Birdwatching in Costa Rica for the Holidays | SpanishDict Answers
28 Vote

¡Hola a todos!

My wife and I returned from our three-week birdwatching trip in Costa Rica. We saw and did nearly everything I hoped for.

On this thread I will share some stories and photos.

To begin, I will summarize my favorite highlight of experience with Spanish, recently posted at the Isla de Apoyo. I will add reply posts to this thread as time permits to include more anecdotes, photos, and discussion.


My wife and I arrived at San Jose airport and were greeted by our driver (who works for the birding tour company we hired). He's bilingual, but beyond a few critical points of information, I spoke only in Spanish, explaining my experience learning Spanish, and much other personal history. The drive to our first hotel in the highlands was three hours, during which we talked about everything, in Spanish. He was simply wonderful, speaking slowly to ease my comprehension, and asking me quite a few questions about English, too. His English is about as good as my Spanish (jeje).

We visited four eco-lodges over the three weeks, and had lots of time together.

I also spoke Spanish with the locally hired staff at the hotels. I inquired and got laundry service, food choices, and small talk. I had occasionally experienced "brain freeze" still, but there was always another chance to try soon afterwards.

The big difference between Costa Rica and my usual home neighborhood is that at home, I get only occasional opportunity to speak Spanish, and even a little "brain freeze" creates a total disappointment. In Costa Rica, with much more frequent opportunity, I could discover that I could rebound from a disappointing effort, and get beyond it to success.

My favorite memory of success was my conversations with the kitchen staff at the last place we stayed. It was a research institute in the Caribbean lowlands that allows eco-tourists to stay. The birds were really great. Most of the guests spoke no Spanish. The food service was an institution style cafeteria. The food was healthy, but really boring and tastelessly prepared. I had requested some diet modifications with my reservations, which they frequently didn't understand or just made mistakes. I talked to the cafeteria staff at almost every meal, to get what I needed. They spoke absolutely no English, and were initially uncomfortable talking to me. But my Spanish broke the ice, and very soon I became their dear friend. Not only did they correctly adjust my diet, but I was getting just about any food I requested, cheerfully. The other folks at my table looked at my food, compared to theirs, and really wondered how I got such wonderful food while they were uncheerfully poking at their bland food on their plates.

Live well, eat well, speak Spanish.

¡Pura Vida!

  • It's fun to read your story, another reason to keep on practicing my spanish. - 00434ec3 Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • Great story, Pesta, and very encouraging to a learner. Love the redstart! Hope you share more pictures and stories! - ajaks Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • Muy interesante - porcupine7 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Brilliant Pesta! Well done :) - billygoat Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • How wonderful! Thanks for sharing your story. :) - hollyjollybe Jan 15, 2012 flag

29 Answers

22 Vote

Here's a very cute bird we found on our mountain trails in the highlands. It's a Collared Redstart.

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They catch small insects to eat. We were surprised at how close to us they came. That's how I was able to take such a clear photo. Then this one surprised us more, by flying to hover just a few inches in front of my wife's face, to grab a mosquito.

And a few seconds later, the same bird came right back and again snatched a second mosquito from near my wife's face!

What a dear bird!

  • wow, pesta, beautiful picture...... - 00434ec3 Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • Excellent picture! - ajaks Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • My Lord, these are the best bird pictures I have ever seen!! - territurtle Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • he's a little smasher! - patch Jan 15, 2012 flag
15 Vote

A Musical Christmas Eve Dinner

On Christmas eve, we had dinner at a mountain lodge in the Talamanca region. The lodge owners had their friends and family visiting and we all ate dinner together.

Shortly after dinner started, we were surprised to have a four-member mariachi band enter and serenade us with several songs. The songs were in Spanish, of course, and I had some trouble understanding all of it. They were songs of love and romance. They tell of universal stories and feelings. They finished with a sing-along round of "Feliz Navidad".

It was really a wonderful way to spend Christmas eve.

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  • It must have been wonderful, pesta, I'm glad you had such terrific days in Costa Rica. - 00434ec3 Jan 14, 2012 flag
  • wow, now that looks like a real fun night, wonderful!! - 00494d19 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Lol, pesta, is that your arm? :D - SonrisaDelSo Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • That arm belongs to a fellow hotel guest, snapping a picture. No relation. :) - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
12 Vote

At our lodge in the Talamanca mountains, dinners were home-cooked, delicious, and tasty. One day, they made this lime pie dessert from limes that were large and mild, almost an orange/lime hybrid. The pie was soooo good, my wife hoped to convey her delight to the chef. Our waiter spoke only Spanish, so it was up to me to communicate this praise.

