I must the only birder on the planet to have turned down the opportunity to visit this ecological paradise not once, not even twice but FIVE times! You may think that I needed my head tested. Perhaps you are right. But I am a principled man. My previous invitations invariably involved racing around the country at break-neck speed to collect the highest number of species for the sake of looking good amongst peers. That certainly wasn’t and still isn’t my scene. I wanted to experience this country, or any other for that matter, at a measured pace so that I could at least remember where I had been and some of the birds. The very popularity of Costa Rica amongst my birding colleagues was also off putting. Life is short and I want to spend time in the places that others didn’t visit. Well, that was my rationale.
So, when I received an invitation to be part of a press group visiting Costa Rica it hit the right chord. Although last minute, the itinerary seemed to be a measured circular route from the central highlands down and around to the Pacific coast and back up to our starting point in the capital, San Jose. So I was on board, ready to have my mind blown. Now, I am not going to give you a blow-by-blow recollection of the itinerary. That has been done a million times before, especially when it comes to Costa Rica. No, instead I will give you a random series of brief recollections of a few the birds that stood out for me.
Groove-billed Ani Crotophaga sulcirostris
The cuckoo’s ugly sister I found this bird to be a fascinating creature to observe. To my untrained European eyes, it often resembled a grackle when glanced flying away to disappear within some bushes. But they always characteristically hung out in groups sitting awkwardly on branches and posts. I saw these birds all over the country even in the scrubland near the airport. Apparently, anis stink. An adaptation to protect them from predators, I hear. I never got close enough to take a whiff!
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker Melanerpes hoffmannii
I will never forget my excitement at glimpsing my first example of this species. The group and I were near the Tarcoles River close to the Pacific Coast in a wooded and mosquito ridden area searching for Mangrove Vireo, that we eventually saw. The woodpecker was almost deemed as an also ran, but I was secretly captured by its beauty.
Black-thighed Grosbeak Pheucticus tibialis
Like a lot of the birds that I discovered in Costa Rica this finch was hiding in plain sight. We were too busy scouring the treetops for shadowy furtive avian figures to initially notice this fine male sat right out in the open. I was struck by its bright yellow plumage. It was a species that I wasn’t aware of before clapping eyes on it.
Brown Violetear Colibri delphinae
Now, I could write at least three separate blogs on the hummers of Costa Rica. Some are utterly stunning in plumage whilst other are just straight up characters. The Brown ‘Violent-ear’, as I like to call them, is one such species. They are so violent! I love watching them at feeders. They just totally boss the joint driving all the other hummers away!
American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus
But the bird of the trip for me was not the Resplendent Quetzal, or some rarely seen denizen of the forest or one of the other hundreds of species lurking in Costa Rica for that matter. It was this sexy dipper! I know that they are found in North American and even bear the word ‘American’ in their name but this species had eluded me for all of my life. Not that I was particularly looking for them in the States, it was however, my main target bird when we were staying at Trogon Lodge. The moment we discovered a pair in the river, right at the last minute as we were preparing to leave for our next destination, I whooped with joy.
They are quite different to the Dipper that I know and love in Britain and Europe. They are leggier with that beautiful grey look that they sport. It was easily my favourite bird of Costa Rica.
So, if you ever doubted going to Costa Rica don’t be like me. Grab the opportunity with both hands on your Leica binoculars bring your camera and chant the words that nobody says there unless you work in the tourism industry – Pura Vida!
Many thanks to Chris Larsen (Blue Sky Wildlife), Michel Aranda S (Neo Travel), Abelardo Benavides & Visit Costa Rica