For many, December is a month of importance. Major holidays are celebrated, winter makes itself known by way of dim days, long nights, and blowing snow, juncos flit through the woods, and birds feast at the feeder. We laugh and make merry with the family, eat too much, and ponder the utility of spiced drinks.
While some of us have our annual viewing of “Die Hard”, others brave busy stores, crowded roads, and a constant barrage of holiday tunes as we strive to acquire the right gifts. After a few days of the annual madness, many of us understand the utility of fortified beverages all too well, but for us birders, whether we feel like enjoying a fine craft beer or not, we can’t help but smile because we have other very important things to look forward to. This being December, Christmas count season is upon us and oh what a jolly fun time it is!
There’s nothing like heading out into the freezing cold pre-dawn to listen for owls in a sky so damn cold it feels like the stars might just shatter. It’s even better when you wonder if your frozen nose is still sitting on your face as you issue forth owl imitations that begin to sound more like, “This sucks for you!” instead of the usual words. It all changes, though, when the voice of an honest to goodness Barred Owl echoes through the winter forest. The sudden communication and connection with nature fosters the warmth and satisfaction associated with birding success and keeps us going throughout the long, cold day. As the day moves forward, we are rejuvenated by each new bird, wonder what is being seen by other counters, and rejoice in just being out there in the woods, fields, shore, or other natural places.
We give ourselves over to birds, just for a day, and that eggnog tastes so much better for having done so because when you get up before dawn, walk miles through wild lands, and share it with like-minded people, you damn well know you are living! It’s always better when a lifer joins you for the personal counting party but if not, it’s still glorious to experience the beauty of the count.
It’s even better when you can do a Christmas Bird Count in Costa Rica and this is why:
It’s not cold– It might rain all day but you won’t have to worry about putting on that parka. This here is the tropics; all those Baltimore Orioles, wood-warblers, and other migrants don’t come here for nothing! No need for gloves or a cozy hat up in this house. Instead, we are concerned about wearing clothing that keeps us cool, carrying enough water to stay hydrated, and keeping up with the chattering of parakeets, chortles of wrens, and the sights and sounds of hundreds of other birds.
No snow in the rainforest at wonderful Finca Luna Nueva.
Constant birds– Unlike some counts up north, in Costa Rica, you will be hearing or seeing birds all day long, many of which will be different. The new birds keep coming in the rich tropical habitats of Costa Rica- be ready for the challenge!
Keep the tanagers coming- this is a Black and Yellow.
Rare stuff– Since many tropical species are naturally rare, you can expect to run across one or more of those birds that you just don’t see that often. You never know what you might find but you walk hand in hand with excitement because the rare ones can take the form of anything from a Yellow-eared Toucanet to a Sunbittern or even Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.
It’s an event!– Christmas Bird Counts in Costa Rica are often all out events. A count meeting is usually held the evening before count day and can include a talk or two about a special bird in the count circle, recent bird studies, and/or overviews of the routes. Route leaders are named, counters assigned, and bag lunches are handed out. When the count is finally over, we gather together once more to tally up the 300 plus species, exchange stories, and share a dinner and drinks. Distributors of optics and arts and crafts might also be present and someone might even make a speech.
This year, I have done one count so far, the Arenal Christmas Count, I sure hope I can fit in one or two more so I can end this year with a fine birding blast. Here is a link to counts being held, sign up to experience one or two!