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Red-eyed Tree Frogs!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's the iconic rainforest critter, on every cereal box, every kids' book, every poster on every schoolroom wall. The red-eyed tree frog Agalychnis callidryas has it all--color, pizazz. Thanks to all this exposure, it's possibly the most charismatic and recognizable of all frogs. But I'd never seen one. Never even hoped to see one. Imagine my delight when our guide Mario Cordoba told me that a little cement pond at Selva Verde, Holbrook Travel's lodge in Sarapiqui in the Caribbean lowlands, was full of them. Calling, mating. Oh my gosh. This has to be the jazziest frog of all.

Darkness fell and Mario fixed his flashlight on a frog for me. I almost swallered my tongue, as we say here in Appalachia. Oh my gosh!! I couldn't believe I was seeing this.

But how to photograph them in the black night without a flash? Well, you prefocus, crank the ISO up, and twiddle your dials until you get something nice. You try not to keep the light on the frog for more than a few seconds. You don't want to disrupt their business. These photos are all hand-held--given the low light I probably should have run a few blocks to my room to get my monopod to steady the camera, but ehh. The frogs were there and so was Mario and so was I. Carpe diem.

This little guy's calling, his throat pooched out. He may also vibrate the stem or leaf he's perched on to attract a female. What's shakin', baby?

He has a friend.

Such intensely decorated creatures, with that electric blue on thighs and neon orange on their feet...but their colors show only at night!

I was really happy with this pose. Right off a poster.

Ready for a surprise? Here's a red-eyed tree frog, sleeping during the day. Mario had to tell me it was the same species when I found it. Frogs are so darn cool. How do you switch those colors off like that?
Chromatophores, that's how--special skin cells that can show or hide brilliant color in an instant. Last night: dressed for the gala. Now he looks like a dead leaf. 

Also calling: Rain frogs. Sweet little things in their own right. What a treat to see such creatures calling, doing their froggy things. What a privilege.

This second night's try at photographing them worked out even better. Mario coached me on exposure, and through trial and error we found that shutting the F-stop down a click or two and boosting the ISO a bit allowed the frogs' colors to glow. The trick is not to wash them out with too much light. That's better for the frogs, too. 

We want them to keep doing things like this. If you click on this photo, you may see the really cool Venetian blind pattern on the male's nictitating eye membrane. The female will eventually lay a cluster of eggs on a leaf overhanging water. These will hatch about a week later, the tadpoles falling into the pool, where they complete their metamorphosis. Tiny juveniles often hang out in the water wells of aerial bromeliads, preying on small insects. 

I think this is my favorite of the shots. I maneuvered around to get it all in the same frame.  What looks like the full moon rising is actually a light fixture in the open-air bar behind the little pool. No, I'm not crouched in the rainforest risking a bite by a fer-de-lance. I'm hanging out with Mario, talking light and frogs, by a little water garden at a jungle lodge, loving every minute of it. Holbrook Travel built it, and the tree frogs came.

Costa Rica well deserves its reputation as an ultimate ecotourism destination. Everywhere we went, we felt at home with our binoculars, cameras and spotting scope. Tiny home-cooking restaurants in the mountains are festooned with hummingbird feeders and buzzed by incredibly arrayed birds (just you wait!!) Tanagers flit to bananas and rice laid out for them. It's so different from the vast majority of American restaurants, where the whole focus seems to be to get you inside and wall you off from nature. (When you go to a Bob Evans, I'm the one who raised the blinds and opened the shutters and left them that way). The Alajuelo airport itself is given over to images of toucans and quetzals. Costa Rica knows where its riches lie. 

all photos taken with my Canon 7D with 70-300 IS L telephoto lens
and the expert tutelage of guide Mario Cordoba


Julie, those photos are incredible.

OH HOW I LOVE this photos. I am a huge fan of toads and frogs anyway, but your pics are wonderful and I would love the pics whether fan or no. Being a stalker of all tings toad and frog -- makes them all the more wonderful. I am a bit jealous here, that I was not there! :)
Thank you so much, Julie, for sharing your adventures with us. Your adventures brighten my days ! :) Darlene

Posted by Anonymous March 16, 2014 at 7:44 AM

I apologize for my spelling errors in the post I just sent. Just got too excited over your post I reckon ! Darlene again

Posted by Anonymous March 16, 2014 at 7:48 AM

Our tree frogs here are cute, but nothing like the splendid psychedelic beauties there. Wow. Makes me wonder what's in the food there that makes all the birdies and froggies so fantastically colorful. What wild adaptation of genes and beauty!

Phenomenal! The photos, your trip, the colors Mother Nature came up with for all her creatures great and small. You are quite the photographer! Thanks, again, for sharing part of your life with us.

I've been birding in Panama twice--once to the tropical rainforest near Panama City and once to the highlands on Volcan Baru. I have also visited Belize. With your descriptions of Costa Rica, it's high on my list to go! Thanks for posting your wonderful photos!

Posted by Teresa Norris March 16, 2014 at 10:08 AM

I love these tree frogs. They are so beautiful--thanks so much for sharing.Going to have to put Costa Rica on my list.

Posted by Anonymous March 16, 2014 at 12:20 PM

And all this time I thot I was the only person who opened blinds in eating establishments : )

Posted by Sheila Z [weedpullr] March 16, 2014 at 4:45 PM

I love this post! Birds are nice and all... but I really love me some herps.
Your photos are remarkable.
My pet flounder does the chromatophore thang like a champ too, but these frogs are froggin' awesome!

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