My trips to the tropics for this year are far behind me and I finally have time to go through my photos and write a few words about them. I visited Costa Rica in May for the fourth time with three fellow photographers. 17 years ago, this country was on the threshold of my travels. At that time, my wife and I spent a month there, literally criss-crossing the country and visiting about 25 different places. Today, I travel completely differently and I am lucky if over a two-week stay I visit more than two or three places. I admit, this may not be the best strategy for “collecting” different species, however in terms of photographic “yield”, this strategy has always worked for me well. This way, I can spend more time with the species I like, I can try to return to interesting places and thus use the maximum potential of the given locality. I’m happy to say that the same applies even to my fourth trip to Costa Rica.
Brown-hooded Parrot, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/4, 1/1250s
Photographing birds on feeders
Lucky for us, Costa Ricans soon realised that the attractiveness of every location is exponentially increased by various attractions for animals. Not surprisingly, almost every lodge currently attracts animals close to its surroundings. Even in the tropics it works just like back home when we sprinkle some grains to attract tits who in return let us look into their intimate lives. Here you won’t get much success with sunflower seeds, but a properly placed banana or papaya do wonders. During the day, countless beautiful species alternate at the feeding station, ranging from coloured tangaras to toucans of several species. Similarly inviting are feeding stations with sugar water, which attract to the close surroundings of the lodge fantastic hummingbirds and at night various types of moths and bats. I know that if there are enough of such attractions situated in the lodge, us as photographers have endless fun. Fragrant fruit also attracts species that you could otherwise only observe through a telescope high in the trees, unlike some species, which need to have a yummy banana replaced with the unpleasant smell of rotting carrion. Your instant reward is the opportunity to see the King vulture, which is one of the most stunning species of the whole Costa Rican bird kingdom. Unfortunately, in some places this also has a second effect. The problem is that they are so attractive that photo-workshops from all over the world come here and sometimes the place is full head to head. Because of this I started to look for alternative dates for my trips even in low season. The benefit is unambiguous. If you are lucky, you have a lodge practically only for yourselves and the experience of staying in these surroundings is much more intensified.
King Vulture, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, TC 1.4x, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/1250s
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 200, f/4, 1/250s
Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/4, 1/800s
You won’t find everything on the feeders
You don’t have to leave the comfort of your lodge and just shoot everything on the feeders. From my point of view, it’s a great pity despite the endless supply and myriad variety of species. Plus, the comfortable background of your lodge allows you to get a pretty awesome photos virtually “for free” and with minimal effort every time. Yet many gorgeous shots can be taken on walks in the great outdoors. Such photos are often more attractive because, over time, unfortunately, the photos of feeders all look the same. The best strategy is to look around, pick a nice spot to sit down and just observe all the commotion. And I guarantee, cool things will start to happen sooner or later. For example, you are sitting idly by a quiet lagoon where nothing is happening and after a while you notice there is a basilisk walking right towards you. Then, suddenly, a kingfisher lands on a branch near you. Something shakes in the trees and you notice a small group of spider monkeys who pass by and disappear just as quickly. All in all, you could say there is always something going on. Of course, there are much longer pauses between these scenes than on the feeder, but the experience of such encounters is much more intense, especially if it’s only you and the wildlife. That’s why on my expeditions I like to combine both; the comfort of shooting by the feeders and the strong experiences of connection with nature and its wildlife on the paths in the jungle or by the water. I think it has a positive impact on my mind as well as the resulting photos.
