This little pretty bird is sought after by many birders in Costa Rica, myself included. Like the White-collared Manakin, it is found in the Caribbean lowlands and foothills, but given that its preferred habitat is dense rain forest undergrowth, it is difficult to find and even more difficult to photograph. But then one can be lucky, and for me that means finding one male whose home habitat was very close to a fruiting tree, located right by the window of my room at Yatama Ecolodge; it actually came every single day to feed on the little purple fruits, sometimes having fights with a female Violet-headed Hummingbird which came to drink nectar from the tree’s white flowers. What’s even better, a female also visited a few times. We also heard other individuals as we hiked through the trails, although spotting them there is a lot more work.
The Pygmy Rain Frog is one of the most commonly seen frogs at Yatama Ecolodge. Many times we saw individuals jump to get out of the trail we were hiking through, and hide in the safety of the leaf litter. A few other individuals were resting on leaves close to the ground like the one below. All individuals we saw were tiny, similar to the size of a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog which is probably more familiar to most of us. While it may similar in form to the Chiriqui Robber Frog, look at the very bright yellow color of the individual in this picture versus the more brownish color of the Chiriqui; also the size difference and the iris color are telltale signs to differentiate between both species.
We saw this Green Tree Anole right by the reception area at Yatama Ecolodge. It moved very slowly and deliberately, taking about 10 minutes just to traverse a plantain leaf from base to the tip, and when it did not find anywhere else to go, it jumped to an old heliconia flower that was hanging below the leaf. It continued moving towards the lower tip of the heliconia flower, and then it stayed at the lowest end for as long as we observed. Along all that movement, it gradually modified its skin color, becoming more yellowish-brownish when clinging to the heliconia and more lime green when walking through the leaf. It gave me plenty of time to snap many pictures in ever so slightly different positions; such a collaborative subject is not usual when it comes to wildlife photography.
The Russet-naped Wood-Rail was recently split from the Gray-cowled, with which it obviously has a lot of similarities. As its name indicates, the differentiating feature versus the Gray-cowled is the brownish patch on the back of the neck. The rest of the body is essentially the same, starting with the yellow bill, gray neck, rufous chest and back, deep red eyes and pink legs. These are noisy birds that are usually found in pairs, presumably male and female. A pair of these birds frequently arrived to forage close to our room at Yatama Ecolodge; most of the time they would make a weird low frequency sound, similar to the noise your throat makes when drinking water very fast.
We found this frog during a night time hike in search of the Ghost Glass Frog at Yatama Ecolodge. It acted very docile, barely moving its head down from its upward position. The easiest way to recognize it among the Glass Frog family is by the dark spots on an otherwise uniform green skin. Males feature a blue-green hook, seemingly at the shoulder joint as in the left-hand side picture below; one can only ask what purpose this structure it might serve. The eyes are relatively forward facing, like in most other species in the family.
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.
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.
The Turkey Vulture is a common scavenger observed throughout Costa Rica. It soars using thermal air currents, and also perches in trees and fence posts. When perched, they commonly open their wings wide, presumably to warm up its wings with sunlight and get rid of parasites, although as seen below, I observed the same behavior during a light rain. The most helpful trait to identify it against the similar Black Vulture is the white flight feathers, as the red head is sometimes not easy to see when they soar. As most vultures, they are misunderstood creatures, given the really important role they play to recycle nutrients from dead animals. They also are key protagonists in the annual raptor migration from North to Central and South America, where close to a million individuals pass through the Kekoldi reserve at the South Caribbean coast.
The Tennessee Warbler is a difficult bird to identify, given how many warblers have a yellowish plumage. The best tell-tale sign is the dark stripe through the eye and the bright supraciliary. A little more difficult to see is the white feathers on the underside of the tail. Unexpectedly, it arrived to the fruit feeder at my home in San Bernardino. At first I thought it was a female Red-legged Honeycreeper, because in lowlight the warbler looks greenish, but its behavior is different, and it would never vocalize, while the honeycreepers vocalize rather frequently, specially when having quarrels over pecking order.
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.