Birding Costa Rica dry forest Introduction Pacific slope

Testing a new camera

Some readers may have noticed a general paucity and possible recycling of bird photos on this blog. The reason that posts may have been a bit more wordy than “imagey” for the past two months is because my other digiscoping cameras weren’t cooperating very much for bird photos. Well, most birds didn’t either but although my old Nikon Coolpix was trying its best, its  four megapixels just weren’t giving me the type of resolution I wanted. My formerly trusty Sony Cybershot would probably still be dishing out beautiful images just as it did during its glory days but ever since I subjected it to digital camera surgery, it sucks up battery juice faster than a vampire robot. I kid you not. The little AA battery image is bright with energy when you turn it on and then just five minutes later is anxiously blinking on and off to warn you that the camera is going to shut down for lack of power.

Taking pictures with it had not only become nearly impossible but the endeavor was also as frustrating as bites from a ravenous band of chiggers so I made the decision to buy a new camera. Since my camera requirements are not what those hand-held image gathering devices were engineered for, it took some research and gambling to get the right one. I don’t have the bucks for any serious digital SLRs so I opt for point and shoots that will work with my scope.

This basically means that in addition to taking beautiful pictures, the camera in question has to have a bunch of pixels so that when I crop it to rid the image of vignetting and make the bird look bigger, there were still be enough resolution to show some sweet details. My other main requirement is a camera that will work well in the low light conditions so prevalent in Costa Rica. This second requirement is especially difficult to meet with point and shoots but a very few models at least make attempts at generating low-grain images. By “low grain” I mean pictures that don’t resemble some pointillist revival movement. No, I don’t want to be artsy, I just want detailed shots of birds that will make me say, “Ahhh, now that’ s what I’m talking about”!

Oh, I should also add that my digiscoping kit is about as survivalist as you can get. Instead of some precision machined adapter that neatly attaches to my scope, I use a small tube that was cut out of a plastic bottle with an average pair of scissors. It fits onto the viewing part of the scope and keeps the camera at just the right distance to coordinate picture taking between lenses of both camera and scope. It’s tricky to use and when the lenses refuse to cooperate or have problems with communication, shots can look pretty weird and worthy of sending to some ghosthunting outfit but with practice it works surprisingly well.

With these requirements in mind and the knowledge that reviewer’s raves about face recognition and taking action shots of sand castle contests on the beach were going to mean nothing to me, there still seemed to be enough of the stuff that I needed to take a chance on buying the “Sony Cybershot G”. Like a small metal book, its compact, solid nature makes you feel as if you have acquired a piece of alien technology or at least have a tough little camera durable enough for taking pictures in rough and tumble situations like construction sites, rainforest hikes, and high school lunch lines. In reality, like any piece of digital equipment, its tough exterior and demeanor belies a delicate interior that doesn’t take well to shaking as well as a serious, justifiable phobia of water.

So, although it feels durable, I am going to treat it like a delicate salt sculpture and keep it shock proof and dry at all costs. This will be a challenge in humid Costa Rica but nothing that a small camera bag and silica gel packs can’t handle.

As for pictures, it hasn’t been one hundred percent stunning but considering that I am still learning how to best use it with my crude, home made digiscoping device, I am pleased with the results. So without further ado,  here are a few pictures taken with my new camera at dry forest sites on my way to guiding in the Monteverde area this past weekend:

Here is a Turquoise-browed Motmot taken with the image stabilization setting for low light conditions. It’s still a bit grainy but this wouldn’t have even been possible with my other cameras.

costa rica birding

and here is the same motmot in slightly better lighting.

costa rica birding

I wish I would have gotten more shots of Nutting’s Flycatcher or at least images of one that was perching on something more natural than a telephone wire but I was happy with this shot.

costa rica birding

Here is a female Blue-black Grosbeak doing a bad job of hiding behind some twigs.

costa rica birding

Of course birds perched in good lighting conditions like this Laughing Falcon tend to come out nice no matter what the camera is.

costa rica birding

This Orange-fronted Parakeet was so compliant that it almost went to sleep as I took its picture.

costa rica birding

Languid Howler Monkeys are wonderful to photograph. This one was in a group of Howlers along the gravelly road between the highway and Guacimal. It was great for dry forest birding as most traffic on its way up to Monteverde wisely takes the more paved route through Sardinal.

costa rica birding

American Pygmy Kingfisher was a great find. I heard it ticking away from the vicinity of a small, shady stream.

costa rica birding

It was nice to finally get decent shots of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, the migrant Empid most commonly seen in Costa Rica.

costa rica birding

Finding a cooperative White-fronted Parrot lit up by afternoon sun was also a boon.

costa rica birding

In a few days I will be off to the Osa Peninsula for the Bosque del Rio Tigre CBC! Whether I get in more camera testing fun or not, I will post about the experience.

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