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Costa Rica
Wildlife and Nature
Photo Tour
January 2-16, 2021
Please contact our office ASAP!

Diverse subjects characterize this exciting tour to one of the
most accessible and rewarding wildlife destinations!

Limited to 10 Participants
Price: $TBA

Check out our 2019 Trip Report
for more images and for the best
preview of what you too can expect




Our brochures are detailed. After looking at the brief points below, if you're interested, take the time to read the brochure. And, for a very great understanding of what we see and photograph (if detail) check out any of our Trip Reports.

Four Different Locations - covering the east, north, and central Costa Rica
Hummingbirds - Using our three High Speed Flash setups
Bats - We initiated this photography, now copied by a few!
Reptiles and Amphibians - two days of diverse shooting!
Macaws - wild and in flight!
Three Leader Naturalists - Joe, Mary, and Jose'

Trip Highlights

This is an incredibly diverse trip, with in-depth emphasis upon birds, landscapes, hummingbirds, and reptiles, mammals, and macro subjects. Well be spending time at three very diverse locations, including a lodge in the northeast, near the Nicarauga border where we'll have tropical forest birds, reptiles, and mammals. Here we'll photograph, at eye-level, two species of toucan, aracaris, and many other bird species. On the jungle trails we'll have the unusual leaf-cutter ants, various other macro subjects, and cryptic reptiles, birds, and mammals.

fernsWe'll spend three nights, and two days, at what was one of Costa Rica's most active volcanoes, Arenal, where we'll be staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. At this writing Arenal has once again gone dormant, but the lodge provides us with a wonderful base of operation for our reptile and amphibian photography (see below) as well as the natural light hummingbirds and various birds found around the lodge.

While at Arenal we'll spend much of a day at a reptile/herptile park where we'll photograph the collection of the owner in natural setups, both indoors and out. We'll be shooting a variety of snakes, treefrogs, lizards, and other subjects with both flash and natural light.


hWe'll be utilizing two or three different locations for hummingbird photography, depending upon the weather. If possible, this year we'll be photographing hummingbirds at the Arenal volcano area, where we'll have several species we would not find elsewhere. Arenal can be rainy, so our shooting may be compromised, or impossible, but we're hoping to have one or two sets up for shooting. Costa Rica has dozens of hummingbird species and by shooting at two locations we'll maximize our opportunities for filming several different species, as well as the bird life found at these locations.

hummer 3We'll be photographing hummingbirds via two methods -- while using the flash setups we are providing, so you won't need to carry your own setups. When possible, we'll photograph our hummingbird subjects as they visit flowers we'll have baited with sugar water. This provides some wonderful images, but it can also be a bit tedious, and, before birds get accustomed to a new feeding location, a bit costly for time. We'll also be shooting birds as they visit traditional feeders, where we won't worry whether or not a feeder shows in the image.

That's the exciting aspect of this tour, as we'll be doing a mini-Photoshop workshop on how you can composite images to maximize our shooting. While all of us would love to be able to shoot every hummingbird at a natural flower, time, cooperation, and opportunity precludes that wish every time. Via Photoshop, however, we can maximize our shooting opportunities!

mango 2rufpis tailed

Some of these images are composites, and some are straight shots. Can you tell which?

hhummer 5jacobin 2

Our Various Locations

We'll be visiting a variety of locations for outstanding photography, although at this time the exact order of these visits has not been determined. Nor is it necessary, but the following will give you a great idea of what we'll be doing and what we'll be seeing while there.

mArrive in San Jose, Costa Rica and transfer to the Hotel Bouganvillea.
This hotel, located near the outskirts of the city, is beautifully landscaped and provides wonderful opportunities for macro photography, of insects, flowers, plants, and some telephoto work of the birds frequenting the garden.

On our hotel grounds outside San Jose the gardens provide a wealth of photographic subjects. Chief amongst these are the blue-crowned mot-mots that quietly perch, waiting to ambush insects and small frogs. The mot-mots are easy to photograph once they are spotted, but they sit quietly and can be missed!

