Costa Rica Day 1 and 2, Feb 14 and 15, 2017

This is the first installment of photos and narrative from our trip to Costa Rica.

We had an awesome trip to Costa Rica! It was seven days of very intensive, dawn to dusk, photography, so you can imagine I have tons of photos. I’ve decided to ‘divide and conquer’, and do a different post for each day of our trip, so 7 posts over the next 2 weeks or so. I’m behind because the day we got home I got terribly sick with high fever and cough (which I picked up from Mary Ann, who got sick on the trip ☹️), and it took 4 days before I even felt in the land of the living again and able to start looking through the photos.

Overview Of our Costa Rica Trip

The idea to travel to Costa Rica for a photography vacation was Fr. Charlie’s brainchild. He invited Mary Ann and I and others. We looked at several different options (e.g. different travel groups, going it alone, hiring a guide). In the end, the three of us committed to going. Some parishioners highly recommended a guide to Fr. Charlie, so we decided to hire him for our trip. I was a little reluctant about a guide because of the expense and I was skeptical that we really needed one and I didn’t know if he would lead the kind of trip we were looking for. But we decided to splurge and go for it. In the end, I was glad that we did.

We spent one day each traveling to and from Costa Rica, and 2 nights each in three different areas (6 nights, seven days), for a total of 9 days. The first area was the Pacific Lowlands in the area near Carara National Park. The second area was mid elevations (and travel to the mountain peaks) at Bosque del Tolomuco Bed and Breakfast in the Talamanca Mountains. The final area was in the Caribbean lowlands near Sarapiqui.

Costa Rica has an incredible diversity of plant and wild life. For birding, it is in the bird-rich neotropical area and has a huge number of species for its area. For example, Costa Rica is about 1/5 the size of Arizona, but has more bird species (918) than have been recorded in all of the United States and Canada combined. Needless to say, it is a popular spot for birders.

Our guide was Sergio Ulate, and he was truly excellent. I didn’t know this going in, but he is also an outstanding birder, which is what I was hoping for. He could find birds by their calls, and spotted many birds we would never have seen. He knew every species we saw, or that we would show him in our camera LCD. He was very patient with our repeated questions, and describing where to look for a bird he spotted. He was a hard worker, and he drove us as hard as we let him, which was pretty hard. We were out at 6 am almost every day, and didn’t stop until dark. Definitely not a vacation for lounging on the beach! It wasn’t your typical agenda driven, well scheduled and laid out tour. Sergio knew where he wanted to take us, and we followed along. Meals were planned as we went. Sergio knew places that had good food, and birds on the property, too 🙂. A lot of times we had a late lunch, and stopped at a store or roadside place for food to take home to our room for dinner. While some may not like this approach, I thought it was great.

In some of the jungle areas we went to, we weren’t allowed to use the flash on our camera. Since the jungle is dark, a way to make up for the lack of flash is to increase the light sensitivity of the camera sensor, which in the jargon is called increasing the ISO. This causes ‘noise’ in photos manifested as graininess. This noise can be reduced using noise reduction software, at the expense of losing sharpness in the picture. For birds, I usually keep the ISO to less than 800, preferably 400 or less. In the jungle, with no flash on the camera, we had to increase the ISO much higher, often up to 3200. If you look at the captions on the photos you can see what ISO was used. In addition to the high ISO, I also used a slower shutter speed than I normally do with the telephoto lens, in order to increase the light for the exposure. I was really banking on the next generation image stabilization that I got in my new lens (discussed in a previous post).

Every photo has a caption that includes a minimum of the bird species name and location it was taken. Sometimes I included some other commentary. The caption also includes details about the photo (camera settings, etc).

Day 1 Feb 14: Travel to Costa Rica

We traveled on Southwest Airlines, leaving Phoenix at 11:40 AM on Tuesday, Feb 14. We had a stopover in El Paso, and then changed planes in Houston for the last leg to San José, Costa Rica. We were delayed in Houston for about an hour as we sat on the plane while they went through the luggage and removed a passenger’s bags. This put us behind and caused us to miss our shuttle to the hotel, so we took a cab instead ($26).

We stayed at the Barceló Palacio hotel in San José.

Day 2 Feb 16: Carara National Park and Cerro Lodge

Sergio picked us up at the hotel on Wednesday morning. He was about an hour late due to traffic jams caused by road construction (they’re building a new bridge). He took us from San José to the Carara National Park, which is near the Pacific coast (about a 1.5 hr drive). We hiked through jungle that was old forest, and quite thick and dark. It was beautiful. Next we went to the mouth of the Tarcoles River. Unfortunately, the tide was high, so we couldn’t see any wading birds. We got some sunset pictures there.

We stayed at the Cerro Lodge. It is on a large property and geared for birders. They have a large covered patio for dining, with many feeders to attract birds. The feeders are small platforms with plantains and Papaya cut open for the birds.


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  1. Terry
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Wow–pretty cool so far!

  2. Aaron
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Awesome!!!! I like the Frigatebird

  3. Aaron
    Posted February 28, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    the landscape photos are also KILLER. Very cool butterflies, weird animals, you still have 6 more days of pictures!

  4. Mary Jill
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Amazing as usual.
    Love the tails of those first few birds.

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