Thursday 23 September 2021

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY II

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Wildlife photography in Costa Rica does not have to be a strenuous or demanding pastime. Interesting wildlife is everywhere to be found in Costa Rica and you don’t need to mount a safari to find it.

The following photographs were all taken in easily accessible locations: on the grounds of my condominium, in the garden of a very pleasant hotel, and a road in a national park—standing ten feet in front of my car.

As I have said before, photography of things wild and wooly is an entirely reasonable hobby for geezers—no matter what kind of shape they’re in.

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WOUNDED MOMMA MONKEY

I fear this photo of a female Howler Monkey tells a sad story. I realize I am taking some license in reading all this into a photograph, but I think I am drawing reasonable inferences from the details of the photograph.

Male howlers are well known for killing their male offspring—like Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents. This reduces future battles for dominance and females. Costa Rican guides will tell you the howler is the most machista of all the Costa Rican monkeys.
If you look closely at the photo, you will see lochia (postpartum discharge) hanging from the female’s genitals. This is an indication she recently gave birth.

The female is also cradling an infant in her arms and seems very protective of him. Additionally, she is looking up into the trees as if expecting an attack. She is not a happy camper.

Finally, there is a serious wound on her right side. Howlers—fifteen species recognized, among the largest of the New World monkeys—do not suffer much predation, at least not while in their packs high in the trees. This wound was likely the result of her defending her baby from her mate, the baby’s father.

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This shot was taken with a telephoto and I didn’t even notice the wound, the lochia or the infant until later. I do not like to think about the possibility the baby she is protecting is already dead.

ANTS AND APHIDS

This picture is the result of an arduous and exhausting photographic expedition—one that took me 100 feet from my front door to the garden of my condominium.

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I noticed this small herd of aphids and their wrangler ant in an arból de orquideas—a small flowering tree—on an overcast day. I returned with the camera, but was disappointed with the results in dim light. The next day was bright and sunny, allowing me to capture this shot.

Ants and aphids are both very successful insects: there are more than 4,000 species of aphids and an estimated 22,000 species of ants. Many of these species have formed mutually beneficial relationships—symbiosis. Ants that “keep” aphids are known as agricultural or dairying ants. Commonly, the ants benefit by consuming a nutrient liquid secreted by the aphid—akin to milking cows.

This photo motivated several of my neighbors to investigate further. It seems this aphid—in the nymph stage—is Membracis mexicana. It is a common pest for the nance plant in Mexico and was identified there. My Costa Rican friends were not familiar with the nymph stage, but know the winged adults as vaquitas or mariquitas.

ATTILA THE HUM

The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird lives in almost all of Costa Rica—everywhere except very high elevations. I commonly see them in my condo and in hotel gardens all around the country. In Spanish they are known as Amazilia rabirrufa.

The range of this small dynamo is usually thought to be from northern South America to Mexico. However, climate change, gardens, and feeders have allowed it to extend north into the United States, at least seasonally. A birder friend of mine with a home in Santa Fe, New Mexico reports them as regular visitors to her flowers.

There, the extremely aggressive nature of this small terror—they are dominant over most other hummingbirds—has earned it the sobriquet “Attila the Hum.”

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Jack Donnelly
Jack Donnelly is a writer, photographer, and speaker living in San Pablo de Heredia. His topics of interest include Costa Rican folk culture, national traditions, traditional cuisine, ecotourism, and wildlife. Donnelly is the author of COSTA RICA: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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