Costa Rica Workshop (part 1)

Last summer I listened to the Wild and Exposed Podcast, which, on that day, was featuring photographer Hector Astorga. Hector manages the Santa Clara Ranch in Texas. The ranch is well known for catering to nature photographers with comfortable blinds, and overnight accommodations. Hector talked about the ranch, and about the workshops he leads outside of managing the ranch.

One of the workshops he mentioned was the Patagonia region of Chile to photograph pumas. Well, that caught my attention. So much so that I had Alan listen to the podcast too. He also got very excited about the possibility of seeing pumas, so we looked Hector up, found that he didn’t have any openings for 2021, but did for 2022. We signed up immediately for the Chile workshop and got on his mailing list because all of his 2021, and the first half of his 2022 workshops, were sold out.

Sometime in the early fall I received one of Hector’s newsletters in which he mentioned that the second Costa Rica workshop in December had unexpected openings for two people. I emailed him right away and asked if the opening was still available, and if so, could we please take it. He replied it was, and we could. So, we did.

12/11
We flew to San Jose, Costa Rica with no problems, met our driver, and were taken to the Hilton Garden Inn La Sabana downtown. We were on our own for dinner, so we walked around the area and landed on a nice little restaurant and enjoyed the local cuisine.

12/12
All eight of the participants, Hector and his assistant, met for breakfast, then we all checked out of the hotel and boarded a van to head to Frogs Heaven in the rainforest.

Red-eyed tree frog

We photographed about seven different species of frogs; the famous Red-Eye Tree Frog, Red Webbed Tree Frog, Glass Frog, Coronation Frog, and a couple of Poison Dart Frogs. The frogs were brought to us by the handlers (who used gloves). These handlers go out into the forest, find the frogs, place a marker where the frog was pulled from, note the GPS coordinates, and then keep the frogs safe for us to use as “models” while we learned how to photograph them with macro lenses. When we were through, the frogs would each be returned to their original locations. Conservation and good stewardship at its best. And a great way for these folks to earn a living.

Multiple macro photo stations were set up with the native flora of the area to use with the frogs. The photos came out perfect! This was the first time I’ve ever used flash on something other than a human being, but the effect is just right.

When we were done, we dined on a fantastic lunch prepared by the owner’s wife and daughter, after which, we traveled east.

It was warm and very humid when we arrived at Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, but the food here is very good, and we dine al fresco for all meals. Wifi here is weak, but that is to be expected. We will be here for three nights.

So far we are both enjoying the workshop, have made some friends, and have already learned some new techniques.

12/13
Up very early, we started photographing toucans and a large variety of tropical birds. After breakfast half of us, me included, were taken out to photograph king vultures. They are huge, beautifully colored, carion eaters. They are easily twice the size of the balck vultures, which outnumbered them. We watched, and photographed these birds for a few hours, then returned to the lodge so that the other half of the group could go.

Yellow-throated toucans

The lodge is set up with a porch that is used as the dining area, and viewing point for the tropical birds attracted to the banana bunches placed out by the staff.

12/14
Our day started at 6:00AM. I have already filled my memory cards with so many pictures and now am about to add more. We spent all day on the porch, enjoying each other’s company, having our meals, and constantly shooting. I pulled my laptop out and worked on images in the middle of the day.

That night, after dinner, Hector and his assistant took us out to photograph a few species of nectar bats. Here they set up some of the local flora, and using a syringe, squirted some sugar water up into the flowers of the plants to keep the bats coming. It was dark out, and you could feel the bats skimming by your head as they flew to drink from the flowers. Using flash, we just shot a lot and hoped for good shots – a “spray and pray” technique I am very used to. We came away with some amazing shots. Those little guys are so cute!