It may be January, but a new season is springing in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It was a beautiful morning for a walk at Magnolia Plantation, and to take in the birds starting their cycle of life.
Great Blue Heron nest building. I could watch them for hours.
He gathers the sticks, brings them to the nest, hands them to her and she weaves them into place.
And then start over again until the nest is to her liking.
The camera sure likes these big, colorful birds. And the light was perfect this morning.
Birds! This is why we went. Almost all of these were taken at the resort and private reserve of La Foresta in Quepos, CR. We found out from a guide at the Manuel Antonio National Park that in January on the Pacific coast, many of the birds move up into the higher elevations to escape the heat of their summer. But, we were happy with what we captured. Let the parade begin.
On our first afternoon in Costa Rica, we arrived at the resort tired and hungry. It was about 4:00 pm, and we didn’t have much time to look for birds. It was tempting to go sit in the bar and have a cool drink, but we decided to grab our cameras and go for a walk. Within 30 minutes we spotted both the Aracari and the Toucan, and never again the rest of the trip. It would have been a shame to miss these shots.
If you think I have incorrectly ID’d a bird, please send me a note. The only one I could not find was the large black fork-tailed bird we saw flying over the ocean. You would think that would be an easy one.
Monkeys! We headed to Costa Rica to photograph birds, and thought if we happened to see a monkey it would be a bonus. As it turned out, we saw as many monkeys as birds.
The resort we stayed at, La Foresta in Quepos, CR, sat on 70 acres of a private reserve. This is where we saw 95% of the monkeys. We observed three different species: Capuchin (White-Faced), Howler, and Squirrel Monkeys. These were wild animals. They didn’t seem to be afraid of us, but kept their distance and at least one member of the troop was always watching us. There were several juvenile monkeys with the adults.
Capuchin Monkeys: This troop of about 20 was the hardest to photograph as they were back lit and in there pretty deep. Not hard to find, however. They made a ton of racket up in the canopy! The situation really called for a good flash with an extender, but I don’t like to use flash on wildlife. So we didn’t. As a result it was high ISO, and some of these are pretty noisy.
Howler Monkeys: We would wake up to the sound of these larger and more vocal monkeys off in the jungle. Sometimes they came really close to the resort. They were easier to photograph due to the contrast of their dark colors with the jungle background. This troop had about 25 individuals in it.
Squirrel Monkeys: These were smaller animals, and much more elusive. They did not want to be near us at all. If you ask me, they’re a little creepy looking. 🙂
That’s it for the monkey business, next up: Costa Rica scenery and landscape shots.
For our 25th wedding anniversary, Kathy and I decided we would go somewhere we had always wanted to visit, and where we could indulge our photography hobby. Costa Rica came to mind as it is known world wide for it’s photography opportunities. Even though it is a small country, it contains 5% of the world’s diversity. 25% of the country is protected and cannot be developed.
We purchased our tickets in May of 2019 and traveled to CR from January 14th to January 18th, 2020.
We flew from Charleston, SC to Miami and then to San Jose, CR where we rented a car and drove 2.5 hours to our resort. Driving was much easier than we anticipated, and the paved roads were in great shape, although narrow with many curves and switchbacks in mountain regions.
The Costa Rica we saw was jungle, rain forest, mountains and beautiful beaches. We stayed on the Pacific side, near the coast at a lodge called La Foresta Nature Resort by the town of Quepos.
La Foresta advertised that it sat on 70 acres of a private reserve. We didn’t know what to make of that claim; if it would be vacant land or a place where we could actually get some good photos. As it turned out, the 70 acres was mostly jungle and 90% of the images we captured were from that private reserve.
Everything we read said “Don’t go to Costa Rica in the rainy season, wait until January.”
It was summer when we visited, and hot. When we were there the daily high temps ranged from 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit with 80-90% humidity. A local informed us that many of the birds had escaped the heat to higher elevations, and we shouldn’t expect a lot. But, we were very happy with the images we were able to capture. However, if we were to go back, we would either stay in the mountains instead of the coast, or go at a different time of year.
Staying at La Foresta, chosen by Kathy, was a fantastic choice. It was reasonably priced, situated away from the busy tourist areas, and yet close to the main highway, beaches, and the town of Quepos. The service was fantastic, and the grounds were immaculately kept! Every day grounds workers groomed the lawns and vegetation. Cleaning employees were meticulous. And, the onsite restaurants and bars were staffed with friendly competent employees. The food was good.
Getting out of bed late, the sky was dark. I waited until it lightened up a bit, then asked my bride if she was interested in a trip to Magnolia. She declined, and I left her to enjoy her alone time, and three cats.
It was misting slightly as I left home, but here in the Lowcountry weather changes rapidly so I headed out anyway. Sure enough, by the time I got to the plantation it had stopped.
My chosen route lately takes me to the swamp first because of the light. Today it didn’t matter, but I walked up there anyway. A Pileated Woodpecker awarded me with my first–long distance–capture.
Because of the conditions, I raised the ISO a bit and upped the exposure compensation one full stop.
Moving on to Ravenswood, a hawk immediately flushed from one of the islands and headed to the opposite shore.
I followed his flight and saw that it was joining another RSH.
