Costa Rica A flash experience

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.

Magnificent Hummingbird

When you read just what is possible in Costa Rica it is frightening, completely new bird families, an amazing amount of butterflies and moths, reptiles, amphibians and mammals; Costa Rica has the lot. So I avidly read field guides, where to watch guides, trip reports and scanned Flickr pages all trying to research as much as possible before I went. One common thing the was always mentioned was the sheer number of bird species that I could amass in a two week trip - 350 definitely and with effort 400 species possible, even higher. What I didn't want though was a tick-fest ticking the rear end of birds as they disappeared into the foliage, but was told it was such and such. I wanted quality time with birds that I could identify for myself and get some decent images. Target number #1 bird for me was not what most visitors to CR want, Resplendent Quetzal; the often quoted 'most beautiful bird in the world', no, I wanted Sunbittern. I'd read and seen images of Sunbittern when I was teenager. I didn't just want to see one feeding alongside a river, I wanted to see all that it had to offer and photograph it. To find and photograph my own would be the culmination of a a wish I'd had for forty years.


The time we had at Rancho Naturalista was amazing; where the birding started as soon as I stepped out of the bedroom door on the famous Hummer Balcony. The hummingbirds here were mesmerising and I spent hours and hours within metres of the main building photographing the different hummingbirds, the undoubted star of which was the endemic Snowcap. One male bird kept coming in to feed in the verbena bushes near the dining room and everytime he arrived he would be buzzed by a very aggressive Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Frustrating but great to watch the interaction between the different species here.

Snowcap is a Costa Rica endemic and a speciality of Rancho Naturalista
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
I got far too close to this tarantula species
A species of Rain Frog

We had a fantastic few days at Rancho Naturalista and during the time we spent there was a small earth tremor. From here we were off to Selva Verde Lodge for a couple of days. It was here that I made the biggest mistake of the trip and did not visit La Selva Biological Station and so missed out on a whole raft of species and some of the greatest diversity on the planet. Instead I stayed around the hotel grounds and made a trip into the hotel's stand of prime forest on the opposite side of the river. This though was not worth the £40, the guide was awful and I added no species to the trip total. A complete waste of time! I found my first Taiyra, a long-legged mustelid but sadly no images. I did though find my first Red-eyed Tree Frogs of the trip here as well a some Black & Green Frogs too. I think i really missed out here and would love to go back just for the Biological Station.

Red-eyed Tree-frog

When we moved from Selva Verde Lodge we move to the real gem of the holiday, Bosque de Paz. Great food, great birding, super location and the accommodation the best so far in the trip. A small family owned hotel this place was extremely friendly where the owners really went the extra mile to make you welcome. A small stream runs just in front of the main dining area seemed to be the main focalpoint for so many species. It was here also that the hummingbird feeders were located. Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet Sabrewing, Green Hermit, Magnificent Hummingbird & Black-bellied Hummingbird were all regulars at the feeders. When we checked in we were alongside an couple of American photographers, one of whom set up his own hummingbird 'studio'. I was intrigued to see how it worked with five flash guns and what kind of results he was getting. After a couple of sessions he even let me have a go for a couple of hours with my own kit. Great fun trying to capture the birds in flight and freeze their wings. Although I had great fun experimenting I just did not like the background and did not want to use the images to insert the bird into another landscape image. I did though have a go with one off-camera mounted flash with birds coming into the feeders and the feeding station and was really pleased with the results

Blue-grey Tanager at Bosque de Paz
A female Green-crowned Brilliant
Female & juvenile Green-crowned Brilliant
Purple-throated Mountain-gem
White-nosed Coati
Created By
Chris Galvin

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.