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.

Green Tree Anole (Anolis biporcatus)

We saw this Green Tree Anole right by the reception area at Yatama Ecolodge. It moved very slowly and deliberately, taking about 10 minutes just to traverse a plantain leaf from base to the tip, and when it did not find anywhere else to go, it jumped to an old heliconia flower that was hanging below the leaf. It continued moving towards the lower tip of the heliconia flower, and then it stayed at the lowest end for as long as we observed. Along all that movement, it gradually modified its skin color, becoming more yellowish-brownish when clinging to the heliconia and more lime green when walking through the leaf. It gave me plenty of time to snap many pictures in ever so slightly different positions; such a collaborative subject is not usual when it comes to wildlife photography.

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.

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.

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.

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.