watching it cling to those lianas was good enough as an observer. I long for the time I will see them again.
This small reptile is very common around Yatama Ecolodge, even around the refuge. I saw individuals in many areas of the reserve, both during the day and at night hikes. We even found one that was molting its skin right on top of a leaf. Per the description of the Reptiles of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, this is the most common anole in the country, although I certainly haven’t paid attention before if I have seen them previous to my visits to Yatama.
There are plenty of frog species to be found in Yatama Ecolodge, and the Noble’s Masked Litter Frog is one of them. You just have to walk at night around the trails, or like in this case, by the sidewalk of the refuge, and you will find frogs in every corner, some on the soil, others placidly resting on top of a leaf. To be fair, I only saw this particular species once in all nights that I went out, which is consistent with the Amphibians of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, where it specifies it is relatively uncommon. The skin in the individual below is relatively bright, and although its color might conceal it on the ground covered by dead leaves, on top of a green leave it looks very conspicuous. It is very similar in appearance to the Masked Litter Frog, although the latter never has such bright colors.
When it comes to identifying frogs and reptiles, I still consider myself an amateur. I have spent countless hours birding, but herping I am just starting out. So I might be forgotten if I can’t easily identify a frog like this one to species level, given how similar are many of the species in the Craugastor family. And this very fact, together with the inmense variability of appearance in these species make identification difficult, so deciding whether this is a White-lipped, Common or Slim-fingered Rain Frog can be a tough challenge. The fact is, I rely on the opinion of friends and experts like the guides in Yatama Ecolodge, to help with identification, and of course the Amphibians of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders is a great source to help with that process. Now, a few traits might be enough to distinguish the species, like observing the lack of a white lip stripe in the case of the individual below, but with their small sizes, that can also be easier said than done. There will be plenty of learning ahead of me.
There is always a back story for every picture that I take, and this might be one of the most amusing. I hiked early in the morning with all my gear to a rapids section of a river at Kinkajou Tropical Reserve, close to Yatama Ecolodge where I was staying. I kept thinking about how dragging all that equipment was not worth it; after all the trail was all muddy and the vegetation had encroached itself to make passing through difficult. After I had finished with the landscape pictures, I was talking to my guide close to a rock at the river’s edge, when I saw an orange flash come out of a branch. When I paid attention, I saw this anole, head raised and dewlap extended, probably displaying for a nearby female that we could not find. I had read about the Stream Anole in the Reptiles of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, but it never crossed my mind I would find it that day without searching for it. All of a sudden, carrying all that weight on my back was entirely worth the trouble.
When night falls at Yatama Ecolodge, frogs take over every corner, specially on humid, rainy nights. One such night, I was searching for the Splending Leaf Frog which sadly did not appear, when the guide mentioned he had heard it calling from a pond located close to the main refuge. I went there, and though I did not see the Splendid, I found this Vaillant’s Frog calling from the edge of the shallow pond. To me it seems that this frog chose to stay on a green leaf to help it camouflage better, as the soil and dead leaves are brown, making green frogs a bit conspicuous even with the scarce light of the night. It let me get close to snap a few pictures, and it remained in the same place when I left.
We found the Atlantic Broad-headed Litter Frog during a night hike at Yatama Ecolodge. It looked like it was hiding below a leaf, and I got a glimpse as I illuminated the floor with my headlamp. It stayed put while I was taking photographs, and even let me remove the leaf that was covering its back. I presume this frog is very comfortable with its camouflage, although I would say with this color, it does not hide very well. According to the Amphibians of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, it is common throughout its range, which in Costa Rica includes the Caribbean lowlands. It looks rather grotesque to me with those skin folds and oversized head and arms, unlike some of the slender litter frogs like the White-lipped Rain Frog or the Masked Litter Frog, and indeed it is much larger than both.
It is hard to explain the size of this huge frog. Maybe imagining about 7 Strawberry Poison Dart Frogs lined up one behind the other can help. This frog is very large is in comparison with most other frog species in Costa Rica. Given its size and commonality according to the Amphibians of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, it was surprising that I could not see as many of them as I would have suspected during my two visits to Yatama Ecolodge. To be fair, they can still camouflage very well against the leaf litter, and the two individuals that we saw, one on each trip, were very close to the refuge, the first one just by the sidewalk. In comparison, I had to walk many hours in many different trails to see the Ghost Glass Frog just once, and I searched for another specialty, the Splendid Leaf Frog, without any success at all.
There usually are not many opportunities to watch a nesting bird go about their job of bringing food for the hatchlings, but the Chestnut-headed Oropendola gave me an spectacle. During my second trip to Yatama Ecolodge, two birds were nesting on a palm tree close to the refuge. The palm tree was tall but it was grounded in a depression, so I was able to take photographs pretty much at eye level from the hillside and still secure a green background from the trees on the other side. I also got to observe pretty interesting behavior. For instance, the first time we arrived, the adult perched on a tree about 50 meters from the nest. Instead of diving for the nest, it stayed put for about 15 minutes, just watching us. I interpret that it decided not to give away the location of the nestlings, as though there were 8 nests, only 2 were being used. We then walked away a few meters, and then the adult plunged into the nest, fed the chick in about 10 seconds, and flew away from the nest to gather more food. This behavior repeated for the whole afternoon. I realized that the camera itself was not disturbing, so I set my camera and hid in a nearby tree. As soon as the bird came, I walked to the camera and snatched the pictures below.