I gave it my best effort. When the waiter left for the kitchen, I thought I had accomplished my mission.

Then the waiter returned with another slice of pie, bigger than the first, and cheerfully placed it in front of my wife. big surprise

This was a delightful treat, though I can't help feeling that I must have miscommunicated... jeje. LOL

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  • Oh yummmm! Sucking up to the chef in their native tongue.... another benefit of learning Spanish that I hadn't even considered! - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Maybe you did communicate correctly but...cooks usually don't give recipes. Maybe this was his/her way of telling you thanks but you don't get it. I think he/she was being polite. - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • did you have to pay for the second piece of pie? - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • grrrrr, qué horror, y yo sin desayunar aún, me voy corriendo, jeje - 00494d19 Jan 16, 2012 flag
  • The whole trip was a package deal, so extra food was free. - pesta Jan 17, 2012 flag
11 Vote

The Respendant Quetzal

We saw the famous Quetzal, just as I had hoped!

I posted this on the International Café thread a few days ago, but I put it here for anyone who is not a regular Café visitor.

The Quetzal is a type of Trogon, but has several uniquely spectacular features, obvious in the photos. Their diet depends on a type of small avocado, which only grows on mature trees. For a long time, farmers were ignorantly removing these trees for farmland, and you can't replant them. (Well, you can, but it would be 30 years before they bore fruit for the Quetzal.)

Now there are some protections, and many farmers open their habitats to tourists for a small (but well-deserved) fee. Education is slow, but it works.

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  • Pesta, amazing images! I suppose you have a good camera!! - RaulSpaniard Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Interesting thought, Raul. The first picture was taken with a cheap camera through a good telescope, and the second with a good zoom-camera alone. - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • looks like the garden of Eden. - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • This bird and the epiphytes give this picture an ethereal, unreal quality... like bringing home a picture of a unicorn :) - ajaks Jan 16, 2012 flag
  • Lucky you!! Though I have been in CR a couple of times, I have never seen one. Pura vida!!! - Echoline Jan 16, 2012 flag
10 Vote

Getting out amongst people with a common interest is the best feeling ,

and you had a double joy pesta , you were with fellow " Twitchers " and

also many Spanish speakers , half your luck mate , well done , and the

photos are just amazing , keep them coming. cool smile

  • Most of my fellow "Twitchers" spoke only English. Some spoke French. - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
9 Vote

One of the techniques birdwatchers can use to attract and observe a number of species normally difficult to see, is to use a moth light. A large white sheet is stretched out vertically, and illuminated by an ultraviolet lamp overnight. By dawn, many moths are attracted and sit on the sheet. By doing this repeatedly, the local birds learn that a breakfast of moths is waiting for them.

At our second lodge, our bird guides used this method and so allowed us to see some stealthy antbirds, ant-tanagers, and woodcreepers. Among them was this rather cheeky Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

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  • Jejeje ¡Qué descaro! Los pajaritos son mis favoritos entre todos los pájaros porque tienen "chutzpah". :) - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
8 Vote

This will be a wonderful thread, I love birds, all animals really and only just posted a Mystery Picture about one of them.

Pesta, don't you dare give the answer, jeje, I am sure you know EVERYTHING about birdswink

Even Elenita was fascinated, we were talking about birds the other day and I showed her on the web a female peacock and a male peacock, now that was a surprise for herwink

I hope you will post a lot more pictures, amigosmile

  • That was a wonderful thread on Mystery Picture, Heidita... especially for all the Nature lovers. Great fun!! - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Hedi it is a" Peacock "and a "Peahen " - ray76 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • And generically, the species is named "Peafowl". - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • oh, seeeee, new word, thanks:) - 00494d19 Jan 16, 2012 flag
8 Vote

That sounds like a wonderful trip. When I have visited in Mexico in winter I've done a lot of birding, and one of the fun aspects was seeing the many neotropical species that migrate through or nest in New England in the warmer months on their winter areas. Really, one could say they are permanent denizens of Mexico that come north for summer vacation. Both kinglets, Ruddy ducks, "Myrtle" warblers, Yellowlegs, Swallows, etc. But where I was the non-migratory species were not nearly so spectacular as yours must have been. ¡alt textHas de haber disfrutado muchísimo tu viaje!

  • striking little fella, ain't he? - patch Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Where I lived was crawling with Wilson's Warblers... In New England I only see them migrating. - Jeremias Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Nice view of the Wilson's Warbler! Costa Rica was crawling with Chestnut-sided Warblers. - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • We did also see a few Wilson's Warblers in Costa Rica. In winter plumage, the cap is less distinct than in this photo. - pesta Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • Nice picture! You can clearly see, not only the colors, but the textures of this little guy's plumage. - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
8 Vote

One of the easiest ways to bird anywhere is to sit near bird feeders.

