Sunday, July 14, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reflecting on the Rivers - Costa Rica, Part 10

So I'm going to post these without much comment.  One of the trips we took by river in Tortugero went down the Cano Negro - the Black Channel.  The water here isn't dirty, it's full of tanins like at Corkscrew Swamp (which I swore I'd posted about before, but can't find now).  Anyway, tanins are what you find in tea that causes your water to go from clear to brown when you steep it.  Which explains why the river looks like a giant tea flow. :)

By the time we had this trip, the storms had finally passed and the sun was clear and bright.  When it hit the dark and extremely still water, the reflections were amazing.  Even when the boat moved through, the edges of the water stayed very still.

So here are a bunch of amazing reflection shots.

Being Bicostal means Starting with One Coast - The Atlantic Ocean - Costa Rica, Part 9

This trip took us into 6 of the 7 provinces in Costa Rica.  It's a really small country, if I haven't mentioned that before.  The comparison that always sticks in my head is that it's only half the size of the state of Kentucky.  And Kentucky is no Alaska or California, if you know what I mean.

So once we left San José, we headed for Tortugero, which is is on the Atlantic coast.  The Tortugero school, which I'll talk a bit about later, was right on the Atlantic beach.  Now, maybe it's because I see the Atlantic (well, the Gulf of Mexico) at least once a year, but I didn't find it nearly as interesting as the Pacific Coast.  I've only seen the Pacific twice in my life.  It also, I'm sure, has something to do with the particular geography of the parts of each coast that I saw.  The Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where I was anyway, was full of volcanic tide pools.  The Atlantic beach was, well, just sand.

That's not to say that it wasn't pretty.

All said, it was a pretty calm stretch of water.  Nothing anyone could surf on. :)

I did find it interesting how black the sand is in certain parts.  Our guide, Johnny, said it's because its volcanic sand.

And there was one very cool thing that we was in the Atlantic Ocean.  Again, thanks to Johnny, I got this very distant, very blurry shot of an animal I could potentially never see again...

Can you tell what it is?

How about if I zoom in?
Green Sea Turtle [007-2013]

It's the flipper from a Green Sea Turtle.  Well, probably a Green.  It was a Green that we saw later that night, but there are something like 5 species of Giant Sea Turtles that breed near Tortugero.

I did get a better chance to see a Sea Turtle, but unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures at the time.

Tortugero, which means 'turtle' in Spanish, is the home to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.  When we got into Tortugero on Tuesday we did cross the river to see the center and watch a movie on the efforts to save the endangered population.  However, the rain prevented us from doing much of anything else while we were over there.  What we were able to do when we got back to the hotel was to sign up for a Sea Turtle Spawning Observation Tour the next night.  So I paid the fee, dressed all in black, like they told us to, and in the middle of the night, with another storm coming in, we hiked down to a restricted section of beach with the local guides.

Once we were in small groups we stood an waited for the spotters. The spotters simply walked up and down the beach, in the dark, waiting for the female turtles to come up on land and start digging their nests.  Once one was sighted, they radioed to the leaders of the groups and we were brought down one group at a time to watch an endangered Sea Turtle lay her eggs.

Now, if you've ever seen any nature specials about how turtles lay eggs, you know that they dig a big hole in the ground, sit over it, let the tough leathery eggs drop into the hole and then cover the hole up with sand and go back into the ocean.  So I couldn't imagine we'd see much.

But then we were called down and they explained that the female turtle is using every single bit of energy and concentration to lay her eggs, so people really don't bother her if they don't get around to where she can see them.

When we got down to where our spotter found one, I realized that we were going to be within touching distance.  The spotter was laying on his stomach, holding the turtle's back flipper up out of the way, shinning a red light into the nest.  Now either she didn't know or she didn't care, because she was busy dropping eggs as we came in.  Because I was one of the shortest people in the group I ended up right in front, kneeling down, not two feet from the edge of her nest.  We'd been told she'd lay about 125 eggs that night.  From what I could see when we got there, she'd only dropped about 15 before we got there and as we watched she must have laid another 15 or so.  Which meant she was going to be there a long, long time.  And apparently each female comes back to lay eggs about 5 times in a season, each clutch getting smaller and smaller.  Most turtles don't start laying eggs until early July, and it was late June when we got there, so the guides were pretty sure that she was laying her first clutch of the year.