Our Special Lodge near the northern border of Costa Rica
Two full days

We'll head north to our first destination, a wonderful lodge on the edge of the Tropical forest. The bird shooting is great throughout the day, especially at the feeders where we'll photograph at birds' level from an elevated, very comfortable porch. From this vantage we'll shoot at least 10 different species, including two toucans, one aracari, and a variety of tanagers.

Chestnut-mandibled toucan, Keel-billed toucan, brown-hooded parrot, and Collared Aracaris are easy to shoot from our porch perch!

We'll also be visiting a private garden where we'll be photographing a variety of tropical songbirds, some of the most colorful you'll see while in Costa Rica.

waterfallThe Cloud Forest Lodge

At one of our favorite destinations we'll be photographing hummingbirds at our lodge and also at a location nearby where we'll also have the chance for bird and spectacular water fall and landscape photography, too.
At the lodge we'll be concentrating on our hummingbird flash photography and the birds and mammals at the feeders here. We'll also do one morning field trip to the Bull River waterfalls for natural light hummingbird, flower, and, of course, landscape photography.



En route to our various locations we'll be stopping at a private wildlife sanctuary where we'll photograph Scarlet Macaws and various Parrots reintroduced to the wild and now free-flying and 'wild,' although habituated to people and very easy to photograph.

On another day while en route we'll be photographing Tree Iguanas, and we'll be stopping at an incredible small wildlife preserve where we'll have great chances at photographing tent-making bats, boat-billed herons, three-toed sloths, various jungle songbirds, caimans, and more.

macawjaguarbb heron
Coatimundi, jungle landscapes, scarlet macaws, a captive jaguar, and a boat-billed heron rookery, all subjects we should shoot in the first few days of this tour!

Below, tent-making bat, silver-throated tanager, and green-crowned brilliant.

tentmaking bat tanagerhummer

Our lodge has a great feeder for song birds and for mammals, and we'll have a good chance for shooting coatis, a rangy raccoon-like mammal, and two antelope-like rodents, agoutis and pacas. We'll be setting up our hummingbird sets shortly after arriving and we'll be starting our hummingbird rotation by late afternoon.

We have the potential to see and photograph the following birds here:
Hummingbirds: violet sabrewing, green-crowned brilliant, purple-throated mountain gem, black-bellied hummingbird, coppery-headed emerald, green thorntail, green hermit, and rufous-tailed.
Around the grounds of the lodge we may have:
scintillant and volcano hummingbirds, black guan, rufous motmot, chestnut-capped brush finch, paca, agouti, and coatimundi.

The Volcano Lodge

Arenal, which will be our base for three days. Although Costa Rica's most active volcano is now dormant, the landscapes are still beautiful, from sweeping mountain vistas to macro landscapes of the vegetation, bromeliads, ferns, and cloud forest.

On at least one morning we'll start the day at the Arenal feeders where we'll be shooting a variety of birds and a few mammals that often visit the feeders. These species include violet-headed hummingbird, Montezuma oropendola, crested guan, emerald tanager, golden-hooded tanager, blue-gray tanager, collared aracari, red-legged honeycreeper, howler monkey, and oncilla.

In mid-morning we'll head to our reptile park where we'll be photographing a variety of herptiles - reptiles and amphibians - in a studio setting. We'll be using flash and setting up natural backgrounds and props, similar to what we do at our Hoot Hollow Reptiles of the World Photo Shoots. While it's too early to state exactly what we'll be shooting, our subject list should include eyelash vipers and other arboreal vipers, bushmasters and fer-de-lance vipers, various arboreal treefrogs and dart frogs, and some lizards. If we have time, we'll work on the tarantula collection, too!

At our reptile/herptile stop the subjects vary from year to year, but we can expect species like the following:

neotropical rattlesnake, cantil, bushmaster, jumping pit viper, hog-nosed pit viper, eyelash vipers (various color morphs including yellow), neotropical bird snake, green vine snake, brown vine snake, short-nosed vine snake, satiny parrot snake, tarantula, strawberry poison frog, green and black poison frog, red-eyed tree frog

redeye treefrogbushmaster
ferdelance toad
Red-eyed treefrog, bushmaster, fer-de-lance, and forest toad.

