Stream Anole (Anolis oxylophus)

There is always a back story for every picture that I take, and this might be one of the most amusing. I hiked early in the morning with all my gear to a rapids section of a river at Kinkajou Tropical Reserve, close to Yatama Ecolodge where I was staying. I kept thinking about how dragging all that equipment was not worth it; after all the trail was all muddy and the vegetation had encroached itself to make passing through difficult. After I had finished with the landscape pictures, I was talking to my guide close to a rock at the river’s edge, when I saw an orange flash come out of a branch. When I paid attention, I saw this anole, head raised and dewlap extended, probably displaying for a nearby female that we could not find. I had read about the Stream Anole in the Reptiles of Costa Rica: A Field Guide book by Twan Leenders, but it never crossed my mind I would find it that day without searching for it. All of a sudden, carrying all that weight on my back was entirely worth the trouble.

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.

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)

Photographing the Sunbittern has been one of my goals ever since I started birding. This is a majestic bird, with a intriguing pattern on the wings which it flashes when flying from one rock to another. I have seen it plenty of times already, particularly in a small rocky stream 2 kms from home in San Bernardino, where it forages. Other times I have only seen the footprints on a rock, where presumably an individual stood just a few minutes before I arrived. It is very wary of people, flying away to keep at a distance when spotting them or hearing noise.

Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons)

The Green Basilisk, also known as the Jesus Christ Basilisk due to its incredible feat to run on water, is one of the four species of the Basiliscus genus and of three species to occur in Costa Rica. The similar Striped Basilisk is brown with two yellow lines that run one through they, and a thicker one from below the eye, both ending in the upper portions of the back. The male has a big crest that protudes both on the head, back and tail, which can be raised to signal that it is angry or defending its territory. Most of its body is green with light blue spots around the back, a color pattern that lets it camouflage very easily in foliage and vegetation, particularly during the morning when they bask in the sun to warm up their bodies. The female shows a lighter shade of green than the male. Their eyes are bright yellow. Both their fingers and toes are very large, with scales that can be extended, increasing the effective surface area of their feet and enabling them to run over water for short distances, up to 20 meters.

Torrent Tyrannulet (Serpophaga cinerea)

The Torrent Tyrannulet is a very small flycatcher; few other flycatchers are smaller like the Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. The Torrent Tyrannulet inhabits river and torrents in the highlands of Costa Rica, which commonly feature rocks in and alongside the stream. It is rather dull, with overall white to gray body but black wings, tail and face. They catch insects in the air using acrobatic motions. They usually perch on rocks instead of branches, which means they are found close to ground or water level. While spooked easily by an approaching person, standing or sitting motionless for a while allows them to become used to a person’s presence, resulting in natural and even curious behavior. One such time, a bird perched on branch at a distance where my lens would not even focus (less than 2.2 meters away), and would look at me, like it was trying to decipher what I was.

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.

White-capped Dipper (Cinclus leucocephalus)

Five species of birds compose the Cinclus genus, all of which have a very unique characteristic: They dive underwater to catch small fish and invertebrates, along with their eggs and larvae. They are most commonly found along river banks and fast flowing streams. Being able to swim underwater, they bear adaptations for this purpose. For instance, their bones are solid to reduce buoyancy, while the feathers are dense and covered in oil that repels water, which has two effects: Maintaining the body dryers, and capturing a small layer of air around its body. The White-capped Dipper in particular is dark gray on the upper side, white on the underside and shows a white cap that goes well with its common name.

Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata)

The Torrent Duck is very special and one of the highlights of our trip to Colombia. They are only found living in the high courses of rapid flowing streams, with lots of rocks that serve as anchorage and resting places for them; most other ducks prefer calm waters and lakes to spend their time. This duck chooses a spot downstream for resting during the night, and at the morning it swims upstream against the strong current, until it finds a preferred feeding area. It then begins a cycle: Either the male or female mount guard from a comfortable rock, while the other feeds in a small pool or river region that has light current. When the food is gone, they both jump to the current and get dragged downstream until they reach the next feeding area, where again one of them mounts guard while the other one feeds. This is very unique behavior, one we could observe from very close at Yarumo Blanco SFF.

Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)

The Neotropic Cormorant is an aquatic bird, hence it is popularly known is Costa Rica as the “Pato de Agua” or water duck. It dives underwater in search of prey, which is mostly comprise of fish, but also includes amphibians. Once their feathers are soaked, they spread their wings on a rock to dry under the sun. They can be found at the sea and in rivers, sometimes accompanied by Frigatebirds or any type of egret, like the Tricolored Heron. They are mostly dark in coloration with a yellow bill, and their feet are webbed, just like a duck, which is a feature that help them propel themselves while underwater.