It was a pretty amazing experience to see her laying her eggs from so close, but like I mentioned, there was a storm coming in.  We could see the starts when we got there, but as we waited for the spotters to call up, it was like the stars were going out a few at time moving in from over the ocean.  Mama turtle was still laying eggs when we started seeing rather a lot of lightning over the water and started feeling the first few drops of rain.  So we couldn't stay to watch her cover the eggs or go back into the ocean.

I was told that even if it rained really hard, there was no danger to the eggs because they'd either be covered by mom's body or by sand before the water could get in enough to do any damage or wash them away.

It really was an amazing experience.  My next trip needs to be planned for a time when the eggs would be hatching so I can watch the little guys (and girls) scamper for the water en masse!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Value of a Good Point-and-Shoot - Costa Rica, Part 8

So if you've met many professional photographers, especially when you're walking around with your little point-and-shoot, you know that a lot of 'professional' people can be pretty dismissive of any camera that fits in your pocket.

I'll bet you a fair amount of money that those people are studio photographers who have the chance to control lighting, use a tripod, arrange and re-arrange their subjects and reshoot when they don't like the results they get.

Wildlife photographers are far more likely to understand why you might want the camera to do a bit of the thinking for you.  When the light is whatever nature grants you on that day, when your subject has a mind of its own and when you can't come back the next day and decide that 'everything sucked yesterday; let's reshoot!', you become much more attuned to thinking fast, shooting faster and trying to correct problems with the shot in post-production.

And, of course, there's the photography maxim that I think all photographers should embrace:  The best camera for a given situation is the one you have with you!

Getting a less-than-amazing shot of that rare butterfly is better than NOT getting a shot of that rare butterfly at all.  Catching your kid doing their first cartwheel on your cellphone is infinitely better than not having any picture to send off to those adoring grandparents.

And to top it off, some of the point-and-shoot pocket cameras are getting to be pretty good cameras.  The sensors have gotten to a point that unless you're doing billboard art, you'll be totally fine making 8x10 or even 11x15 prints from your pocket camera.  The one I took to Costa Rica was 16 megapixels.  That's actually more MPs than my SLR.

This camera has a few downsides, compared to the SLR - specifically, the digital zoom/macro is awful.  Give me a good glass lens for that stuff any day.  The battery tends to get sucked up by the screen and it has an auto-off that shuts the camera down to conserve the battery, but it means you lose a few precious seconds having to turn it back on when that critter you weren't expecting pops up out of nowhere. (I'll show you a huge toad that did that to me when I get to amphibians - I almost lost him waiting for the camera to power up.)

But there are things you can do with a good pocket camera that you can't do with many SLRs.  Off the top of my head: movies (unless you have one of the very recent SLRs), panorama shots, and shooting in/near the water.  (Please be sure your pocket camera is waterproof/water resistant before doing this!)

So while I won't be trading in my SLR any time soon (ever), I'm rediscovering the value of having a pocket camera on me at all times.  Most of the shots from this post were taken with my 'indestructible' (crush-resistant, water-resistant, fall-resistant...) Pentax point-and-shoot.

So here's another reason having a point-and-shoot can be a good idea:  casual photographers can use it.  I've had more than a few people either hesitate to shoot for me with the SLR and a few more that do so, but do it really badly because they aren't sure what everything does (like, hey, this wheel thing on the end of the lens turns!  So now it's out of focus) so the shots don't come out.  Here's me on the Poás Volcano.  I have my SLR over my shoulder, so obviously a friend from the trip shot this for me with my pocket camera.  There's one of the other mountain ranges behind me (sorry, can't remember which one) and the central valley, with San Jose, between us.  

And here's the aforementioned panoramic capability of the camera.  Can't do that (easily and in-camera) with a DSLR!

Here's just a few more scenery shots.  Like I've said before, I'm not normally the landscape and scenery type, but Costa Rica has some pretty amazing views.

When, you know... it doesn't look like this.  This is up on the Poás Volcano... I think.  We were up a good bit, so I'm pretty sure that's where we were.  And once again, we were reminded that we were in the RAIN forest.  Which means clouds.  And once you get up high enough, you literally have your head (and feet and arms and the rest of you...) in the clouds!