I took this picture of a Green Violetear Hummingbird while having breakfast just a few meters away from this nectar feeder.

En Español, es el colibrí oreja violeta o colibrí orejiazul (Colibri thalassinus).

The Green Violetear is a fairly aggressive hummingbird, if you can believe it for its 11-cm size.

The practice of relying on bird feeders for watching birds is controversial with some birdwatchers. Only two of the four lodges we stayed in had operating feeders.

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The Violetear in this picture has raised his "ear" feathers, as they do when they are annoyed. You can see how it got its name. smile

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Note: This bird is not to be confused with the Sparkling Violetear and the Brown Violetear LOL

  • Wow!! - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • It's fantastic to get such a beautiful picture on such a delicat moment. - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • they look so innocent, but they are not......just like butterflies. look innocent, but really aren't - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
7 Vote

Great story! I will definitely be watching for further updates.

7 Vote

Costa Rica's birds are many and varied. Probably the least-exciting bird was the Clay-colored Robin (or Clay-colored Thrush). It was common everywhere we went in the country.

Although not strikingly colored, it's a lovely bird. Some would say, boring.

But why did Costa Rica choose this as their National Bird ...? (I know the answer...)

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This picture was not taken by me. I think I didn't take a single picture of this the whole time, because there were so many other beautiful birds to chase after! smile

  • Another Mystery Picture thread! :) Why was this drab-looking bird chosen as the National Bird of Costa Rica? - ajaks Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • the start of the rain season, perhaps? - 00434ec3 Jan 15, 2012 flag
  • wow, looks somewhat similar to my bird, boring in appearance but maybe very clever, nice picture, what is that on the tree?? - 00494d19 Jan 16, 2012 flag
  • Almost all trees there are covered in many forms of epiphytes. Some look like cotton, some look like moss, some are very colorful and have flowers, like bromeliads. - pesta Jan 16, 2012 flag
  • This bird is the National Bird of Costa Rica because it occurs in every habitat and elevation throughout Costa Rica and everyone can see and enjoy it. - pesta Jan 17, 2012 flag
7 Vote

Trained Bats

At the Osa Peninsula, our small lodge was a single building, open to the outside. No walls. Only handrails, and a mosquito net over the bed.

This was a true back-to-nature experience, using only solar power, 100%.

One reason the mosquitoes were not a problem was due to a small colony of bats, who roosted in the second-floor rafters during the day.

There were open rafters spaced about 1 meter apart. If bats roosted randomly anywhere, there would be piles of poop under each one. The lodge owner had trained these bats through repeated reinforcement, teaching them just where they were allowed to roost, and where not. Gentle persuasion with a broom is all it took. They're pretty smart, and preferred the very sheltered rafters to anything else, so the whole colony of about 20 bat remained resident.

Starting at sunset, they all left their roosts and hunted insects, including any mosquitoes inside the lodge.

I've always loved bats, but trained working bats really endeared themselves to the guests.

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  • One of my all-time favorite creatures... and that's saying a lot! Beautiful coloration on this little guy. This thread is just full of wonderful surprises, Pesta.... keep 'em coming :) - ajaks Jan 16, 2012 flag
6 Vote

What an inspiring story! That really made my morning (and I really needed something to smile about this morning) so many thanks for that grin

6 Vote

Love it, pesta! Thank you for sharing!

6 Vote

The Bicolored Antbird

El hormiguero bicolor (Gymnopithys leucaspis)

On one early morning walk at the Osa Peninsula, we came upon a flock of about five bicolored antbirds, busy in the understory of the forest feeding on bugs in the leaf litter. Normally, birds like to keep a safe distance from animals (like us), but are less concerned when it's very early and they are very hungry. After we watched them for almost a half minute, most of them moved on, farther away from the trail.

One particular bird, however, did not leave. He continued to stay close, and followed us up the trail for about 20 meters! I noticed why: he was seeing new bugs appear with each of our footsteps, as we disturbed the leaf litter on the trail. I got some great photos, and he got a good breakfast.

Cattle Egrets are known to do the same thing, following grazing cows or horses in a grassy field, and getting an easy meal of bugs. I had never seen a Bicolored Antbird do this, but it's no real surprise. Antbirds don't eat ants. They get their name from the way they seek out ant swarms. When large swarms of ant begin to march, many other insects are disturbed and the antbirds feed on these revealed insects.

Okay, now, I'm hungry. LOL

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  • what a beautiful picture, I'm really enjoying your thread, pesta, please post many more. - 00434ec3 Jan 16, 2012 flag
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