Baby Spider Monkey

I enjoyed photographing all of the monkeys in Costa Rica, but especially this baby Spider Monkey with its mother! Or, it this the baby’s older sister? Read on to discover why this might be big sister shown in the photo below. The little one certainly is hanging on tight while being carried through the tree-tops 50 feet above the ground!

These photos were captured in trees surrounding the Bosque del Cabo Lodge, where both spider and capuchin monkeys gathered morning and night to feast on ripe fruit. I got many nice photos here, but am especially fond of this series. I spotted this mom (?) carrying her baby about 7am, with beautiful morning light on the trees. I eagerly tracked this pair through the tree-tops as she fed on fruit.

Then she settled on a large branch and was promptly joined by another adult, and I am quite sure that the baby began nursing on this second mother! The baby’s face is hidden, but this pair sat quietly in this position for several minutes.

I asked Bosque’s naturalist, Philip Davison, about this behavior and he said that an older sibling sister often carries the baby within a monkey troupe. So my best guess is that the baby was carried by a sister and then joined by mother to nurse. When the baby raised its head, I was able to capture my favorite photos of this adoring gaze between baby and mom, beautiful!

One other thing to notice is how a spider monkey uses its strong, agile tail almost as if it were a fifth leg. Often wrapped around a branch or even hanging from its tail. After several minutes, two more monkeys joined this gathering. It appears that all are wanting to be close to the baby and catch a glimpse of this new family member! I feel honored to have watched and recorded this moment.

To close this story, I cropped one of the photos of mom and baby on my computer to focus more attention on the beautiful gaze…

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Leafcutter Ants

Prior to my recent Costa Rican trip, I would not have expected that ants can be so fascinating! Specifically, Leafcutter Ants. These ants are commonplace throughout central and south America, and in some parts of southern U.S. from what I’ve read. They are also agricultural pests that can decimate crops. I have a few photos to share and have given myself an assignment to capture a better photographic story of their life and behavior on my next trip to Costa Rica.

As seen in this first photo, Leafcutter Ants carve pieces from fresh, green leaves and carry them back to their nest. Regretfully, I don’t have a photo of the long line of ants carrying their leaf fragments to a very large nest that may be 100 yards or more from the harvesting site. But, what do they DO with these leaf bits?

The ant shown here is about a quarter or three-eighths inch in length. The difficulty of capturing this photo is another story. Briefly, I used a Nikon 105mm macro lens and an off-camera flash held in my hand, while the camera was mounted on a tripod. Exposure was 1/60th sec at f32. This particular parade of ants was marching down a tree trunk and my camera was on its side about 4 feet from the ground. I rotated the photo 90 degrees for easier viewing. Most leafcutter ants were seen following their well-established and cleared paths on the ground, where they are much more difficult to photograph!

I learned much more about these ants after returning home and discovering a book titled (what else?), “The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct,” by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. I found this book while reading Philip Davison’s excellent blog; Philip is a biologist who has lived on the Osa Peninsula for 20 years and leads educational tours at Bosque del Cabo lodge.

So, what do these gals (yes, they are ALL female) do with the leaves? They don’t eat them, they use leaf bits to grow a fluffy gray fungus, which they then consume. Within the nest, this fungus grows on walls built from a papier-mâché paste that is manufactured from the fragments of vegetation brought in by the foraging workers.

A mature Leaftcutter Ant colony has several million members and is organized by a strict caste system, with substantial differences in size among subclasses of its all-female family. All daughters in a nest are offspring of a single queen who may produce 150 to 200 million daughters during her 10 year lifetime. The story of harvesting and caste delegation is explained very well in the cited book:

After the returning foragers drop the pieces of vegetation onto the floor of the nest chamber, the pieces are picked up by workers of slightly smaller size, who clip them into fragments about 1 to 2 millimeters across. Within minutes, still smaller ants take over, crush and mold the fragments into moist pellets, add fecal droplets, and carefully insert them into a mass of similar material. Next, workers even smaller than those just described pluck loose strands of fungus from places of dense growth and plant them on the newly constructed surfaces. Finally, the very smallest and most abundant workers patrol the beds of fungal strands, delicately probing them with their antennae, licking their surfaces, and plucking out spores and hyphae of alien species of mold.

