Birding Club to Teach Newbies the Basics

January 9, 2009

One inescapable fact of living in Costa Rica is that wherever you go, be it the middle of downtown San José or the wilds of the Southern Zone’s OsaPeninsula, you are going to hear birds, you are going to see birds and, sooner or later, you are going to wonder, “What the heck is the name of that bird?”

For more than 15 years, the Birding Club of Costa Rica, a group of amateur bird-lovers, has crisscrossed the country, searching for birds and learning how to identify them.

The club is open to anyone interested in birds. You don’t have to be an expert – most club members aren’t. That’s why the club hires top-notch English-speaking guides to lead monthly bird-watching expeditions.

In the past few years, club members have traveled to Bosque del Río Tigre Lodge, on the edge of Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula; Tiskita Jungle Lodge, near the Panamanian border; Wilson Botanical Garden, near the Southern Zone town of San Vito; and Rancho Naturalista, near the Caribbean slope town of Turrialba – all world-renowned birding hot spots. The club also organizes easy day trips close to San José, where most members live, birding on the slopes of Irazú Volcano, the dirt roads around La Virgen del Socorro and the forests of the Barva Volcano sector of BraulioCarrilloNational Park.

If you have ever thought about giving birding a try, here’s your chance. On Jan. 17, the club will be hosting “The Basics of Birding,” a binoculars-on seminar by the pond on the University for Peace (UPEACE) grounds near Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José.

Club newsletter editor and experienced bird guide Patrick O’Donnell will be teaching the birding basics: how to “see” with binoculars, where to look for birds and what “markers” help you identify a bird in the field. Then, after a break for muffins and coffee, newcomers will set off on the UPEACE trails, accompanied by experienced birders, to see what they can spot. Afterwards, it’s off to a nearby farm for a gourmet barbecue lunch.

The only catch to being a bird-watcher: Like the early bird that catches the worm, you have to get up early to catch the birds. The course starts at 7 a.m. Be sure to bring binoculars, a notepad and good walking shoes.

The cost of the course and barbecue is $20. To reserve, contact Lyn Statten by Jan. 10 at lynfred@racsa.co.cr or 2282-1146.

 

Birth of a Birder

Like many northern city dwellers, the only birds I could identify in my native Canada were blue jays (I confess to being from Toronto), cardinals, red-breasted robins, house sparrows, starlings … and pigeons.

But when I moved to Costa Rica nine years ago, I was fascinated by the variety of brilliant-colored birds. I had never before held a pair of good binoculars in my hands, and I had never seen myself as the birder type. But within a year, I was hooked.

I’m still no expert, but thanks to excellent guides and birding friends, I now have a “birds seen” list of more than 600 species. I never tire of setting off on a trail, excited about what birds will pop up along the way. When I can actually identify the bird myself, I am thrilled. And when an unfamiliar bird appears or calls, I want to know what it is.

I try not to be what the British call a “twitcher,” obsessive about lists and competitive about spotting new species – although there was that green shrikevireo that eluded me for years, until my best bird friend, Liz Jones of Bosque del Río Tigre Lodge, led me to the tree where “Dorothy’s bird,” as she called it, finally revealed itself.

–Dorothy MacKinnon

 

 

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