Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Costa Rican Birding

Our summer series this year takes us to beautiful Costa Rica. It starts with a thought.  Then a rough draft follows with many hours of research to back up our proposed plan.  Areas are targeted for specific birds.  Transportation needs connect the dots and maximize our bird surveys so that we don't lose any valuable time.  Lodging is equally important as it needs to be centrally located to nearby birdy hotspots.  No guide is needed if you sketch it all out and research. And Costa Rica is one of the easiest countries to explore!

Yellow-green Vireo
In the very begininng, we had to choose a route that made sense.  Obviously, we couldn't cover the entire country in two weeks but we could maximize our birding efforts in many spots along a tightly planned cirquit.  Over the next several weeks, we'll go from the underbirded Liberia to the often birded areas of Playa Tamarindo, Arenal, Caño Negro, Monteverde, the Talamanca Highlands, Rancho Naturalista and the general San Jose area.  

Gordon carefully searches along the river for the Amazon Kingfisher
We began our trek in Liberia.  There are 2 airports in Costa Rica.  The cheapest option for us was Liberia.  Having never been there, I thought it would be fun to add data to the area since it was underbirded.  I gave Micheal the "lodging" task.  His mission?  Seek out places located in wide and varied habitat.  He'd present me 3 or 4 options for each place and then I'd contact Gordon to confirm if the price was right.   

Rufous-naped Wren
Coming from the desert right now, which is 110+ degrees, I needed something cooler.  While Liberia is NOT hot, it is very HUMID.  Situated near the Pacific Ocean and during rainy season made birding a challenge.  BUT.  There were birds:)

We explore the secret confines of a plantain grove.  The mosquitoes explore my legs. 
Our home for 3 nights would take place a little ways outside of Liberia.  There we'd have a wide variety of habitat to explore including farmland for Southern Lapwings, sugar cane fields for grassquits, seedeaters, rails and a certain Crested Bobwhite.  Little ponds around our place gave us a lot of observation of ducks, jacanas and kingfishers.  And only several feet away, we had a river flow nearby for caiman and other birds.  The property also contained pieces of untouched rain forest that is home to the forest birds.  

Micheal found a place on Airbnb that fit all of our criteria at Casita Del Lago.  Like it means in Spanish, this little home was situated near a pond. It had a kitchen and nice bedroom.  Unfortunately, for our friend Gordon, the pull out was not big enough and I worried about his sleep.  He doesn't sleep much anyway but when he did, I worried he wouldn't be able to recharge his batteries properly. We made it through the experience and the property was truly amazing.  Our hosts, Carmen and Steve were wonderful people and super helpful!  I really liked both of them.  Carmen took us to the supermarket where we bought all of our goodies.  And it was the only time on the trip that we had control of making our own food.  

Crested Bobwhite
We chose Liberia first because it would allow us to settle a little before the bigger treks.  It was also the roughest in terms of weather and bugs.  I have spoken with bird guides about how they set up their clients and we agree that the first part of the trek should be the roughest and by the end, it should be pure comfort:)  And that is how we did it. 

While bridges are not Gordon's thing, we often had to cross them during our treks
Because we were dealing with the humid conditions along farmland roads, the bugs were terrible. So was the mud.  BUT, we wouldn't have added a few specialty birds like Southern Lapwing and Crested Bobwhite to our lists.  It's funny how a Wood Stork will still make me go crazy.  I ran with Gordon through the swampy grasses and felt a...bite.  OH %$^#!  It felt like I had sprained my ankle but I have had this happen once before to know it was a bite.  My right foot had become quite swollen and looked terrible!  Micheal told me to elevate my foot at night and compress it during the day with tight socks and shoes.  So I did and it went away.  There is a bug that lives in that area that likes to lay eggs in human flesh.  We were in the right habitat when it happened so I worried that I'd be raising some unwanted aliens in my body.  

Southern Lapwing
If you've never done tropical birding before, and you are a photographer, you will probably find this one of the most challenging places to do your work.  Most people have told me it's nearly impossible to get good photos of these birds.  But I'll show you that it isn't impossible to capture these beautiful birds at all.  After several runs to Central and South America, I've learned a thing or two about lighting....and um....bumping up my ISO:)  No flash is used.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Each day in Liberia, we'd head out and add new(and old) birds to the property list.  

Orange-fronted Parakeets
After our massive sweat session, we'd come home and freshen up for some good reads.....or for a chance to wind down. 

