Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Favorites of 2012

2012 was not a very prolific photo year for me.  In fact, after May I only remember picking up my camera once for some serious shooting.  Sometimes life gets in the way.  But, I vow to change that in 2013.  Despite the “down” year, we ended up taking two fantastic trips.  The first was to the Ecuadorian Amazon and the second was a return trip to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  All of my favorite 2012 photos are from those two trips.

As with last year’s top 10 favorites, I picked these not because they are of the highest quality but  because of the memories of the events themselves and what it took to get these shots.

My first favorite is of this pair of Night Monkeys taken in Ecuador.  This was one of the target species that we wanted a photo of and I had read about these monkeys in advance of the trip and really wanted a shot of them peering out of their tree hollow hideout.  My shots of these monkeys didn't turn out as sharp as I hoped but considering they were taken in low light from a moving canoe I felt good enough about the quality and was really happy that I got a shot that I had envisioned before the trip.

Night Monkeys

This Yellow-headed Amazon River Turtle had all four legs off the log and was waving them slowly.  I am sure this was done to take advantage of the warm sun, but a part of me thought that maybe the turtle was inspired by the hitchhiking butterfly and was trying to fly.  Alas, it gave up after a few minutes and decided to sunbathe instead.

Yellow-headed Amazon River Turtle

In Ecuador, we visited two large parrot clay licks.  Both had 100's of birds and the sound was virtually deafening.  This video doesn't even do the experience justice.  One of my favorite shots is of these Cobalt-winged Parakeets and Orange-cheeked Parrots just as they took off in a mass exodus and flew right over our heads.

Wings of Color

Another of our target species in Ecuador was the Pygmy Marmoset.  The primate is one of the smallest in the world and next to impossible to find.  Our guides did a tremendous job tracking this pair down in dense jungle based on their high pitched calls.  In order to get a semi-clear shot of these shy critters, both guides were holding branches apart that were in my line of sight and I was contorted like a pretzel trying to get the tripod aligned between openings in the foliage as best I could.  Of course, my wife will remember this because of all the mosquito bites we got in this part of the jungle, but those bites stopped itching months ago and the memories will live on forever.

Pygmy Marmoset Pair

By far, the species that we most wanted to see in the Amazon was the giant otter.  We picked the Napo Wildlife Center for this very reason and we were not disappointed.  We saw the otters 3 separate times and spent at least an hour all told with them.  I am disappointed that I didn't get any really great images of them due to the low light and their elusiveness, but I will never forget the first time we saw them and the amazing sounds that they made as this video will attest.

Giant River Otter Family

In Costa Rica, anoles are very common and I have seen many.  However, I haven't been able to get a really good shot of one displaying it's dewlap until this year. I observed that this Golfo Dulce Anolis would bob its head up and down twice and then do a short display of it's dewlap.  The third time it repeated this pattern, I was ready.

Golfo Dulce Anolis

Spider Monkeys are very challenging to photograph because they all always on the move and rarely stop to pose for pictures.  When they do, they always seem to stop behind some branches or directly into the sun ensuring lousy photos.  So, when this troop of Spider Monkeys decided to pause long enough in the trees above our Cabina in Costa Rica, I took advantage as best I could.

Spider Monkey

Now imagine a monkey that is about 1/3 the size of the Spider Monkeys and just as elusive to photograph.  That monkey would be the Squirrel Monkey and it is our favorite of the 4 monkey species we see in Costa Rica.  Between its Eddie Munster like face, bird like calls, and long black-tipped tail this monkey is really fun to see in the wild.  On top of that, they are good little hunters and if you look closely you can see the giant grasshopper that this one had as a snack.

Squirrel Monkey

For us, seeing snakes in the wild is very exciting especially when we see a big snake.  While we were happy to see an Anaconda in Ecuador, it was only about 6 feet and was just a juvenile which is about 1/3 of the size of an adult.  In Costa Rica, we finally saw a really big snake.  This Boa Constrictor was easily 7 feet but its girth was most impressive.  It was a great experience to see this big snake all coiled up and then slowly uncoil and retreat into the dense undergrowth.

