American Birding Podcast



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!