The Cute and the Creepy...

This week on Living On The Osa, I am sharing some of my latest and favorite wildlife photographs from the Osa Peninsula.  Last year, when I first arrived in Costa Rica, my wildlife photography portfolio was virtually nonexistent.  And it was a priority of mine to really begin developing my abilities in this area. I had a fair amount of experience in portraiture, landscape, and photojournalism, but had not yet pushed myself to begin creating, what I hoped would someday be, publication-quality photos of wildlife in natural settings.  And Costa Rica has been the absolute perfect location for me to develop these skills. Wildlife here is not only abundant; it is also incredibly beautiful and unique to anywhere else in the world.

I am very proud of how far my photography has come over the past year in regards to wildlife.  And even more so, I love recalling the stories of how each photo came to be.  So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite photos and the stories behind them.

Squirrel Monkey or Forest Elf?  Taken in Carate, Costa Rica near Corcovado National Park. Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2018.

Squirrel Monkey or Forest Elf?  Taken in Carate, Costa Rica near Corcovado National Park. Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2018.

To start off, here is one of my newest photographs, this portrait of a squirrel monkey staring inquisitively into the camera lens.  I can't help but think of squirrel monkeys as being like little forest elves, bouncing and flying through the canopy.  Rarely have I been close enough to capture a decent portrait of one of these shy little monkeys.  However, on this day, the troupe was low in the canopy and hanging out near a local lodge where I was spending the afternoon.

The monkeys weren't feeding or traveling.  They were spending their time that afternoon playing.  Squirrel monkeys lack prehensile tails, unlike the other three primates living in Costa Rica, but they make up for it with speed and daring!  Their light-weight bodies allow them to make incredible leaps and catch themselves on the smallest of dangling branches in the canopy.  Sometimes, I'll see a blur of red fur from the corner of my eye.  I'll look over to see a dozen squirrel monkeys dropping over 15 feet, one by one, in a single leap and landing on giant banana leaves to break their fall. They may be the smallest of the four monkeys in Costa Rica, but they are also one of the most entertaining to observe.

 

Scarlet Macaw- Stare Into My Eye . Taken in Carate, Costa Rica. Photo by Ben Blankenship. March 2018. 

Scarlet Macaw-Stare Into My Eye. Taken in Carate, Costa Rica. Photo by Ben Blankenship. March 2018. 

The Osa Peninsula has one of the largest breeding populations of Scarlet Macaws in the world.  They are so common here, in fact, the ex-pats living in the area have taken to calling them, "Rainbow Crows."  This portrait of an adult Scarlet Macaw was able to be taken at such a close range due to this bird's habit of visiting local eco-lodges looking for handouts.  Lodge owners often put out sunflower seeds or bananas in hopes of luring macaws into close range for guests.  Though I view the practice as being unethical, as it teaches these animals to depend upon humans, I also could not turn down this opportunity to get up close and personal with a wild scarlet macaw.

 

Bare Hearted Glass Frog-Taken at Catappa Waterfall in Carate, Costa Rica near Corcovado National Park.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2017.

Bare Hearted Glass Frog-Taken at Catappa Waterfall in Carate, Costa Rica near Corcovado National Park.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2017.

Amphibians and reptiles are easily two of my favorite types of animals to photograph. Not only are they beautiful and incredibly photogenic, but seeking them out is challenging and exciting.  Those seeking to observe and photograph amphibians and reptiles in Costa Rica have the best luck at night, after the blazing heat of the Central American sun has passed. And it is not only the amphibians and reptiles that venture out after dark. The entire cast of characters in the rainforest does a "shift change."  Whereas in the day, one sees monkeys, coatis, and macaws, at night ocelots and jaguarundi come out to hunt.  Possums hang out in the trees.  Armadillos scamper across dirt tracks, and giant tapir move quietly through the brush on the hunt for their favorite vegetarian dinner.  

The snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads all make ready for a night of activity.  Frogs call to each other in the night, seeking out mates to fertilize eggs before the rains come. Snakes lie in wait in tree branches or along small game trails, ready in ambush for the perfect meal to come hopping past.  This bare hearted glass frog is not nearly so sinister in its intentions. This little amphibian was looking for love.  The bare hearted glass frog is said to be the most transparent of all the glass frog species.  Though you cannot see it from this angle, its chest is nearly completely see-through, showing much of its internal organs and its little beating heart! 

This little glass frog was no bigger than the last joint of my thumb.  They can be incredibly difficult to spot, and more difficult to photograph without spooking them.  But this little amphibian was in love with the camera lens (or flash). It seemed mesmerized by the light of my camera, and compelled to get as close to it as possible.  Just after this photo was taken, it leapt onto my camera lens, crawled over the ring-flash, and then hopped onto my face.  I could feel its sticky little feet attaching and detaching from my skin as it walked from my cheek up to my forehead.

I had to ask one of the volunteers I was working with to gently remove the frog from my head and then place it back onto a leaf.  But, as soon as she had lifted it from my skin, it leapt back onto my face, directly between my eyes.  It seemed I'd made a tiny transparent friend.  Eventually, we were able to get the frog back onto a leaf, and we made our way further up the stream on the hunt for more animals.

 

Golfo Dulce Anole-Camouflaged. Taken at  Puma Creek  in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2017.

Golfo Dulce Anole-Camouflaged. Taken at Puma Creek in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. April 2017.

Anoles in Costa Rica are common. Like really common.  Walking along trails at night, one can spot several along the way, clinging to small branches and hiding amongst foliage.  They have no natural defenses against predators like venom or toxic secretions, so they are a favorite prey animal for snakes and other predators.  To survive, these little lizards need to be good at hiding!  And this individual found itself the perfect leaf for concealing itself in the darkness. It appears to me that the position of its body is curved to match the contours of the leaf.  I cannot confirm this, of course, but either way, this photo features a master of disguise at the top of its game.

 

White Nosed Coati; Peek-a-Boo! Taken in Corcovado National Park, Cost Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. August 2017.

White Nosed Coati; Peek-a-Boo! Taken in Corcovado National Park, Cost Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. August 2017.

This white nosed coati was one member of a troupe of about fifteen individuals.  They were patrolling the hillsides just inside the boundaries of Corcovado National Park on a successful hunt for land crabs.  These medium-sized mammals are quite odd in appearance, kind of a mish-mash of a bear, a badger, and a raccoon.  They are intelligent, curious, and incredibly well adapted to living in Costa Rica's rainforests. Like their closest relatives, the raccoon, they are adept at problem solving, scavenging, climbing and mischief!  

 

Frog Eggs About to Hatch. Taken at  Puma Creek  in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. May 2017.

Frog Eggs About to Hatch. Taken at Puma Creek in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. May 2017.

And next to last, here is one of my favorites.  Getting this photo of a clutch of frog eggs was months in the making.  I had been searching for weeks for this very thing, but with no success.  Then, on one of the last few nights before my departure from Costa Rica last year, whilst on a night walk up Puma Creek, I came across this incredible site.  This gelatinous clutch of eggs was dangling from a leaf about three meters off the ground, directly above a flowing stream.  And inside of the jelly were dozens of frog eggs, each one containing a wriggling, writhing tadpole.  These young frogs-to-be were obviously quite well developed and only days from pushing their way out of their eggs and into the flowing water below to begin the next phase of their lives.  

 

Frogling in Metamorphosis - Taken at  Puma Creek  in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. May 2017.

Frogling in Metamorphosis - Taken at Puma Creek in Carate, Costa Rica.  Photo by Ben Blankenship. May 2017.

And to finish things off, here is another photo from that same night of a frog in metamorphosis, illustrating the incredible change these animals undergo throughout their lifetimes.  You can easily see it has its tadpole tail completely intact. But, it also has well developed legs as it makes its move from a completely aquatic life to one of dodging predators amongst the leaves.