Boa Constrictor

The lodge where we stay in Costa Rica (Bosque del Cabo) has cabinas high on a bluff overlooking the ocean.  This makes for great photo ops of birds flying by.  The Scarlet Macaw is a spectacular bird and they are common on the grounds of this lodge.  However, it is very hard to time one of their flybys to get a decent picture.  Most of the time the birds are nice enough to let out a few squawks to announce their impending flyby.  I can't tell you the number of times that I have heard those squawks and tried to time this flyby to get a good shot looking down on these birds as the glide past only to have a branch in the way or bad light.  Finally, this year I was able to get a satisfying shot.

Scarlet Macaws  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Costa Rica - Day 1 & 2

Our wildlife encounters started really early on this trip. They started before we even boarded our plane.  As the sliding glass doors opened to the airport terminal, we spotted a juvenile gopher snake that seemed to be headed into the terminal as well. It was less than two feet long but looked quite healthy. Before we had a chance to rescue it, some other snake friendly person escorted it outside.  With that behind us, the rest of the trip was as painless as traveling can be.  I am actually able to sleep a bit on these red-eye flights now which makes the next day much better.

Upon arrival in San Jose, we easily found our driver for Xandari.  We were soon driving through the streets of San Jose only vaguely following the traffic laws which is typical for Central America.  Xandari is located on a hill with a great view of the valley.  They have extensive grounds and we were looking forward to spotting some new critters.  Our upgraded villa (thank you very much Xandari) was spectacular.

Xandari Villa

After unpacking, we hit the grounds to see what we could find and had pretty good luck.

Blue-Crowned Motmot (We saw 4 total on the grounds)
Blue-crowned Mot Mot

 Rufous-naped Wren

Inca Dove

Xandari has multiple waterfalls on their grounds:
Xandari Waterfall

After a very nice dinner, we hit the trails again hoping to find some herps.  Besides a Marine Toad we didn't have much luck on the walk until we started back.  I turned a corner in the trail only to come face to face (well, face to foot really) with a Nine-banded Armadillo.  In my excitement, my "Armadillo" exclamation was a bit too loud and the Armadillo turned on a dime and galloped up the path away from us.  I had no idea they could run so darn fast.  We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get a good look at the Armadillo so we searched the area up the hill pretty thoroughly but couldn't find it.   

 We were greeted by this nice sized tarantula outside our villa though:


As we were getting ready for bed, I heard a rustling outside the villa.  We turned on our flashlights and peered through the all glass front wall of the villa.  There, not 5 feet away, was the Armadillo nosing through the leaf litter.  This time we got some great looks but no pictures unfortunately.

After an early breakfast, I took a quick stroll around the grounds but didn't find any critters of note.  So, I took some pictures of the flora that is plentiful throughout the Xandari gardens.



Plant Abstract

Not longer after, we were whizzing through the streets of San Jose again towards the airport.  A few pedestrian close calls and red light running later, we were in the airport waiting for our Sansa flight to Puerto Jimenez.  As we were waiting, I saw a familiar face.  Philip, the naturalist at Bosque del Cabo was returning from vacation and heading to the lodge as well.  How great is your life when you take vacations to "get away" from paradise only to return to "work" at one of the best wildlife destinations in the tropics?  Our flight to PJ was smooth and scenic as expected. 

As usual, the drive from PJ to Bosque del Cabo (BdC) was scenic but most certainly NOT smooth.  On the drive in, we met a great couple from Toronto and chatted it up pretty good.  They were in Costa Rica for sun and surf and ended up getting plenty of both.  During the drive we got some good looks at Crested Caracara, Scarlet Macaws, Northern Jacana and White Ibis.  We also had a brief stop to check out a Three-toed Sloth that was in a tree above the road. Unfortunately, it was not much more than a brown and green ball of fur so there are no good pictures to share.  Just before arriving at BdC a White-faced Coati crossed the road slowly in front of us.  Soon after that, we spotted a huge green iguana along the road.  The truck obviously startled it since it quickly scampered down the road away from us.  It moved pretty darn quick for a 3 foot lizard.

We arrived at BdC in a downpour.  But, that didn't stop us from enjoying our welcome drinks in the restaurant or from taking in the great sights of BdC.  The rain also didn't prevent us from our first wildlife encounter.  Right next to the restaurant, I found a good sized Tropical Bird Eating Snake.  We followed the snake as it wandered towards the bar, up beside the pool, and then proceeded to get in the pool and swim super quickly across to the other side.  The difference in speed between it's slow careful slithering on land and the way it shot through the water was amazing to watch.  I barely had a chance to take some action shots.

