When the first settlers moved into the area around Dominical in the early 1900s, they found primary forests comprised of hundreds of thousands of species of living organisms. Over time trees were felled and the highly diverse forests replaced with several species of grass intended for the exclusive consumption of domestic animals which in turn would be slaughtered for human food. The ecosystem that evolved around this reality was much lower in biodiversity than the primary forest it had replaced. However, certain species that humans consider pests, such as vampire bats, ticks, lice, grasshoppers and rats, experienced population explosions; and, in the case of birds, the number of species increased significantly to include those that thrive in open spaces and near livestock.
The Hardships, Tragedies, and Challenges of Women in Rural Costa Rica
Every forest has its old timers, trees that stand out from the rest because of their size, form and distinguishing characteristics. Many, because of their advanced age, have rotted on the inside, leaving them partially or completely hollow, often with gaping holes to the outside. This is why old-growth forests are so important for the maintenance of biodiversity and the ecological balance. The younger trees of a secondary forest don’t provide the nesting holes so necessary for the proliferation of many of the rainforest birds such as the larger parrots, toucans and macaws among others. Also, mammals such as the kinkajou, olingo, tayra, several varieties of opossum and, of course, the many different species of bats covet the dark hollow chambers as roosting sites. Iguanas and ctentosaurs love the hollow portions of the old trees where they often take refuge when alarmed. Untold multitudes of insects lurk in every nook and cranny of the interior shells of the old stalwarts of the jungle: scorpions, millipedes, beetles galore, termites and spiders, to name a few. These old grandfathers of the forest become worlds unto themselves as they gradually move into the final stages of their existence.
The most noteworthy old tree of Hacienda Barú that has passed on during my time here was an enormous ceibo tree (Ceiba pentandra) — known as the kapok or silk cotton tree in English — that dominated the skies between what are today the Hacienda Barú Restaurant and the El Ceibo Service Station. Its familiar form, tall straight trunk and distinctive umbrella shaped top, was a well known landmark in the area. The parcel of tillable land surrounding it was known to rice farmers as the ceibo lot. Though it stood about half a kilometer from the beach, it was clearly visible for several kilometers out to sea. The local fisherman used to determine their positions relative to this tallest, most distinctive fixed point while fishing in the vecinity of Barú and Guápil Beaches. The wood storks roosted in the umbrella-shaped crown of the ceibo for a few nights each year on their annual migration. Barn owls frequented the inner chambers often calling loudly in the night even to the point of disturbing the neighbors’ sleep. Chestnut mandibled toucans made their nests there and at least one variety of bats resided in the darker recesses. Clouds of the small furry mammals poured from a gaping hole in the trunk about 20 meters (65 feet) above ground every evening at dusk.
Today the remains of the old ceibo, whose trunk once measured more than 2.5 meters (8 feet) in diameter, have been broken down by natural processes and recycled by the secondary forest and the cacao plants that now occupy the area around its former base. During the early morning hours of May 11, 1989, three months prior to the inauguration of Bomba El Ceibo, it reached a point in its existence when the once strong fibers of the stem, now weakened with age and natural processes, finally let go. The tree came crashing to earth, falling exactly down the rows of cacao, barely fitting between two lines of trees spaced at 3 meters apart, and not damaging a single one. Sleeping neighbors as far as one kilometer away were awakened by the loud crack when the thick trunk snapped. Three of the old ceibo’s progeny, one near the Hacienda Barú Restaurant and two near Bomba El Ceibo gas station, remain in remembrance of the old patriarch who once dominated the skies.
Four enormous old ceibos located in the highland rainforest of Hacienda Barú still tower over the surrounding trees. Though big and mature, these monsters show no sign of age deterioration and will be around a long time eliciting exclamations of admiration from visitors to Hacienda Barú. The largest of these we call “el abuelo,” or grandfather. This was the first tree we climbed at Hacienda Barú over 15 years ago, when we decided to offer canopy exploration as an extraordinary ecological experience for our visitors. El abuelo, though tremendous in girth, is less than 40 meters high (130 feet,) not particularly tall for a ceibo. Possibly its crown was once damaged by lightening because it consists of only one tier of branches rather than two or three tiers so typical of the kapoks. Since there are no higher branches where a climbing rope may be fixed, ropes must be tied to the lowest branches, and it isn’t practical to climb up onto the branch to sit. For this reason, we never took Hacienda Barú visitors into the crown of this magnificent tree, but our first guides, including myself, learned to climb there. Pioneer tree climber and author of Above the Forest Floor, Dr. Donald Perry was our instructor.
