Costa Rica Through The Eyes Of A Naturalist By Cynthia Bandurek
Cynthia is an Argentinian biologist, wildlife artist, and nature photographer. In February and March 2018 she visited Costa Rica for 32 days exploring and photographing in private nature reserves, wildlife refuges and five locations of a National Park.
Cynthia is a Contributing Editor of PT Explorers.
As a naturalist and lover of biodiversity, I had always dreamed of visiting Costa Rica. It had always been a dream that was a bit beyond my reach, so after preparing myself mentally, and convinced that dreams have to be fulfilled in life, I simply asked for a loan and bought a ticket in infinite instalments, and decided to venture alone into the most incredible experience of my life! An adventure through Costa Rica, with the aim of exploring but above all of being able to enjoy something that completely fills my soul: photographing nature.
I departed February 13, and arrived in Costa Rica that afternoon, and was pleased to see a man with a sign with my name and my first destination, MONTEVERDE, waiting for me.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest is a private nature reserve of 10,500 hectares operated by Tropical Science Center, that woke infinite sensations in me as I walked through its paths looking for its emblematic species such as the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) and the Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). I stayed for six magical days in this reserve in the Tilaran Mountains in Central Costa Rica.
The energy that one perceives in the cloud forest is sublime, a quite silent forest, the sound that prevails is of the wind making its leafy canopy dance. A perfect assembly between all forms of life forming that colossal ecosystem. I walked alone on the mountain and sincerely felt like a part of it. The enormous diversity of flora, and specially the striking sight of the innumerable amount of epiphytic plants that are the key to this web of life, make it look like an enchanted forest.
Seeing it and walking it in the rain, when the green shines and it seems that the forest gets bigger, is a wonderful experience. And one arrives with the anxiety of wanting to see all the animals that live there, it seems that the forest hides all its inhabitants on purpose, until one absorbs the rhythm of nature, becomes part of it. And that’s when everything starts to happen!
Also I walked in the cloud forest at night searching for nocturnal animals. The forest at night seems another place from the one at day. There is a whole world that goes to sleep and another different whole world that wakes up to begin its day. The forest at night seems magical, its sounds and inhabitants, like the incredible bioluminescent fungi, which glows when you turn off the light. It’s easy to see how people with little knowledge of biology can imagine magical stories.
The photographic high points of the cloud forest in Monteverde for me were Quetzal, White-nose Coati or Pizote (Nasua narica), Blue Crowned Motmot (Momotus momota), Side-striped Palm Pitviper or Lora venenosa. (Bothriechis lateralis), Orange-bellied Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris) and Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni)
My 12 days stay on the Nicoya Peninsula began with a ferry crossing of the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific Ocean and later a taxi which arrived at Montezuma where an Argentinian friend, Mercedes, who lives there, was waiting for me with her “quadricycle” to take me to her house.
Near the village of Montezuma there are two nature reserves, the Curu Wildlife Refuge , 1,496 hectares, in Paquera; and the first reserve in Costa Rica, in Cabuya, Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve 1,427 hectares that I planned to visit.
But, in the garden of my friend’s house, I had troops of Congo Monkeys, troops of White faced Monkeys, squirrels, snakes, agoutis, coatis, many birds, lizards and insects everywhere – a photographer’s paradise. Montezuma area is in a transition forest between the dry forests
of Guanacaste to the north and the humid forests to the south. But February is the dry season. Curu is an amazing refuge for photographing wildlife. Well-worn paths pass through gallery forests, secondary forests, mangroves, pastures, ending at a pristine beach on the Pacific. In one of my solo-walks through its paths, I came across someone who called me by my name, and for those incredible things in life, which social networks facilitate, it was an admirer who followed me in my networks for my work in photography! It was gratifying to know that my passion crosses borders.
Jessy is an excellent and passionate naturalist guide in Curu, and today, I believe a great friend. He took me to see other places where I could photograph new species, such as Río Pánica, Tambor, Río Lajas, but I was also fortunate enough that he accompanied me to visit the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve. It is a little harder in Cabo Blanco than in Curu to find animals, mainly because the trails allow you to immerse yourself in the primary forest with its impressive and huge trees, but walked through by someone who knows both the forest, its sounds and its dynamics, photographing nature became simpler.
There I was able to photograph, with my 6 D Canon, incredible species such as the Long-tailed Manakin or Toledo (Chiroxiphia linearis), and the White Bat also called Northern Ghost Bat (Didiclurus albus). With my friend, Mercedes, we walked the longest trail of the reserve, five km, to an isolated and pristine Pacific beach. My mind now swims with wonderful photographic images of the Nicoya Peninsula: Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus), Northern Raccoon (Procyon lottor), Spectacled Owl or Buho de anteojos (Pulsatrix perspicillata), American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea) and Scarlet Macaw or Lapa roja (Ara macao).
Central Pacific Coast – Dominical and Tinamastes
A one hour boat trip on the Pacific treated me to dolphins, rays performing their dance and those incredible jumps out of the water, and the amazing flying fish. It was so much emotion that I started to cry like a child!. I never thought I would be able to see so much marine life with my own eyes. A hotel near Nauyaca Waterfalls was my base for five days in the Dominical region. An old friend, Roel, met me and together we explored nearby natural areas. A highlight of Dominical was to be finally able to photograph the Tent-Making Bat (Uroderma bilobatum).
I explored alone the Baru Wildlife Refuge , a 330 hectare private reserve with secondary and primary forests. Here I was able to photograph Black- mandibled Toucan. (Ramphastos ambiguous). The reserve is crossed by a major road and the traffic noise was very loud.
