The Annulated Tree Boa is a large arboreal species that inhabits the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Unlike other Boa species like the Mesoamerican, one morph of this species are brownish-red in color, which renders them rather conspicuous against the dark green background in the tropical rain forest. Their nocturnal habits and preference for staying high in the trees make them difficult to spot. The color pattern consists of a series of diamond-shaped blotches, which are darker over the dorsum and lighter towards the venter. Some individuals have a cream base color instead of the brownish-red of the specimen shown below.
Purple Gallinules are some of the most brightly colored birds that you can see walking in Costa Rica. Indeed while they can also fly, they more commonly wade in shallow waters and in dense grass plains, looking for prey. I have seen them in Palo Verde in big numbers, and spotted individuals in Rio Frio, where they join chickens and forage in the backyards of houses; indeed I was able to see two adults rearing four young hatchlings, which were still covered in black fluffy hairs, getting along with the chickens just fine. The underside and head is entirely purple with a metallic look, showing a small light blue patch on the forehead. The beak is mostly bright red, with a yellow tip. The upperparts show blue to olive green hues, particularly on the wings. The yellow legs are long, letting them to wade in shallow edges of lagoons without having to swim.
Red Coffee Snake is a non-venomous species of snakes, however most of the body is red, which warns potential predators not to come close. People ask me if this is a Coral or False Coral when they see the pictures, but it only bears a small resemblance. It lacks any ring patterns and is very slim, two traits that can help in identification. Its forehead is black, and it has a black mark on the back as well, just before the red body skin starts. With its elongated and thin body, one might think it is just a worm. It is found in Mexico and Central America.
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 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.
This species has a mostly green body, with light blue patches in some dorsal parts. The eye is yellow with an horizontal black pupil. The disks at the end of the fingers are expanded, featuring a yellowish coloration. The best field mark for identification is the red webbing between its fingers, just like its name suggests. It is mainly nocturnal, hence not commonly seen during the day. It is curious how the skin color of this frog species changes from day to night time. During the day, the color is similar to a turquoise, while in the night the skin turns yellowish.
A friend of mine found an individual on the edge of the trail that leads to the Agami colony at Pacuare Reserve. It was late in the day, so it was still sleeping and let me have a half-hour photoshoot session with it without a single sign of being disturbed. One of the shots was taken only using natural light during a fairly strong wind that constantly moved the leaf up and down. I thought of artificially creating the night, although the frog was still sleeping. To create the black background on the second picture, I lighted the frog from very close using a bike lantern. The light did not need to be very powerful, since at macro distances the difference between the light intensity at the subject and the background can be exaggerated.
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 Red-ruffed Fruitcrow is a large bird belonging to the Cotingidae family. It does resemble a crow in overall body form, but it sports a brilliant red-orange throat and an orange chest and belly that’s very distinctive, even inside the darkness of the forest they inhabit. Although arboreal, they do come to the ground to eat fallen fruit. Another endemic bird of Colombia. We saw this bird in Yarumo Blanco SFF, in Pereira, where it is actually abundant and not so afraid of people. It came to ground a few times and seemed to be comfortable with us being around.
The Vermilion Flycatcher is very small when compared with most Flycatchers found in Costa Rica, however it might easily be the most beautiful. Its deep red body is refreshing to see, since Costa Rican species are mostly yellow instead. The body plan is pretty similar to a Great Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher, just a lot smaller and plumper body. The back is dark grey and the red crest is sometimes raised. They are relatively shy but very active, particularly in the morning where they ca be seen catching insects and returning to the same perch in a typical flycatcher fasion. This species is found in Mexico and southamerica, but there have been reports in Costa Rica’s frontier with Panama, meaning we could be seeing it close by in the next years.
Don’t get confused by the name, this is not the Scarlet Tanager, which incidentally has very bright red colors. The Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager is just unbelievably handsome. It has a dark body which can look blueish under the right light. The belly is a deep scarlet color, although some subspecies may show different shades of this red. It also has a red patch on the ear, and two blue patches, one in the shoulder and the other on the rump. Just as its name, it is a very elegant bird, specially when set against a contrasting green background. It shares the same genus with the Blue-winged and the Lachrymose Mountain-Tanagers, however I really find this species to be pinnacle of beauty. We saw them at about 3,000 meters above sea level, during our visit to Termales del Ruiz.