Wow! The harvesting workers that I photographed are only the tip of this organizational iceberg. Another caste role that I read about, but didn’t see in the field, are very small sisters that look like pygmy replicas of the foraging workers and often ride as “hitchhikers”on the leaves carried by their larger nestmates. No, they are not lazy, but serve an important function of protecting their sisters from parasitic flies that attempt to lay eggs upon the necks of the larger ants. The hitchhikers serve as living flywhisks! On my next trip to Costa Rica, I hope to see and photograph these helpful little sisters.

A mature leafcutter ant nest will produce only a few male ants per year, whose only goal is to leave the nest and mate with other virgin queens. Then they die. The new queen left her original nest holding a small cache of fungus that she will now use while attempting to dig and start a new colony. From her single mating with a male, she stores more than 200 million sperm cells that will allow her to fertilize eggs for the remainder of her lifetime. For ladies reading this story, don’t get any ideas about world domination!

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Costa Rican Songbirds

Costa Rica is home to nearly 900 bird species, which is approximately the same as the entire United States even though this small country is only the size of West Virginia. Some of these birds are part-time migrants from northern winters, but most are year-around residents. This surprising number is due in part to the diverse climactic regions that vary from coastal rain forests to 12,000 foot mountains. Another factor is that a mountain range separates distinct populations of similar species that live exclusively on Pacific or Caribbean coasts.

I had the opportunity to see and photograph beautiful songbirds, in addition to large wading birds such as herons and egrets, hawks, toucans, scarlet macaws, and parrots. In this post I would like to share a few of the colorful songbirds.

Many of these birds were photographed from the upper deck at Lookout Inn, the first of our two lodges in Costa Rica. Trees in this area are naturally filled with fruit that attract birds, and the lodge staff set out bananas and papaya to bring in these fruit-loving birds for close viewing. Here is a female Cherrie’s Tanager.

This Blue-gray Tanager seems to be asking, “What are YOU lookin’ at?”

The gallery linked below contains more of my Costa Rican songbird photos. Several of these were captured while out hiking trails in the rain forest. The male and female Black-throated Trogan were photographed in Corcovado National Park, and the Red-capped Manakin was on the Titi trail at the Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge.

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Carate Beach Lagoon

I’ve stayed at the Lookout Inn in Costa Rica for the past 5 nights and have been up at 5am each day to enjoy the relatively cool (65-70 degrees) morning and spectacular sunrises. There is a lagoon about 20 minutes walk down the beach from our lodge and I’ve had a great time photographing birds with Nick Fucci. I am here as part of Nick’s Costa Rica photo safari and learning more every day from his knowledge of wildlife, and his guide experience on where to find birds, monkeys, and other great photo subjects in Costa Rica.

The lagoon at sunrise provides beautiful backlit silhouettes. This lagoon is separated from the ocean by a narrow sand bar and attracts many species of water birds. And 10-foot crocodiles have been spotted… I didn’t see one but avoided wading in the lagoon!

This Tricolored Heron wasn’t bothered by our presence and kept fishing for breakfast. A Willet looks on with envy as the heron swallows a shrimp!

Another photo of the Tricolored Heron with a nice reflection in the early morning light.

We were fortunate to watch this pair of Bare-throated Tiger Herons in a mating dance high up on a coconut palm on the far side of the lagoon.

I spent time this morning practicing photography of birds-in-flight and was quite pleased with this shot of a Snowy Egret at the lagoon! 

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Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

I’m on my way to the rainforest of Costa Rica! I will fly into San Jose, then take a small commuter flight to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula. From there, we take a 4-wheel drive taxi to our destination. A map is included below that shows the location of the Osa within Costa Rica. Below that is a Google satellite map of the Osa Peninsula on which I have marked the two remote rainforest lodges where I’ll be staying: Lookout Inn, and Bosque del Cabo. I am traveling with experienced guide, photographer, and friend, Nick Fucci.