Less than 200 meters from el abuelo are two more enormous kapoks. Though slightly smaller in diameter, these are at least 10 meters taller than el abuelo, and both have three layers of branches in the crown. One of these kapoks, is ideal for climbing and is the first tree where we took our visitors. Two of the climbing ropes were attached to a branch in the middle of the crown and the third was attached to a branch near the top. This meant we could climb past the first branches, and swing over to sit on them. This was the tree where we inaugurated the “Tree Climb Tour.”
At this point, you may be wondering how we got into the crown to attach the climbing ropes. Actually, it isn’t as difficult as it seems. With a cross bow we shot a fishing line over one of the branches. With the fishing line we pulled a nylon cord over the branch and with the nylon cord we pulled a ½ inch climbing rope, over the branch. Tree climbing rope is thicker and stronger than rock climbing rope. The rope for the initial climb must be more than twice as long as the tree is tall, because the end must be pulled over the branch and all the way back to the ground and anchored to the base of a neighboring tree. Then we climb the other end and fix the ropes that will be climbed by guides and visitors, securely in the upper branches.
The idea of scaling a rope 40 meters (130 feet) into the crown of a rainforest tree seems like a formidable task to the uninitiated, but with special equipment and technique, the feat isn’t so bad as you might imagine. The main pieces of equipment are a harness, a pair of stirrups, a pair of devices called ascenders for climbing, and a figure eight for descending. The weakest piece of equipment has a breaking strength of about two tons, and the rope will hold three tons. Straps are used to attach the ascenders to you, the upper ascender to the harness and the lower one to the stirrups. Ascenders will slide up a rope, but not down. After attaching the ascenders to the rope, and sliding the upper one as high as possible, you sit. From this position you lift your feet while at the same time raising the lower ascender. Then you stand in the stirrups while raising the upper ascender. Again you sit, and the process is repeated. Your legs do most of the work. Once you get the hang of it, you go right up the rope. I’m not trying to tell you it is easy, only that with a little effort, most normal healthy people can do it. I will warn you though, tree climbing is addictive.
Climbing into the crown of a mature kapok is an overwhelming experience. Though you might think climbing is dominated by fear, I haven’t found this to be the case either with myself of with visitors to Hacienda Barú. I have heard it said that people are afraid of edges rather than heights. In other words, looking down over the edge of a building while standing on the top at 40 meters (130 feet) above the sidewalk, may scare you half to death. However, dangling from a rope at the same height doesn’t seem to have the same effect. I remember the first time I climbed the kapok. I felt no fear, even at 40 meters (130 feet) up, until I sat on one of the branches. My fear was totally irrational. Dangling from a rope, I felt fine, but when I sat on a branch, still attached to the same rope, I felt fear. It wasn’t a flimsy little branch either; it was close to a meter thick, too big to straddle. I had to sit with my legs straight out. I tried to think through my fear. I was afraid of falling off the branch, yet my mind knew that I was still attached to the rope. The difference must have been that dangling on the rope there is no edge to look over. In ten years of guiding people into the rainforest canopy, I never had anyone panic on the tree climbing tour. A couple of people did get nervous at some point and tell me that they would like to go down. But afterwards, back on solid earth, everyone, even those who never went all the way to the top, commented about what an extraordinary experience it had been.
Speaking of coming down, you are probably wondering how we do that. Actually, coming down is a piece of cake. When you are ready to descend, the guide puts the figure eight on the rope between the two ascenders and attaches it to your harness with a strap. Then he removes the ascenders one at a time, leaving you hanging from the figure eight. You then rapel down, just like those special forces guys who jump out of helicopters. For safety sake a guide on the ground can stop you or slow you down by simply pulling on your rope.
We no longer climb the big kapok because we were worried about compacting the soil around the roots and causing damage to the tree. After a couple of years we moved on to a different tree. We have climbed several different lechoso trees (Brosimum utile) and are now climbing a large camerón (Licania operculipetala.)
Though I have climbed hundreds of times, every time I go into the canopy I see something I have never seen before. Come to think of it, that happens to me every time everytime I go into the rainforest. You should try it.
