During a recent trip to Costa Rica, and near the end of our stay at the Cabinas, we were finally able to meet and visit with Paul and Gloria Yeatman at their home in San Ramón. We had been following the Yeatman’s “Retire for Less in Costa Rica” newsletter for a few years. Realizing that the Yeatmans had lived at the Cabinas for four years, who better to seek advice prior to our impending six week stay? Gloria in particular had been very helpful answering many of our questions. It was nice to be able to put faces to familiar names!
Scanning the surrounding landscape with our binoculars from the deck of their home while calling out bird names, we were surprised when Paul informed us, “You are the first birdwatchers I’ve ever met”! Really? Paul and Gloria are not exactly the sedentary stay-at-home types, meeting and corresponding with folks from all walks of life. So it was more than a little surprising to hear Paul’s admission. Of course, we took the opportunity to fill them in on what bird watching means to the Costa Rican economy.
Costa Rica annually attracts thousands of bird watchers from all over the world. For them it’s all about the birds. Well, mostly about the birds. Let’s face it – the coffee is incredible, as well as the food. And the climate and scenery aren’t anything to sneeze at either! Along the way we have become pretty well educated as to where the best margaritas are to be had (hey, remember – it’s not ALL about the birding!)
We explained that Costa Rica boasts over 900 species of birds including 6 endemics (birds only found in Costa Rica). Beginning in 2004, we have to date, brought seven birding groups to the land of Pura Vida. We’ve traversed through the Caribbean and Pacific lowland forests and beaches, the dry forests of Guanacaste, been chilled at the top of Cerro de la Muertes, and sweltered in the Osa Pennisula. We’ve stayed in dozens of lodges, and trekked through most of the country’s national parks and nature reserves. Over a fifteen-year period, our groups have probably seen more of Costa Rica than most Ticos.
With no shortage of avian wildlife, Costa Rica has no shortage of qualified and competent bird guides. We’ve been privileged to meet many. However, for all of our birding trips we’ve relied solely upon Richard Garrigues, the author of the popular field guide, “The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide,” now in its 2nd edition. Think of Richard as “the Paul Yeatman of the Costa Rica birding world.” Not only knowledgeable about Costa Rica’s flora and fauna, Richard also knows almost every nook and cranny where to find it, and, he’s happy to share his knowledge.
Our birding tours usually last between twelve and fourteen days. To maximize our time we spend just a day or two in multiple locations, which means we move around a lot. Mainly in a coaster bus, but at times by boat and the occasional in-country plane ride. Some days can be long, beginning in the early morning hours and extending to the early evening. This is typically what most birders experience when they are on a bird tour.
Part of the charm of being at the Cabinas offered us a departure from the norm. Over a six week period, we would meet and observe our Cabinas neighborhood birds at our leisure, something we otherwise wouldn’t be able to when rushing from one eco-lodge to another.
Our human Cabina neighbors probably thought we were a bit crazy at first (some may still think so!) They rarely saw us without our binoculars as we made near daily hikes around the property. We started placing fresh papaya, pina, and bananas on two tree stumps in our yard to attract our tropical feathered friends. In no time at all, we started to field questions from our fellow Cabinas inhabitants about identifying birds. “What has brown and white feathers and sounds something like this (insert imitation of a bird call).”
Our near daily hikes around the Cabinas property tallied a wide variety of species in all manner of shapes, sizes and colors. Just to name a few: long-tailed manakin, blue-crowned motmot, Montezuma Oropendula, buff-throated saltator, four species of wrens, white-eared ground sparrow, gray-necked wood-rail, black-mandibled toucan. All in all, at the end of our six week stay, we had logged seventy-six bird species. Several of the species were photographed and or video recorded. Cesar Carrillo, the Cabinas property manager, knew there were were interesting birds on the property but even he was amazed as to the number and variety.
A few days before we left, we were invited to present a short program of our video clips and photos. It was gratifying to see how much our interest in birds had rubbed off, and how much our neighbors had been drawn into paying attention to the surrounding flora and fauna. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been looking…but for the first time, they were now seeing. The day before we left, one of our neighbors excitedly shared his experience of placing papaya on a tree stump. Within minutes, a blue-crowned motmot landed to feed. “I’ve seen them before at a distance, but now, seeing one so close…Oh! The colors!”
We’re reminded of a quote by Aldo Leopold, American author, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist:
“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet not captured by language.”
There are many reasons to love Costa Rica. The climate, the food, and the beaches. Just perhaps, though, some of those reasons you hadn’t been directly aware of could very well be lingering in the foliage around your home. All you have to do is take the time to observe that which is in your own backyard or park.
If we have piqued your curiosity into observing your feathered neighbors more closely, may we suggest a field guide: Richard Garrigues’s field guide will make an excellent companion. Small enough to sit on the table next to your chair. You know. The same table you use for that early morning cup of coffee or tea, or late afternoon cocktail. And perhaps you might consider acquiring a decent pair of binoculars? Both the binoculars and field guide can easily be transported as you move about your neighborhood, your town and beyond.
If you have any questions beyond this elementary article, please feel free to ask.
Tom and Carol Sykes