This back corner of Ravenswood has always been a bit of a hot spot, and with good cover I decided to get closer.
The eyes of a Red Shouldered Hawk are unique. You can’t capture the golden translucent appearance unless bright light is directly on them. Not going to happen today.
A shot from a sunnier day shows you what I mean.
The partner awaits.
There were several Ibis poking around in the marsh beneath the hawks, and I expect they were hoping to steal a morsel. By now, I’m sure they knew I was there, but as long as I kept a respectable distance, they didn’t seem to care.
I thought about waiting for an in-flight shot, but I had just gotten there and didn’t know long the rain would hold off. So, I retreated quietly and left them to hunt in peace.
A Eastern Bluebird greeted me, and I counted 7 nests with at least one Great Blue Heron in them, and 3 with 2 birds.
Ducks!! I love ducks.
Ducks in flight are a challenge to capture. Their speed demands a fast shutter speed. That means higher ISO on darker days like today, and a more open aperture.
The mist was starting again, and I still wanted to hit the boat landing so off I go. Swinging by the eagle tree, it is empty. Not much around the boat landing lagoon either. There has been a Great Blue Heron guarding what looks to be a good spot for a nest on the opposite shore, by the eagle tree. It would be nice to have a pair raise some chicks down there. What a treat for the boat tours in the spring!
I glance up at the eagle tree to see it occupied now, and so retrace my steps to get a shot.
In particular, Bald Eagles seem to be hard to capture in poor light. They lack the depth and definition you find in captures on a bright day, as you see below.
The rain has begun in earnest now, so that’s it for me. I’ve only been here about an hour, but I am satisfied with the results. What a treat to have a place like Magnolia Plantation so close to where we live.
The day broke cloudy and warm. It wasn’t a perfect day for photos, but I wasn’t looking for a perfect day. I was looking for a walk with a camera. So, off I go to Magnolia.
Normally, if I don’t stop at the Audubon Swamp, I park by the ticket booths and head directly for the boat landing. Once there a quick glance at the eagle tree showed it to be vacant.
Two Kingfishers were zipping around the boat landing lagoon, always staying just out of range for a clear image.
Snowy Egrets and other white birds save the day in conditions like this.
I decided to head over to the Observation Tower in hopes of catching an eagle fly-by. As I walked underneath the tree where Bald Eagles commonly perch, I heard the unmistakable chirp/whistle of an eagle, followed by the sound of talons grasping a dead tree branch. One had landed right above me. I headed back to the clearing with a good view of the tree.
There simply is no substitute for good light. Below, an image on the left from today’s overcast conditions, and on the right from a sunny day.
Even the most sophisticated post-processing software can’t correct two crucial features of a good image: Distance to subject, and good light. With software, you can correct the color, bring up the whites, bring up the blacks, dehaze, add contrast, raise the shadows…but the result just isn’t the same.
Oh well! It’s still an eagle image. I turned again to head to the tower, and got just a little further when a dark shape passed above me. Vulture? Nope, immature Bald Eagle, joining the adult in a nearby tree.
Meanwhile, it’s windy up there and the adult–apparently a bit distracted–almost fell out of the tree.
Soon the juvenile left, and so did I, carrying with me a memory of the event and a few–if not perfect–images to document what happened. That’s a win in my book.
On to the observation tower! The sky was beginning to lighten up a bit, and there always seem to be wading birds hanging out by the tower.
I only spent a few minutes in the tower, and captured just a few unremarkable fly-by’s. I wanted to move on to Bluebird Bend to see if I could get some more like these from yesterday:
I call it Bluebird Bend because the trail makes a sweeping turn in front of a Bluebird house. It was occupied last year, and as you can see, looks promising for this year too. I wasn’t real happy with this image, there is something strange about it that I can’t really put my finger on. Maybe a focus issue, lack of detail, I’m not sure. But I made a few changes to camera settings and hoped I could get some more shots to compare.
But first, in passing by Perry’s Field, another Bald Eagle. This location was new to me, although I heard about it from others. Not a close shot, and when I tried to sneak closer–take note, tried to sneak up on an eagle–it didn’t pan out.
See how the colors are better on these shots? The light was better than it was for the previous pics.
Still headed for Bluebird Bend, but on the way a pleasant surprise–Black Crowned Night Herons. I hadn’t seen one of these since July, in the Audubon Swamp.
The SCDNR was on the river looking to trap something.
Coming up on the small rookery pond now. I like this rookery; it’s remote and easy to approach while staying hidden. Today I’m rewarded with close shots of a drake Wood Duck.
I saw he had made me, so I got ready for the in-flight shot. But, not so ready that I remembered to bump up the shutter speed.
Finally, I am at Bluebird Bend, but no one is at the Inn. I wait for a few minutes, but lunch is calling my name. I’ll come back another day.
One last glance at the rookery pond on my way back, and a uniquely shaped duck looms on the far shore. Is that a diving duck? Yes, a Ring-necked Duck. We always called them Ring-billed Ducks due to the white markings on the bill. But, if you get close enough, they also have a dark ring around their neck.
Well, it’s been a heck of a walk for not expecting much! On the way back to my vehicle, some Camellia and Encore Azalea shots.