In April 2017, I joined my first birdwatching trip with Fundación Rapaces de Costa Rica, without ever knowing this would become my preferred hobby. Photographing birds has taught me a lot about photography (doh!), but also about myself and my relationship with the natural environment. I feel at home when I am patiently waiting for the birds to strike the best pose. Sometimes they do play hide-and-seek with me, but that just makes it the most worth when I finally get the picture I wanted. Usually I strive to get the closest I can to the birds without disturbing them, which helps to isolate the subject for portraits by blurring the background, however some times it is difficult to get close enough, so environmental portraits showing the nature around the birds are in order.
Rain does not have to stop a photographer from capturing wildlife pictures, in fact it can help unique images, like a Brown Violetear being hit by rain drops as it perches, or a White-throated Crake taking a bath on a rain pool. Many times rain spurs additional bird activity after it has ended. Also one does not have to go far away from home to practice creating great pictures of wildlife. Fortunately, there are many species that are common throughout the country, like the Inca Doves which are very common at home and they have grown accustomed to people’s presence, so they do not mind me lying with my belly on the ground.
I am frequently asked if those smooth green backgrounds are some kind of photoshop trick (spoiler: They are not). Half of the trick is the equipment, which means having a lens with plenty of reach helps to produce smooth backgrounds. The other half is technique, or how to get close enough to animals without disturbing them in their natural setting, as the closer you get, the smoother the background. These techniques can also create light circles and blobs of color when there are light sources in the background, like in this Purple-throated Mountain-gem.
In-flight pictures of birds are very difficult, although that’s not necessarily true for hummingbirds in particular. Once you have determined which flowers they prefer to drink nectar of (or placed them in a strategical position), it becomes a matter of positioning yourself with a good background, focusing on the flower, and taking as many high-speed pictures as possible. Sometimes a huge pile of 200 pictures gets discarded, in order to post a single one that stands out. That also means that the shots are more planned, instead of the usual chase and stealth techniques that one uses for other birds. Slowing down and being patient might very well be the most important attitude for these types of pictures to succeed.
The species below are organized according to the families in The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean, an essential tool to identify each photograph to a species. I have made an effort to base my species description on my own observations and words, but undoubtedly have included details from the book itself where relevant. I claim no exclusive rights to those details and encourage visitors with an interest in species identification to purchase the guide. For the more serious bird lover, look at A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, by Alexander Skutch, Gary Stiles and Dana Gardner. This book has the identification plates with photographs and full description accounts for each known species. The version linked was published in 1989 and so many species have been reclassified and some new have discovered since, but still its value to understand the biology of each species is immense.