Photographing birds in Costa Rica

When I was 12-years-old I carried binoculars out our long gravel lane bounded by woods on both sides. I found birds—downy woodpeckers, cardinals, titmouse, chickadees.

Since then I’ve enjoyed birds, but, alas, have not felt that I’ve had time to wait to photograph them.

That was until I had shoulder surgery, which required weeks of rehab and sitting at Camp May Point, NJ, where our house was next to Lilly Lake. I bought a 500mm Tameron lens with a 2 X extender to fit my 24mp Sony a65. This was a relatively inexpensive combo. With a tri-pod, I took up a post under a tree on the edge of the lake, awaiting egrets, swans and herons to come into the area of about 30 feet from shore. The sharpness and art quality of the photos I made encouraged me so much that I decided to take the long lens with me to Costa Rica.

During a month visiting my daughter’s family in Monteverde, Costa Rica, I walked in Cloud Forest reserves and ventured to the Pacific coast town of Samara and to the edge of Arenal Volcano. In these varied habitats, I made photographs of 25 different birds, which displayed incredible color and design.

But the beautiful Blue-crowned Motmot was illusive. Only on the last day of my venture did my wife, Judy, spy a Motmot for me at the forest edge where I joined her on a seat. The Motmot landed on a branch within view of my 500mm lens.

Carrying a long lens and swinging it skyward to search for forest birds you see plainly with your naked eye is taxing. Often you can’t locate the bird with the narrow lens. I learned to identify a particular limb shape, find it in the lens and follow it to the bird.

I used a monopod. I did not plot the end on the ground and attempt to move the camera and lens. I held the mono with its leg collapsed in my left hand for stability.

I set the shutter speed at 1/500 sec and allowed the aperture and ISO to set on auto. My most frequent photographs were made at f5.6, ISO 1000 and 1/500 sec. The 24 mega pixel (mp) sharpness as well as shake control of the digital camera are huge assets over my days of using film cameras. The photographs, even when cropped to enlarge the bird image more, were sharp.

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