Birding Costa Rica, 2016
~Rick’s and Iain’s excellent adventure!
NOTE: From the man who brought you Lanark County’s Big Year of Birding, this is the first in a new series featuring Iain Wilkes as he takes his birding skills to Costa Rica!
Planning and Getting Started
Over the last 20 years I have become more and more focused on international birding. This is partly because I have birded Canada and the USA since my parents first put my brothers and I in the Ingersoll Nature Club over 60 years ago. The club is located in southwestern Ontario which provided easy access to places like Long Point and Point Pelee. And while I still love the punctuated migration we enjoy in Ontario, the allure of new species in exotic locales has come to dominate my birding thoughts. So in 2015 I planned on a “birding only” trip in 2016 which means my partner Zaza would not be joining me. She did have one condition and that was I should not travel by myself so I quickly hooked up with my buddy Rick and we agreed to pick a place to bird our brains out.
We both quickly focused in on Ecuador as it has a fantastic selection of habits and birds; Cock of the Rock and the Andean Condor were a couple of my favorites to see. Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often change. Once I noticed that 2015/2016 was a significant El Nino year I started to watch the weather predictions for Ecuador and they were not good. Lots of rain with good chances of flooding. Now I don’t mind birding in the rain but not if it lasts every day and especially if some of the hot spots we were focusing on are in the Amazon where flooding often means you can’t get there. On top of that there were predictions on major jumps in the mosquito populations which would increase the risks of malaria and dengue fever. After reading about rain happening every single day and all day with temperatures of 7C to 12C in Quito, we decided to rethink our destination.
I started by using my sightings database to determine which countries had the highest potential number of lifers, as well as being affordable and was within a reasonable travel distance. Turns out Costa Rica was at the top of the list despite 2 past trips there. Even though it is a small country it has many different environments; Atlantic and Pacific coasts, lowlands and highlands, northern and southern, forest and grasslands and volcano tops. I spent a few hours mapping birds to regions and quickly determined that the Caribbean lowlands and highlands plus volcanos would maximize our number of new species.
We finalized our travel dates as the last 10 days of April, the shoulder season in CR, and booked our flights out of Toronto. Nothing left to do but study bird guide books and pack. Our plan was to find and use local guides for a few of the days there but mostly to bird on our own. This means you don’t get 300 our 400 species like you do on a bird tour but it also means you generally spend half of what you would pay for a tour. But the real reasons I avoid tours is I love the flexibility to change what I do and where I go during the trip and meeting people and exploring their food and culture. I end a trip with the feeling that the experience was mine including the birds.
We flew out on April 20th on the 8:30 AM flight to San Jose, arrived at noon to be picked up by our driver Rolando whose job was to get us to our first destination; La Tirimbina Lodge near Sarapiqui. The first leg involves a drive north out of San Jose through the Braulio Carrillo N.P. An amazing lush protected forest of highlands so of course we got the driver to stop at one of the trail heads to bird for an hour. Unfortunately the skies opened up as we hiked the trail so the birds were few but not without reward; Near the end we found a Dark Pewee hawking from the top of a dead tree. Tough identification given the downpour. We continued the drive on to our first mulit-day location, La Tirimbina Lodge at La Virgen in the Caribbean lowlands.
The plan is to break the trip up into several posts each focused on a particular region, its birds, food and people. I hope you enjoy the collection of observations, anecdotes, and pictures.