It’s difficult to tell whether the fog is coming from the mountain mist or from somewhere underneath my heavy eyelids. It’s approximately 6:00 am and I’m standing in dew-dabbled grass, gazing through misty binoculars, a toothy grin stamped upon my face.
The first bird of the day has just been spotted. UGA Costa Rica Monthly Bird Count day has arrived!
Each month, in addition to scheduled morning bird watching with guests, naturalists and bird watchers alike devote an entire day to exploring the campus canopy for birds… and exercising their neck muscles.
There are two main reasons for the nine-year-old tradition.
The first: spending a day with folks familiar with the birds of Costa Rica – colors, calls and all — is great training. The monthly birding tours are usually led by a Monteverde native or veteran tourists – all knowledgeable bird watching enthusiasts, nonetheless – and is, as a result, a learning experience for UGA Costa Rica resident naturalists, who are persistently practicing bird identification.
The second reason for the monthly bird count is to maintain a long-term data set of bird species flocking to and around the San Luis, Monteverde region. These monthly snapshots could be used to study trends, patterns, and anomalies regarding both cloud forest dwelling and migratory birds.
For instance, in 2006, when the count was inaugurated, the melodious blackbird, Dives dives, was occasionally spotted in the San Luis cemetery. Now, it’s among the top ten most commonly seen birds around campus.
How does it work? Birdwatchers wander and hike the trails surrounding UGA Costa Rica’s campus identifying every bird with which they cross paths. A designated note-taker jots down what others have spotted and proceeds to tally any additional finds of the same species.
And to maximize their efficiency, of course the crew brings the essentials: binoculars, spotting scopes, and bird books.
Resident naturalist Louise Beveridge relishes the bonding that comes with the group birding activity. Naturalists spend much of their days leading tours and scheduling with guests individually; therefore, spending time doing one activity together is rare.
Becoming a birding fanatic doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Beveridge wasn’t the biggest fan of birding when she first came to intern at UGA Costa Rica. “I didn’t like birding when I got here, I found it overwhelming. There are over 800 species of birds in Costa Rica. Where do you start?” Beveridge says.
But after spending some time entering the tedious bird count data, she not only grew familiar with certain species, descriptions, and calls but also grew to love it. Eventually, enjoyment swept over her initial anxiety.
Nowadays she’s up before breakfast each morning, meandering throughout campus with eyes glued upwards.
Let’s take a peek at some of the birds that she, along with other naturalists, identified during the Thursday, April 23rd Bird Count.
The bird which racked up the highest amount of sightings was the national bird of Costa Rica: the clay-colored robin! Twenty-nine of this species, Turdus grayi, were counted around campus. The bird has typical robin behavior, hopping around the ground, and can be distinguished from other Costa Rican robins by its yellow-green bill. The clay-colored robin is common throughout the majority of the country, and is recognized by its persistent whistles from the months of March to June.
Arguably the rarest find of the day was the magenta-throated woodstar. Calliphlox bryantae. This male hummingbird has a longer tail than most, with white patches on both sides of his rear and a characteristic magenta-colored throat. Although magenta-throated woodstars typically feed on low-growing flowers, they often perch high in the canopy on leafless twigs, exactly where this little guy was spotted.
Another great find was the montezuma oropendola, Psarocolius montezuma. Although most commonly distinguished either by its call or bright-yellow tail, its defining characteristics are colorful facial markings and a two-toned bill. A fun fact about this species is that it is a colonial breeder. A dominant male mates with most of the females within a colony, which consists of an average of 30 teardrop-shaped dangling nests, built from vines and twigs – quite the sight to see!
And the Montezuma oropendola has a metallic-like call that appears to almost knock it off its feet! Take a listen:
Check our more photos from the April Bird Count on our Facebook page!
Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern