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Costa Rica Birds & Wildlife
2024 Trip Report

Costa Rica is a magical destination for me. It’s astounding how a country so small can be such a treasure trove of biodiversity. The secret lies in its unique geography—while its eastern and western boundaries meet both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, its heart soars to heights exceeding 10,000 feet. This dramatic variation in altitude gives birth to a myriad of ecosystems, each home to a distinct array of species. During our journey, we explored three such habitats, capturing the abundant wildlife in our lenses—the lush lowlands of the Caribbean, the foothills perched at around 3,000 ft, and the lofty highlands reaching up to 9,000 ft.

king3 1 - costa rica

We started our travels in the Caribbean lowlands where we were surrounded by rainforest. This was the warmest and most humid area we visited. We spent 5 full days there visiting two very different lodges and photographed a huge variety of birds, such as toucans, tanagers, woodpeckers, honeycreepers, parrots, king vultures and macaws.

frog redeye 3 - costa rica

Besides the cacophony of birdlife, the lowlands are also a herpetologist’s dream. Giant green iguanas crossed the walking paths while the magnificent emerald basilisk, with its 3 stunning crests sat motionlessly on the edge of the forest. A heavy late afternoon rain was followed by strawberry poison frogs and green and black poison frogs hopping about the forest. That same rain woke the iconic, red-eyed tree frogs and we had ample opportunity to capture them with our cameras after dinner. We finished our time in the lowlands photographing an American pygmy kingfisher, russet-naped wood rails, collared araçaris and a variety of hummingbirds.

bat1 1 - costa rica

The temperature and humidity were both more temperate as we arrived at our foothills lodge. Several new species of birds greeted us. But our big draw at this lodge would be photographing nectar bats in the forest at night. After dinner, we made our way up the forest trail to our bat location. The bats were there in abundance, and we captured hundreds of shots of them. We visited a bird rookery the following morning where great egrets, cattle egrets, boat-billed herons, black-crowned night herons and anhingas were nesting. Along the river on the way back to the lodge we located a pair of sunbitterns to photograph. And the night found us back out in the forest enjoying another fantastic evening photographing bats.

quetzal1 1 - costa rica

Finally, in the highlands we were introduced to the cloud forest. The cloud forest is just as lush as the rainforest but at this higher elevation, there is much more fog keeping the forest green and full of bromeliads. Again, a new elevation meant many new birds to photograph including flame-colored tanagers, acorn woodpeckers, emerald toucanets and golden-browed chlorophonias to name just a few. Our focus at 9,000 feet was a bird considered by many to be the most beautiful bird in the Americas. It has brilliant green plumage with a bright red breast. In the sun it shimmers like emeralds and rubies. The resplendent quetzal is best known for the two long covert feathers that stretch a good 3 feet beyond its actual tail. It was nesting time for the resplendent quetzals. We were fortunate to have easy access to an active nest. The pair were currently incubating eggs in a tree cavity, and they changed duties every hour or so which gave us several opportunities to capture them in flight as they flew to and from the nest.

The time passed too quickly, as it always does in Costa Rica. But next year will be here before you know it. And I, for one, can’t wait. Join me there. If you enjoy “shooting” birds, this trip is sure to please!

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