Costa Rica Birds 2019 Trip Report

By Mark Thomas on Jul 31, 2019

This year, we had two back-to-back Costa Rica tours. Both were equally exciting and photographically productive. This trip report covers both tours.
After our welcome dinner and a brief talk about what to expect, we all got a good night’s sleep, excited for the days to come. After breakfast the next morning, we loaded our luggage onto our Coaster bus and began our 3.5-hour trip to our first lodge. We stopped at a local supermarket to pick up some drinks and snacks and any last-minute items needed. Our first two lodges are in the Caribbean Lowlands where it can be quite warm and humid. I always recommend picking up some Gatorade for the early part of our tour.
Keel-billed toucanWe arrived at our first lowland lodge in time for lunch. We shot from a great platform adjacent to a feeding station. The natural perch is changed daily so we always had a fresh perch with lots of moss and epiphytes growing on them. At this station we photographed all three varieties of toucans that are found here, the keel-billed, yellow-throated and the collared aracari. We also photographed brown-hooded parrots, Montezuma oropendolas, summer tanagers, scarlet tanagers, blue & gray tanagers, palm tanagers, black-cowled orioles, Baltimore orioles, red-legged honeycreepers, shining honeycreepers, and many more. Nesting in the tree behind us were two species of tityra and a pair of black-cheeked woodpeckers. There was always something happening throughout the day.
Red-eyed tree frog clings to limbThe next morning, half of our group photographed king vultures from a custom-made blind—and the shooting was great. The other half shot at the main platform. After lunch, half of the group went to a nearby “garden” feeding station to capture several additional small bird species while the other half did a shoot with five species of frogs—including red-eyed tree frogs and poison dart frogs—as well as five species of snakes including eyelash vipers, red-tailed boas and fer-de-lance. The following day, the groups reversed so that everybody shot all subjects at all locations. The shooting was excellent, and everyone came away with lots of images of all the subjects here. A great start to the trip.
Join Mark Thomas on Costa Rica Birds 2021We continued to our second lowland lodge along the Sarapiqui River. After lunch, we walked the property in search of the emerald basilisk lizard, strawberry poison dart frogs, and green-and-black poison dart frogs, all active during the day. A late afternoon heavy rain was exactly what we needed and received. This made the red-eyed tree frogs more numerous and active than I have ever seen. After dinner, we rotated through so everyone was able to capture sharp images of these delightful frogs using our special lighting techniques.
Pair of scarlet macaws in flightThe next morning, we visited a farm where the farmer has been feeding wild macaws for decades. The macaws follow him back and forth across a large open field. We were able to capture scarlet, great green and hybrid macaws in flight and perched in nearby trees. After lunch we visited a unique bird feeding station designed and built by a local wildlife artist. Here we picked up at least six new bird species including the pygmy kingfisher, crimson-collared tanager and wood-rail.
Next, we left our lowland lodges and headed for the foothills. The lodge sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet. After lunch, I set up the high-speed flash systems to capture hummingbirds frozen in flight. We rotated through our two setups and everyone gets plenty of opportunities to shoot. After dinner, we did something unique to our tours. I set up a similar high-speed flash station in the forest where we photographed nectar bats as they came in to feed from our feeders and flowers. The flashes freeze the bats in flight. Bat in flightWe shot bats until 9PM. We spent the entire second day here shooting birds and coatis at the feeding station, more hummingbirds, and more bats at night. We departed the following morning for our trek into the highlands. Along the way, we stopped at a lake with a bird rookery. Here we saw and photographed the boat-billed heron, cattle egrets, great egrets, black-crowned night herons, northern jacanas and even a spectacled caiman.
We arrived at our highlands lodge at 9,000 feet in time for lunch. After lunch, we immediately began our quest for the resplendent quetzal. Our  guide is in touch with all the local farmers and ranchers and we are able to photograph quetzals at two different active nest sites. One nest has good light in the morning while the other is better photographed in the afternoon. We had three quetzal shoots scheduled and were able to schedule an additional quetzal shoot on each tour. Everyone worked hard and was very patient during our quetzal shoots. Female quetzal with lizardAnd all were rewarded with excellent shots of both male and female quetzals at the nest tree and on nearby perches. Our second tour was quite lucky to be able to photograph a female quetzal with a highlands alligator lizard it had captured and brought back for its chicks. It happened just as we were about to leave. Amazingly, she sat on a beautiful natural perch in front of the nest with the lizard in its beak for 25 minutes, allowing everybody to get all the pictures they desired. Some even captured wonderful flight shots of this female carrying the lizard to the nest.
After lunch, we headed to our final lodge. It is less than an hour away and borders the Savegre river. We had the afternoon to rest and download images. The next morning, we visited our final bird feeding station. Here we picked up another 6 – 10 new species including the golden-browed chlorophonia, acorn woodpeckers, long-tailed silky flycatchers, as well as several new hummingbirds.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch back at the lodge. We then headed back on our 3-hour ride back to Alajuela for our farewell dinner where we all recounted the incredible shooting opportunities we had during our trip. I can’t wait to get back there next year! 

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