Tag Archives: bocas del toro

The Pink Meanie of Panama

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Like all photographers, I love my toys. And like most of you, I too have a couple gopro cameras that I tote around with me to play with. While on a recent trip to Panama, I hooked up my new Knekt 6″ dome housing to my gopro and attached the whole thing on a scuba diving selfie stick. The dome port allows me to push the waterline away from the lens of the GoPro camera and photograph split level, or over / under, photos. We were out on a boat up in the mangroves photographing sloths, when we spotted this massive pine meanie jelly fish. Dangling over the side of the boat, I was able to reach out with the selfie stick (which I brought along for this very reason) and capture this shot with my GoPro.

You can check out the dome port I used here: http://www.knektusa.com/store/ksd6-dome-port

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Three Toed Sloth on Cover of Outdoors Unlimited

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This year, while I was down in Panama, I learned that a photograph of mine from a trip to Panama last year made the front cover of December’s Outdoors Unlimited.

This is a photo of a brown throated three toed sloth. Look closely at all the green fur on her back – and I do say her because this is a pregnant female. That green is actually algae. The fur of the sloth is hollow which allows it collect water and grow a hydroponic garden of a species of algae found nowhere else in the world but on the back of a sloth. Additionally, you will also find a unique species of moth than lives nowhere else but on the algae that lives nowhere else but on the back of sloths. The leafy diet that these sloths eat does not actually provide them with all of the necessities of life – namely protein. So, they actually supplement their diet by feeding off of the algae that grows on their backs. Crazy!

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red-billed tropicbirds of Isla Pajaro

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This is the lost world. Situated a few miles off the coast of Isla Colon, Bird Island, or Isla Pajaro is nothing more than a tropical seastack in the Caribbean. Monster waves pound its cliffs, shooting water through caves, as salt water waterfalls cascade down the other side. Life here does not so much grow as it does explode from the island. This is a neotropical emerald colored gem set amongst a sea of sapphire blue. Palm trees grow from every crack in the rocks. Vines, or what are technically known as lianas literally drip hundreds of feet down from the micro rain forest perched atop this giant rock. And the birds. The thousands of birds drifting overhead, circling the island like a tornado. Red-billed tropicbirds, magnificent frigates, and brown boobies all call this oasis home. These birds are pelagic seabirds, meaning that they only come to these little islands during nesting season to lay a single solitary egg. The rest of their lives are spent over the open ocean.

I have had the opportunity to photograph the Galapagos variety of the red-billed tropic bird, but my boat trip out to Isla Pajaro was the first time I photographed the Atlantic variety. Its something that I have wanted to see and photograph for some time now and I can honestly say this little rookery did not disappoint!

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Lilliputians in the land of Giants

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When it comes to photographing this poison frogs in the Panamanian rainforest, I like to get eye to eye with my subject. This lets me enter into their world. It makes them leap out of the composition and become larger than life. From this perspective however, its easy to forget just how small and delicate these tiny frogs are and how impossibly difficult to photograph them at times in the cathedral like rainforest. Luckily I have a couple guides who are like the poison frog whisperer’s and somehow always come through with new and beautiful color morphs for me on the different islands. Natalia and Romone, if you read this – I couldn’t do this without you!

 

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The Lovely Poison Dart Frog

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The Lovely Poison Frog – yes that is its real name! A.K.A: Phyllobates lugubris

Look closely at its back. That is a tadpole right there. The males of the species stand guard over the eggs that the females lay until they hatch into tadpoles. From here, they scoop up the tadpoles and transport them to deep puddles where they stand guard until the tadpole morphs into a frog. Other species of poison frogs have a similar life cycle and will carry their tadpoles high in the trees to deposit them into water filled bromeliads, then make the same trip each day in order to provide the tadpoles with food.

This particular species of poison frog contains a toxin that affects the ability of muscles to contract. Your heart is a muscle. It must contract in order to pump blood. Stop muscles from contracting, and you stop the heart from beating. In other words, don’t lick this frog!

I chose to photograph this guy on a light table made out of pvc pipes, opaque white plexiglass, and with two flashes (one above and one below the plexiglass). The idea behind this was to showcase not only the frog in all of its beautiful colors, but to also reveal the tadpole on its back. And no, it was not fun lugging this thing around the tropics!

Isla Popa, Panama.

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Poison Dart Frog – Bastimentos Red

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Based out of the Boca del Toro region of Panama, I spent the last week finding and photographing poison dart frogs, sloths, tropical birds, and tropicbirds (this last one is an actual species). The islands associated with the Bocas del Toro archipelago are some of the most diverse tropical islands in the Western Hemisphere. The Smithsonian calls this place the Galapagos of the Caribbean. And for damn good reason. Basically you had a landscape once firmly connected with itself. Then the seas rose. Valleys became flooded. Tall hills and mountain tops became islands. Animals become disconnected from the rest of their tribes. One big gene pool became many little gene ponds. Genetic mutations become dominant traits. The founder affect reigns supreme. New species are created. Competition for resources becomes intense. New niches are filled. Adaptive radiation occurs. New species are created again.

This tiny little poison frog that science so awkwardly calls Oophaga pumilio is a perfect example of all this. The frog has a couple common names that you may have heard: Strawberry frog and blue jeans frog. The name blue jeans is pretty apt given that just about everywhere this little guy lives they come in red with a pair of blue legs. From Nicaragua to Costa Rica and most of Panama – so the entirety of this guys range – this what you get. But when you enter Bocas del Toro however, everything changes. Suddenly you have frogs that are all red, all orange, all yellow, and all blue. You have orange frogs with big black dots and white bellies, and red frogs with little black dots and orange bellies. You have purple frogs. Frogs that are green on their back and yellow in the legs. You have 1980s leopard print colored frogs, and 1960s acid trip tie died frogs. Some frogs I don’t really know what color they are – as if Bob Ross paused for a moment from creating happy little trees and swirled together all the colors on his pallet and then flicked his brush at the dark canvas of the tropical rainforest splattering specs of a seemingly unlimited array of different colors across this landscape. Crayola doesn’t have shit on the colors of the Oophaga pumilio in Bocas del Toro. And this is the diversity of one little species of frog on these islands. Almost every year entirely new species of poison frogs are found here.

The image is dark and foreboding for a reason. THIS IS THE RAINFOREST! Ever been? Its not bright, open, and airy where these frogs live. They like it dark and wet. So when photographing this little guy in the tea cup mushroom, I had a choice to make. Do I set up multiple flashes, pop on the softboxes, and light up the world? Or, do I try to work with the scant amount of natural light available here, and judiciously work magic with a single off camera flash to give certain elements just a kiss of light – creating a photograph that resembles the forest floor of a multistoried rainforest that swirls around in my mind and imagination?

Imagination wins everytime.

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