It’s barely dawn, but the birds are calling at Villa San Ignacio. Twin hoots of a Lesson’s Motmot filter in from the garden. They remind visiting birders of an owl or maybe even a barking dog. Great Kiskadees yell from the trees, and Rufous-capped Warblers chip and sing from the low vegetation. What else is out there? Which other birds are waiting in the sprawling crowns of the tall figs?
The only way to find out is by getting out of bed, stepping outside, and looking around. Do that, and we see palms growing next to large tropical trees, birds flitting in the foliage. A brief scan of the surrounding area reveals the shape of an unfamiliar bird. Perched on a branch, back in the shade, it seems to be slowing moving, its tail back and forth. As we focus on it with binoculars, we realize we are looking at our first motmot! A striking, beautiful bird naturally painted in shades of blue and green and with a long, “racket-tipped” tail, we wonder how it can be real?
When it flies to the ground to catch a beetle, we realize that we have departed Kansas. When we subsequently see a Clay-colored Thrush, we know we are in Costa Rica.
The sounds and movements of other birds bring us to the open area in front of the rooms. The view takes in nearby farmland, brushy fields, and patches of forest, but we hardly notice; as with any tropical morning, birds are keeping us busy.
Small flocks of Great-tailed Grackles and White-winged Doves wing through our field of view while a pair of subtly beautiful Blue-gray Tanagers flies in the other direction. A Tropical Kingbird sallies into the air to catch an unlucky moth, its yellow belly standing out against the pale blue of the morning sky. A distant chattering becomes louder, and a tight flock of small birds zips in front of us. It slowly dawns on us that those birds were green and that, yes, they were parakeets! Smiling in the afterglow of our first parakeets, we wonder how many other birds, how many other lifers are possible on this first morning in Costa Rica?
As we walk towards an area growing back into forest, we see our first family of Rufous-naped Wrens and notice the bounding flight of a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker. Its behavior and rattling call reminds us of woodpeckers back home. The “chicky-tuck” sound of a Summer Tanager also reminds us of birding in other, more familiar places and that Costa Rica is where so many of “our birds” spend the winter. Shortly after, other migrants, Yellow and Tennessee Warblers, end up the most spotted common species that morning.
Other species during the short walk include cardinal-sized Grayish and Buff-throated Saltators, large and loud Brown Jays, Rose-throated Becards, and, in a vine tangle, our first Barred Antshrike! The zebra-like male was sharing birding space with a Streak-headed Woodcreeper. It shivered its tail to the beat of its laughing, staccato song. The surprise of the morning was a small group of noisy Gray-headed Chachalacas that fed in one of the fig trees. Oh yeah, those and the small toucans (Fiery-billed Aracaris) that joined them!
Before we know it, a delicious, authentic breakfast is calling at the Pandora Restaurant. Time flies when the birding is good!
Blog by Patrick O’Donnell. Patrick started birding at the age of 7 in Niagara Falls, NY. A biologist by trade, he has worked on bird-related projects in a number of places and has guided birders in Ecuador, Peru, and Costa Rica. Patrick has lived in Costa Rica since 2007 and when not birding, writes about birds, travel and tourism, and other topics.