Gray-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps)

The Gray-headed Chachalaca is a relatively big arboreal bird with mostly a brown body and gray head. Their diet consists mainly of fruits. At my parents´ home, up to ten arrive at the feeders where my parents place the papaya. Due to their size, they throw the papaya to the ground while eating, which does not help the toucans when they arrive. They are very loud, particularly when spooked by predators or humans, although not as loud as Brown Jays. They can be seen gliding from tall trees, one after another in rapid succession, relying on the uplift from air currents to avoid expending energy on batting their wings.

Annulated Tree Boa (Corallus annulatus)

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.

Mexican Tree Frog (Smilisca baudinii)

The Mexican Tree Frog is among Costa Rica’s biggest frogs. It is somewhat similar in appearance to the Masked Tree Frog, however the Mexican is bigger; its overall color is brown instead of green, and does not show such a definite dark brown patch behind the eye. The eyes are very similar between both species. It does occur in the Guanacaste province, from which the Masked is absent, however it is not found on the Pacific south from the Tarcoles river. They are nocturnal and arboreal like most tree frogs.

Hourglass Tree Frog (Dendropsophus ebraccatus)

The Hourglass Tree Frog receives its name from the dark brown mark on its back, which resembles an hourglass in shape. Overall, it is colored orange and brown, with small light spots on darker areas and small dark spots on the lighter zones. Some individuals are rather patternless and look entirely orange. It is common and widespread in both caribbean and pacific lowlands. This species is arboreal and nocturnal, and can be found in disturbed areas, including gardens close to people’s homes. It is not likely to be confused with any other frog species that inhabit Costa Rica; the other two species in the Dendropsophus genus have a similar orange color, but without the intricate patterns of the Hourglass.

Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)

The Common Ground-Dove is very similar to related species Ruddy and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, however the Common is lighter in coloration, with a pink bill that is diagnostic; it also shows a scaled pattern in the throat and neck, which is missing from the other ground doves. Also similar to these species is the Inca Dove, which even behaves similarly as it forages most of the time on the ground, however the scaled appearance in the whole body should preclude any confusion. The male is ligher than the female, which looks grayish. All ground doves feature dark spots in the tips of primaries and secondaries, which look like a curved line when the wings are closed, although the Common’s should area spots are more numerous and do not form a line.

A male Common Ground-Dove stands on a metal rod, with trees in the background becoming a dark green blotch of color.

Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)

Green Iguanas are the biggest species of lizards in the world, reaching lengths up to 1.5 meters including the tail. They are abundant in Costa Rican lowlands, and can be found in most of America’s continent, either naturally occurring or as established populations of escaped pets, as they are a very frequent target among pet lovers. They can be found in many beaches, around rivers, high in the tree canopy or walking slowly on the grass. Their diet is composed mostly of leaves, flowers and fruits, although some individuals have been observed eating insects and rodents.

Green Iguanas are not necessarily green in color, instead they have a lot of variability in their range. In some areas they are green, others brown or red, even blue in Peru. The back of the male is covered with spines, a defense mechanism to keep predators at bay, and they feature a dewlap, which is a fold of skin that starts at the front of the lower jaw and ends at the junction where the front limbs start. The dewlap is normally hanging, although it can be displayed as a sign of aggression.

Red-webbed Tree Frog (Hypsiboas rufitelus)

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.

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 dissappeared. Since I could not follow its movement, I was never sure whether it went outside or stayed inside.

Great Curassow (Crax rubra)

The Great Curassow is a pretty unique bird among Costa Rica species. It shows marked sexual dymorphism, with the female being mostly brown on the most common morph, and the male being almost entirely black. The female has a feather crest that looks just like a Roman Soldier’s helmet and it is barred black and white. Their size is about a turkey’s, yet they have the agility to climb pretty high on trees, as they typically inhabit forested areas. There is also a “barred” morph in females, but it is not common to see in Costa Rica.

This picture was taken at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, Boca Tapada during a birdwatching tour with Fundación Rapaces de Costa Rica, on November 25th and 26th, 2017. It is incredible that such a big bird is able to balance itself so well on perches that are pretty high above the ground. It was even able to incline the body to the front and feed while standing there.