Category Archives: worldwide tours

14 days with the astonishing wildlife of Costa Rica

A Red webbed Tree Frog photographed during the NaturesLens Costa Rican Wildlife Photography Holiday 1

This blog post about the astonishing wildlife of Costa Rica has been challenging to write … principally because of a case of what to leave out rather than what to include. Without having visited the country, it’s easy to think of Costa Rica as ‘just another Central American country’ … ‘I don’t know much about it, but it’ll be just like the others, won’t it?’ … Well, I haven’t visited the others but having visited Costa Rica, I have to say it, & it’s wildlife are genuinely like nothing else!

A few facts first & some of them are surprising. Costa Rica is about twice the size of Wales in area & population. It has no Armed Forces. It has a 97% literacy rate. In 2016, renewable energy supplied about 98% of the electricity demand. Its geography has created several microclimates from the mountains to tropical rainforest. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that there is incredible bio-diversity, which brings us to photography & potential sensory overload!
We departed on New Year’s Day, flying into San Jose via Toronto. We hired a car & drove on roads of variable quality, heading north to a purpose-built eco-resort in the rain forest. The gardens were a riot of brightly coloured birdlife with the first sighting of a classic species, the Toucan. It was difficult to know where to point the lens! The facilities were excellent with the viewing verandas sheltering you from the sun/rain, with feeding stations attracting the birds, & also placing you very close to the dining area & coffee dispenser! Almost paradise.
The people of the country take immense pride in the wildlife of Costa Rica & realise what an asset it is to the country. So before long, we were being taken to the gardens of the staff’s houses to view hummingbirds, other birds, & a variety of frogs – both by day & night. Hummingbirds – cue frustration getting the right camera settings & technique. Back at the lodge, there was a selection of snakes to photograph. There was also a specially-built hide to view the King Vultures close-up without disturbing their behaviour.
Our next port of call was in the Sarapiqui Valley, further south but still north of San Jose. The climate there is less humid & the wildlife of the region has a different character. Imagine if you will, a small nature reserve. Walk into the garden, look up & there’s a three-toed sloth & baby, two steps further, there’s a basilisk, six further steps & there’s a small pond & the air is thick with birdlife. Incredibly, this is someone’s back garden only 500m from the main highway! This prolific spread is the nature of the wildlife of Costa Rica, & the contacts that we met throughout the trip!
Next day, we frogged out. Our host, his colleagues & family, have taken a family farm & turned it into a haven for amphibians, & other wildlife too. Purpose-built habitats & considerate handling meant we were able to take our time with each species. Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Spiny Glass Frog, Strawberry Poison Dart Frog … & did I mention the three-toed sloth that climbed down from a tree to take a look at us!
The frog images were captured using a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens but the Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L also worked very well!
For a bit of variety, we pushed a couple of hours west towards the Arenal region, much to the excitement of our resident volcanologist, who was hard-pressed to decide whether to point her lens at the volcano or the snakes. In a well-organised, controlled (thankfully) environment, the two handlers got us closer to some famous names than I’ve ever been before or ever want to be again – feu de lance, eyelash pit viper, rattlesnake, & 3 types of a boa constrictor, to name but a few. That said, they’re fascinating creatures & very photogenic.
Moving on, we went south-west & up into the central mountains to another nature reserve but on a grander scale. The owner has created tracks through several areas of different character & wildlife; but this was hummingbird country, albeit different species from our first encounter. The colours were just flamboyant & we were beginning to get our eye in, confident enough to experiment with shutter speeds despite the birds being free to move around at will. An interesting counterpoint was a party of photographers who had bought with them multiple flashguns, triggers, & manufactured backgrounds, against which to capture the hummingbirds. I have to think that we had more fun, success & more original images of this one of the smaller & certainly faster aspects of the wildlife of Costa Rica.
The next day a long journey to the high mountains to the south-east of San Jose started the quest for the Resplendent Quetzal. This iconic bird was high on the list of everyone’s ‘must-haves’. With the best of guides, in the early morning, we were on it, albeit fleetingly. What a strange-looking but utterly compelling bird & it was reassuring to see the efforts that the locals had made to conserve the bird & provide it with every opportunity to breed.
From then on, it was just hummingbird overload, with the whole morning spent on the balcony of our lodge with so many hummers & so many epic images captured. We would never have thought it possible, but the passing idea of ‘too many hummingbirds’ did cross our minds!
The next day we found a real gem of a location. It’s an embryonic enterprise, still under development as a side-activity by a hotel worker, but just wow! I hope this is on a future itinerary.
On then to our final hotel & back to the Sarapiqui Valley but this time, to a discrete location to capture a rarer hummingbird – the black-crested coquette.
This time, experience & environment left us shooting hand-held; oh how we had changed!
We also took a cruise along the Sarapiqui River, taking photographic opportunities with Howler Monkeys, Green Iguana, Amazon & Green Kingfisher, Sungrebe & Anhinga.
Costa Rica is such a beautiful country. The bio-diversity is immense & the local people are so friendly & welcoming. Furthermore, Costa Ricans take so much pride in their country & it’s wildlife. We had but scratched the surface & there is so much more to see or to see again. I can’t recommend Costa Rica enough as a place to visit, the contacts that NaturesLens established will ensure that anyone visiting Costa Rica with them will have the best opportunities to capture fantastic images.
If you want to visit Costa Rica, & photograph the amazing wildlife, then just book it up, you will not be disappointed, I know that the pair of trips for late 2019 filled almost immediately, but those for 2020, both in November & December have spaces … & an early booking discount attached at time of this blog post being published!

