This was one of the "birding" departure dates, with the emphasis obviously on seeing many of the 800-odd resident and migrant species found in Costa Rica. There were plenty of opportunities for birding but other wildlife was not ignored so don't let this put you off these dates if (like me) you aren't a serious bird watcher.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Seeing baby turtles scrambling out of their nests and scuttling down the beach at Tortuguero to reach the sea - truly unforgettable and really set the standard for the rest of the trip.
Watching and photographing a three-toed sloth for half an hour in Manuel Antonio NP as it slowly clambered about in a nearby tree.
Seeing hummingbirds for the first time, then seeing yet more and even more after that!! Getting some shots of these beautiful birds in flight as they darted from flower to flower or hovered near the feeders.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Gio was really great - first and foremost truly brilliant at spotting and identifying birds, but his depth of knowledge, enthusiasm and love for his country, the birds and animals as well as the culture really shine through.
Gio was also very good at organising and tailoring walks and tours to suit the group or individuals, and was flexible enough to change the itinerary where necessary.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Costa Rica is a truly beautiful country, and the people are welcoming and charming. If you are considering this trip then go, the wildlife alone makes it worth it, then you have the forests, volcanoes and beaches and people.
As a keen photographer I lugged my big heavy 70-400mm zoom around with me most of the time, and it was well worth the effort, as a 300mm zoom wouldn't have had enough reach for some of the bird sightings. Having said that, on a few of the late afternoon birding walks I left the camera behind as the light levels drop after 4pm or so, and it was great just to forget about photography and enjoy watching the birds through binoculars or the guide's very good telescope.
At Santa Elena Cloud Forest I opted out of the afternoon canopy walk and spent a brilliant couple of hours photographing hummingbirds at the feeding station to get the best of the available daylight, so there can be a bit of flexibility in the itinerary if you want to get the most from photographing the wildlife.
Be prepared to up the ISO to 1600 or 3200 to capture fast movement or freeze birds hiding in trees and shadows. So many shots were deleted because shutter speeds were too low.
I took a small netbook with me to back up and review my photos each day - really great to see what you've shot on a bigger screen, and maybe learn from mistakes for the next day. I also took a couple of 32GB/95 MB/sec cards as I was shooting in RAW, sometimes in 7fps bursts.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
This trip really is a photographer's dream, so take your longest lens and stacks of memory and get stuck in from day 1. You should come back with quality photos of many different birds, lizards, crocs, sloths, snakes, monkeys, butterflies, turtles, coatis and much more besides.
The night walk at Esquinas rainforest lodge is good fun and the best chance to see and photograph the green-eyed tree frogs, as they are nocturnal. You can't use flash photography for these frogs because their eyes are too sensitive, so you need a powerful torch to provide enough light to photograph them by, again taking care not to shine the torch directly into their eyes. Well worth the effort though.