Sunday, March 1, 2015

Costa Rica, Day One

This series is about my second trip to Costa Rica. My first trip was back in 1990, during my working life as a television photojournalist. At that time I was working on a story for WITI-TV6 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with meteorologist Vince Condella. Then the story was on the newly evolving ecotourism trend. Today, on this trip, my goal was to find and photograph beautiful birds. I believe I accomplished some of that. 

My wife, Linda, joined me along with our good friends, Mark Laux and Wendy Jabas, for a ten day trip divided into three parts...a Caribbean tropical rainforest, an interior mountain highland and a dry season Pacific Coast national forest.  

This blog is not a travelogue, but I feel I need to explain a brief shift in format. I will include other animals in the next several posts, simply because I found them new and interesting.  I hope you find this focus shift interesting also.

As the departing sun darkened the sky above me, a toucan landed in a rainforest tree. The Chestnut Mandibled Toucan immediately began claiming his rights to this tree and seemingly every other tree in sight. He was being quite vocal and quite insistent. His calls carried far beyond the Selva Verde Lodge and Rainforest Reserve where we were staying.

The Chestnut Mandibled Toucan is the largest toucan in Costa Rica and one of forty-two species of Latin American toucans.

Male and female Chestnut Mandibled Toucans look alike with the male being only slightly larger at 22 inches (56 cm). They live in a colorful bird family, too, all with outsized bills.

The impressive bill may look intimidating to enemies, but it is not a defensive tool. Instead it is made of a spongy material called keratin...extremely lightweight, largely hollow (think: fingernails).

Additionally, the bill serves another propose. It's a cooling system to regulate body temperature. Arteries in the bill expand when it's hot to expel excess heat into the steamy rainforest.

He didn't seem to mind as I lit up his eyes with bright flashes. Instead he turned to give me another pose of his finely feathered body. Blue legs and red under tail coverts brighten this beautiful bird's color palette even more.

More at eye level is a Summer Tanager. Hidden by darkness, but not really hiding, the Summer Tanager perches as proudly as rainforest conditions permit, reflecting nicely when sufficient light is applied.

The Summer Tanager rarely makes it to Wisconsin, although a similar red bird, the Scarlet Tanager comes to Wisconsin in the warm weather months.

The strawberry colored Summer Tanager is the only completely red bird in North America. Living on a diet of bees and wasps, the Summer Tanager is a challenging bird to find and photograph.

Usually preferring the upper story of tall trees to wait for prey, this one was driven down into the dark understory by the rain.

Also sheltering from today's steady rain is the Olive-backed Euphonia, a small songbird in the finch family. This female Olive-backed Euphonia is accustomed to rain.  The rainforest is her year-round home.

Preferring the Caribbean side of Central America, the Olive-backed Euphonia lives mostly on fruit and so must maintain a home range that provides for a fruit diet.

The male Olive-backed Euphonia is similar in appearance with only his yellow forehead identifying him.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

In the low-light reaches of the rainforest you may also find bats sheltering from the storm. My guide, Ivan Castillo, found this group of four clinging to the side of a tree waiting for even more darkness to descend.

Bats are just as important to an ecosystem as birds in pollinating, dispersing seeds and balancing a healthy rainforest. As evening progressed bats swirled and swooped around gathering flying insects nearly invisible to us.

The tale of bats getting caught in your hair is folklore, legend and outrightly false. Night hunting bats have adequate nighttime vision, can echo-locate flying insects in the dark and have no interest in interplay with humans. Bats seldom hunt in the rain though. Rain interferes with their echolocation.

We quickly left this small group, not out of fear, but rather concern my flash would disturb their daytime sleeping rhythm.

Rain in a rainforest is to be expected. As challenging as it is to photograph birds in the rain, I feel grateful to have seen the number of species I encountered on this first day in Costa Rica.


Credit: The Birds of Costa Rica,
Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds
Credit: Wikipedia