9 Gorgeous Bird Images from Alan’s Zimanga Photo Safari – Mkhombe hide

An African Brown hooded Kingfisher captured at the Mkhombe Hide during the NaturesLens Zimanga photo safari

I mentioned at the beginning of this series of blog posts that Alan attended our Zimanga Photo Safari primarily to photograph birds. So, it seems only right that I dedicate this final blog post to his visits to the Mkhombe Pool Hide.

For those of you who have read my journey to photograph the South African Wildlife of Zimanga report, you may recall that I mention that this hide almost turned me into a bird photographer! The variety of bird species available to photograph here is simply immense & watching these pretty coloured birds come & go will put a smile on your face.
Alan used a combination of the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM with a Canon EF 1.4x III extender to photograph these stunning birds. It is also possible to use a 500mm lens to get tighter portrait shots.
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10 beautiful images showing what can be captured during our Dalmatian Pelican Photography Tours

A beautiful trio of Dalmatian Pelicans photographed during one of the NaturesLens Dalmatian Pelican Photography Tours

Our Dalmatian Pelican photography tours take place at Lake Kerkini, a premier location for birdwatchers & photographers. Mountain ranges protect three sides of the lake which provides a mild climate & an abundance of fish for over 300 species of birds, many of whom are migratory birds en route to the South East of Europe or Africa.

We time our trips to coincide with their breeding season which is when these charismatic birds look their best with their bright red pouches & crazy hair-dos.
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Beautiful safari images from Alan’s Zimanga Photo Tour

A goose stepping Vulture photographed during the NaturesLens Zimanga photo tour

The NaturesLens Zimanga Photo Tour is a combination of traditional game drives & hide sessions. In part three of this series of Zimanga blog posts, we showcase Alan’s beautiful images taken during game drives & from the Scavenger Hide.

When you are on a game drive in Zimanga, you are in one of only three vehicles on the game reserve. This means you are not competing with other cars to get the shot & you can stay with your subject for as long as you want.
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10 images of the magnificent Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter

One of the stunning Golden Eagles photographed during a snow storm this image was captured on the NaturesLens Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter Photography Holiday 1

The excitement & anticipation of our trip to photograph the Golden Eagles of the Swedish Winter was unbearable for all us including our guests! The expectations of photographing the wildlife & especially getting up close & personal with wild Golden Eagles in this beautiful snow-capped Swedish pine forest was going to be epic!

It all started with a trip around the M25 towards Heathrow where I met our first guest as we started our journey’s final destination to Skellefteå Airport in Sweden. I met our other guests for this trip at the Swedish airport as they were flying in from Hong Kong!
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More Amazing Images from Alan’s Zimanga Photography Holiday

Cape Buffalo reflection taken at night during the NaturesLens photography holiday

Our Zimanga Photography Holiday includes two sessions in the overnight hides. These state of the art hides provide you with the opportunity to photograph mammals at close quarters at night.

The modus operandi is to enter the hide in the afternoon & have lots of fun photographing the colourful birds & mammals that come to the watering hole to feed & bathe.
This Cape Glossy Starling earned itself the nickname of the Kate Mossy Starling as it liked to pose like a model. Alan joked that it was “rocking the London look” for us.
I love Alan’s images of the tiny praying mantis & the giant cape buffalo because they give us a tiny glimpse into the mysterious world of Zimanga at night. The recommended lens for photographing visitors to the watering hole at night is a wide angle lens such as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a remote release cable. The buffalo are large mammals anyway, but when you are sat only 1 metre from where they are standing, they are massive even when using a wide angle lens!
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11 Stunning Images from Alan’s Zimanga Photography Safari

A colourful portrait of a Three banded Plover as captured during the NaturesLens Zimanga photography safari

In May 2018, Alan joined me on our Zimanga photography safari holiday. His primary objective was to photograph the incredible birdlife that Zimanga has to offer, but as it turns out, he also enjoyed a spot of mammal photography too! He sent in so many beautiful images that I have decided to dedicate a series of blog posts to showcase his images.

The birds in Zimanga can be photographed from the hides & while you are out & about on a game drive. All the hide sessions are timed to take advantage of the gorgeous light at dawn & dusk.
Alan’s first photography session was an afternoon in the Lagoon hide. In order to access this hide, you have to walk along a screened walkway that leads to a 30m long & pipe with a 1.5m diameter which you have to walk through. The internal concrete wall of the pipe is decorated with the signatures of every photographer who has ever visited Lagoon hide. How cool is that?
The hide is placed off-centre in the Lagoon which means that there is a long & a shorter distance available for photography. For the afternoon session, the longer distance was better for the light & Alan found that his Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II USM was the perfect lens to use in this hide.
I think it would be safe to say that Alan really enjoyed his time in this hide. Just look at these stunning images of the three-ringed plover, wagtail & Egyptian geese! The lighting was just perfect for producing such colourful photos.
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12 mesmerizing images of the Dalmatian Pelicans of Kerkini

Beautifully reflected in the waters of Kerkini a quartet of the Pelicans photographed by Tony Berry during one of the 2019 NaturesLens Dalmatian Pelicans of Lake Kerkini Photography Tours

Earlier this year, Tony attended our Dalmatian Pelicans of Kerkini photography holiday. 2019 saw the return of snow & ice to the region so he faced some challenging weather conditions but thanks to our resourceful boatman, Tony came back with some stunning photos. He has very kindly sent in 12 beautiful images for us to share with you.

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