I found this book in the casita and discovered that there must be some science fiction fans out there. This superhero apparently possesses the power of lightning like my favorite superhero of all time, Storm!  Magical!  As for the revelation?  Well, I didn't have time to read the book.  However, I did find time to read my 2 pound novel, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.  I'm still digesting all the info!  Powerful stuff!

Stripe-headed Sparrow
I quickly fell in love with the simplicity of Costa Rican cuisine.  It's not Mexican.  Nothing can ever be Mexican.  Mexican food is uniquely Mexican.  It's delicious and amazing.  Guatemala is a close 2nd to Mexican food.  But hey!  If you like rice, beans, plantains and chicken (and I do), you're going to love Costa Rican food. And you can add as much tabasco sauce or my fav, Lizano Sauce as you want.  Try their Casona(Cah-so-nah) for lunch or dinner. But whatever you do, always start your day with Gallo Pinto(Guy-oh Peen-toe).  And let's not forget Costa Rican coffee....

This is the adult(above) and juvenile(below) Bare-throated Tiger-Heron 

As a Spanish teacher and world traveler, I highly recommend Costa Rica to ANY birder thinking of leaving their country's comfort zones.  There are a lot of birds in this country.  There's also a lot of beautiful scenery. It's geared towards birders.  And for the most part, it's super safe.  However, common sense is always required anywhere you go.  

Rufous-browed Motmot
Costa Rica, to my surprise, accepts the US dollar EVERYWHERE you go!  A Costa Rican colon can be confusing at first. I think 1000 colones is like 2 dollars.  And the coins are the heaviest thing you've ever put in your pockets.  So during our trek, my mission was to get rid of the coins as quickly as I could.  My shorts almost fell off a couple times because of their heavy weight!  Thankfully, I had a belt. 

Streak-backed Oriole in nest
Generally speaking, the Costa Rican people are wonderful.  I forget the slower pace of life that happens outside of the US.  I forget that people have manners.  Where have ours gone?  I remember a time when people were polite to one another.  Oh sure, the cell phone issue is the same.  Everyone is addicted to them but overall, the people allowed for conversation to happen.  At dinner, it wasn't the waiter giving us our bill after we gulped down our food; it was me signalling to the waiter that it was time for us to leave.  I like that sense of, "Take your time. Enjoy. Digest." thinking.  However some days were exhausting and I almost fell asleep at dinner.  I'm pretty sure that is not appropriate:)

Roadside Hawk
I look forward to sharing with you all the places we visited.  Sometimes I'll expand on stories I heard from others in a creative manner while for my other writes, I'll give you the play by play.  But at the end of each of these posts, I'll put up our ebird checklists for the locations we visited so that if you do decide to explore Costa Rica, you have an idea about the birds you'll find in each of the areas. 

White-lored Gnatcatcher above and below. 

Each day I added lifebirds.  By the end of my trip, I added over 80 new birds bringing up my total life list to 842.  I began with 760. This blog is about finding 10000 lifebirds.  I hope to hit a thousand by next year. So yes, the trips have already been planned and I'm looking forward to the journalism that will follow these very special treks.  They will be quite unique, from a birder's point of view.  And I can't wait to see how the experiences will all play out surrounding the lifebird journey. 

Tropical Mockingbird
So for now, we'll look up into the canopy of the dark forest...... 

Malachite Butterfly
We'll listen for certain calls......

And let our eyes adjust to the green.  Because when we do, we'll find that there are creatures looking back at us:)

Liberia was a blast.  So what are these two birds waiting for at the bus station?  Stay tuned for my next report.  Our ebird reports are below.  Until next time!

For the Casita Del Lago report, click here

For the Hilton/Airport report, click here


  1. I like the way you invite the reader into your life, activities and goals. Can't wait for the rest to show up.

  2. Simply awesome!
    So well planned!And what a report! Can't wait for the next episode.
    The oriol checking out its nest in the movie's intro is my favorite picture for today.

  3. Fantástica aventura. Costa Rica, un pais para disfrutar del pajareo.

  4. Hello, what an awesome report on your trip. Costa Rica is a birder's dream. You saw so many great birds, wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing. Happy Birding.

  5. Très belle série et jolie perspective dans la première image ;-) Céline & Philippe

  6. You post brought back wonderful memories of a 16 day birding trip there. Fabuouos place and after 16 days solid birding I was tired also but would not have missed it or the world

  7. Great of my favourite destinations.


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