December has kicked off with am imaginary “bang!” and Christmas count season is nigh in Costa Rica. Most counts take place two weeks from now, but one key, counting bonanza happens in a few days and I will indeed partake in the challenge. Since the count season overlaps with the family events season, this will probably be the only count I can do. Having been stuck indoors for too many days, I am more than ready to merge back into the tropical forest and focus on the bio-surroundings. I’m still not entirely sure where I will stay for the count (counts in Costa Rica are usually a multi-day event), but one of the coordinators is doing his best to help me and a couple friends figure that out. In the meantime, these are some suggested preparations for keeping things on the ball during count day:

  • Meditate: Meditation results in more birds. It does! Work to clear the mind and there is less mental clutter to keeps one from noticing birds. You see, a lot of these tropical birds are highly evolved to escape detection. The more concentrated on seeing and hearing birds one is, the more you find. Oh, and meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the floor with your eyes closed. It can also take the form of Tai Chi, Yoga, watching birds on your own, trying to focus on and discern distant flying specks, tight-rope walking or other endeavors that help to calm the mind. If you deal feel like repeating one or a few words over and over, I suggest, “Rufous…vented….Ground….Cuckoo…”.
  • Learning to use hand signals to shush people in silence: After visualizing ground-cuckoos, this idea came to mind. Serious business requires serious silence. I wish we had those throat microphones used by special forces soldiers in movies (a night scope would also be nice) but we don’t, so hand signals will have to suffice. We will have to establish talking rules before the count, as well as which hand signals mean “Bird ahead”, “Did you hear that?”, or “Ground-cuckoo ahead!”. That latter signal could also be substituted for “Shut the ….. up!!” Heck, if we develop those gesticulations further, we’ll be just like a gender neutral¬†Bene Gesserit of birding!

    Birds like to hide in this stuff..

    ...birds like Keel-billed Motmot.

  • Gearing up: A gear check is needed before any major birding endeavor because we can’t afford to have something go wrong, especially when we have to note every bird that chirps, flies, or scampers into our collective field of view. Not to mention, it’s cool to check out optics, mobile devices with bird calls, and an espresso machine any time of day. Ok, so, we aren’t bringing the espresso machine, but only because it’s too much of a pain to carry through the jungle.
  • Rain: There is only one day for the count and that day is not weather dependent. If it rains,(and it often does), the count goes on! As many past bird counts in Costa Rica have demonstrated, you still find a surprising number of birds. This is because it doesn’t usually rain the whole time,, and wherever you have a bunch of birders counting, them birds are found. So, we get ready for the rain by bringing a functioning umbrella, other rain gear, like 2o Ziplock bags, and a mindset that expects precipitation.
  • Snacks, coffee, and the like: We will probably get a bag lunch (most counts in Costa Rica do this) but a count is always better when you can reward yourself with quality chocolate, brownies, and/or other goodies. This also helps us celebrate the count. The coffee is of course necessary (or tea, or some other caffeinated stuff).

    On the way to Arenal, we will probably stop at the Loveats cafe for Cookies.

  • Flexibility to chase birds: So, this could mean literal flexibility if we have to climb a muddy slope and leap across some chasm to see the Great Jacamar or ground-cuckoo calling on the other side of the mountain, or being flexible with time the following day to chase the rare birds found and reported by others during the count.

I may or may not be following my own suggestions but I know that if I do, I will see more birds. Happy counting!