Neo-tropical Bird Eating Snake in Downpour

Neo-tropical Bird Eating Snake Enjoying the Pool

We also took this opportunity to take some video to capture the moment.

The rain did let up soon after the snake encounter.  But, before heading out for our first hike, we searched our wonderful cabina (Pizote) for some animals.  All we could find was a Leaf Mimicking Mantis and a tiny gecko but both were welcome guests since they would handle any bugs that got in.  It's nice to have  natural "house keeping" services.  We only had an hour or so before lunch so we decided to do a quick loop through the tropical garden. 



After lunch we walked down the main road and back since this is a great way to see mammals.  We were rewarded with a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys really close to the road.

Mantled Howler Monkeys

Juvenile Mantled Howler Monkey

Mantled Howler Monkeys

We even found a White-faced Capuchin hanging around:
White Faced Capuchin

Boy, it was good to be back in the rainforest.  Besides all the incredible wildlife to watch, there is nothing like the sounds of the jungle.

It rained after dinner, so any hopes of a night walk were soon lost.  But, we did see a Masked Smilisca (a frog) and some toads around the restaurant and the rain gave us a chance to turn in a bit early and get a good night's sleep.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Costa Rica - Day 3

It ended up raining pretty much all night, but as the sun came up, the clouds parted enough for us to take a chance on a before breakfast hike.  Since the trails were really muddy, we decided to try our luck on the main road again:

 Orb Weaver Spider
Orb Weaver

Black and Green Dart Frog
Black and Green Dart Frog

Before heading to breakfast we had four male Red-legged Honey Creepers stop by outside our cabina
Red-legged Honey Creepers

After our breakfast of G and G (I always get the Gringo Breakfast which consists of eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast  while Karen gets the Granola), we headed off to our favorite trail; Titi.  We have had amazing wildlife encounters on this trail before and it is seems to also provide the most puma sightings year after year.  While we had no puma sightings, we did find lots of other wildlife:

White-faced Capuchin
White-face Capuchin

Agouti running with breakfast

Lizard with breakfast


Black-hooded Antshrike

Black-hooded Antshrike

During lunch we had some excitement.  As we were finishing up Karen spotted a snake moving right towards us.  It turned out to be a juvenile Tropical Bird Eating Snake

Juvenile Neo-Tropical Bird Eating Snake

Right after lunch a couple walking back to their cabina spotted this larger Tropical Bird Eating Snake
Neo-Tropical Bird Eating Snake

Neo-Tropical Bird Eating Snake

We decided that today's after lunch hike would be the Golfo Dulce trail which heads out towards the beach on the other side of the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean.   This turned out to be a great choice since we had a fantastic encounter with a Northern Tamandua.  We were able to watch it tear open some ground level termite nests and could even see its tongue shooting in and out as it grabbed some tasty termites.

Northern Tamandua

Northern Tamandua

We had a great time watching the Tamandua and captured some video of the experience.

On the way back we had some nice looks at this female Black-throated Trogon.
Female Black-Throated Trogon

We also saw Spider Monkeys on this hike and 7 Black and Green Dart Frogs.

After a brief rest at the cabina, we thought about heading out again, but we could see some ominous clouds forming over the Pacific that soon grouped together to create one BIG ominous cloud. So, we stayed on the deck to watch the storm instead.  It was a good choice as this video demonstrates.
Our night hike opportunity was once again rained out.  The only critter we spotted was a marine toad that had found its way onto our deck somehow.  Interestingly enough, it must have hopped up the stairs and hopped along the side of our raised cabina for close to 30 feet to get onto the deck.  That's a lot of work so hopefully it found something worthwhile.  We didn't wait around to see what was on the menu since it had been a long first full day.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Costa Rica - Day 4

We were up early today and out the door by 6AM.  We decided to head to the Titi trail to see how far we could get before breakfast and had hopes of seeing some Squirrel Monkeys for the first time.  We didn't end up having time to do the whole trail, but the hike itself was full of wildlife (but no Squirrel Monkeys).

Titi Trail entrance
Upper Entrance to Titi Trail

Male Black-throated Trogon.  Hey...what's he looking at?
Male Black Throated Trogon

Ah...he was checking out the ladies
Female Black Throated Trogon

Male and Female Great Curassow
Male and Female Great Curassow

Male putting on a little display
Male Curassow

Here is a compilation video of various birds taken during our trip.  The Great Curassow are featured in this video.

