Art of Biodiversity – Costa Rica – Pt 1

Days 1 to 4 – The tour begins!!!!

April 15 – 25 2023

My thanks to Greg Basco for allowing me to use his graphics and text from the workshop. Interspersed through the text are some of the photos Greg took of the group whilst on the tour.

Sadly, there was a breeze blowing every morning prior to the tour start so no macro photography.  The following morning it was a 7am breakfast for an 8am departure down to the coast for our next hotel.  After breakfast it was checkout with all our gear and meet our driver and strongman for the next 20 days – Enrique.  Our transport was to be a 20-seat air-conditioned Hino bus which was most comfortable.

Finally loaded it was time to hit the road.  One final stop for last minute items at the local grocery store and pharmacy then start heading downhill through the suburbs on our way to the Pacific Coast.  So, all aboard the bus and the wheels go around and around. Us small merry band of Greg Basco & Paulo Vallore, who own FotoVerde Tours, Enrique our more than capable driver, a Californian couple – Brent & Louisa, Melody from Texas, Jim from Canada, Marcel from Switzerland plus me. Jim & I sat up the back as all naughty kids do even though we were nearly 70. Marcel was the youngest and a Nikon shooter but we will forgive him. I saw some of his shots later on and they were magic. A very talented man. Louisa, Melody, Jim & I were all Canon shooters and Brent was mastering (cursing?) a new Sony. These days regardless of brand images that are produced are of an excellent quality. For people like us who do these types of tours generally have had years honing our craft in pursuit of the perfect photo.

As we descended down from the hills on very good well-maintained highway (better than Victorian roads) we stopped for a break at a roadside vegetable stand.  In hindsight I should have taken more environmental photographs as this site with nearly a dozen merchants’ setup on both sides of the road was quite special.  The fruit and vegetables grow to very large sizes here due to good soils and abundant rainfall.  Some of the avocadoes are 3 times the size we get back in Australia whilst some varieties are as small as an apricot. 

The mangoes can also grow to a huge size and weigh nearly a kilogram.  They are extremely sweet & juicy so I bought some.  We used the fruit we purchased to supplement our breakfasts for a few days – sounds like our guides were starving us doesn’t it!  Nothing further from the truth as every hotel we stayed at had wonderful fruits and foods in plentiful supply.  I also learned why almonds are so expensive – check out the photo of the fruit knowing that each piece only contains one almond and that there is about 99.% wastage.  Back on the bus to continue downhill.  Drove over the Crocodile Bridge over Rio Tarcoles but nothing to see at the time. Like all hotels they don’t like their guests to show up too early but arriving for lunch is OK.

Our destination was to be Villa Lapas Jungle Retreat in Puntarenas Province, Tarcoles.  “It brings you the best of Costa Rica from its fabulous location in the province of Puntarenas. Only 60 minutes from San Jose, you will find Villa Lapas to be the perfect gateway to exhilarating attractions and tours. Experience on-site adventures through our 500-acre rainforest preserve on hanging bridges, jungle wagon rides, or following walking trails on birdwatching expeditions.”  No. no, no we were here for the Red-eyed Tree Frogs and Birds along the Rio Tarcoles!!  All of the rest was for other tourists.  The weekend before we arrived, they had hosted a massive wedding party and we needed to wait as they all left before we were allocated rooms.

And when it comes to discovering Puntarenas, you can choose from a diverse range of things to do around Villa Lapas, from observing the magnificent crocodiles on the Tarcoles bridge and visiting Carara National Park to spending the day in the popular beach town of Jaco. The possibilities are endless! Done that – ho hum – I need to manage my expectations better.

Here we were booked on two river tours of the Rio Tarcoles or Río Grande de Tárcoles (it is a big river).  We also went to the Bridge Tarcoles to view the crocodiles basking in the shallows.  For an Australian who has seen big salties in Nth Queensland, Northern Territory or Northern WA these were a little ho-hum as most were under 3 mtrs in length – still wouldn’t swim in the river however.  We also had access to private property roads next to the bridge where we saw a variety of birds including a pygmy owl.  We hadn’t realised why he was reluctant to move until one of our eagle-eyed participants spotted a small lizard skewered to a fence post.  Nature can be brutal.

