Costa Rica Forests and Rivers

When I started to learn landscape photography, I was disappointed that Costa Rica did not have any of the impressive mountains and ridges of North America and Europe. I compared the green forests covering a great portion of the natural environment in Costa Rica, to the Rocky Mountains in Canada and thought that in all the green of the country, there were no landscapes worth shooting. How misleading that thought was! In fact, nowadays I think that Costa Rica is exciting for landscape photography precisely due to all that green. The trees and forests take so many shapes and the rivers that go through them create sinuous lines that can only be found here. I still love the Rockies, but I love Costa Rica the most, and I am always searching for more interesting compositions to showcase its beauty.

Costa Rica Waterfalls

Costa Rica has too many waterfalls to count. Some waterfalls are well known and relatively easy to reach like Rio Celeste and Peace Waterfall Gardens, while others are secluded and take some effort hiking through mountains and forests, like the small waterfall that hides in Yatama Ecolodge. There’s even the Bajo del Toro area, where you find an entrance to a waterfall hike every kilometer or so. The largest might measure 100 meters from head to bottom, while the smallest barely falling from 2 meters high, yet the sight of a waterfall at the end of trail is very rewarding for people. A dip into the water is all people need to forget how sorting obstacles through the rain forest draws away your energy, and fills you with happiness. And the silky water effect is a great addition to any landscape photo.

White-lipped Rain Frog (Craugastor talamancae)

We found the White-lipped Rain Frog as we hiked during the night in search of the Annulated Tree Boa at Yatama Ecolodge. It has a brownish coloration, which would help it camouflage really well against the ground and the leaf litter. Both front and back legs are lightly striped, just barely noticeable when looking from very close. It actually was a pretty common sight in the area, although most frequently heard than seen.

Pygmy Rain Frog (Pristimantis ridens)

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.

Emerald Glass Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon)

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.

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.

Drab Streamside Tree Frog (Smilisca sordida)

The Drab Streamside Tree Frog, also known as Veraguan Cross-banded Tree Frog, is a relatively unmarked species, usually colored in grayish tones. It is common throughout the country, except on the Pacific Northwest. As indicated by its name, these frogs’ preferred habitat is water streams, where they breed. Curiously, I met this frog when one individual appeared on our kitchen at midnight in San Bernardino. We let it stay and in the morning it had disappeared, until my mother found it below the fret drainer where it was cool and moist. We placed it in a “Giant bird’s nest” plant (locally known as Tabacón), and there it remained for the entire day. By the evening, I went out and found it in the same place, and snapped the few pictures below.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

The Rufous-tailed Jacamar is an exotic bird found on both the Caribbean and South Pacific rainforests of Costa Rica. Its shape and bright colors make it resemble a very large hummingbird, but it does not fly like one. The long bill is useful to catch bigger insect and tossing them against a branch to kill them. Both the belly and underside of the tail is rufous, while the chest, back and head is blueish-green. The male has a white throat, while in the female the throat is buffy. It likes to perch in higher branches to deliver its song, a series of piercing notes that accelerate to the end.

Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)

The Gartered Trogon is another relative of the Resplendent Quetzal, being part of this conspicuous family. To distinguish from other similar yellow-bellied trogon species occurring in the country (Black-throated and Black-headed), look for the yellow orbital skin in the male and fine barring on the wings in the female. The blue throat of the male can look deceivingly black inside the forest, and in juveniles might not be bright enough yet to be noticeable. Also the Black-headed is bigger to the Gartered, while the Black-throated is the same size. The pattern on the underside of the tail, likely to be seen as the birds perch relatively high, can also be a telltale sign, with the Black-headed lacking any barring on the undertail. A metallic green back completes the look of the male, while the female is duller, with gray head and back.