Costa Rica: The Familiar and the New

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It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how often I visit Costa Rica, including places I have seen and been to many times, there is always something new to see and do. A perfect example of this is the wildlife. Costa Rica’s biodiversity is famous around the world. One small portion of the country, the Osa Peninsula, is home to 2.5% of the worlds entire biodiversity and is described as 'one of the most biologically intense places on earth' by Natural Geographic Magazine. With biodiversity like this, you never know exactly what your will find on a morning hike through giant trees in the cloud forests or on a night walk with an orchestra of insects.

During my time exploring this wild landscape, I have seen wild Tapirs roam in search of vegetation to eat; pairs of Resplendent Quetzals feasting on avocados; Glass Frogs protecting their nests of tadpoles; an Ocelot sneaking across a jungle path in the spotlight of my head lamp; and Antbirds feasting on the fleeing creatures stirred up by army ants on the war path. In a landscape such as this it is impossible to see everything in one trip which is why returning is always so exciting.

There are also sights in Costa Rica that no matter how many times you see them, you cannot help but to be completely fascinated with the experience. The volcanic eruptions and lava flows of the Arenal Volcano are case in point. No matter how many times I have pulled up a chair with a nice glass of wine and camera in hand to watch the volcano’s nightly molten performances, it is still a site that amazes me every time and keeps me in suspense. The lush cloud forests of Monteverde Biological Reserve are also always well worth a visit. As you might expect in a place like Monteverde, birds are so numerous they are dripping from the trees and spotting new species with each visit is not difficult to accomplish. Species such as Resplendent Quetzals, Emerald Toucanettes and Black Guans which can be difficult to spot can be consistently observed in Monteverde. While species such as Grey-Breasted Wood-Wrens, Three-Wattled Bellbirds and Black-Faced Solitaires are heard calling throughout the forest during the nesting season.

I believe that there are also some wildlife spectacles that are exciting and interesting whether you are watching them for the first or the one-thousandth time. The Montezuma Oropendola in northern Costa Rica is a fairly commonly observed species. Watching this species display, swinging upside down on a tree branch, feathers ruffled while loudly belting out its strange and complex song, is still fascinating each and every time I see it. I also still get the same birding rush when I observe the Great Curassow in the wild. I have probably observed this turkey like bird over a 100 times, yet is still a magical experience every time I see one. Do you have a similar experience? Perhaps hearing the first Robin song each spring reminds you that the migration has well begun and will soon reach your doorstep.

While the familiar can be counted on to deliver a reliably great experience, trying something new and different has its benefits. In addition to visiting the rainforests, highlands and cloud forests, during my most recent tour of Costa Rica, I decided to try something new. The dry forests and wetlands of Guanacaste in the Northwest offer the chance to see a wide variety of birds and wildlife specific to this habitat, which is what drew us to this unique place. For those who have travelled to the lush rainforests in other parts of the country, Guanacaste feels like a completely different country as it is dry, dusty and hot. Air conditioning is a luxury here and when we stepped outside of our temperature controlled vehicle we realized how different this place is just based on the climate alone. While we were there the daily temperatures peaked at scorching 45°C! However if you can withstand the heat and dust, you will be rewarded with some great lifers to add to your list. The vast wetlands of this region are one of the best places to spot the rare Jabiru Stork, both Fulvous and Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, Wood Storks and several species of heron including Tricoloured Herons and Snowy Egrets. When I first arrived to our destination, a biological research station in the heart of one of the largest wetlands in the country, I was greeted by not one but two Turquoise-Crowed Motmots, a family of three Double-Striped Thick-Knees (parents and chick), a troop of Groove Billed Anis and several Inca Doves. We also spotted Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, Crested Guans, Crested Caracaras, Pale-Billed Woodpeckers, Laughing Falcons, Streaked-Backed Orioles, Mangrove Cuckoos and White-Lored Gnatcatchers. Perhaps my favourite sighting occurred early one morning as I ventured out of my cabin on my way to breakfast. I startled a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl who was about 7 feet from me clinging to a tree at eye level. This is one of the smallest owls I have seen (roughly 6 inches in length) and is active both night and day. In addition to birds, we spotted 2 species of monkeys (Capuchin and Howlers), Central American Agouties, White-Faced Coatis, Collard Peccaries and several Black Iguana’s. The lifers I added to my list and the experience of exploring somewhere new and different was greatly rewarding and I cannot wait until my next visit!

What originally brought me to Costa Rica was the promise of natural treasures and what keeps me coming back is the exciting experiences, both familiar and new, that awaits you around every corner!

Check-out our video of Costa Rican birds to view some of the species that can be observed and join us on our next tour of Costa Rica to add some of these species to your list.

Happy Birding!


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