The date was October 16, 2008, the time 4:30 PM. Steve and Peggy Sue watched as the bulky form emerged from the shallow waves and began dragging itself up on the moist sand of Barú Beach. It was a strange sight to behold, especially in the afternoon. Olive Ridley Marine Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) don’t normally come out of the sea and lay their eggs during daylight hours. In fact, they normally steer clear of the moonlight, only appearing on the beach when the night is pitch black. But here she was, in all her glory, awkwardly pulling herself up the beach with flippers that looked better suited for maneuvering around in the sea than dragging a hundred pounds of dead weight across the sand. When she reached a point where thousands of years of accumulated instinct told her that the beach looked right, the female began to dig with paddle-like rear flippers.
The digging continued until she could reach no deeper. After positioning her backside over the hole she began to expel the flexible, white, leathery spheres shrouded in thick mucous, each about the size and shape of a golf ball. The eggs plopped into the hole one by one until no more remained inside the reptile. The female began scooping the sand back into the hole covering the precious eggs that would assure the future of her species. She positioned her hard bony underplate, over the mound of sand and, using her flippers, raised her heavy body into the air and quickly let it fall with a resounding thud, repeating the process until the nest was firmly packed. Near exhaustion, the female Olive Ridley Turtle began her labored trek back to the water’s edge stopping frequently to rest until, at last, she was swallowed by the vastness of the sea. Noticing the encroaching darkness, Steve glanced at his watch. The time was 5:30 PM. “We’d better get back to the lodge,” he said. “Nightfall comes quickly in the tropics.”
For many thousands of years this scene has been played out on hundreds of beaches with millions of turtles of many different species. Later come the coyotes, raccoons, coatis, peccaries and even pumas and jaguars to dig out the nutritious white blobs. The ever present and persistent ants take their toll. Depending on weather and temperature, the eggs that escape the predators hatch sometime between 45 and 60 days later. The hatchlings drag themselves out of the nest hole and up onto the beach, zero in on the movement of the waves and begin walking toward the surf. The first to hatch are usually able to evade the crabs waiting in ambush and traverse the 30 meters (100 feet) or so to the water. Next they must evade the many species of marine creatures waiting to gobble them up. But after those first few a passing hawk, frigate bird or vulture will spot one of the hatchlings and swoop down to snatch it up. Other birds follow. All the mammals noted above and even the white-faced capuchin monkeys sometimes take part in the feast. Almost none of the remaining hatchlings survive. Maybe as many as five of the original hundred tiny turtles, each less than half the size of a hockey puck, succeed in entering the sea. With luck one female from every ten nests will grow to maturity and return to lay her eggs on the same beach ten to twelve years later. What she does in the mean time, nobody knows for sure.
That was before the arrival of Homo sapiens on the scene as a primary actor in the process. Now, maybe one nest in a hundred even has the opportunity to hatch naturally. Human poachers efficiently detect and remove all of the eggs before any other predators find the nest. Few escape their careful search. The eggs in one nest can be sold to a local cantina for $15 to $20, more than the poacher could make working eight hours a day at an honest job. In the cantina the eggs are opened and dropped into a glass; tomato sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco and rum are added, and the whole mess is swallowed raw. It is considered the “manly” thing to do. Most cantinas call the drink “Poor Man’s Viagra.” The truth is that scientific evidence shows that any effect on sexual potency is purely psychosomatic. The tragedy is that this myth could eventually bring about the demise of the marine turtles.
When Steve and Peggy Sue returned to their cabin at Hacienda Barú Lodge, they stopped by the reception office and told me about their extraordinary experience. I called Eduardo, the head park ranger, and told him about the strange incident. He told me that in seven years of working with marine turtles he had never seen or heard of a female laying her eggs during daylight hours. After the phone call, Eduardo headed for the location the people had described to me. He soon came across the caterpillar-like tracks left in the sand by the female turtle and followed them to the nest. Probing carefully with a stick, he quickly located the chamber where the eggs rested. With bare hands, Eduardo dug into the sand until the eggs came into view. He measured the distance from the surface at 17 cm (6.5 inches) and carefully recorded it in a small notebook. Now he donned a pair of plastic gloves, retrieved the eggs one by one, counted and carefully placed them in a clean plastic bag. There were only 36 eggs in the nest, the smallest so far this year. This was probably the first laying of this particular female. That could explain her strange behavior, coming out of the sea in the afternoon, he surmised. Eduardo measured the depth and diameter of the nest. The chamber was considerably smaller than normal, the average being 22 cm (8.5 inches) to the first eggs, 38 cm (14.6 inches) total depth and 30 cm (11.5 inches) in diameter. After making the notations in his little book, Eduardo walked back to the ranger station where a local environmental organization, the Asociación de Amigos de la Naturaleza (ASANA) kept a turtle hatchery.
