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Dreaming Big - Costa Rica Planning Part 1

posted by Tim Avery at
on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 

If you are a birder there is one place you must go during your lifetime--Costa Rica.

I have dreamed of going there for some time and in 2008 started rough planning for a trip. However, several things fell through and the trip never materialized. At the time I purchased The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean and started learning the birds I planned to look for. The trip was going to be self guided and therefore knowing the birds was a must. Learning some 500-600 new species without ever setting foot in the tropics is quite the task, and I had barely started when I put the book on the shelf where it sat for more than 2 years.

Then last May I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and after saying yes, and putting off most of the planning for a few months we started to put things together in the fall of 2010. As winter hit northern Utah we knew we had to make a decision on where to go for our honeymoon and the top of my list was of course--Costa Rica. Now I know the honeymoon isn't a birding trip, and I will be sharing the trip with someone who isn't an avid birder, so that means planning my birding to be as concise as possible. That means making the most out of the time I do go birding while there, to maximize the number of species I will see.

So in early December the book was back off the shelve and has been a constant in the living room, at the kitchen table, in the car, in bed, and pretty much anywhere else when I have free time to study and learn. As we finalized the locations we are going to stay I was able to narrow the species I might encounter down to 450 or so (this is the "dreaming big" portion of the post title). This is pretty much every species that is known to occur during June in the areas we will be traveling--from rare to abundant. Oh, to be more specific, that's 450 life birds--I didn't count anything I have already seen, as I don't need to learn those birds.

So 450 species and 4 and a half months to learn. With a good start I have about 150-200 species names basic field marks memorized--or as memorized as I plan on having them. More importantly I am learning the families and groups to help narrow down those I don't recognize when and if I see them so that I can study them enough to check the guide and verify what I saw. From this list I am working out a spreadsheet with the species abundance, habitat type, elevation type, and any other important notes. From there I am going to create lists of what I could see an where. I also picked up A bird-Finding Guide to Costa Rica by Barret Larson on Amazon.com today. This should help me as well.

Of course I do have plans to hire a guide or two at a couple of locations to help in my endeavor, but I am not a birder who wants someone else to ID the birds for me. I want to know what I am seeing and be able to name it on my own--so this learning experience is an important part of the trip. With that I will end this post as it has dragged on--but over the next couple months I will post a couple more pieces on the planning and prep as I get ready to make my first trip outside of the United States to one of the most bio-diverse places in the world!

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Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

I can't wait to see the photos and hear the details!

When I was there, I found myself wishing I had studied the female-type hummingbirds better. The views are often so fleeting, and the field marks so subtle. But if you can recognize Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, which is not sexually dimorphic, you can identify 90% of what you'll see. On the other side of the coin, I spent more time on raptors than I should've. As a group they are diverse but rare, and I only saw a handful of them. Plus, when you see them, they are often either perched and waiting for you to study them, or soaring overhead slowly.

If you're not already using Xeno-Canto to learn the bird songs, you should be. (www.xeno-canto.org)

January 19, 2011 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

I can't wait to start snapping away! It's going to be photo overload.

The hummingbirds should be interesting--we are going to one location that attracts more than 25 species. I have a bunch of the males down but need to study the females more.

I think the biggest challenge is going to be the flycatchers and other LBBs--that and the songs and calls. I think that is the area I am most worried about. Here in Utah it's easy to memorize a handful of songs for each habitat and keep those in mind. But going into the jungle where there are so many species that use the same habitats it seem overwhelming. I am working on putting together a playlist from various sources of the songs and calls I can find (xeno-canto will help). I am also thinking about buying a digital recorder to record sounds I am not sure of and can't locate, so that I can hook it up to my speaker and play it back in real time. I have heard that others have had success with this, so it might be a good tactic.

Still, it is definitely a lot to take in.

January 20, 2011 at 12:45 PM  

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