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.

Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus)

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.

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.

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.

Moraine Lake

The place that needs no introduction. Moraine Lake is bound to be one of the prettiest lakes in the world. Going also by the name of “Valley of the Ten Peaks”, it helps to augment the mystery surrounding this lake. Sunrise is the best time of the day to observe the lake, as the slowly rising sun illuminates the peaks with golden light, changing also the color of the sky from blue to magenta in a smooth transition. During autumn, it can take up more than an hour for the lighting to change from blue hour to full day, giving plenty of time to snap pictures from different angles and locations. A pity for us was the fact that four buses filled with tourists arrived just before sunrise, which made it difficult to actually grab a good spot. But Earth is a place to be shared with everyone, and if more people can appreciate its beauty firsthand, then that’s ok.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

The Northern Jacana is a waterbird that inhabits swamps and marshes, where the water is not too deep. The bird walks in the shallows, looking for small fish and crustaceans. It can even walk over some water plants whose leafs are big enough to sustain this delicate bird, thanks to very long toes that help to distribute the weight across a greater extent of water surface. Another unique behavior is its polyandrous nature, meaning that females will mate with many males, and it is the males that prepare the nest and care for the eggs and chicks. It is brown overall with black throat and head, with a yellow shield on the front (Wattled Jacana’s and Common Gallinules have a red shield). The juvenile has white underparts and lacks the shield seen in the adult.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The Great Blue Heron is one of the largest birds that occur naturally in Costa Rica. They can be found in watery environments like rivers and ponds, even artificial ones like the one in Concasa, which has been visited by a juvenile bird almost every morning from January 2018 to March of the same year. The name is misleading though, as the blue is color is rather dull on this bird. The juvenile is mostly grayish, with a darker cap, yellow eye and lower mandible, and black upper mandible. The adult shows a light dull blue on the back and wings, with brownish neck and white cheeks, maintaining the dark cap and yellow eye, but the upper mandible changes to yellow. They stalk prey from the edge of water ponds and lakes, and launch a forceful attack as fish pass by, able to snatch fish of considerable size and swallow them in one go.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor)

The Fulvous Whistling-Duck is a pretty duck, very similar in shape to the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, to the point that it can be confused with a Juvenile of the Black-bellied. I was lucky because three individuals came to swim on the lake by Concasa, so I spotted them when I returned home in the afternoon. This was unexpected, because I already knew that they only inhabit the northwestern region of Costa Rica, and should be not be found in the Central Valley. I took out my camera and snapped lots of pictures, because I assumed the birds would leave next day. And so they did, in the days afterwards there was no sight of them. Since then, a single individual has returned a few times joining a flock of Black-bellied, which seems pretty unusual. I have seen the Black-bellied pecking at this Fulvous, seemingly trying to drive it away, but it stays with the flock.