The White Ibis is, well… entirely white in plumage. When spotted from a distance it can resemble a Great Egret, Cattle Egret or Snowy Egret, however the pink legs and face, along with the long, skinny downcurved bill is diagnostic. The tips of the wings are black, although that is only visible during flight. The juvenile has brown upperparts, and the neck is striped in brown and white, with gray legs and a darker bill. It is found in ponds and marshes in Guanacaste and the northern area of the country; also along the pacific coast of Costa Rica. Given its habitat, they usually wade in the shallow waters and mudflats, where pick small crustaceans and fish, just like Egrets do.
The Smooth-skinned Toad (or Leaf-Litter Toad as it is called sometimes) is a species of true toad that bears a dead-leaf pattern on its skin, concealing it from most predators when they lie motionless in tree bark or the ground. Furthermore, their lifestyle is nocturnal, so during the day they don’t move much, unless spooked. They rely on that camouflage to be safe, even around streams, where their dull colors can match the colors of some rocks. They are small, around the size of a female Green and Black Poison Dart Frog, but their overall coloration is a dull brown with orange and dark blue patches, making them incospicuous against the brown layer of leaf litter.
The Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, along the Green and Black Poison Dart Frog, are one of the common diurnal species that can be found in tropical rain forests in Costa Rica, particularly at the Caribbean side. It is common to go hiking and see these bright red and blue frogs suddenly jump from the trail. Due to the color of their legs, they are also called the “Blue Jeans”, although in Costa Rica some individuals are found that have red legs and arms, and in other countries like Panama there are many more morphs with entirely different color patterns. Regardless of the specific colors, they are very conspicuous and do not camouflage well on the leaf litter that tends to be brown to black. They are tiny when compared with many Tree Frogs.
As with the Green and Black Poison Dart Frog, caution must be taken not to touch these frogs when photographing them with macro lenses, as their skin is poisonous and any contact of their secretions with our eyes, nose or mouth can cause much discomfort. While handling them does not produce any symptons, if one is careless, then it is possible to touch one´s sensible organs with the hands and experience significant effects, up to partial blindness.
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 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 dissappeared. Since I could not follow its movement, I was never sure whether it went outside or stayed inside.
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.
The Cross-banded or Tawny Tree Frog is a drab frog with tan to light brown coloration, expanded disks on toes and fingers, and minimal webbing in the feet. They look very similar to the Masked Tree Frog, which is another species in the Smilisca genus. In Costa Rica, it is mainly found in the Caribbean lowlands. It has nocturnal habits and prefers to be on trees, however during the reproductive season, the males descend to the ground and emit their call from the edge of small ponds. Unlike other nocturnal species that I have photographed, this frog would never fully open the eyes. Its position suggests how sleepy they are during the day. They probably rely on camouflage rather than detecting predators and escaping from them.
The Chiriqui Robber Frog is a rare nocturnal, arboreal inhabitant of humid lowland and montane forests in tropical countries, namely Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Their color and pattern is highly variable and cryptic, but overall includes varying shades and patterns of drab colors like tan, brown and black, which helps them to camouflage easily in the forest. It lacks webbing on the hands and feet, but shows greatly enlarged disks on the toes and fingers. The best field mark to identify this species is the black reticulum on the brown eye. We found a female resting on a leaf on a night hike, and then a pair in amplexus on another hike through a rocky stream in search of the Ghost Glass Frog, at Yatama Ecolodge.
Ever since I first see the Red-legged Honeycreeper, I inmediately knew I was seeing one of the most gorgeous species Costa Rica has. Then I met the Green Honeycreeper, and I stood delighted. The male has a striking combination of dark green body, deep black hood, bright yellow bill and dark red iris, which just looks amazing, even when wet. In fact, I would say a wet male screams Rain forest, that’s enough to love it. The female is not as exotic, however the green color of their feathers is so bright as to defy belief. I also spotted this species in Colombia, which seemingly looked more turquoise than green.
The Keel-billed Toucan is the one bird we all know about. It is featured in all brochures and advertising around tourism in Costa Rica. It’s colorful beak is amazing. As with all Toucans species though, this bird will raid other species’ nests, so it is common to see that other birds harass them, trying to scare them away. In particular, I have seen Great Kiskadees acting aggressively towards them in an effort to divert them from their nest. They are smaller than the Yellow-throated Toucan, which has a duller beak than the Keel-billed. Both species are very common in the Caribbean lowlands, and both like to eat a variety of fruits, readily coming to fruit feeders. One of the most interesting traits of this bird is its song, which resembles the croaking of a frog. They move their heads very slowly from one side to the other, then remains motionless for a few seconds, and suddenly jumps and turns around 180 degrees before falling in the same branch, an entire spectacle.