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Crowned Tree Frog (Anotheca spinosa)

The Crowned Tree Frog is the only species in the Anotheca genus, and a member of the Tree Frogs family. Their most unusual feature are the spines that project from the skin on their back. Their skin pattern is also very striking, a combination of gray, light brown, dark brown and even white. They are popular among herpetologists and photographers given their beauty. We found one adult close to a bamboo growth at Yatama Ecolodge during a night walk, just clinging to a tree branch. Unlike birds which are my usual subject, the frogs that I found on the leaves were mostly unconcerned with me moving around with my camera, in search of the best angle for a portrait, including this one. On another night, a different group found this same adult, and three juvenile frogs clinging to another branch, which presumably were its offspring.

Brilliant Forest Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii)

The Brilliant Forest Frog is a widespread frog of the True Frogs family, however they are most frequently found on the leaf litter in the dense forest, unlike most other members of the family which inhabit ponds and other bodies of water. We found the individual below as we hiked through one of the trails at Yatama Ecolodge. Surprisingly, it stayed put in the same place for about 20 minutes, not moving even once. I put the camera directly on the ground close to where it was, used pebbles and dead branches to balance it, removed dead leaves and twigs from the surroundings to clean up the background a little bit, and the frog did not even twitch. It probably felt very confident in its camouflaged appearance; as a matter of fact, we would have not spotted it, if it had not hopped once when the we approached it at the trail. Also in a different trip to Yatama, I found two individuals close to our cabin after returning from a short night walk, presumably a male and a female given the size difference, and I observed the exact same behavior.

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)

Photographing the Sunbittern has been one of my goals ever since I started birding. This is a majestic bird, with a intriguing pattern on the wings which it flashes when flying from one rock to another. I have seen it plenty of times already, particularly in a small rocky stream 2 kms from home in San Bernardino, where it forages. Other times I have only seen the footprints on a rock, where presumably an individual stood just a few minutes before I arrived. It is very wary of people, flying away to keep at a distance when spotting them or hearing noise.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

The Eastern Meadowlark is an inhabitant of grass plains in Central Valley and the Caribbean areas. I have seen this species at my home in San Rafael de Alajuela, at La Guacima, at the Santa Ana Windmills (that’s 1,600 meters above sea level!) and most recently in San Bernardino, near Guápiles. Sometimes they perch in fence posts, other times they just find a comfortable place in the grass where they forage. Their song is very high-pitched and far-carrying. Indeed, many times I have been able to spot them as I bike through by listening to their song. Their belly is bright yellow, while their back is streaked in cream and dark brown. A key characteristic is the plump body, more similar to the antpittas than to any yellow-bellied flycatcher. When startled, they fly away and land on another patch of grass where they feel safe, the continue foraging. The juvenile is somewhat duller and never strays too far from its parent.

Buff-rumped Warbler (Myiothlypis fulvicauda)

The Buff-rumped Warbler is a small, loud bird of the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands, usually found in close proximity to water streams and rivers, much like the Torrent Tyrannulet does in higher elevations. The places it inhabits are dark, hence it is difficult to see; look for two essential clues: 1) An accelerating high pitched song that seems to come from a water source and 2) a small white patch that swings from one side to the other close to the ground, which is caused by the bird’s habit to swing its tail in such a fashion. It can also be spotted as it flies away rapidly when people approach them.

Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)

The Grayish Saltator belongs to the same family as the Black-headed Saltator, which at my parent’s home in Río Frío is much more common. As it name implies, its upperparts are gray, but the underparts are brownish, particularly close to the vent. The throat has a central white stripe, bordered by two black strips. It also shows a white supercilliary which ends right after the eye. The beak is strong as other Saltators. They sometimes come to fruit feeders, but are more wary that most other birds.

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis poliocephala)

The Gray-crowned Yellowthroat is a member of the Warbler family. Its body is generally yellow, with a small black mask and gray crown in the male, features which are much smaller in the female. They have a longer tail and thicker bill than the other Yellowthroat species that occur in the country. The Gray-crowned Yellowthroat is resident and occurs throughout most of the country, while the Masked Yellowthroat is confined to a very small territory in San Vito, and the Olive-crowned Yellowthroat is only found on the caribbean lowlands and mid elevations. The Common Yellowthroat, on the other hand, is a passage migrant, seen from mid October to early April, with some individuals spending the whole winter in the country.

Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus)

The Ornate Hawk-Eagle is one of the most sought-after birds in Costa Rica due to its elegant appearance and striking name. Juveniles are dull brown with white head and belly, while adults have a barred belly, black crest and chestnut sides of the face and throat. Its most flamboyant feature is the big crest that adults have. It also have feathered legs. Its preferred environment is the forest, where it catches a variety of prey, including big arboreal birds like the Great Currasow. It is most usually seen circling high on the sky, where it is difficult to identify in silhouette, however their vocalizations give them away easily.

Middle American Rattlesnake (Crotalos simus)

The Middle American Rattlesnake is a large, venomous snake. It has a drab color pattern, consisting of dark diamond-shaped blotches on a light brown base coloration. The key differentiator with all other venomous species in Costa Rica is the rattle, which produces a loud, menacing sound when it is vibrated rapidly. Indeed this sound causes fear in most people, as it is associated with the killer nature of these animals. Rattlesnakes however use this sound more as a defensive strategy, trying to scare off potential predators. As long as one is careful not to approach this snake more than it allows, it should be safe to watch them on their habitat.

Side-striped Palm-Pitviper (Bothriechis lateralis)

The Side-striped Palm-Pitviper is a venomous snake, sharing its genus with the Eyelash Palm-Pitviper. The Side-striped is green, which helps to camouflage them in the rain forest, as it mainly has arboreal habits. It has a prehensile tail, which means that it can be coiled around branches that work as an anchor to keep its balance. It is moderate in size, less than 1 meter in length, typically between 60 and 70 centimeters. It has a light-blue postocular stripe. Juveniles are rather drab, having a brown skin.