When Eduardo reached the hatchery, he first located the site for the next nest. Next, he dug a hole the same dimensions as the one from which he had retrieved the eggs, 32 cm (12.3 inches) deep and 24 cm (9.2 inches) in diameter. He then laid the eggs carefully in the hole. Finally he covered the eggs with sand which he packed to the same firmness as the nest on the beach. There they would rest for a period of 52 days on the average. There were 117 nests total in the nursery. After five days the nest would be marked with a number and date. Previously they had marked each nest immediately after planting the eggs. One night when the rangers were out patrolling the beach, some poachers raided the hatchery and stole the three most recent nests, those that were fresh enough so the eggs could still be consumed.
Back in the ranger station, Eduardo transferred all of the information in his notebook to a ledger which was locked in a drawer in his desk. A couple of times a week Ronald, the coordinator for ASANA would stop by and retrieve the updated information, take it back to the office and tabulate everything on the computer. Once each month a marine biologist visits the site to inspect the hatchery and check the records.
Eduardo checked back to see if any nests were due to hatch soon. A small depression had appeared over one of the nests the previous afternoon; this meant the first turtles in the nest were starting to break through their shells and would begin emerging onto the sand approximately 36 hours later. That would be tomorrow morning.
Eduardo retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and made a couple of calls. The first to ASANA, in case some local school children wanted to observe the liberation of the hatchlings and the second to the Hacienda Barú Lodge office. I notified Steve and Peggy Sue as well as the other guests. Anybody who wanted to see the baby turtles needed to be at the beach at 6:00 AM the following morning.
Some people have suggested that we should carry the hatchlings into the water and even take them out past the breaking waves before releasing them, thereby eliminating a great deal of effort on their part and hopefully enhancing their survival rate. Nevertheless, marine biologists believe that walking across the beach and entering the water is essential to the well being of the young turtles. Apparently a small sample of sea water and sand enters a tiny organ near the nostril and remains there for the life of the turtle. An identical organ on the other side remains empty. According to the theory, ten to twelve years later, when the female turtles return to the beach to lay, they are able to find the exact location of the beach where they entered the water by comparing samples of sea water with the sample taken when they first entered the water as hatchlings.
A small group of people watched as Eduardo released the hatchlings. Each person was allowed to hold a small turtle in their hand and set it on the sand. The observers were cautioned to remain behind the hatchlings which will walk toward the first movement they see. Mother Nature wants them to home in on the surf, which is the correct direction to walk. Extraneous movement confuses them. Once on the beach and focused on the breaking waves, the babies use their tiny flippers to scoot across the sand. Each has a yolk sac which contains enough sustenance to get them through the ordeal and into the sea where they will hopefully find plankton, their basic food at this stage in life. If they don’t find food before expending the entire contents of the yolk sac they die. Later in life they will diversify consuming a variety of sea life, including jellyfish.
Steve and Peggy Sue were lucky. Many people walk up and down the beach at night for hours and never see a turtle. There are , however, certain times when you are more likely to see turtles than others. The Olive Ridley marine turtles begin laying eggs on Barú Beach in mid July each year. August and September are the months when most of the eggs are laid. The laying continues at a slower rate through the month of October and dwindles down to nothing in November. Very few turtles come onto the beach during the week of the full moon, but seem to time their egg laying to the rest of the month. They have an uncanny sense that tells them what time of night the moon will rise and set, because they are seldom seen on the beach in the moonlight. Seeing baby turtles is a little easier. The big hatching season is late September through early November when turtles hatch and are released several times each week.
Over the years, with advice from marine biologists, ASANA personnel and the Hacienda Barú park rangers have refined the handling and recording procedures used in the marine turtle rescue project. Over the last eight years an average of 88 baby turtles have been successfully released into the sea for every 100 eggs acquired. This amounts to over 70,000 hatchlings liberated since the year 2000. ASANA has also provided assistance to the nursery at Matapalo Beach, about 12 km northwest of Barú Beach.
The first hatchery on Barú Beach was a project of the owners and employees of Hacienda Barú initiated in the year 1984. The project was taken over by ASANA in 1990, but the nursery has always been kept at Hacienda Barú. There have been many contributors over the years, but this year, 2008, financial support for the project came from Marina Pez Vela, Plaza Pacifica, Pitzer College, Yale Student Alvaro Redondo, and Hacienda Barú.
