Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tropical travels: a new twist to birding

I found myself seated across the aisle from two girls.  They appeared to be roughly my age.  Casting my eyes further up the aisle, I took in the rest of the occupants of the Boeing 767-400. The average age was about 40-50 but with many younger people scattered throughout.  Many were locals, on their way home. The majority were Americans, like the two girls next to me, on spring break and wanting to get away from the icy fingers of winter that had been gripping most of the lower 48 states.  The two girls next to me (I never did get their names) were spending a week going backpacking, zip-lining, camping and just having a totally awesome time during their first trip out of the country.   Looking at myself, I wasn't much different. Sure, my idea of a fun time differed slightly from theirs, but we were still going for very much the same reasons.

As the plane neared our destination,  we puzzled over the customs forms. What was this? and what did they want to know that for?  It took a while, but we managed to figure it out in the end.

The last hour of the flight seemed to drag out forever. At that point, we had been in the air for nearly 6 hours. Even with the layover in Miami, it still wore on us and seemed to tease us in a never ending battle of tensions.

Finally, after what seemed to be much longer than an hour, we landed, without mishap. Arriving at the terminal, I waved goodbye to my two traveling companions, wishing them a good week ahead. Would I ever see them again? probably not.

It was late at night, so passing through Customs and collecting my bags was a breeze.  While collecting my bags, I met two of the 13 other people I would be spending the week with.  They seemed to be a very pleasant pair.  After collecting our bags, we met our ride and hopped it straight to the hotel for some shut-eye.  Our hotel was the Hilton in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica.  Arriving, I dumped my bags, grabbed my laptop and set out to explore the darkened lobby area while trying to find the best internet signal.  I was far too excited to sleep just yet.  It's not every day that one finds oneself in the middle of a capital city in a foreign country with an amazing week of birding ahead!  

I finally dropped off to sleep around 1am. The 5:30 alarm came much too early.  But, excitement and anticipation hauled me out of bed and down to the restaurant for breakfast. There, I met the rest of the group of birders I would be spending the week with and our two intrepid leaders.
Dave and Mimi Wolf have been leading tours for Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours (VENT) since day one.  They had been leading the Short Costa Rica trip for nearly 30 years. It was definitely an amazing intro to birding in the tropics.  

You're probably asking yourself right now "how did he get to go on a VENT tour to Costa Rica??"
All I can say is a lot of patience, careful vigilance, and a LOT of luck.
I was sitting at the kitchen counter one day nearly a month ago when I caught the note, posted to the Iowa bird listserve. Apparently, Linda had booked the trip, already paid for it, and couldn't go. So rather than have the money go to waste, she asked for someone else to go in her place. First come, first served. All expenses paid.

Without further ado, I called Greg at the VENT office and booked the trip.   Less than a week later, I found myself where you found me. Sitting on a plane to Costa Rica, not even fully believing where I was.

Dave and Mimi were awesome trip leaders! Very efficient, highly knowledgeable and very patient with my endless shower of questions.  I could not recommend them more if you ever wanted to take a trip to Costa Rica.

Surprisingly, the trip participants were also all very nice people and for the most part, good birders.  It was a very good group and took the pace of the trip quite well.

Over the course of the week, I learned more about more species than I had ever learned about less than half that number in 10 years time.  If you want an introduction to birding the Tropics, I highly recommend going on the VENT short Costa Rica tour. It is well worth the cost even if it's only a week long.  

Ok, I know, you want me to get to the juicy parts. The actual birds we saw during the trip.
Very well, let me go get my checklist. It's impossible to remember all of the 260 some species we saw during the trip y'know..........

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