When planning a birding trip to Costa Rica or other biodiverse tropical locales, there are a few basic steps that most birders take. Above all, a field guide must be acquired to hint at the birds that creep, fly, and call from those distant, beckoning rainforests. This is of basic important because you need a more than adequate resource to identify birds over the course of your trip. However, in addition to its utility in a field setting, those illustrated pages are just as important back at home. Long before you head to the airport to stand in line and fill out sudoku puzzles during the plane ride, in providing a taste for what’s in store, the book sparks that longing for lifers experienced by most birdwatchers.
It’s like being a kid (or someone who has no control over sweet-tooth impulses) in a candy store. Just as my three year old daughter exclaims with the firm held belief and desire that, “THIS IS FOR MIRANDA!” upon seeing any number of objects carefully designed to appeal to young girls as we happen to trudge through the aisles of a toy store, birders visiting Costa Rica for the first, second, or third time think, “I NEED TO SEE THAT BIRD!” when they peruse the pages of the field guide. The two situations are similar in that both parties feel a yearning need to experience the object in question, but whereas Miranda has to have a My Little Pony, a Barbie Princess, or any other number of things that have been painstakingly designed to appeal to a immature humans, birders “need” to see and hear birds that have evolved charismatic adaptations and characteristics that are simply magical to behold.
What better way to describe seeing a Three-wattled Bellbird in action as it lets out a sonorous “BONK!” from a bill flanked by worm-like appendages? The plumes of a Resplendent Quetzal being touched by the clouds as they fog their way through epiphyte-laden forest is so darn enchanting that you begin to wonder if dryads are going to pop out of the nearest old growth Podocarpus tree. During recent guiding at Carara National Park, I was reminded that watching other, lesser known birds can be just as TinkerBell of an experience. For example, espying the blue eye ring of a Chestnut-backed Antbird as it forages in the permanently dim understory or getting killer looks at a normally skulking Riverside Wren can take your breath away.
Chestnut-backed Antbirds are common rainforest species seen when birding in Costa Rica.
Finding a Streak-chested Antpitta perched on a low branch as it sings its forlorn whistled song. A guy I was guiding actually spotted this bird before I did.
Watching a purple and red Baird’s Trogon pump its white tail to the beat of its staccato vocalization as a multitude of cicadas fill the humid forest air with arthopodic buzz.
Baird’s Trogon is a rather uncommon but regular regional endemic in the rainforests from Carara south to extreme western Panama.
Scarlet Macaws contemplating you from their nest.
Royal Flycatchers!– pairs are building nests on the River Trail.
A Pale-billed Woodpecker letting us watch it for several minutes as it scaled the bark off a small snag.
Black-faced Antthrushes pretending to be rails as they creep across the leafy ground. It seems that 3-4 PM in the park may be the best time to connect with these guys.
The past several days also turned up many a Northern Bentbill, Orange-collared Manakins on a lek, American Pygmy Kingfisher in the mangroves, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, a Double-toothed Kite foraging with capuchins, King Vulture, nesting Gray-headed Tanager and Black-hooded Antshrikes, Great Tinamou, and a pair of Painted Buntings near Villa Lapas. You truly never know what you are going to see at Carara so it pays to bird the same trail more than once. Bird at Carara and just about anywhere in Costa Rica, though, and get ready to be spell-bound (don’t click on that unless you like Siouxsie and the Banshees!).