I’ve got no future as a wildlife photographer. And I’m ok with that. I don't have the lenses, patience or the eye to spot the animals.
Don’t get me wrong, I like nature. I like visiting it, breathing in the clean air and admiring the beauty around me. When I travel I see the sights, go zip-lining, hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities. I expected to do a lot of that in Costa Rica and was looking forward to it.
I was told Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio was one of the best wildlife parks in Costa Rica. Lucky for me, it is just an hour drive south of Playa Herradura. So I hired a taxi driver for the day, packed my camera equipment and headed out to the park in the early morning with thoughts of photographing green tree frogs, toucans, macaws and monkeys.
See how these guys blend? No wonder I couldn't see them.
As we drove south, George (pronounced Hor-hey in these parts), my driver, pointed out things of interest including fields and fields of newly planted rice, just in time for the rainy season. Looking out at the country-side passing by I realized this country is so insanely green you can almost get eye fatigue looking at it. Every hue was represented from and almost fluorescent green to a deep forest green.
The male iguana, in the foreground, is smaller and black.
When we arrived at the park the density of tourists when up exponentially. Playa Herradura was not very touristy at all so it was something that caught my attention. George decided to go with me so we started walking up the main trail thick with people.
There were two things I figured out right away. The first one was, no brightly colored birds. Not one. In fact, nothing was brightly colored unless you count the frogs that were the same bright green as the plants. It makes sense, most of these small animals depend on their ability to blend in for survival. So the ones who are still alive are exceptionally good at staying hidden.
The slow climb of a three-toed sloth.
The second was the realization of why wildlife photographers talk about 400 and 500mm lenses. I brought my 80-200mm Zeiss lens with the adapter for my Canon. Even at 200mm most of the things I saw in trees were too high up to even come close to filling the frame. The lens is full manual and, without a proper focusing screen, next to impossible to get in focus. I jacked up the ISO and set the f-stop to 16 to increase my chances of getting something in focus.
The raccoon-like mapache.
On the main path I saw a frog, ‘zebra’ grasshoppers and a three-toed sloth climbing very high in a tree. I wanted to see more and thought if we found a less traveled trail more animals would be visible. We found a small trail and followed it up the mountain. Immediately, there was another sloth lower on a tree. I came across several different types of lizards along the trail and a cross-trail cut by carpenter ants, which was surprisingly wide and completely cleared.
Carpenter ants on the march.
Further up we heard the call of a howler monkey. It sounded more like a coughing bark than a howl but it was pretty loud. We tried to catch sight of it through the dense foliage and canopy but could see it. We went further up the trail and saw it through a small hole in the canopy. I tried to get a good shot of it but would have had better luck with a 500mm lens.
This was shot with a 200mm lens, you can see how the howler monkey looked like a black spot.
We found another trail and followed in down to the first of three white-sand beaches the park is famous for. After hanging out in the shade for a little while enjoying the cool breeze, I decided to check out the water. It was bathwater warm.
One of the three beautiful beaches at the park.
On the way out of the park I spotted some raccoon-looking animals and a few iguanas. A couple of the iguanas were pretty big. I was told they were the females. So, no bright birds but plenty of lizards.
The restaurant was built around this C-130. The bar is inside the plane.
On the way back we stopped at a restaurant that was made from an old military C-130 airplane. George said it was too expensive and took me to a place where the locals go for grilled chicken, rice and beans. Just my style.