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Red-eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

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.

Masked Tree Frog (Smilisca phaeota)

The Masked Tree Frog is a nocturnal, arboreal species that can be found on the lowlands and foothills of both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of Costa Rica, although it does not occur on the dry plains of Guanacaste. Its color is variable, however the dark brown patch behind the eye is unmistakable.  Their color ranges from entirely tan to entirely green, with intermediate, contrasty patterns in between. When most of their body is tan, it can look very similar to the Cross-banded Tree Frog, however the Cross-banded never has a mask. Their vocal sacs are bilobed, which essentially means that it looks like two vocal sacs, one at each side of the throat.

I have an story of a time I visited Mirador El Pizote, in Boca Tapada, San Carlos. One of these frogs had entered the cabin where I stayed, possibly during the night. I was going for a bath and found the frog resting on the bathroom. After trying a few pictures (that did not work out very well), I tried to grab it to put it outside, but it jumped rapidly and disappeared. Since I could not follow its movement, I was never sure whether it went outside or stayed inside.

Green and Black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus)

The Green and Black Poison Dart Frog is one of the species in this family that occurs in Costa Rica, along with the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog and other species, although this species is bigger than the Strawberry. Poison Dart Frogs are diurnal, so it is relatively common to flush them from the floor litter during hiking trips through forested areas. Their contrasting body color is an adaptation meant to signal their poisonous skin to potential predators, helping these frogs escape from danger. Poison Dart Frogs are known because of their ability to withstand ant venom and convert it into their own which means the older the frog, the more poisonous it becomes. Some of these species were used by aboriginal people in South America to kill monkeys and other prey, by rubbing their skin to the arrows that they shoot.

It is normal to see Poison Dart Frogs resting on the leaves of bromeliads, where they usually deposit their larvae, which will develop inside a water pool in the base of a bromeliad leaf. They are more conspicuous when seen on leaf litter, which usually turns brown as the vegetation decays. Also poisonous species like this one are more active during the day. The two times I have had the opportunity to photograph this species, I was careful to keep my distance, as they jumped around quickly and could touch me at any moment. While being touched generally won´t produce any reaction, being careless afterwards and bringing the hands to touch the eyes or the nose after having grabbed one of these can produce significant effects, up to partial blindness.

Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona)

The Amazon Kingfisher is a mid-sized kingfisher, larger than the other green kingfisher species, but smaller than the Ringed and Belted Kingfishers, which are overall blue in color, the smaller to inhabit Costa Rica. It is very similar to the Green Kingfisher, however the Green is larger and lacks both the white spotting on the wings and the white outer feathers of the tail. Like most species of Kingfishers, it is found close to any wetland habitats, where they can catch small fish and crustaceans. The male featured in the pictures below frequented a small stream of water, which had risen due to recent heavy rains, about 100 meters from my parent’s home. It would perch on the fence wire and stay motionless for minutes at a time, only balancing as the wire would start to move upon landing on it.

Coppery-headed Emerald (Elvira cupreiceps)

The Coppery-headed Emerald is one of the few species of birds that are true endemics of Costa Rica, meaning only found in this country. The male is mostly green, with the copper hues on the head that can only be seen in the appropriate light and angle. The female has grey underparts and lacks the copper colors on the head. Both have a black downcurved bill, which help with identification versus similar species like the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, with which it shares the brownish-red rump. They are one of the tiniest species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica. They are seen in the mid to high elevations, in places where there is high humidity, but specially in the Cinchona and Vara Blanca zone.

Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica)

The Crowned Woodnymph is a medium sized hummingbird with a violet belly and glittering green throat, along with different shades of blue and green on the back. The female has white underparts and throat instead, with golden patches along the neck and head; the rest of the body is green like the male. They are mid sized among Costa Rican hummingbirds and might resemble a little bit the Violet-bellied Hummingbird that is found in Colombia. They inhabit low tropical rain forest locations like Braulio Carrillo and Bosque Eterno de los Niños, where they feed from the nectar of a variety of flowers, including Porter Weed.

Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula)

The Green-crowned Brilliant is a relatively large hummingbird of the Heliodoxa family, which contains nine species, but the jacula is the only species to inhabit Costa Rica. It has a weird face, resulting from the elongated form towards the long and thin bill. The male is mostly green with glittering metallic-green crown as the name suggests, which becomes visible only with some angles due to the iridescence phenomenon that the bird displays; it also has a small purple patch on the throat. The female is similar, but has a white belly with scaling pattern in the throat and the flanks.

Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)

The Violet-tailed Sylph is part of the Aglaiocercus genus, containing two more species, one of them being the Long-tailed Sylph which we also saw in Colombia during our trip. It has a long tail that glows in purple from the back. Other than that, the bird is mostly green, with flashes of orange on the belly and blue hues on the back. Their bill is relatively short when compared with other hummingbird species on its range. When the outer tail feathers are molted, individuals can be seen with shorter tails, like in the pictures below, since those feathers are precisely the ones that grow very long.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird (Damophila julie)

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.

Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina)

Metallura is a genus that contains nine species, all of them inhabiting different ranges in the Andes mountains. They are small and vary in coloration of the plumage. The Tyrian Metaltail is green overall, showing a white postocular spot, and white plumage on the belly and vent that gives it a scaled pattern on the underparts. The gorget is metallic green, however it is not seen from every angle due to iridescence. We saw one individual in Rio Blanco Natural Reserve, perched on a small ornamental plant, most probably resting after a full nectar meal.