Sunday, March 27, 2016

Costa Rica Medley

A few last photos from Costa Rica that didn't make it into any of my other posts.

I loved the showy flowering trees. It would be nice to be here through the seasons so you could see each different kind bloom.

flowering trees

I'm a fan of bougainvillea, despite it being so common in warm climates.


Some of the leaves were almost as colorful and interesting as the flowers.

colorful leaves


Sometimes it was just the shapes of the leaves that was interesting.

palm abstract

abstract leaves

We had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets along the way. I watched for quite a while as these clouds churned in slow motion over Drake Bay.

bird and clouds

While watching the clouds and the sun setting, I also shot a series of reflections - all quite similar, yet quite different if you look at them closer.



These seeds were all over the ground at Lapa Rios. They look a bit like maple seeds, but much larger - 3 to 4 inches long.


For more photos, see all 28 as a slideshow or overview

Saturday, March 26, 2016


We flew back from Costa Rica to Houston, and from there took Amtrak (train) to Chicago and then to Minot where we picked up our car and drove home. Along the way we spent two nights in Chicago, visited with some friends, and did some more sightseeing. Our first morning we got treated to this view from our hotel window.

urban sunrise

On the way down we visited the aquarium and natural history museum. This time we headed for the Lincoln Park Zoo. The bus would have got us closer, but we took the metro since usually it's easier to figure out.

We walked through the park to get to the zoo. It was still cool weather but there were signs of spring, like these daffodils blooming in a sheltered spot.

spring flowers

A red-winged blackbird singing vigorously and showing off its color.

Red-winged blacbird singing

Canada Geese swimming on the pond.

Canada goose

Of course, the reflections didn't go unnoticed.


Common (or European) Starlings were introduced to North America (and other places) and are now widespread. With the right light, their iridescent coloring is quite pretty.

Common starling

Considering it's free, the Lincoln Park Zoo is actually quite a nice little zoo. As with any zoo, some of the animals and their enclosures aren't ideal, but overall it seemed pretty good.

Many of the animals weren't in their outside areas, possibly due to the cool weather, although that didn't stop the lions who were out enjoying the sunshine. Their enclosure had a "moat" rather than bars so you could get decent photographs.



It was hard to photograph the gorillas indoors with low light and dirty glass. This is the best I managed.

gorilla looking thoughtful

Walk-through aviaries are another good chance to photograph without bars or glass, and they often have brighter natural light. Of course, the birds also have more room to evade you!

Blue-Crowned Laughingthrush

We were about to leave Lincoln Park and find lunch when we noticed the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It was full of bright flowers.

Lincoln Park Conservatory


Walking around we happened to pass this church which was covered in vines making interesting designs.

vines on church

The church and vines contrasted with the shiny skyscrapers.


Inside, it had lovely stained glass windows.

stained glass window

For more photos, see all 35 as a slideshow or overview

Friday, March 25, 2016

Costa Rica - Lapa Rios

Our last few days in Costa Rica we splurged and stayed at the Lapa Rios Eco Lodge. Although it’s expensive (and all inclusive), don’t worry, Shelley and I aren’t getting soft :-) They didn’t even have air conditioning. As they say in real estate, location, location, location. Lapa Rios is a 1000 acre private nature reserve next to Corcovado National Park, on the Osa peninsula in south west Costa Rica. It is situated on the top of a ridge with fantastic views out over the forest and to the ocean on both sides of the peninsula. It is an amazing place to see wildlife and they try hard to be sustainable and to minimize their environmental impact (unlike most resorts). Most of the guests were there for the wildlife. There were a few people who seemed to be there solely to lie by the pool, but if that’s all you’re interested in, there are a lot easier (and cheaper) places to go.


Driving to the resort, Shelley suddenly stopped the car when she spotted monkeys in the trees beside the road. We always enjoy watching the monkeys in zoos, but seeing them in the wild is so much better. Their acrobatic maneuvers are amazing!

Squirrel monkeys

That was our first clue that we were going to have a great time at the resort. Without leaving the lodge area we saw toucans, scarlet macaws, monkeys, agoutis (like giant guinea pigs), coatis (like raccoons), lizards, and colorful poison dart frogs. We were serenaded in the evenings and (early!) mornings by the unearthly monster calls of the (male) howler monkeys.

Black-mandibled Toucan

Our room/cabin was simple but nice. It was screened on three sides with a large outside deck that looked out over the forest to the ocean. In the mornings we could watch monkeys in the trees. We even had an outside shower (in addition to an indoor one) as long as you didn’t mind the toucans watching you :-) With the heat and 100% humidity, a cool shower was the next best thing to air conditioning! (There was solar heated hot water, but I doubt it saw much use.)

sunrise from our room

Guided nature hikes are included and we went on several each day. There were also trails that you could hike on your own, which we also took advantage of. But in the thick rainforest, the guides were much better at finding the wildlife (especially the birds) than we were.

view from Lapa Rios

The first morning we went on the sunrise hike. While we were waiting for the hike to start a group of lively squirrel monkeys visited the tree right beside the restaurant deck. They were close enough that you could have reached out and touched them. That is, if they sat still long enough for that!

