January 2016 I finally got to realise an ambition that was almost 25 years old, a first visit to Costa Rica. I'd been to North America on birding trips and work trips before and had travelled in Africa and Asia, but had never been to the Neotropics. My wife had never fancied Costa Rica and I could never convince her about the quality of the lodges on offer, when she finally said yes we self organised a trip. Where do you start? How many places do you visit? Caribbean, Pacific, lowland, highland, mid-elevation all options that need to be considered when booking. The number of birding and photography hotspots in Costa Rica are just too numerous to mention. Everyone who I asked gave me different advice, but the one thing that I could not ignore is my wife is a non-birder; so the hotels and non-birding activity were right at the top of the agenda. So we wrote up an itinerary that did not include Monteverde, Tortuguero, Arenal, Corcovado, Santa Elena, or Irazú. Really? No Monteverde? Yep. Sometimes you can just do too much travelling, and for someone who travels for a living I wanted some quality time on site and less of the travelling between sites. So a couple of days near to San José, before moving on to Rancho Naturalista, Selva Verde, Bosque de Paz before finishing in Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast with some down time.
With so much to to target for pictures, landscape, nightscapes, macro, flash and multi-flash for hummingbirds I packed a serious amount of gear. Three cameras, two tripods, two flash guns with off-camera bracket and better beamer, remotes, spare batteries and chargers I was glad that I was travelling with a non-birder to help me carry the gear. I'd only previously tried using flash techniques once before in Thailand from a hide. During the previous year or so I'd enjoyed learning a little about macro photography, so for this trip I bought an MR-14 EX II ring flash. This would open up some more photo opportunities with invertebrates and some of the frogs. My knowledge of using flash has always been very limited so I'd spent sometime reading and researching some of the techniques to use. One piece of essential reading was the Glen Bartley ebook on using flash for bird photography. Learning flash for wildlife is such a learning curve, but it could be my one and only visit to the nootropics so I had a go.