Do you think birds are boring, and don’t see why anyone would want to watch them? Don’t put this article down yet. Let me share with you one interesting tidbit of information about birds, and see if you still think they are boring.
Many member of the cuckoo family are freeloaders. Ornithologists call them brood parasites. They lay their eggs in other birds nests, dumping their responsibility as parents in other birds laps, while saving themselves the time and energy of incubating eggs and feeding chicks. The various bird species that end up as unsuspecting foster parents have devised certain tricks with which they try to outsmart their unwelcome boarders. A truly fascinating method came to light recently in Australia where researchers were studying the behavior of the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus.) Mother wrens sing to their eggs, and, in so doing, teach their embryonic offspring a password, even before they hatch. After hatching, the chicks don’t get fed unless they include the password in their begging call. The cuckoo chicks that hatch in the same nest don’t know the password, don’t get fed, and end up starving to death. The female wrens conserve their own energy and devote it to raising their own young. Every mother wren uses a different password, presumably to prevent the cuckoo chicks as a species from learning how to get fed. You can read the entire article at: http://www.nature.com/news/wrens-teach-their-eggs-to-sing-1.11779#b2.
It occurred to me that it would be a lot simpler if the wrens could just evolve the ability to recognize the cuckoo eggs, which are considerably larger than wren eggs, and throw them out of the nest in the first place. I am sure Mother Nature has a good reason. Maybe someday we will know what it is.
As this issue of Quepolandia comes off the press, a group of about 40 ornithologists and highly qualified birders will be counting birds in the official 2012 bird count in the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor. You may ask why anyone would want to count birds, or even watch them, for that matter? I mean, what’s the big deal? Why do people get all worked up over chasing after birds while lugging along spotting scopes, tripods, binoculars and bird books. Why don’t people watch frogs, for example, or bats, monkeys or fish? Why is bird watching so special all over the world, and especially in Costa Rica?
In addition to a multitude of interesting aspects of bird behavior, such as the example cited above, I believe the answer lies in the great diversity of birds, not only in terms of number of species — around 9800 worldwide — but also diversity of habitat, being found in places as different as the polar caps, tropical rainforests, deserts, far out to sea, and even the very center of large cities. Their diversity in appearance is equally extreme, some being colorful, others drab, and some so well camouflaged as to be nearly invisible. Many birds have a melodious song, some are downright obnoxious, and others mute. Some soar high above the ground floating listlessly on thermal currents, some fly like stunt planes, others streak through the sky like fighter jets, and some are flightless. Their sizes range from that of the tiniest humming bird, only slightly larger than a bumble bee and weighing no more than a couple of paper clips (1.95 grams,) to the enormous Andean Condor with a wing span of 3.4 meters (11 feet) and a weight of over 14 kilos (30 pounds.) Even larger is the Ostrich which can reach a height of 2.7 meters (9 feet,) a weight of 155 kilos (340 pounds,) and, though flightless, can run at speeds of up to 70 kph, (43 mph.) Birds, in all their extremes, are fascinating, and for that reason bird watching attracts more enthusiasts every year.
Another reason that people love to observe, identify, list and count birds is that for over a century the American Audubon Society has diligently gathered, organized and disseminated information about them. One of the best known activities of the society is the Christmas Bird Count (CBC.) This tradition actually began as a bird hunt with competition between different groups of hunters to see who could kill the most birds on Christmas day. In the year 1900, the activity was taken over by the Audubon Society and converted into a bird census, with different teams counting in different areas. The purpose of the CBC, as it is practiced today, is to gather information about bird species in many locations throughout the Americas. It is probably the most effective tool for bird monitoring that has ever been devised.
Our local bird count in the area around Hacienda Baru is called the Path of the Tapir annual bird count. It takes place in an area that extends from the mouth of the Hatillo Viejo River, south to the mouth of the Morete River in Uvita, and from the coast about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) inland to the other side of the Tinamastes Ridge. The altitude ranges from sea level to 1300 meters (4225 feet.) The habitats represented include sea shore, river mouth, river bank, mangrove estuary, wetland, pasture, farm land, secondary forest, primary forest and swamp forest. This diversity in terrain adds up to a lot of different birds, both in species and individuals. The count for the entire area, in any given year, usually falls between 350 and 395 species. The largest count was in 2009 with 393 species identified. In the nine years since the first Path of the Tapir CBC, on January 3, 2003, a total of 488 species of birds have been identified within the entire count area.
