Costa Rica Birds—The Green Season

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It is no wonder that for anyone interested in seeing and photographing wildlife, Costa Rica ranks high on their list of places to visit. With over 800 different species of beautiful and photogenic birds, it is a birder’s and photographer’s delight. November and December are excellent times to photograph birds in Costa Rica. It is the transition time between the wet and dry seasons, and the wildlands are green and lush. Now, following the nesting season, both the adults and the young birds of the year pack our lodge bird feeders. Their numbers are further enhanced with many migrating species arriving from North America.
"The tour leader was an absolutely amazing photography instructor. He worked hard to make the trip possible for everyone and did everything in his power to make sure everyone was doing well. Fantastic!"
- Odalys M.
While there is no way to visit the entire country within a 2-week photo tour, we have spent years researching and visiting the locations that provide a broad overview of the exciting nature photography Costa Rica has to offer. From the lush rain forest of the Caribbean Lowlands to the temperate cloud forests of the Central Highlands, we have excellent opportunities to photograph a wonderful array of Neotropical birds using bird feeder “set-ups,” as well as discovering them in the field. Photographer pleasing favorites include toucans, araçaris, a large variety of colorful tanagers, honeycreepers, macaws, parrots, and a multitude of hummingbirds. We have timed our visit to see and photograph resplendent quetzals—one of the most beautiful birds in the Americas—during its feeding flights among lush fruiting trees. One of the quetzal’s favorite foods is a variety of small avocado found high in the trees in the mountains. Our experienced local guides know all of their favorite foraging haunts for us to capture great images of these spectacular birds.
Despite our trip’s name, to assume that this is strictly a bird photography tour would be doing it a disservice. We also spend time locating and photographing a variety of other rain forest icons like poison dart frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, the fantastically crested emerald basilisk lizard, leaf-cutter ants, giant orange-kneed tarantulas, and even nectar feeding bats—in flight—when conditions permit.
Green breasted mango hummingbirdOur time in Costa Rica is divided among five very different eco lodges, each providing a unique set of photogenic species. We spend time in three primary ecosystems, the Caribbean Lowlands, the Central Foothills, and the temperate, epiphyte-laden Central Highlands. All of our lodges have lively bird feeding stations where we “set up” attractive epiphyte-festooned branches to which we draw birds within camera range. We also venture away from each lodge to visit other well-established feeding stations for unique photography targets like wild macaws and king vultures. And of course, we visit the natural feeding areas of the resplendent quetzal. At one lodge we set up our hummingbird stations where it is possible to capture extraordinary images of these fast-moving jewels frozen in flight with completely natural-looking backgrounds. A similar station is used at night for photographing bats in flight. We provide all of the specialty high-speed flash equipment and instruction for these unique shoots. You need only bring your digital SLR camera, a telephoto zoom lens, a tripod, and a locking cable release.
When you choose our Costa Rica Birds—The Green Season photo tour you will appreciate our company’s 40 years of experience that make your trip comfortable, safe—and photographically productive!