We hiked up the trail to the mountain area known as Tinamastes. These lands are private, belong to a Swiss person who created an enterprise, a school of crafts for the indigenous (CAPI). We had to ask for permission to walk in the forest and stay there at night to photograph nocturnal animals. It is incredible how the ambience and ecosystem change, when you go just a bit up in the mountain.
As darkness descended on the forest, nocturnal sounds and calls increased. I was able to capture amphibians, insects, spiders and my first glass frog: Emerald glass frog (Espadarana prosoblepon).
Other sightings included Masked Smillisca or Rana enmascarada (Smilisca phaeota), Fiery-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii), Common Tent-Making Bat (Uroderma bilobatum) and Eyelash Palm Pitviper or Bocaracá (Bothriechis schlegelii).
Osa peninsula – Corcovado National Park.
Corcovado National Park, 41,800 hectares, is the largest in Costa Rica, and considered one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Incredible not only in biodiversity but in the population density of individuals. It is relatively easy to see Sloths, Tamandúas, troops of Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Congos, White faced Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, tapirs, caiman, crocodiles. Corcovado is an ideal place to see large mammals especial when one is there for four days.
This national park can only be accessed with a guide, so I had the honor of being accompanied throughout my stay by Mike Boston. He was born in Pakistan but lived in different places of the world. He studied biology in England, but lives in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica since a long time ago, with him I walked the trails, in search of all the inhabitants of the forest, beach and rivers. I saw and photographed, Three-toed Sloths (Bradypus variegates), Tamandua or Collared Anteater (Tamandua mexicana) Biard ́s Tapir or Danta (Tapirus baridii). To get into the Park at Sirena Station we took a boat, from Bahia Drake. It was an exciting trip because the sea was so raging!
One day we walked early in the morning approximately six km, went back to the Sirena station to rest a bit and then undertook another walk to Salsipuedes point, where there is a cavern full of bats and colorful fishes, to which you can only enter when the tide is low. We walked part of the time into the forest and part of the time in the beach, where we saw an old tapir that was resting in the shadows of a palm tree. Twenty-two km of hiking was exhausting, of course but I was really happy to make this adventure.
I stayed six days at La Tarde, an eco-friendly private lodge, next to Corcovado National Park, that is off the grid and five km from the Patos Ranger Station entrance to the park. Biologists Marcelo and Reinaldo were my guides and identified many new species for me as we explored this biologically rich forest. I fell in love with La Tarde which is exceptional for seeing herpetofauna and birds. But what struck me the most was its primary forest. You walk along its paths, looking where you put your foot, as a precaution especially in places where the leaf litter is abundant, but the moment you stop, look up and look around, those colossal inhabitants with their huge roots they take over your vision and inevitably your heart. Fascinating millenary beasts, it seems almost impossible for our ability to understand time to understand how ephemeral we are in front of them. Impossible not to get excited, and one looks for the way that they are reflected in a photo but there is no way to capture that energy, that size, and that magic. It only remains to impregnate the retina with these images and take away that memory forever.
There was a character that I was very interested in photographing, the famous Red-eyed Frog. I have had a tattoo of it on my body for many years, and did not conceive the idea of being in Costa Rica and not come back with a good photo of it. But yes, sometimes, destiny is capricious. We got out at night looking for them in the ravine and we could hear them singing loudly in the vegetation, but could not see them. It is so that one afternoon while we were in the forest a very big storm began, a beautiful storm, but my camera got wet and stopped working. Of course with that abundant rain the frogs came out in herds, but I did not have anything to take the photo with. Luckily the next night one of the many friends I made there, lent me his camera, to which I added my lens, my memory and my flash and went out to look for them again. We found them, with so much emotion I approached the swamp, and while looking for the best angle to take the picture, I looked down and between my feet on a branch, was a very attentive and little scared individual of the famous poisonous snake Fer-de-Lance or Terciopelo (Bothrops asper). Those are the surprises that the jungle gives you. So not only did I get the picture of the Red-eyed Frog but also of the Terciopelo snake.
Reinaldo told me about a special plant (Lathrophytum peckoltii Eichler) that he discovered in the park. The plant seems a fungi but it is a vascular plant. When we walked into the forest with Marcelo we saw it and I had the opportunity to take pictures of its newly discovered pollinator.
For me, the highlights of La Tarde were: Red-eye Frog (Agalychnis callydrias), Terciopelo (Bothrops asper), Baird ́s Trogon (Trogon bairdii), Black and Green Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus), Pug-Nose Anole or Capito (Norops capito), Golfo Dulce Dart Frog (Phyllobates vittatus), Striped Rocket Frog (Silverstoneia flotator), Red and Green Dart Frog (Oophaga granulifera)
My Experience as a Photographer.
To take photographs in the rainforest is a great challenge, because the conditions of light and climate, change all the time. Photographing in the humid tropics is a learning experience. But sometimes photography becomes difficult. I had two experiences with rain, a lot of rain,
one of this in Monteverde, where my lens got wet, and didn’t work for two days. And in La Tarde, my camera got wet too, and didn’t work for several days. And even without rain sometimes the camera and computer didn’t work because of humidity. But I think the balance was more than positive, I arrived at my home in Argentina with 6,281 files in my camera and I have edited already almost 250 images. But, of course. I look forward to returning to continue my photographic experiences in Costa Rica.
Amazing Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a beautiful country, especially for nature lovers, with only 0.03% of the world’s land surface, and 6% of the planet’s biodiversity. It is the country with the greatest biodiversity on the planet per square kilometre of territory. Approximately 25% of Costa Rica is protected, with different categories of conservation.
I dreamed to visit Costa Rica, and now I know that I want to live in Costa Rica. I am completely convinced that my place in the world is there. Not only did I fell in love with nature but also with the people who are so passionate and kind. I won not only the experience of traveling alone, of experiencing the rainforest, but I also won some friends and people who came for good into my life.