Birder of the Year's Costa Rica adventure
By Cindy Beckman
Each fall, WildBird readers choose the Birder of the Year from the previous issues’ Backyard Birders and Forum Birders. (See page 34 of the November/December 2008 issue for the 2008 Birder of the Year candidates and ballot. Turn to pages 20 and 30 for your chances to participate in the 2009 program.)
As the 2007 Birder of the Year, Cindy Beckman of Spring Valley, Ohio, received a copy of “The Shorebird Guide” and “Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion” from Houghton Mifflin, a Swarovski squall jacket, a Swarovski 8x32 EL binocular (right), and round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and a rental car courtesy of Swarovski Optik North America. -- Ed.
When I learned last December that WildBird readers had chosen me as 2007 Birder of the Year, an award that included a Swarovski binocular and a five-day trip to Costa Rica, I couldn’t believe my ears. Having never won anything in my life, I felt ecstatic.
After meeting WildBird Editor Amy Hooper, Swarovski rep Clay Taylor and guide Alex Villegas in San Jose, Costa Rica, in late July, the five of us -- including my husband, Jim -- stopped at the home of Richard Garrigues, co-author of “The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide” with Robert Dean (Zona Tropical, 2007). Richard graciously signed our field guides, and we five set out for Dominical, three and a half hours south. We stayed the night at Villas Rio Mar amid the rain, lightning and thunder that goes with the “green” season.
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Bright and early on day two, we birded near the lodge. Along the river, we saw three species of kingfisher -- Green, Ringed and Amazon. Three fledgling Green Herons huddled on a branch at the water’s edge. Everywhere we looked, we saw the brilliant crimson and bold black of Cherrie’s Tanagers.
As we sat in the lodge’s open-air dining room, we noticed a lot of activity in a small tree. Searching the tree, I noticed a plain brown bird among the colorful mob. It turned its head, and I heard Alex exclaim, “Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl!” We were treated to several minutes of the diminutive owl and the relentless mob trying to evict him.
We set out for the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge on Osa Peninsula, driving in and out of rain. Luckily, little rain had fallen before our noon arrival, and the water level allowed us to cross the river in the SUV.
One of the lodge owners, Liz Jones, greeted us and took Jim and me to our cabin for the next three days and nights. Apart from the main lodge and with rainforest on all sides, it offered a comfortable bed under a mosquito net and a bathroom with cold running water.
At the lodge, a mixed flock of tanagers, trogons, tityras, hummingbirds and other species arrived as if to welcome us. As the birds departed, the rain arrived and continued most of the day and evening. We saw some amazing birds near the lodge -- Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Little Tinamou, Charming Hummingbird.
On the third morning, we walked with Liz’s husband, Abraham Gallo, whose knowledge of the area and the wildlife is remarkable. Three Scarlet Macaws flew into a nearby tree and began feeding, maintaining their positions for more than 30 minutes.
In the same area, a female Turquoise Cotinga settled on a treetop. With delicate scalloping in soft shades of gray, she possessed a subtle beauty -- not as flashy as her turquoise and violet mate but breathtaking nevertheless.
On our walk, Alex and Abraham pointed out birds such as tody-flycatchers, greenlets and tyrannulets that we would have missed or been unable to identify without their expertise. They sorted through the all-too-similar flycatchers and even found an Olivaceous Piculet, the smallest woodpecker in Costa Rica.
Looking through the scope after Clay announced “Swallow-tailed Kite,” I felt amazed to see a tree full of kites -- 18 that we could count. Later, lying on a large leaf near the path was an eyelash viper, another of Costa Rica’s beautiful snakes. It was a splendid morning!
That afternoon, we hiked up a stream to find a White-tipped Sicklebill, a hummingbird with a decurved bill. We hiked in the stream that this elusive hummingbird was known to inhabit, carefully stepping into the swiftly moving water. After getting good looks at the sicklebill through Clay’s spotting scope, I started the return hike in the stream.
On our next and final day of birding, we left at 5 a.m. to reach Rincon, known to harbor the endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga. Although the bird is easy to see at this location in the dry season, it could be elusive during the wet season.
Our early departure paid off, because Alex spotted a cotinga within two minutes of getting out of the SUV. We found a second male cotinga, farther away but easily identified through the scopes.
Then a female and a fledgling flew in, and we watched as the female appeared to be feeding what we thought were insects to her youngster. When Clay later checked his digiscoped photos, the “insect” turned out to be a leaf.
Along the road, we received excellent looks at various species, including Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker and a female Spot-crowned Euphonia, one of the few females that rivals males for beauty. While searching for birds, it was difficult to miss the white-faced capuchins cavorting in the trees, but our guides found the well-hidden three-toed sloths.
A female Black-bellied Whistling-Duck crossed the road with 13 ducklings in tow, their yellow and black patterns making it almost impossible to count them. Watching them, it was easy to see how they thwart predators.
On the final afternoon, Jim and I set out on a walk of our own. After an uneventful trek, we encountered one of the best mixed flocks I have ever seen. As we looked into the forest, we saw movement everywhere.
Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager, a species endemic to Costa Rica, was one of the first birds we identified. Chestnut-backed Antbird, Plain Xenops, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Gray-headed Tanager, Black-hooded Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Russet Antshrike, Olivaceous Piculet and more -- some that we identified and some that were too fast or too deep in the shadows for us to venture a guess. It was a wonderful ending to an amazing experience, unlike any I’ve ever had, and one that I will never forget. I am very grateful to WildBird and Swarovski Optik for making it possible.