The photographic opportunities at these locations are fabulous, including Scarlet Macaw parrots, hummingbirds, four species of monkeys, many colorful frogs, sunrises/sunsets on the beach, and so much more! Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet and my camera will be very busy!


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Photographic Resolutions

A new year is time for reflection. I rarely make lists of “resolutions”, but do think about broad goals or lifestyle changes that I would like to pursue in the coming year. Photography has become an important part of my life over the past three years and I intend (resolve?) to continue following that passion in 2012. A question for reflection is: how do I take my photography to the next level?

Part of the answer comes from two blog posts that I wrote in 2009, Living in the (creative) moment, and From Painting to Photography. Why do I want to make each photograph, and what is the essence of what I want to convey? My appreciation for and relationship with nature is ultimately the most important subject for me. I will expand my skills and portfolio by experimenting with different perspectives and lenses, especially using macro and close-up with extension tubes. These ideas will guide my photographic journey in 2012.

Rob Sheppard’s recent blog post, Year’s End, also caused me to reflect on priorities for the new year. He suggests that we must ignore or discard the things that distract us from what is truely important. We are bombarded with so much information every minute of every day that there is no time to pursue our passions and create something new. I often feel that I am over-informed about unimportant facts.

You may have noticed that it has been 18 months since my last post on this blog. Despite my good intentions and a wealth of blog worthy adventures, I have not written about my very interesting photographic journey. I hope to will do better at blogging more frequently in 2012! Rather than attempt to catch up with blog posts about the past 18 months, I’ll conclude this note with three photos that best represent my recent adventures.

I traveled to Alaska in September 2010 with Nick Fucci, primarily to photograph bear at the Redoubt Mountain Lodge. I also brought home some nice photos of Exit Glacier, moose, and pikas on Hatcher Pass. Here is one of the bear photos from Lake Clark that I call “Gone Fishing”. More photos of my Alaska trip may be viewed in a slideshow.

My next adventure was to Italy in May 2011 traveling through Florence, rural Tuscany, and the Cinque Terre coast. One of my favorites is Vernazza, the town were I stayed for three days in Cinque Terre. More photos of Italy may be viewed in a slideshow.

Glacier National Park, a mere 30 minutes drive from my house, will always be the center of my focus on nature and photography. In the coming year I will dedicate more time to discovering unique images and perspectives on Glacier Park. This is one of my favorite images from 2011, fall colors at the old Belton Bridge in West Glacier, built in 1920. 

My next photographic adventure will be in Costa Rica, blog posts coming soon! Have a joyous and creative New Year!

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Boulder Farmer’s Market

The farmer’s market is a very popular activity on Saturday mornings in Boulder, Colorado.

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Boulder Flatirons

I arrived in Boulder, Colorado last night to attend a RMSP workshop next week, “The Spirit of Boulder”, taught by Mark S. Johnson. Went out this morning to capture one of the classic photos of Boulder, the Flatirons. I had to wait about 45 minutes for the clouds to clear enough to make an interesting image, but I’m pretty happy with the result! Boulder had about 6 inches of new snow two days earlier (in mid-May!!) and there is still a bit of snow visible on the Flatirons.

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Monochrome Water

This posting continues my exploration of monochrome images. All photos were taken with my Nikon D300 digital SLR in RAW format, then converted to monochrome using Photoshop Lightroom. I like the mystical feeling of this image. No photoshop tricks were used, but the photo was taken on a cloudy evening with at 15 second exposure.

For more monochrome images, see The Monochrome Weekendtheme site.

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Monochrome Madness

The gray days of winter can drive you mad, so why not embrace it? A perfect motivation for monochrome photography! I chose two images that I made in Glacier National Park last summer and converted them to black & white. I’m quite pleased with how they came out! Which one do you like best?

Sunset Near Hidden Lake

Grinnell Glacier Overlook

For more monochrome images to stimulate your creativity, see The Monochrome Weekendtheme site.

Posted in Glacier National Park, Monochrome | 19 Comments