When the sun is going down and up, Costa Rica’s landscapes transform with color. Sometimes you see purple, sometimes red and orange, other times it is yellow or a combination of them all. Add to that mystical forests shrouded in mist, and plenty of clouds that cover the sky, and you get the most fascinating sunrises and sunsets. Also the country’s geography is unique, in that you can see sunrise from the Caribbean side in the morning, and sunset from the Pacific coast in the evening, to finally be amazed by the stars dotting the dark sky with light. Getting up early and staying late in the night to see these wonders pays off, with the most memorable scenes firmly recorded on your mind, and your camera.
The Rufous-naped Wren is a commonly seen bird close to people’s homes at urban towns in the Central Valley, in Costa Rica; the House Wren is smaller and more common in the countryside, and the Rufous-naped is more colorful, with its black and white pattern on the back and the whitish underside. Compared to that, the House Wren is featureless. Rufous-naped Wrens are very noisy, usually found in pairs or small groups that climb to roofs. I have seen them build their nests under the roof or even in metal doors.
The Dwarf Glass Frog is the smallest Glass Frog to be seen in Costa Rica, roughly similar in size to a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, but given its green dorsal skin it is more difficult to spot, specially if they stay motionless on a green leaf; increasing the probabilities of seeing one is the fact that they call from the upper side of leafs, so putting enough attention and following the direction of their call, one might discover an individual. Their eyes are more forward facing than the Dusty Glass Frog, which is the other member of the Teratohyla genus but is a lot larger, also differentiated by the lack of any spots on the Dwarf. An important reproductive characteristic of this species is that the egg clutches are left hanging from the underside of leafs, above a stream so that tadpoles can easily drop to a certain source of water. We found one individual resting on a leaf as we searched for the Ghost Glass Frog on a rocky stream of water at Yatama Ecolodge.
The Hourglass Tree Frog receives its name from the dark brown mark on its back, which resembles an hourglass in shape. Overall, it is colored orange and brown, with small light spots on darker areas and small dark spots on the lighter zones. Some individuals are rather patternless and look entirely orange. It is common and widespread in both caribbean and pacific lowlands. This species is arboreal and nocturnal, and can be found in disturbed areas, including gardens close to people’s homes. It is not likely to be confused with any other frog species that inhabit Costa Rica; the other two species in the Dendropsophus genus have a similar orange color, but without the intricate patterns of the Hourglass.
The Eyelash Palm-Pitviper is an arboreal venomous snake, found in Central and South America, with a diverse array of skin colors, the yellow color potentially being the most impressive and rendering them unmistakable, which gives them one of its most recognizable nicknames: “Oropel”, whose root is “oro” that means gold. It shares its genus with the Side-striped Palm-Pitviper. It is called Eyelash due to the scales right on top of the eyes. They grow up to 82 centimeters in length, which is not very long between viper species. Its head is triangular in shape and its tail is prehensile, helping it grab branches to maintain its balance. They hunt by ambush, waiting in a spot for prey, particularly birds during the annual migration.
The Agami Heron is simply the most beautiful heron species to be seen in Costa Rica. It is also one of the most secretive heron species in Costa Rica, rarely seen in its territory. Luckily, a colony of up to 100 pairs are nesting each year in the Pacuare Reserve, Limon, which is dedicated to marine turtle conservation and research. The nesting spot is located in a small terrain surrounded by a lagoon that is full of crocodiles, which prevents other natural predators from eating their eggs or chicks, and the eggs are laid up in the trees, out of reach for crocs. The throat is red with small light blue feathers that cover it forming a pattern. The head is blue with a light blue cap, which looks ike hair styled to the back. The bill is very long, with the upper mandible being black and the lower yellow. The upper parts are blue, with a few light blue feathers, while the feathers on the body are chestnut. The Juvenile is almost entirely brown.
The Red-eyed Tree Frog is easily one of the best recognized frogs in Costa Rica. It is featured in most ads promoting eco-tourism activities to both nationals and foreigners. Its colors are very bright and varied, ranging from the white belly and throat, green dorsum and sides of the arms and legs, blue on the inside part of the arms and legs, orange hands and feet, and the reddish eyes with conspicuously vertical black pupils; such a cocktail of colors is sure to attract predators.
With so much separation between both eyes, these frogs can almost look in two opposite directions at the same time, an incredible adaptation that enables them to spot potential predators and prey. They also have what’s called a nictitating membrane, which is transparent skin below the lid that helps protect the eye and keep moisture when the eye lid is open. The iris is all covered in veins and the eye is large in comparison with the body, helping this species see very well in the dark forest
Rain can be easily simulated during a night photoshoot using a spray bottle, as the flash will illuminate the drops as they fall and freeze the action. If one would want longer looking drops, then the use of a continuous source of light can help. This makes for more natural looking images, as most tree frogs are nocturnal in nature and become more active during or after rainy evenings. It is common to hear them calling from ponds and branches, most normally males trying to attract females to mate.
The Spotted Antbird is part of the family of birds that usually follow army ant raids, grabbing insects that flee from the ants. Their backs have an orange color, along with the wings which are also patterned with black. The head of the male is dark gray, while in the female it has a brown coloration. The chest features spots of black on a white chest, and then the underside is light gray. It is rather small when compared with other antbirds. I found a group of five males that were singing at the edge of the trail in Observatory Lodge during the afternoon, along with three Bicolored and one Ocellated Antbird. That was quite a show as they jumped from one place to another on the ground.
Not to be confused with the Oreotrochilus genus, the Rufous-gaped Hillstar is the only member of the Urochroa genus. It is rather large and streamlined, showing lots of different colors around the body. Its throat is blue to purple, ending on a dark orange malar strip which is very conspicuous and looks like a big smile. The belly is gray but shows blue-green feathers on the sides. The back and head of the body has olive, blue and green hues. A very small white postocular spot finishes the look.
The Violet-bellied Hummingbird is another of the cute hummingbirds we saw in Colombia. Its name is pretty descriptive, since the belly is a deep iridescent purple tone that looks metallic on the right light; on the shadow it looks blue instead. The throat and face also glow in light green sometimes, other times it looks dark green along with the back of the head. It has a long and thin black bill that’s used like most hummingbird to extract nectar from the deep cavities of flowers in Colombia. I saw this individual while walking down from Doña Dora’s restaurant. It was doing its early morning stretching routine.