Too many people were eating pangolins and other wild animals for ridiculous reasons and here we are with a global pandemic. As with almost everywhere, Covid-19 and the subsequent repercussions have reached Costa Rica, these are some ways in which the situation is affecting us birding and otherwise:
Borders closed to non-residents
This happened sooner than I had expected. Only two weeks before, although some part of the population seemed to be concerned about the virus, things were still fairly normal. However, that changed in a matter of days as a few cases were confirmed, more began to suddenly appear in various parts of Costa Rica, and a whole bunch of people just went to the beach. Given the juxtaposition of a growing infectious threat and too many people making contact instead of avoiding others, events were cancelled and bars were closed. But cancelling of flights? I didn’t expect that so happen so soon. Tourism plays a major role in the local economy, limiting it could hit Costa Rica like a fa-jin blody blow from a Tai Chi master. With that in mind, I had hoped that travel restrictions wouldn’t happen for another month.
However, the virus had other plans and as cases jumped in Europe and the USA, on March 16th, Costa Rica took the very difficult step of closing the border until April 12 to everyone except legal residents. Those residents who do return in this time face two weeks quarantine. For the moment, tourists in country can also still travel around and leave. There is freedom of movement but there is also a strong push for social distancing, if things get worse, I would not be surprised if restrictions to movement are imposed on the public.
Birding tours cancelled, huge losses for the tourism industry
I’m not sure when the first cancellations were made but I do know that by the first week of March, pretty much every tour and probably every hotel stay was cancelled. Even if they had waited, the subsequent border closure would have made the decision for them. This being part of the high season, it goes without saying that the hundreds of cancellations are a major blow to our tourism industry. All we can hope is that the virus can be contained, vaccinated, and defeated as quick as possible and that folks who had cancelled trips will still want to come to Costa Rica. I hope so because the birds and beauty of this friendly country will still be here!
National Parks closed
Even if you could go birding in Costa Rica right now, you wouldn’t be able to use the binos in a national park. Just as much to protect the park guards as to promote social distancing, all parks were closed yesterday. That said, this doesn’t affect local birding all that much since excellent birding in Costa Rica also happens outside of the national parks.
A run on some items
Stores ran out of hand sanitizer and Lysol much quicker than expected although come to think of it, I never saw huge amounts of it in stores anyways. We bought an extra gallon of bleach and some other staples a couple weeks ago (including the biggest item of 2020- several rolls of TP) so hopefully we will be set for some time. Some other products have nearly sold out but it doesn’t seem to be as crazy as in the USA. Except for maybe PriceMart. This local version of Sam’s Club or Aldi’s or other big warehouse full of stuff being sold in bulk saw huge lines of people buying up the store. I just hope that none of them were carrying the virus because ironically, in preparing for quarantine to avoid the virus, they put themselves in a perfectly contagious situation to catch it.
Liquor production turns to hand sanitizer
The local liquor factory had gone from producing alcohol for drinks to alcohol for killing viruses. As much as I appreciate a delicious mojito from the excellent Pandora restaurant at Villa San Ignacio, I appreciate even more, there being more than enough hand sanitizer available to the general public.
As with other places, in Costa Rica, a lot of backyard birding is taking place. Folks from the Birding Club of Costa Rica are even holding a competition to see who can identify the most birds from their respective homesteads. On account of windy weather I haven’t seen all that much around here but that could change. The more you look, the more you find, especially in birdy Costa Rica. Since migration is also happening, there are probably lots of things waiting to be found!
Still good birding in the field
Since we can still move around for the moment, these days of social distancing are a fine time to go birding. Although I would stay away from places with other people, it’s easy enough to keep a safe distance from others almost anywhere in the outdoors. We did just that on Sunday when we visited the San Ramon area to look for Three-wattled Bellbirds. On the road known as Calle Quetzal, we did indeed find and enjoy scope views of one adult male that called from excellent cloud forest! Although we did not see the Ornate Hawk-Eagle that a couple of other local birders saw, we did hear Black-breasted Wood-Quail, saw a female kestrel, chlorophonias, and some other sweet species of the middle elevations.
To sum things up, for the moment, Costa Rica is off limits to any visitors but it won’t be forever and as soon as this place is ready to safely receive tourists, we will be back up and running with tanagers, hummingbirds, and quetzals waiting to be seen. As for Mary and I, there’s a local mega Western Gull being seen in Puntarenas. We just might go for it.