The Eastern Jungle

We'll have two exciting days at a lodge in the eastern jungle, the tropical, wet side of Costa Rica where dinosaur-like Basilisk Lizards, Great Potoos, poison dart frogs, hermit hummingbirds, waterbirds, and even jaguars (don't expect one, though!) are found. More details on our exact location will be available to participants.


My Objective

hummer 6You should return with the best photographs of Costa Rica wildlife possible in the time frame we have available. This doesn't come easily; it requires early starts, patience, and a degree of luck. We'll be supplying the flash equipment so you can expect gear that works and that is suited for the job at hand for photographing the hummingbirds.

With our co-leader Greg Basco we're confident that we'll be able to provide you with the most complete tour possible, as well as vital Photoshop information and techniques that you can use later with your work.

What's Included

The photo tour for our Costa Rica Photo Tour is $5,495 (ten participants) and $TBA (five participants) based on land costs from San Jose, Costa Rica and includes all accommodations (double occupancy) as specified above, all meals as specified except day one, entrance fees, and ground transportation in our spacious, air-conditioned tour bus. Also included, professional bilingual photo/nature/culture guide, photo guide assistance with workshops and informal learning, assistance with caption and identification information, taxes for all services included and listed, and biodegradable water bottle for each participant. A single rooming supplement is available at an additional cost of $587.

hummerThe tour price includes all meals, a welcome and farewell drink, and the driver/guide's tip. There will be three electronic flash setups (weather permitting), and participants will be rotated in a fair and equal basis through these setups.

Gratuities for hotel or lodge staff, airport transfere, and laundry fees or lodging that takes place before or after the photo tour and those meals are not included. Also not included is Airfare to Costa Rica, the Airport departure tax (US $29), alchoholic drinks (excepting our welcome and farewell receptions), non-meal time snacks, non-meal time soft drinks and bottled water, and souvenirs.

We always recommend trip insurance. Check our link.

Our Roles as Leaders, and Your Role

Mary and I know wildlife, and how to photograph it. I want everyone to obtain great photographs, and to enjoy himself or herself while doing so. Great photography requires patience, luck, and time, and you can trust us that everything we do as your trip leaders will have those priorities - your photos and well-being as an individual in our group -- in mind.
Don't expect me to compromise the group for you, whether that's for tardiness, forgetfulness, or otherwise. We won't. We're up front about our time, tenacity and seriousness, and we want our people to know this. If you join us, that's what you're getting into. I think some people join a group and expect it to conform to their individual demands. We won't do that. If you like to travel privately, or to 'run the show,' or to make selfish demands, we'd suggest you go alone.

At the snake park we will be photographing potentially letal reptiles, and safety, and following specific instructions, will be paramount and mandatory. Photographers and participants involved in this activity must follow our instructions and directions, and if these are not followed, or if someone acts carelessly or foolishly, they will be ordered to leave the reptile shoot immediately, no questions asked. This hardlining is for your safety, and for the welfare and success of the entire group, as well as for insuring your personal safety.

Foreign travel is exciting, but it can be exhausting for some. You very well may need to sit out a hummingbird session or feeder shoot and relax one day, and if you feel this way, please do so. We press fairly hard, but we do so because we know that many in the group have high-energy reserves, limited budgets, and inexhaustible enthusiasm, and these folks want as much out of the experience as they can get. We aim to deliver that.

About Your Leaders

joe and maryMy wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included Audubon, National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, Wildlife Conservation, and most nature/wildlife calendars.
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! She won first place in the Cemex/Nature's Best photo contest in the Humor Division for Professional Photographers. In 2003 she won first place in Mammal Behavior in the Agfa All Africa photo competition with a dust bathing bull elephant from Samburu. Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari. I've won several times for highly commended images in both the Cemex/Nature's Best and the Agfa all Africa photo competitions. In 2003 I won 2nd place in the World in Our Hands category in the BBC competition with an image from Africa. In 2013 I won first place in the Mammal Behavior category, of jaguars fighting, in this competition.
Mary and I were featured in the book, the World's Best Wildlife Photographers, and we write regularly appearing columns in Nature Photographer magazine and in several web magazines. Our latest book, Digital Nature Photography, From Capture to Output, is a PDF file that covers EVERYTHING you need to know about digital nature photography, including workflow, file management, RAW conversion, and maximizing the digital image. It is available directly through our office.

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