In addition to being a great stimulus to bird watching in Costa Rica and this region, the Christmas Bird Count is an effective and accurate method of gathering and compiling useful and interesting information about our feathered friends. And, all of us birders are pleased to know that, in spite of a great deal of damage to some natural areas, the result of uncontrolled development in past years, there are still plenty of birds to watch in the Path of the Tapir.
Early Birds and Early Birders
Back when I was a kid, more years ago than I care to remember, our family lived near a park with a big, beautiful lawn. I remember seeing red-breasted robins plucking worms out of that lawn, and always imagined that that old saying about the early bird getting the worm was written about those robins. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t an early riser in those days, and have no way of knowing if robins got more worms in the early morning or not, but they got plenty of them during the rest of the day. In my ripe old age I have become an early riser. In Costa Rica, I have never seen a bird eat a worm at any time of day, but I can assure you that they do start their days early, and early birders definitely see more birds.
This morning, shortly after daybreak, I went outside with my binoculars and scanned the area near the house. During a leisurely ten-minute walk around the yard I identified nine species of birds, the most exciting of which was a Tropical Screech Owl asleep in a tree. Owls, of course, aren’t “early birds,” rather they are “night owls,” and sleep all day. There was also a flock of orange-chinned parakeets noisily waking up, several species of flycatchers and doves, a woodpecker, and a palm tanager. A half hour later, with the sun peeking over the tall trees, I went out for another ten minutes, and added four more species to my list for the day. These early morning hours almost always yield the most diversity of bird life. I had searched for a total of around twenty minutes, in an area limited to our yard, and had come up with 13 different species. I tried it again at noon, and got only three species in twenty minutes, one of which was a black vulture circling overhead. After 3:30 in the afternoon bird activity tends to pick up again, and I usually see five or six species on a ten-minute walk from my house to the office. All of this is during the good birding season.
The best birding season is right now. November through March, the time when the northern migrants are here, around 200 of them. In all of Costa Rica, not counting Cocos Island, there are about 600 year around resident species. The Asociación Ornithológico de Costa Rica officially lists 857 species, including the migrants, on the mainland and 19 species on Cocos Island. Another 17 species have been identified here at one time or another, but were considered to be here by accident, and can’t be counted as true species of Costa Rica. These might include birds that people had in captivity and later released into the wild, or perhaps a bird that blew in with a storm. It is also interesting to note that this total of 893 species for tiny Costa Rica is more than the total number of species identified in all of the mainland United States and Canada combined.
One morning last August, I was going about my morning chores when I heard a strange sound, krwa-krwa-krwa-krwa, coming for outside the house, so strange that our dogs ran outside barking. I grabbed my binoculars and followed. In the leafless top of a cecropia tree perched a bird I had never seen before. It was a dark, metalic green, had a long curved bill and a body that resembled that of a common water bird called the white ibis. After retreiving my bird book I quickly determined that I was looking at the green ibis (Plegadis chihi,) a bird found on the Caribbean side of the country, and not very common even there. It was very strange indeed to find it here on the Pacific coast. My luck held and it stayed put long enough for me to get a couple of photos. It was a new bird for my lifetime list and a new bird for Hacienda Barú.
All birders make lists, daily lists, yearly lists, trip lists, and lifetime lists. At Hacienda Barú we have been identifying bird species for the last 26 years, and in that time have made definite identifications of 363 species. That is our lifetime list, and we still add one or two new species to it each year. So far in 2012, we have positive sightings on the green ibis, already mentioned, and the shiny cow bird, another species usually seen only on the Caribbean.
Bird watchers who come to Costa Rica for the first time add many new species to their lifetime lists. Bird Watchers come from all over the world. One of my first experiences as a guide was with some birders from England. I was the guide, but they taught me a great deal more than I taught them. The British are very serious about their birding and are really good at it. In addition we have hosted birders from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Japan, and China. When the couple from South Africa made their reservation the lady asked if there was a chance of seeing a hummingbird during their stay. I told her she could stay for free if she didn’t see at least one hummingbird every day while she was here. She wasn’t disappointed. We have 18 different species of hummingbirds at the Baru National Wildlife Refuge.
Are you ready to try it? All you need is a pair of binoculars and a bird book. Just start looking at birds and identifying them. Each new bird goes on your lifetime list. The more you learn about them the more enthralled you will be. Let me warn you though, bird watching is addictive.