Green Iguana, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/200s
Green Kingfisher, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, TC 1.4x, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/50s
Acorn Woodpecker, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/4, 1/640s
Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, Laowa 15mm/2, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/640s
Dancing with the manakins
The third option is to encounter species that you would hardly find by yourself. Therefore, every now and then it’s good to have a local guide, who is familiar with the local occurrences of such elusive species and allows you to see them. One such rendezvous was with Red-capped Manakins right in their lek. These tiny birds attract their female counterparts by a beautifully elaborate dance, which was famously captured on video and since went viral. Thanks to this, manakins have since gained a new nickname ‘Michael Jackson Bird’, because their movements strikingly resemble the singer’s famous Moonwalk. We spent one morning with them at the lek and here is a quick glimpse into how such a photoshoot takes place. You quietly set up a tripod somewhere in the rainforest and hypnotise a twig where you wish for a manakin to land and dance on. And so you wait. And wait. And wait. And nothing happens for well over half an hour. Your attention drops, you start to look around when you suddenly realise that IT’S THERE! You grab your camera, aim, focus, compose, mildly underexpose and… puff, the bird vanishes. Okay, so this time you think you were unlucky so you wait for the next arrival. The bird sometimes just flies in, sits for a while, looks around but does not dance one bit. And this repeats itself for a few hours until all the mosquitoes in the forest are fed until they could burst. You, in the meantime, are trying to come to terms with the fact that the few shots on your SD card are the only photos you can get during such a short visit of a 10cm birdie from a 15m distance. In this particular case, it turned out that a video is much more interesting than a photo. Luckily, the Red-capped Manakin danced for me on the very first time.
Red-capped Manakin, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, TC 1.4x, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/80s
Night walks are a separate chapter. These are already regular additions to my travels. I have to say that in Costa Rica I’ve never seen this much insects as in May this year. Although, the forests of SE Asia have on offer incomparably more varied diversity in structure of night animals, but still, it was very pleasant. I found a few amazing stick insects, mantises, frogs here and there, including a very stunning Red-eyed tree frog and a sleeping lizards. In short, I will want to go through the night forest again and again, because the deviousness of such encounters has enormous charm. I often went to bed long after midnight when most of the lodge residents had been sleeping softly for hours.
Peanut-headed Bug, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 8mm/1.8, ISO 320, f/14, 1/125s
Katydid Typophyllum sp., Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 8mm/1.8, ISO 400, f/8, 10s
Praying Mantis, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 12-100mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/8, 1/40s
Stick Insect, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 12-200mm/3.5-6.3, ISO 200, f/11, 1/125s
Pallas’s Long-tongued Bat, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 200, f/10, 1s
Olympus M.Zuiko Universal Lens 12-200mm / 3.5 – 6.3
For this trip I had on loan a new zoom from Olympus in the 12 – 200mm range, which is converted to full format 24 – 400mm. Naturally, I plan to write a few words for each piece of technology I have ever used, so I will keep more detailed information for a separate article. However, what I can describe here are my feelings about the lens. I think it is suitable for anyone who likes to travel light and wants to photograph everything from landscape to portrait of a toucan, all without changing lenses. I think it’s a great choice for all travelers as it does not weigh down the backpack and brings a lot of joy. Of course as a universal lens it has its drawbacks. The photos are sharp, though not as sharp as the PRO series. It focuses fast, though not as fast as the PRO series. However, in comparison to other ultrazooms, the outputs are excellent and with a calm heart I can recommend it to all who want to enjoy traveling light. Combined with ultra-light Olympus bodies, such as the E-M10 II or E-M5 II, it’s the ultimate choice. In addition, it is sealed against dust and moisture, which is not standard in this category.
Red-eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 12-200mm/3.5-6.3, ISO 200, f/13, 1/200s
Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 12-200mm/3.5-6.3, ISO 500, f/6.3, 1/160s
Other photo opportunities
Costa Rica is extremely photogenic. Below you can compose your own mosaic of our last trip with more pictures without comments. Of course, all 27 photos in this post are nothing but a mere fraction of what we’ve seen or were able to photograph. However, I think that it’s just the right amount to show the diversity of this beautiful country.
White-necked Jacobin, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 200, f/4, 1/40s
Red-eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 500, f/4.5, 1/60s
Emerald Toucanet, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/80s
Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/4, 1/640s
Red-eyed Tree Frog, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/50s
Acorn Woodpecker, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 500, f/4, 1/250s
Hog-nosed Pit Viper, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 200, f/10, 1/80s
Collared Aracari, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 640, f/4, 1/250s
Glass Frog, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 200, f/9, 1/80s
Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 300mm/4 IS, ISO 800, f/4, 1/1600s
Scarlet Macaw, Costa Rica, Olympus E-M1X, M.Zuiko 40-150mm/2.8, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/2500s