But I am ahead of myself.  This hotel is set in beautiful surroundings of lush jungle, a creek running through the property, the calls of the macaws high in the trees (no photo opportunity sadly) and it was very humid and hot.  My room had a fantastic air conditioner which I cranked up as soon as I booked in.  We had just over an hour to have lunch before we were leaving for our afternoon river tour down past Jaco on the Rio Grande de Tarcoles.

Time to explore the Rio Grande Tarcoles! This was only a short 20-minute ride by bus from our hotel. Both trips would be dependent on the tidal pushing into or ebbing out of the river.

It was just a short walk down to the boats from where we parked and very easy to board – always a godsend when you have dodgy knees. You just walked over the bow and into the boat. They were quite large with room for around 40 odd people. We spread out around the boat giving ourselves plenty of space to take photos without getting in each other’s way. Each boat was powered by a 150hp outboard as the tidal flow can be quite strong.

The birdlife was amazing and everything here was new to what I had seen as it was near the coast. I knew I would be asking plenty of questions of the guides as to ‘what bird was that’. Away we went for a very pleasant two-hour tour. It is very easy to take thousands of photos especially when attempting birds-in-flight – I would burn out my new camera body in one trip at this rate.

For this trip I had actually bought a new Canon R6 MkII body purely for what it bought to Bird Photography and that was the staggering ability to fire off 40 raw images a second until the camera buffer was filled. In most cases this was a burst of 170 images. In that sequence you are really hoping to get only one or two gems.

After an amazing afternoon on the river we had a wonderful sunset which we enjoyed with a couple of glasses of white wine (not Costa Rican) listening to the pounding of the surf at the river mouth as the sun set.

There was always someone checking out all the knick knacks in the gift shops near the boat ramps. Most are made of wood and would not survive Aussie Border Force so I skipped that part but Greg was enjoying himself.

One of our Tour Guides – Greg Basco

Nearly the end of a perfect day except after returning to the hotel it was time to do some frog photography using a flash technique I had never tried before. We could hear the little frogs serenading us as we crossed the creek to the other side of the property. Apparently, these small frogs sleep/hide in the tall shrubs & trees around the pond during the day then come down to the pond after dark to mate and communicate. Thnakfully Paulo had a spare Canon 580 EX flash that I could borrow as mine was sitting in my bedroom in Wodonga 16,000klms away. That was as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. We had a fantastic session with Red-eyed Tree Frogs plus some small brown frogs which I thought as always unidentified small creatures – LBJs – little brown jobs!!!

There are many things that can go wrong when you are enjoying yourself on a trip of a lifetime and the bane of photographers is either corrupting a SD card or losing cards. In this case I lost/corrupted nearly 700 images from a 256Gb card without realising until the next day. Whilst it is not the end of the world it was a bit sad as those images included the second boat tour and the second night of doing the frogs using flash. I will relive those moments in my memory forever but sadly cannot share them with you. It just means that I will have to come back here and do this again – see there is a silver lining. After that issue I was meticulous in checking file names to make sure there were no gaps in the numbers.

Tomorrow would be another day another hotel as we moved further south east down past Quepos, A road distance of 66 klm. Time to get a good night’s sleep then pack Next, we get to meet some cheeky monkeys.

3 Comments on “Art of Biodiversity – Costa Rica – Pt 1

  1. Oh my God’s so easy to feel like l am on the trip with you..l am so sorry you lost all those images…but as you say you have the memories..what an amazing beautiful place is Costa rica…what great tour guides and fellow bird photographers…your words and details are beautifully written…your photos are stunning as always..l love the one on the boat capturing you in photography mode….just a magnificent read..xx


  2. Dave, great blog. Would never have thought to go to to Costa Rica but you have me interested.


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