Read Mark Thomas' trip report from our latest
Costa Rica Green Season photo tour 

For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Nov 25, 2024)
Participants fly to San Jose, Costa Rica. Our hotel is located 1 mile from the airport and provides complimentary shuttle service. We meet this evening for dinner and an introduction to the photography adventure ahead. (D)
Days 2–4
Black-mandibled toucanOur drive to our first lodge in the Caribbean Lowlands takes approximately 3 to 4 hours and brings us near the country’s northern border. We spend three days here photographing a wide variety of attractive subjects. This is the warmest and most humid location on the tour, but we are well-rewarded for our mild discomfort. The fruit feeders regularly attract keel-billed toucans, yellow-throated toucans, collared araçaris, Montezuma oropendolas, brown-hooded parrots, red-legged honeycreepers, and more. Our set-up natural perches are often adorned with moss and bromeliads, and are changed daily so they are always fresh for our cameras. Here, we also have specially-constructed photo blinds allowing us the unique opportunity to photograph king vultures. King vultures, by far the most striking of the New World vultures, are much larger and more ornate than the familiar black and turkey vultures. Just a short drive from the lodge we visit some well-stocked fruit feeders where we are likely to see and photograph three species of honeycreeper and a myriad of other small birds. The afternoons allow us the opportunity to photograph a collection of macro subjects, like strawberry poison dart frogs and red-eyed tree frogs, and possibly the beautiful eyelash viper and fer-de-lance—two very venomous denizens of the rain forest. Spider monkeys and coatis frequent our lodge grounds. Here we may have our first opportunity to photograph bats at night as they come to eat nectar from our flowers and feeders. (BLD)
Days 5–6
After breakfast, we travel to our second Caribbean Lowlands lodge sited on 500 acres of lowland rain forest alongside the Sarapiqui River. Here, several well-stocked bird feeders draw a variety of colorful subjects within close photography range. But birds aren’t the only attraction. Colorful poison dart frogs are found throughout the grounds, making wonderful photogenic subjects. Emerald basilisk lizards—iridescent green and sporting its three impressive dorsal crests—are frequently found here and are very cooperative subjects. The warm, wet climate of the lowlands is the perfect habitat for red-eyed tree frogs—another rain forest icon. In the evenings, we use special lighting techniques to photograph them as they come out to court and feed. Early the next morning, we head to a ranch where wild scarlet macaws and great green macaws come to feed. Taking advantage of the morning light, the next day we head to a ranch where wild scarlet macaws and great green macaws come to feed. We will likely have the opportunity to capture incredible images of these beautiful birds in flight as well as perched in the nearby trees. We return to our lodge for lunch. In the afternoon we head to a nearby eco-center that has well-established fruit and hummingbird feeding stations where frequent visitors include red-legged honeycreepers, green honeycreepers, blue-gray tanagers, crimson-collared tanagers, golden-hooded tanagers, Passerini’s tanagers, and a host of others. Along the river, sunbitterns and fasciated tiger-herons are regularly seen. Howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis and neotropical river otters are among the interesting mammals we may encounter. (BLD)
Days 7–8
Poison strawberry dart frogWe gain elevation as we drive to our next lodge in the Central Caribbean Foothills, arriving in time for lunch at our lodge situated at 3,000 feet in the Cordillera de Talamanca. Here, we set up our hummingbird flash stations where everyone gets a chance to rotate/share the equipment to capture these cloud forest jewels frozen in flight. Our set ups overlook well-stocked fruit feeders where there is always the chance to see and photograph blue-crowned motmots, lineated woodpeckers, golden-hooded tanagers, scarlet-rumped caciques and keel-billed toucans. Toward dusk we relax on the lodge balcony with a drink, enjoying the view and watching the birds fly to their evening roosts. After dinner, we move one of our flash set ups into the forest to photograph nectar bats in flight. And for those who are interested, we are often able to find large orange-kneed tarantulas near to where we set up for bats. The next day we photograph hummingbirds and bats at the stations with our flash equipment. (BLD)
Days 9–10
We depart after breakfast for the Central Highlands, our final ecosystem. Driving up the winding mountain roads we enter thick cloud forest. The area is home to the superlative resplendent quetzal—one of the world’s most spectacular birds! The aptly-named “resplendent” quetzal is like no other bird on earth. The brilliant red and green male has fantastic elongated upper tail coverts forming a feather train that make him three and one half feet long from head to tail. Our first highland lodge is located at nearly 8,700 feet in a habitat with a variety of high-country species, including monotypic and extraordinarily colorful fiery-throated hummingbirds. Male quetzal in flightThis afternoon we take our first trip to a nearby quetzal feeding site. Our guides have full knowledge of all of their active foraging locations in the area—and also know what we are looking for as photographers. The next two mornings are spent visiting the most active and accessible resplendent quetzal feeding areas where we hope to capture this incredible bird perching in moss-covered branches. (BLD)

Day 11
Following our morning quetzal shoot, we head to our trip’s last lodge. Our destination is San Gerardo de Dota where our lodge is located at 7,200 feet in a valley at the edge of mature oak forest and the Savegre River. While quetzals are regularly seen and photographed here, the lodge also has active hummingbird feeders that attract numerous species, including gray-tailed mountain-gems, green violetears, and magnificent and volcano hummingbirds. Many species restricted to the high mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama are also found here, including sulphur-winged parakeets, Costa Rican pygmy owls, black-capped flycatchers, flame-throated warblers and flame-colored tanagers, to name a few. We shoot this afternoon at the gardens and feeders around the lodge property. (BLD)
Day 12
A 5-minute drive from the lodge delivers us to several hummingbird feeders as well as fruit feeders that attract a large variety of birds. Acorn woodpeckers, long-tailed silky flycatchers, flame-colored tanagers, magnificent and volcano hummingbirds frequent these feeders—providing a wonderful shoot to end our tour. After lunch we load up the bus and head back to our hotel in San Jose. (BLD)
Day 13 (Dec 7)
Depart for home. (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Costa Rica Birds—The Green Season

Nov 25, 2024 - Dec 07, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Costa Rica Birds—The Green Season: Moderate Activity Level

Small bus travel. Easy walking at most locations. Less than 1 mile total walking each day. Rolling and slippery gravel slopes and uneven ground on mountains in quetzal habitat.

Trip Details
Nov 25 - Dec 07, 2024
Fee: $6,895 from San Jose, Costa Rica
Deposit: $1,500
Limit: 8 participants
Activity Level: ModerateModerate

Single Supplement: $840
  • Reside in attractive eco lodges with well-stocked bird feeders amidst unspoiled natural habitats
  • Photograph an impressive number of colorful Neotropical birds with attractive natural “set-ups” at the bird feeders
  • Create images of superlative resplendent quetzals in verdant moss-draped oak forest
  • Shoot numerous hummingbirds using high-speed multi-flash systems
  • Visit a broad spectrum of photogenic biomes from lush lowland rain forest to the stunted fairyland landscape of the highland cloud forest
  • Includes all meals, lodging, ground transportation, entrance fees, photo guide, use of flash units and instruction
Tour Leaders
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

"Excellent instruction, well-organized, local driver/guide and fellow travelers were great."
—Sam R.