While travelling in Costa Rica, I became aware of the work of Bence Máté, a Hungarian wildlife photographer. One of the lodges where we stayed had his bird photography book “The Invisible Wildlife Photographer”, which features some photos that immediately became my favourite bird images of all time. The reason why I am mentioning this book is that it has some thoughtful commentary on the ethics of “staged” nature photography. The truth is that many of the best wildlife images that one sees has some element of set-up to them. We all know that it’s probably not a good idea to feed wild baboons, lions and great white sharks. But in the case of wild birds, the line is less clear (to me at least). From the simple seed and fruit feeders in our gardens, to the thousands of hummingbird feeders all over the Americas, to the vulture restaurant in South Africa’s Golden Gate National Park and the fish being thrown to Steller’s sea eagles on the drift ice off the coast of Japan – Saul and I have encountered many different examples of birds being fed to attract them for viewing and for photography.
Anyway, before I write an essay instead of a gallery intro, let’s just say that both of us have been pondering some of this, partly because Costa Rica is the first place where we’ve ever participated in set-up wildlife photography beyond the kind that involves feeding birds. It’s a bit of a minefield and my only clear conclusion so far is that one needs to be honest about how images were obtained. So with this in mind, I’ve included one or two photos that show the context of a reptile and frog photo shoot that we did at a wonderful lodge called Laguna del Lagarto in the far north of Costa Rica, 15km from the Nicaraguan border. They have a snake handler called Diego, who catches snakes and frogs from the lodge’s private reserve and surrounding farms for use in these sessions. The frogs are something akin to catch-and-release (he caught them in the day or two before the session and released them into the forest while we were watching). The snakes are kept for longer, but not for more than 2 months (according to what we were told).
As for the monkeys, they were all photographed over the course of 2 days in a national park setting (Manuel Antonio NP) and no sleeping bats were woken up or fed during the creation of this gallery!
You wouldn’t guess it from this guy’s thoughtful expression, but mantled howler monkeys are the loudest land animal on the planet
A white-headed capuchin monkey enjoys a luxurious yawn
Capuchin monkeys were named by the Spanish for their resemblance to Capuchin monks, who wore brown robes with large hoods
Any Hunger Games groupies out there? Remember the “wolf mutts” with the human faces (of the other tributes who had been killed) at the end of the first movie? Doesn’t this monkey look eerily like he has a human face?
Capuchins are highly expressive. No prizes for guessing that the old guy in this pic has had it with youngsters climbing all over him.
These fruit-eating bats construct their own roosts by biting through the veins of a large leaf so that it folds in half and forms a “tent”
A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird perched among delicate fern fronds
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird about to take off
A male showing his full colours in a photo taken at the correct angle and with sufficient light
Had to include this one because it’s one of only a few photos we have featuring both a hummingbird and a flower!
The eyelash viper (bothriechis schlegelii) comes in a wide variety of colours
Sniffing the breeze?
“Oropel” is the Spanish name for this spectacular golden form of the eyelash viper. The oropel is an important predator of hummingbirds, perhaps because hummingbirds are prone to investigating bright colours in search of new sources of nectar (this also happened with Saul’s red Arc’teryx jacket).
Parrot snakes are very aggressive and this one spent most of the time threatening the two photographers with a wide open mouth
One of the 3 types of toucans we saw in Costa Rica (Costa Rica has 6 types in total)
The “blue jeans” morph of the strawberry poison-dart frog is common throughout Costa Rica
These frogs are poisonous to the touch, with the degree of toxicity varying depending on how much of particular types of ants and mites they eat
The edge of the bromeliad leaf on this pic should start giving you an idea of how small he is. If you know what a bromeliad looks like, that is…
This is what he looks like out in the open
He used to be Swainson’s toucan or the chestnut-mandibled toucan, then he became the black-mandibled toucan and apparently the current correct name is yellow-throated toucan. Lovely to see up close for the first time, no matter the name!
There you go, Dean!
My favourite hummingbird photo so far