Squirrel monkey

By the end of our visit we had seen all four kinds of monkeys found here - squirrel (above), spider, howler, and white-faced capuchin.

Spider monkeys

Mantled Howler monkey

White-throated Capuchin monkey

We really enjoyed the night hike. Most of the hikes (and guests) are bird oriented, whereas I’m just as interested in snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects, which are more the emphasis after dark. Our guide also pointed out the bats that “hung out” over the path to the pool, which I’m sure most people (including us) were unaware of.


This was the first trip that I'd seen scorpions.


We also saw these Tailless Whip-scorpions, which are neither scorpions nor spiders. As arachnids, they have eight legs, but one pair of "legs" has evolved into sensory organs and are not used for walking.

Tailless Whip-scorpion

We even saw an armadillo. (They’re also found in the US but I’d never seen one in the wild.)


We went out early one morning (the coolest time) walking on the trails by ourselves. We saw several poison dart frogs, including the common black and green ones, and one Golfo Dulce that is only found in this area.

Golfo Dulce dart frog

By the streams we saw several Basilisk lizards. (Also known as "Jesus" lizards since they can walk/run on water.)

Basilisk lizard (male)

We saw agoutis (like giant guinea pigs) and coatis (like raccoons) a number of times, including within the lodge complex.


White-nosed Coatimundi

We loved our stay at Lapa Rios and would recommend it highly (if you like wildlife). The only minor weakness was the restaurant. Service at Lapa Rios was great in most respects. When we arrived, and after hikes, they greeted us with cold facecloths and drinks. But the restaurant staff didn’t seem to grasp that when someone comes in and sits down that you should go over and see what they would like. Sometimes they’d come over and ask how our hike was and then forget to ask what we wanted to order. And although they had a separate vegetarian and gluten free menu, the selection was limited and the food wasn’t exciting. But that’s minor, and as vegetarians, we don’t expect too much.

As you can imagine, I took a ton of photos. Some of them aren't very good technically but I'm sharing them anyway because of the interesting subjects. I missed having my long telephoto but, as usual, the 18-300 did a great job as a multipurpose travel lens. A number of the shots are quite noisy (grainy) but considering they were shot at ISO 25,600 it's amazing they came out at all.

For (many) more photos see all 79 as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Costa Rica Critters

I had to split up my photos somehow, so after separating out the birds, I lumped all the other “critters” together.


Although there are, no doubt, lots of insects in Costa Rica, they weren’t very apparent. Butterflies were around but seldom sat still long enough to be photographed. The large bright blue Morphos especially seemed to be in perpetual motion.


This next caterpillar has evolved so it's hard to tell which end is the head. I suspect the two red dots are fake eyes and the head is actually the other end.


The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens gave us a chance to see a variety of insects (not just butterflies). We enjoyed the guided tour.


scorpion with babies

There were large numbers of what looked like colourful butterflies but turned out to be moths. Apparently they were migrating through.

migratory moths

We saw the most spiders at the Dominical paragliding launch. There were webs and big orb spiders all along a hedge beside the road. These spiders and their webs are big and strong enough to occasionally catch small birds. (In addition to their usual fare of insects.)

Golden orb spider

There were quite a few iguanas around, especially in Dominical. One morning I went in the bathroom and heard something moving in the shower. An iguana had climbed in through the high window (no screen) and couldn’t climb back up the slick tile. I chased it out of the bathroom but it hid under the bed. We flagged down the guy outside with a broom and between us manage to chase it outside. The poor iguana was quite frantic by the time it found the doorway! (Of course, before chasing it out I grabbed my camera and got a photo!)

iguana in shower

We also visited Reptilandia near Dominical. I’m always leery of such places since they can be pretty hokey, but this one was good. They had a mix of local and non-local animals. It was spread over quite a large area, with good sized enclosures.



After paragliding we spent a night at Hacienda Baru and the next day we went on an early morning bird hike. When it turned out we were the only participants I thought we could get our guide to show us other things, like insects, as well as just birds. But he didn't seem too interested in bugs :-( We did see a number of birds and both two and three toed sloths, or at least balls of fur high up in the trees that we were told were sloths!

Two-toed sloth

We also saw agoutis (like giant guinea pigs).


And I managed to find a few bugs on my own :-)


There were lots of cicada exoskeletons on the trees. Cicada nymphs live underground and crawl up trees to shed their skin and emerge as adults. They make incredibly loud noise for small insects! Some cicadas, like the North American ones, have 13 or 17 year cycles and emerge all together.

cicada exoskeleton

For more photos, see all 43 as a slideshow or overview