Costa Rican Return

By ,Wildlife Photographer – The Rich Coast

After a much easier travel experience to Costa Rica then the previous year, I find myself back in the remote town of Tambor. Apologies to all who were expecting blog posts over the summer, I wish I could have written about my experiences living aboard a small sailboat in St. Andrews but the time went by too fast and most friends and relatives were close enough to get a first hand anecdote.

This upcoming season in Costa Rica is an exciting one, during the off-season (Nov. – Dec.) I decided that I would come back to Costa Rica to focus full time on finding, studying and photographing birds. Why birds you ask? Well I can’t really answer that, I don’t really know why myself. Birds can be many things to many different people; for some they are the scourge that wake you up at 5am to find a garbage littered driveway, or a fresh patch of excrement on that new car. To some they may be small and non-descript or even carriers of some media-hyped pathogen. However, to a select few people birds are much more then that. Birds are living ambassadors of nature’s diversity that can offer a lifetime of discovery and adventure if only you slow down enough to be granted passage into their world. A world that can be found in your own backyard with a well stocked feeder, or along a wooded path that may someday lead you into the depths of a Costa Rican jungle…The truth is that you can find birds just about anywhere, if you go outside right now and take a look around I’ll bet you the first living thing you will see is a bird (not counting humans and their domestic counterparts). Seriously, try it! Birds are all around us, sharing in our experiences, hardships and history and we owe to them and ourselves to take the time to get to know them. Some people may have expected a more utilitarian answer, something…academic…and along the lines of “well, they are important indicators of ecosystem integrity” or even “they provide many important services to humans (eating pesky insects, pollinating trees, providing important models for our understanding of biological phenomenon, yak yak yak) But why does everything have to exist for our own benefit? Why does the conservation of our natural world rest firmly on the foundation that it must “do” something for us to be worth saving? Birds deserve to be here just as much as we do, and they have been here for much longer. I am not alone in this unexplained fondness for our feathered kin, as the estimated number of birders in North America lies somewhere between 20-30 million ranking birding just behind gardening as the favorite outdoor pastime. Ignore them and ignore the 20$ billion they spend annually in their quest for that checkmark next to a name in their guidebook. Anyway, all rants aside, I am very excited to be here once again and able to share my experiences with everyone back home. Their love and support make this adventure possible.

After my arrival I was quick to discuss some ideas with local contacts I made during my stay lastwinter. This led to some exciting meetings with the owner and manager of Tambor Tropical, a boutique hotel located under a towering grove of wind blown palm trees and just a stones throw away from one of the most beautiful (and undiscovered) beaches in Costa Rica. You can see their website by visiting this link… They are very supportive and enthusiastic about some of my ideas. We have begun to set-up hummingbird feeders around the hotel grounds and the full-time woodworkers have started building four bird-feeding platforms that I designed to support the fruit we will be putting out every morning in hopes of attracting some photogenic (or rather hungry) members of tropical avifauna. Adding to the excitement is a more ambitious project; we have brought in a couple truckloads of cinder blocks to begin construction of a bird bath in the dry iguana laden field next to the resort. When I say “bird bath” it might bring to mind that little pedestal-style satellite dish looking thing in grandmas garden (no offence grandma), but this bath will be more like the bird equivalent of the swim up cocktail bar at your favorite all-inclusive. Built 3 feet off the ground and covering 50 sq. feet,the shallow pond will be fed by a small but constant supply of freshwater. Between the months of January and April the Northwestern part of Costa Rica is in the grips of the dry season, with little to no rain falling. To make matters worse, the 10 foot tides send two pulses of salt water up to a mile and half inland each day, making most of the lagoons unsuitable for drinking. Since all but the most specialized seabirds require a constant source of freshwater to keep their hyper-metabolic bodies from desiccating, it is my hopes that the water will attract birds like moths to a porch light.

As far as photography goes, I havn’t had a whole lot of time to shoot. However, I did manage to spend two evenings photographing the seabirds that are diving for the massive schools of sardines that have filled the bay once again. This common spectacle was made even more intense when huge fish exploded at the surface next to me. Trusting that these large splashes were but harmless Roosterfish(50-100lbs) and nothing more sinister, I tried to keep my eyes glued to the viewfinder. The birds were everywhere, even the fisherman were getting into the mood, although this is not quite what is meant by the term “birding”

All jokes aside (don’t worry, the bird was OK) I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Magnificent frigate bird (female) looking for fish

Royal tern

The black vultures were attentive spectators of the event, waiting for the receding tide to leave some stranded sardines for the taking…

Black vulture

Black vulture

I wanted to try and capture the action of diving terns, frigates and pelicans from an extremely low angle. This meant bringing my camera to within inches of the water surface while watching for oncoming waves. The low angle is what gives that pleasing out-of focus background and foreground.

Diving pelicans

Royal tern emerging from successful dive, ticos in background (locals)

Magnificent frigate bird (female) snatches a fish from the surface

I also wanted to photograph the feeding sequence of a brown pelican after it emerged from a successful plunge into the water. These next three sequential photos show how after emerging from the water (photo 1) the pelican throws it’s head back to flip the fish from it’s  pouch to it’s throat (photo 2) and then swallows (photo 3). Very cool to watch but it happens in about 1/500 of a second.

Brown pelican emerging from water after diving for a fish

Flipping the fish back into throat, you can see the fishes tail

Swallowing the fish and lifting off

Anyway. that’s all for now. Tomorrow we continue work on the bird spa, pictures of that soon to come!

A NOTE ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: If you want to use any of the photos for anything other then personal use please send me an email. The photos on the blog are resized to make the file smaller and are NOT suitable for printing. I’d be happy to provide you with a larger sized file suitable for such a purpose. Please do not upload any photos to facebook or e-mail my photos to anyone (just show them the blog :), If you want to use any of these photos as backgrounds for your desktop that is great! All I ask is that you follow these steps…after setting it as your background, right click anywhere on your desktop to access your background preferences and under “picture position” or something like that choose “center”. This will center the photograph and resize it to the intended size of 800 pixels wide or 700 pixels tall which I resize all my blog photos too. This presents the photo in a way that it is not all stretched out and digitally massacred (are you reading this Mom?). If you want one of my photos to fill your entire desktop without the borders around it just send me an e-mail and I can send you a larger image.

  • Ryan Anderson

    I love the photos of the birds. I can’t wait to get down there myself to take some shots of my own!

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