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Russet-naped Wood-Rail (Aramides albiventris)

The Russet-naped Wood-Rail was recently split from the Gray-cowled, with which it obviously has a lot of similarities. As its name indicates, the differentiating feature versus the Gray-cowled is the brownish patch on the back of the neck. The rest of the body is essentially the same, starting with the yellow bill, gray neck, rufous chest and back, deep red eyes and pink legs. These are noisy birds that are usually found in pairs, presumably male and female. A pair of these birds frequently arrived to forage close to our room at Yatama Ecolodge; most of the time they would make a weird low frequency sound, similar to the noise your throat makes when drinking water very fast.

Emerald Glass Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon)

We found this frog during a night time hike in search of the Ghost Glass Frog at Yatama Ecolodge, a prime conservation reserve bordering Braulio Carrillo National Park. It acted very docile, barely moving its head down from the upward position it had when we found it. The easiest way to recognize it among the Glass Frog family is by the dark spots on an otherwise uniform green skin. Males feature a blue-green hook that seems to stem from the shoulder joint, faintly visible in the left-hand side picture below; one can only ask what purpose this structure it might serve. The eyes are relatively forward facing, like in most other species in the family.

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.

Brilliant Forest Frog (Lithobates warszewitschii)

The Brilliant Forest Frog is a widespread frog of the True Frogs family, however they are most frequently found on the leaf litter in the dense forest, unlike most other members of the family which inhabit ponds and other bodies of water. We found the individual below as we hiked through one of the trails at Yatama Ecolodge. Surprisingly, it stayed put in the same place for about 20 minutes, not moving even once. I put the camera directly on the ground close to where it was, used pebbles and dead branches to balance it, removed dead leaves and twigs from the surroundings to clean up the background a little bit, and the frog did not even twitch. It probably felt very confident in its camouflaged appearance; as a matter of fact, we would have not spotted it, if it had not hopped once when the we approached it at the trail. Also in a different trip to Yatama, I found two individuals close to our cabin after returning from a short night walk, presumably a male and a female given the size difference, and I observed the exact same behavior.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

The Turkey Vulture is a common scavenger observed throughout Costa Rica. It soars using thermal air currents, and also perches in trees and fence posts. When perched, they commonly open their wings wide, presumably to warm up its wings with sunlight and get rid of parasites, although as seen below, I observed the same behavior during a light rain. The most helpful trait to identify it against the similar Black Vulture is the white flight feathers, as the red head is sometimes not easy to see when they soar. As most vultures, they are misunderstood creatures, given the really important role they play to recycle nutrients from dead animals. They also are key protagonists in the annual raptor migration from North to Central and South America, where close to a million individuals pass through the Kekoldi reserve at the South Caribbean coast.

Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina)

The Tennessee Warbler is a difficult bird to identify, given how many warblers have a yellowish plumage. The best tell-tale sign is the dark stripe through the eye and the bright supraciliary. A little more difficult to see is the white feathers on the underside of the tail. Unexpectedly, it arrived to the fruit feeder at my home in San Bernardino. At first I thought it was a female Red-legged Honeycreeper, because in lowlight the warbler looks greenish, but its behavior is different, and it would never vocalize, while the honeycreepers vocalize rather frequently, specially when having quarrels over pecking order.

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.

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.

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

The Eastern Meadowlark is an inhabitant of grass plains in Central Valley and the Caribbean areas. I have seen this species at my home in San Rafael de Alajuela, at La Guacima, at the Santa Ana Windmills (that’s 1,600 meters above sea level!) and most recently in San Bernardino, near Guápiles. Sometimes they perch in fence posts, other times they just find a comfortable place in the grass where they forage. Their song is very high-pitched and far-carrying. Indeed, many times I have been able to spot them as I bike through by listening to their song. Their belly is bright yellow, while their back is streaked in cream and dark brown. A key characteristic is the plump body, more similar to the antpittas than to any yellow-bellied flycatcher. When startled, they fly away and land on another patch of grass where they feel safe, the continue foraging. The juvenile is somewhat duller and never strays too far from its parent.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)

The Rufous-tailed Jacamar is an exotic bird found on both the Caribbean and South Pacific rainforests of Costa Rica. Its shape and bright colors make it resemble a very large hummingbird, but it does not fly like one. The long bill is useful to catch bigger insect and tossing them against a branch to kill them. Both the belly and underside of the tail is rufous, while the chest, back and head is blueish-green. The male has a white throat, while in the female the throat is buffy. It likes to perch in higher branches to deliver its song, a series of piercing notes that accelerate to the end.