THE RICH COAST
A land rich in some of the most amazing wild species in the world, Costa Rica is a destination where stunning colours rule the landscape
You've seen this exotic and gorgeous landscape many times on celluloid. Costa Rica's incredible beaches, and abundant jungles have played a more than able setting for some of Hollywood's best. Much of the movie, Congo, with its deep, deep jungles, its wondrous creatures was filmed in this lush backdrop. Costa Rica literally means 'the rich coast' in Spanish and is popular for a whole lot more than the films it's hosted. It is said to grow and serve some of the world's best coffee, it ranks high as a surfing destination for the adventurer's itinerary, but more than anything, it should be on your bucket list for the astonishing diversity of wildlife and scenic beauty. In a tiny area of 51,100 sqkm (almost 1 ½ times of Goa), it is home to over 875 avian species, 9,000 species of flowering plants, over 600 species of butterflies, more than 200 different mammals as well as prehistoric reptiles and boldly coloured amphibians. It's a long way off to Costa Rica, though. Located on the Isthmus of Panama, it is bordered by the Caribbean Sea in the east and the Pacific Ocean in the west. After a tiring journey of 17,000 km and a good 35 hours from Pune, India, we reached the capital city of San Jose and checked into a beautiful hotel with a stunning botanical garden. San Jose is the capital, a fact made fairly obvious by the fact that most of the Costa Rican population lives here. Originally an agricultural city, today's San Jose, known as Chepe by the locals (Ticos), is a modern, bustling place with malls, offices and a fairly vibrant nightlife. Most travellers use just a night
After an early breakfast, and a short photography excursion,we headed to the beautiful low-lying rainforests of the Sarapiqui valley, just two hours from San Jose. On the way, we came across an interesting mammal called the Coati, known as the Brazilian aardvark. This carnivore is part of the raccoon family (Procyonidae) and this particular group of around 12 individuals was bold and waited around, giving me enough time to photograph them. The rich rainforest of the Sarapiqui region consists of some spectacular plant life: Almendro trees (Dipteryx panamensis), bromelaids, epiphytes and vines. The Almendro trees (see box on page 63) are considered guardians of the tropical rainforest and a representative species for the region. They are also a critical part of the endangered Great Green Macaw's habitat. But what completely gobsmacked us was the sheer number of birds we were able to see. It was terribly exciting to shoot the Blue-grey Tanager, Summer Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Keelbilled Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Green Honeycreeper, Montezuma Oropendula, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Kiskadees, Flycatchers and Orioles.
I was so engrossed in the photography of these stunningly beautiful avian wonders that the hours literally flew past and it was only the low light that made me realise that it was 5 pm and that I had seen a healthy list of 30 species in one day. During the three days that I stayed there, I heard repeatedly, a loud and fearsome noise made by the Mantled howler monkeys, especially in the night but was unable to see them clearly. On the last day, the guide came running to me at breakfast and took me to see a female monkey out on the open perch. My 600mm lens captured this endangered monkey, which also has proven to be an important link in this ecosystem.
Next up, a hectic walk-around session that awarded me with a photograph of Agouti, a rodent species on my wish list. Agoutis forage for fruits and nuts on the forest floor and are known to hoard food when it is scarce. They do not always remember where they've done so, and over time, the forgotten stash grows into trees. Thus, these animals play a vital role in a rainforest. The night brought on a macro photography session and I managed to get photos of the the Red-eyed tree frog. As the name suggests, this beautiful frog has bright red eyes and a green body. Startling colours marked many photography outings in the Costa Rican jungles.
After three days at Sarapiqui, we left for Rancho Naturalista, a beautiful lodge on the Caribbean slope in the Cordillera de Talamanca near Turrialba (at an altitude of 2970 ft). We were in for a treat. On the way, we came across the Three-toed sloth, which was leisurely crossing the road at less than a snail's pace. Sid's eccentricities in the movie, Ice Age, have made this animal a household name, and we were lucky to have seen it this way, and we helped it cross by stopping the traffic.
Rancho Naturalista Lodge is situated in 50 hectares (125 acres) of protected Primary Premontane Rainforest of the Caribbean
My target here was to do multi-flash setup photography of hummingbirds, especially the Snowcap, a very rare species. This method truly tested my patience and skill. I had to be really accurate, sharp and ultrafast for this session. But it paid off and I was able to photograph six to seven different species, including a rare Violet Sabrewing and Green-breasted Mango, male Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird in two days of tremendous hard work.
Our third and the most important destination was the Savegre Mountain Lodge near San Gerado de Dota, an ideal spot to explore the high elevation habitats in Costa Rica. This mountain lodge is owned and run by Chacon Zuniga family, the people who discovered this valley in 1954 and have settled here since 1955. Efrain Chacon and his family developed an interest in nature early, allowing them to preserve 70 per cent of their 400-hectare property. An extensive trail system reveals this ancient Tropical Montane Cloud Forest. The grounds of the resort are quite entertaining; hummingbird feeders, beautiful gardens, and the charming Savegre river attract a great number of bird species around the facilities. The lodge is privileged to be set in the Talamanca Mountain Range ensconced in a pristine high-elevation oak forest as well as in the proximities of Sub-Alpine Rain Paramo (over 10,000 ft) making this area a very unique birding spot to observe many species found only in the highlands of Costa Rica. I was only too happy about this advantageous location because I was in search of the one and only Resplendent Quetzal. This bird is considered one of the most beautiful, vibrantly
Costa Rican National Parks
If you go
Biodiverse Costa Rica
A singer for the National Bird