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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Frogs Of The OSA

In a Costa Rica refuge, preservation tactics are leading to a stable ecosystem where amphibians are thriving

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Considering the wild nature of the landscape, access for photographers is very good indeed. Well-maintained trails lead through the forest to old-growth trees, creeks, waterfalls and beaches. Observation platforms high in the forest canopy provide an unusual vantage point, and the restaurant deck at El Remanso is a superb wildlife-viewing platform, overlooking fruiting trees that attract macaws, toucans and monkeys. It's a good idea to bring a long lens to breakfast.

In fact, after a rain is the perfect time to go looking for frogs. In addition to the Golfo Dulce and granular poison dart frogs that are most easily found in the leaf litter along the creek banks, the semi-arboreal green-and-black poison dart frogs can best be found as they traverse the ground when moving from tree to tree. The various tree frog species tend to find a perfectly camouflaged position to lay low and sleep during the day, becoming active as the sun goes down. They can be found by homing in on their distinctive calls, aided by a headlamp once close. The photogenic red-eyed tree frog is commonly found on vegetation near the El Remanso pool, perfect for a pre-dinner shoot. At night, it's often easiest to photograph handheld with flash, freezing subject and camera motion with the quick strobe. A softbox, handheld or on a flash bracket, can be positioned just out of frame for soft, even lighting.

Justin Black's Osa Peninsula Photo Gear
There are a few things that a photographer visiting the Osa Peninsula probably ought to bring along: a long telephoto, a macro lens, flash with off-camera capability and a softbox or light tent to diffuse the strobe when working with frogs and other macro subjects. A tripod that's sturdy enough to handle a big lens, light enough to hike with and that gets low enough for macro work close to the ground is helpful, too. This December, when I travel to El Remanso with my friend Daniel Beltrá to teach a Visionary Wild workshop, my Think Tank Photo backpack will be loaded with a Nikon D4 and D800E, 200mm Micro-Nikkor and 500mm ƒ/4 VR, 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 and 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 VR Nikkor lenses, 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, a polarizing filter and an SB-900 flash or two. In my Patagonia rolling duffel, I'll carry a large LumiQuest softbox, a Lastolite Light Tent and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod with a BH-55 ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick. A waterproof cover will be in my pack, too—it is a rain forest, after all.

Logistically, a visit to the Osa is an exotic adventure balanced with surprising convenience. The Costa Rican capital of San José is a short hop from the U.S., and the quick puddle-jumper flight over the mountains and along the coast to Puerto Jiménez is spectacular. From there, visitors can rent a vehicle (4WD is recommended), arrange ground transfers with their lodging or hire a local taxi. The unpaved road to El Remanso fords three small rivers and passes through areas that are perfect for photographing monkeys as they cross in the low canopy overhead. Once deep in the rain forest, one can't help but feel very, very far away from all.

Next time, I'll be in search of glass frogs. Semi-transparent, they've evolved greenish bones as part of their impressive camouflage. I've heard their distinctive high-pitched chirps all around me in the jungle, and I've photographed their tadpoles developing inside transparent egg cases clinging to leaves above a creek, but so far adults have eluded me. In the Osa, there's always something new to discover. Let's hope it stays that way.

See more of Justin Black's work at www.justinblackphoto.com. Sign up for his workshops at www.visionarywild.com.

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