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Open Mic: Diving Back into Birding at Sarapiqui

At the Mic: Jen Hajj, Specialty Group Travel Consultant at Holbrook Travel

Last November, I took my first birding trip to Costa Rica. I had been there before, long ago, with a college group. The academic trip was an introduction to the different regions and wildlife of the area, but it wasn’t a birding trip. I was one of only two or three birders in the group. When we would ask “what was that?” the response from our leader was often a shrug. My recent trip, however, was a great chance for me to see everything and have it interpreted by real birders.  Everyone on the trip was a birder. I was ready to dive in, learn something from the guides and other birders, and work on my life list. I was excited.

But I was nervous, too. I was not sure I could handle a whole BIRDING TRIP. I’ve been a birder for years, but I had never gone on an international trip just to bird. I’d been on single-day field trips before with my local Audubon chapter, and knew that I sometimes could come home tired. I had also done international culture trips with intense schedules that left me feeling like I needed a vacation after my vacation. This was bound to stretch me on several fronts. I was not sure I was ready to bird my brains out.

Well, I did bird my brains out. And it was fantastic.

I’ll share a few highlights from my trip.

On the road to Selva Verde Lodge, we stopped below the La Paz Waterfall Gardens to see if we could find the Torrent Tyrannulet that had been seen there. Our group (about 20 strong) searched high and low but could not find it. One member of the group (was it the ABA’s Bill Stewart?) clambered over the rocks by the side of the road to get closer to the water’s edge, and he saw it. Pretty soon, we were all going over the edge to catch a glimpse of this white marshmallow of a bird, bopping around the rocks at the base of the falls.

We stayed at Selva Verde Lodge, which was most comfortable. The places I had stayed in my student trip were rustic, and that was sort of what I expected on this trip. Not so. The Lodge was lovely, with covered pathways, a pool, and spacious rooms.  The staff was friendly and bent over backwards for us. The education center, which offers classes to the local community, even loaned me a ukulele for the week.

Each morning, the staff spread out a buffet of fresh fruits for the birds. I selected my perch with a birdfeeder view and enjoyed the morning show. It was a parade of tanagers, toucans, aracaris, and more, and I didn’t have to do much more than lift my binoculars.

We took a boat trip on the Puerto Viejo River. Birds don’t seem to be too perturbed by boats, so we got great views of birds doing what they do all day. We played a game of “spot the motmot” (there was a beer riding on the outcome). We came around a bend and saw a beautiful Olivaceous Cormorant, sunning itself on the shore. It was spectacular.

We spent a very early morning at La Selva Biological Station, just a short drive from the Lodge. Our group broke into smaller groups and set off in different directions. Everywhere we looked there was something I had never seen before. We came down a dark path and saw a large, black bird, framed by the lush vegetation. A guan? What is that? Our guide clarified the sighting as a Bare-necked Umbrellabird. She was visibly moved. “We don’t get those very often.”

We did most of our birding in the mornings and came back to the lodge for classroom presentations in the afternoons. These were fascinating and enlightening talks, giving us a grander perspective of the bigger picture.  We learned about the wildlife corridors in the area, why these forests are important for biodiversity, and about programs that help young people in the region learn how to guide. Of course, the presentations got interrupted every time a bird flew by the picture window. At one point, a small troop of howler monkeys sauntered through.

Even though our days were packed with excursions, there was still time to relax. I found a comfy hammock and listened to the sounds around me: insects, frogs, the calls of Great Green Macaws, and the grunts and howls of monkeys. Pretty soon, I was birding by ear in my sleep.

We went on a night hike which was a little scary and wonderful all at the same time. The moon was out, which made it a little less unnerving, and I had my flashlight. Our guide took us along the trails that wind through the grounds of Selva Verde. There were crazy big millipedes, we saw a small possum, and at the top of a tall tree, a Great Potoo!

Oh, and the birders! I made friends on this trip, and have had the opportunity to visit some of them since. I now have new friends to bird with when I travel in the US.

My fears that I would exhaust myself were unfounded. I had the time of my life, and came home with an impressive list with many new lifers. Just one regret: I wish I had taken more pictures of the amazing things I saw. But the images and stories in my head will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Wanna go to Costa Rica? The ABA Rally will follow a similar itinerary. Get more information and sign up here!


Happening NOW: The midsummer nocturnal molt migration of eastbound Chipping Sparrows

Note: “Happening NOW” is a series of occasional posts about avian “S&D” (status and distribution) on the continent. “Happening NOW” posts are brought to you by the editors of North American Birds (NAB), the quarterly journal of ornithological record published by the ABA. To learn more about NAB or to subscribe, please visit aba.org/north-american-birds.


It’s 4:36 a.m. on a muggy Monday morning in the Denver suburbs. Laptop in lap, I’m sitting outside on the back patio, working on file management for vol. 70, nos. 3 & 4, a combo issue, of North American Birds. It’s still 37 minutes till the commencement of civil twilight, more than an hour before sunrise.

