When taking a birding trip to Costa Rica, there are two basic ways to do it. Either (1), do the trip on your own, or (2) take a birding tour. The first option guarantees adventure and that’s why a lot of people opt for the latter. It’s easier to let someone else take care of logistics, accommodation, and transportation in a foreign country, especially if you don’t speak the local lingua franca. For those reasons, a lot of folks go the tour route even if they aren’t birders but people who would rather focus on seeing as many species of glittering hummingbirds, trogons, and tanagers as possible have yet another major incentive for taking a tour.
When venturing into uncharted birding territory, a birding guide helps you see more birds. That’s true for any place on the globe but especially so in tropical regions such as Costa Rica. You see, the birdwatching dynamics aren’t the same as in the temperate grasslands, coniferous forests, and hardwood forests you may be familiar with. As with most tropical forests, while there are hundreds of bird species in Costa Rican habitats, the birding comes with a subtle but definite catch. Instead of coming out of the underbrush with a simple spish or revealing themselves every 2 minutes, most of those species are naturally rare because they occur in low density populations. Add that natural rarity to shy, unobtrusive behavior along with a natural penchant to stay hidden, and a lot of those birds can very hard to find!
Seeing them requires time, patience, and luck but the odds will be upped in your favor if you bird with someone who knows where to look for them, how to recognize the scarce resources they use, and perhaps most of all, someone who recognizes their vocalizations. Bird with someone like this and you will certainly see a lot more bird species than birding on your own for the first time in Costa Rica. Of course, to see certain targets and maximize species, you also have to visit a key set of sites. I mention all of this because in February, 2013, I am going to help guide a Natura Tours Birding Tour to Costa Rica.
I normally stick to guiding clients on day trips and short tours on my own, but what can I say, I like this company! Set up by an enthusiastic Canadian naturalist who knows Costa Rica quite well, Natura Tours is serious about making efforts to run tours in an ethical, sustainable fashion. A portion of the proceeds for each tour go to local conservation efforts, and the company also has a set of ethics and values that are followed.
The tour will visit classic sites such as Carara (south Pacific rainforest, wetlands, and dry forest), Monteverde (dry forest, moist forest, and cloud forest), La Selva (Caribbean lowland rainforest), San Gerardo de Dota (high elevation forest), and Braulio Carrillo National Park (foothill rainforest). While these sites are visited on many other tours, what those other tours don’t have is someone on the ground who can extensively scout out the trip beforehand to see where rarities are hanging out, where fruiting and flowering trees are attracting the birds, and other tidbits that result in a higher number of bird species during the tour. Yes, I will be doing just that. It’s something I do on a regular basis anyways but I will be putting some extra time and effort into it in the two weeks before the tour.
While I probably won’t guide the entire tour, I will be there for much of the itinerary. The tour will also be co-led by friend and fellow birder Steve Pike. Steve started out at a young age like myself and it shows in natural, excellent fieldcraft honed from years of birding and guiding at Point Pelee. Dedicated to seeing as many birds and experiencing as much of the natural world as he can, Steve has traveled extensively and taken thousands of pictures of birds wherever he goes. Since he is also one of the more positive individuals you will probably ever meet (no exaggeration!), he makes for an excellent, always helpful tour leader
While the complex nature of birding in the tropics always makes it tough to hazard a guess at the numbers and species of birds to be encountered on any tour, the following represent some of the more exciting birds that will probably be encountered. I base that statement on having birded those sites for several years as well as knowing stakeouts for species mentioned:
Sunbittern: A very good chance at this bird during time in Sarapiqui.
Bat Falcon: Uncommon but I know at least a few reliable sites for it on the tour.
Crimson-fronted Parakeet along with at least 12 other parrots, macaws, and parakeets.
28 or more species of hummingbirds including the surreal Snowcap.
The gorgeous Turquoise-browed Motmot.
Add a litany of tanagers, trogons, wrens, toucans, woodpeckers, and flycatchers and it’s going to be a fantastic, bird-filled trip! To see testimonials from birders I have guided, please see the comments for this post. Hope to see you on the tour in February!