After another G and G breakfast, we headed back to our cabina only to interrupt our house cleaning service.
Lizard Cleaning our Cabina

There's one less cockroach to worry about now.  Next, it was off to the Titi trail to finish what we started earlier in the day.  We were intent on "going card" today which meant seeing all four monkey species in one day and we only had the Squirrel Monkeys left to see.  It didn't take long to meet that goal.

Squirrel Monkey

We also saw lots of other wildlife on this hike.  The Titi Trail did not disappoint today.

Mangrove Black Hawk
Black Hawk

Golfo Dulce Anole
Golfo Dulce Anolis

Green Page Moth

Towards the end of the hike we encountered a frisky Spider Monkey baby and an indifferent mother.  We watched as the baby used its tail to hang from a branch and spin around and around in circles while Mom just tried to get some sleep.

Spider Monkey Baby

Spider Monkey Baby

Here's a compilation video of all our Spider Monkey encounters including this one.

After lunch we relaxed a bit on our deck before hitting the more strenuous Pacific Trail.  We scanned the ocean from our deck in hopes of seeing a whale or some dolphins and it wasn't long before we did see a couple small pods of dolphins.  We were so far away it was hard to tell what kind they were until they started jumping.  Even with the naked eye we could see these sleek silver shapes leaping out of the water and spinning multiple times in mid air.  This pretty much guaranteed that they were Spinner Dolphins which were a first for us.

The Pacific trail consists of switchbacks and steps straight down to rocks and beach.  This is one of the best places on the grounds to find the endangered Golfo Dulce Dart Frog but we had no luck on that front.  We did have some good sightings however:

Black and Green Dart Frog
Black and Green Dart Frog

Juvenile Capuchin
Juvenile White-Faced Capuchin

Brown Pelicans in formation
Brown Pelicans in Formation

Unfortunately, our trip was cut a bit short.  Looking out over the ocean we saw the same cloud pattern that caused yesterday's afternoon squall.  Not wanting to get all the darn camera gear I lug around soaking wet, we realized that we would have to head back.  In fact, as we started our ascent we could see the that the clouds were moving inland pretty quickly.  While she wasn't fond of me jokingly crying out "double time it" numerous times as we climbed and panted back up the hill, Karen did appreciate the fact that we made it back to the cabina with only about 5 minutes to spare before the skies opened up and unloaded.  We were hot and sweaty but it sure beats working!

Tonight we were desperate to get a night walk in so we decided to go out at dusk and walk until dinner since the rain had let up.  It's a tough life when you have to decide between cocktails in an exotic rainforest bar and a night walk in the jungle.  For tonight at least, the cocktails would have to wait.  So, we headed down to the small pond and had good looks at some frogs and a Cat-eyed snake.

Red-eyed Tree Frog
Red-eyed Tree Frog

A little further down the road, we noticed a bird silhouette on a branch.  We almost didn't investigate it since it looked like a hawk, but I decided to walk around and get a better look.  We were glad that I did that since this was our first ever Spectacled Owl:

Spectacled Owl

After dinner, we went out walking again since the conditions were still dry.  There was more frog life at the pond now and we saw another Cat-eyed snake that was moving through one of the bushes which I captured in the snake video I posted earlier.

As I was filming that snake, I heard "Fer-de-lance!" from Karen.  Those are words that you really don't want to hear someone yell out in the dark in the rain forest.  She had seen one under a bush but luckily it was about 10 feet in front of us and presented no danger.  It was all curled up waiting to ambush some unsuspecting critter so I finished filming the Cat-eyed Snake before getting a few shots of the Fer-De-Lance.  If you look closely you can see that even a deadly snake can get bothered by mosquitoes.

Fer-de-Lance (Terciopelo)

We let Philip know about the Fer-de-lance and he wasn't surprise since he has seen them around the little pond before.  He cautioned us from being too adventurous around there and we took his advice on subsequent trips.  Unless you are out with a guide or really know what you are doing, you should stay on the trails and always look where your walking.  This advice is true during the day and at night.  The day ended as we said good night to the resident Marine Toad that we continued to see every night on our deck.  It is obviously finding something to eat out there.