A Chipping Sparrow migrates over Lafayette, Colorado. The author recorded this flight call from the back patio of his suburban backyard.

Then I hear it, a single, sharp, piercing call in the darkness: seen! It’s the flight call of a Chipping Sparrow, my FOS (“first of season”). The date is July 16, 2018; the bird is right on schedule. I’ve written before in this venue about mid-summer Chipping Sparrows where I live in Colorado, so I’ll be brief. Here goes. The species does not breed here. But it undergoes a midsummer nocturnal molt migration, starting around mid-July, with a decent trickle of the birds passing east directly over my rooftop.

I’ve had a proper understanding of this phenomenon for well over a decade now, but I’m still in awe of it. I grew up back East, where I “knew” that Chipping Sparrows don’t begin to migrate in earnest till early October. I had absolutely no idea that there was this sustained eastbound nocturnal migration across the western High Plains in frickin’ July.

How did I learn about this? In part, I would say, by being a devotee of North American Birds, the quarterly journal of avian “S&D” (short for status & distribution). As far as I am aware, the journal has never featured an article on the midsummer nocturnal molt migration of Chipping Sparrows, but that’s beside the point. The point is, The journal’s emphasis on S&D has inspired me and thousands of other readers to notice and wonder about bird populations.

Talk about “Happening NOW”! (That’s the title of this occasional series of posts to The ABA Blog.) Listening to nocturnal migration places me “in the present moment,” as the saying goes, more than any other birding experience I can think of. Hence this post. Now wouldn’t it be cool if phenomena like this one could be described more formally in North American Birds?

Answer: Yes, it would! Journal Editors Mike Hudson and Tom Reed and I, in consultation with S&D experts Tony Leukering and Paul Lehman, have been in discussion about overhauling the journal so as to emphasize short communications about recent and even ongoing population phenomena. (The regional reports would still be there, by the way, although perhaps transitioning to the electronic realm.) A key feature of these communications would be their timeliness; rapid review would be essential, and we’re playing around with the idea of electronic preprints followed by print publication soon thereafter.

What’s “Happening NOW” in your neck of the woods? Please use the COMMENTS section, below, to let us know.


Blog Birding #371

At 10,000 Birds, Jason Crotty reviews eBird’s new protocols for National Wildlife Refuges.

For anyone visiting a refuge with multiple hotspots (e.g., most refuges), the new functionality allows one to easily create a bar chart for the entire refuge. There is no longer a need to manually include each hotspot that is specifically identified as [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: July 13, 2018

Continuing birds in the ABA Area includes still-present Tamaulipas Crows (ABA Code 4) in Texas, a pair of Tufted Flycatchers (4) in Arizona, and Little Egrets staying put in both Maine and Newfoundland.

A Zenaida Dove (5) in Miami-Dade, not far from the city of Miami and far inland from where the Caribbean species is [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: A Life in Raptors with Jerry Liguori

Hawk-watchers are easily the most established sub-groups within the birding community, and the hawk-watching community in North America is close-knit and passionate. One of its undisputed authorities is Jerry Liguori of Salt Lake City, Utah, the author of Hawks at a Distance and Hawks from Every Angle, two of the most influential family-specific field [read more…]

#ABArare – Zenaida Dove – Florida.

On July 8, Alex Lamoreaux discovered an ABA Code 5 Zenaida Dove among a flock of Mourning Doves in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Unusual for Zenaida Dove, this bird was seen well inland. It does suggest that this species might be more common than records suggest, and easily overlooked in places where it has not historically [read more…]

Support Birders and Birding – Buy Your 2018 Duck Stamp Through the ABA!

For the last few years, we at the ABA made the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, known far and wide as the Duck Stamp, available through our own store. We hoped this would give birders an opportunity to vote, as it were, for how they want their voices to be heard as consumers of [read more…]

Blog Birding #370

Dave Brown of Birding Newfoundland shares some tips on identifying sparrows, one of the most intimidating groups of birds in North America but not terribly difficult once you know what to look for.

I’ve seen lots of photos posted in the last month or two of various species of Sparrows and people asking, ‘what sparrow [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: July 6, 2018

It’s hot, and not in the fun, bird-producing way. This week saw holidays in both the US and Canada which typically offer a little bump in terms of potentially find interesting birds, but the avian activity seemed as hesitant to move in the heat as many birders. Or maybe it’s just the midsummer. In any [read more…]

Birder’s Guide to Travel Online NOW!

The 2018 issue of Birder’s Guide to Travel should be in the hands of ABA members by now, but if not you can see the entirety of this issue of Birder’s Guide right now. Simply click here. (Birder’s Guide is just one of the free resources that the ABA provides to the birding public.)

[read more…]

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