And then there is the upside to the SLR being able to be left on, so I don't lose shots due to camera warm up time...

These shots were taken as the bus was moving.  Because the camera was on and waiting I was able to get these pretty good shots on the fly.  Drive... whatever. :)

This is the Rio Sucio, or Dirty River.  The water is yellow because of the sulfer deposits it picks up from the Irazú Volcano.

You can see it snaking down from the river a bit in this shot.

But the shot I'm really amazed that I got is this one.  This is where the Rio Sicio joins with the Rio Honduras and you can see where the clear water of the Honduras join with the yellow waters of the Sucio.  I wouldn't have gotten these shots with the point and shoot only because I wouldn't have had the time to let the camera turn on.  Not to mention that checking the settings is more time consuming because you actually have to go through menus on the screen, whereas on the SLR, I just look at the dial on the top and I'm good to go.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

And now the photos begin - My first view of the beautiful tierra verde - Costa Rica, Part 7

Okay, it took me a week, but I've finally completed the import/sort/keyword part of my workflow.  I had over 10,000 shots when I came home, so you can understand why it took a few days. :) Don't worry, I won't be subjecting you to all of them.  Just most of them. ;)

Weirdly enough for me, I feel like starting with the landscape and scenery shots.

I already showed you some of the amazing clouds we saw on the flight over.  Today's post is also shots from the way in.  My first views of Costa Rica.

This first shot shows just how high we were flying.  I mean, I knew we were up above the clouds, but usually that just means seeing a clear, light blue sky.  We were up in that area you see when people launch their GoPro or cell phone into 'outer space' on a weather balloon.  The sky is hitting that dark blue that eventually fades into space-black.

This is my first view of the ground when we broke back down through the clouds.  My first impression was, "Damn.  That is a *green* country."  Shot somewhat ruined by the weird covering over the plane window glass. :(

This was my favorite view.  You'd think not one human lived here.  It's so green, so natural.  There's not a speck of human effect on the land.
As we came in you could really start to appreciate the color that dominated the entire landscape.  You could also start seeing little dots of houses and buildings.  But there's still nothing like a large tract of deforested land.  It's all still so deeply green.

We were just a minute or two from the ground when we could start seeing roads and towns and things.  But on the whole, I'd discover, the population here was highly concentrated in San Jose (and although it's SJO airport, you aren't actually IN San Jose when you land, so we weren't really seeing the city proper from the air) so when you're in the country, you find that it's pretty rural and rustic.  And beautiful.  (Again, this is shot with the point and shoot through the airplane window, and I just couldn't correct it to make it less hazy.)

Okay, tomorrow, the ground from... you know, the ground. :)

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Few More Videos... Costa Rica, Part 6

Then the pictures will start in earnest...

We did the hike to the waterfall at the hanging bridges. It was a LOT of uphill and we moved very, very quickly. Oy.

 Oh, and by the way, while flipping a still shot is easy enough with this camera, the video remains in landscape orientation. So when you turn the camera 90 degrees to shoot in portrait, what you get is a waterfall that goes from right to left when you download it. I flipped it back in Quicktime, but if it still looks a little whackadoodle, that's why.

Here's one from the J.W. Marriott grounds.  It wasn't on the schedule, but the two Caravan tour guides very kindly offered to get up and do a 7:00 a.m. nature walk with those of us who were interested.  It was probably my very favorite part of the entire ten days.  We didn't leave the hotel grounds.  They're something of a gated community with a fair chunk of the rain forest right in their gates.  After snapping a bazillion stills of the butterflies it occurred to me that the best way to really illustrate just how insanely many there were of them would be to video a random bush.  This wasn't an intensely densely populated bush.  There were many, many flowering bushes that actually *moved* with the power of all the take offs and landings.

And then, of course, there was my last hotel.  It was the Quality Inn in San Jose.  WAY less upscale than the first San Jose hotel and, of course, a huge step down from the Marriott, but it was a lot more like the hotel rooms I'm used to renting for myself. :)

Alrighty then!  That's it for the videos.  Tomorrow I should be able to start posting all six billion photos!