Monday, June 30, 2014

Prepping for Costa Rica

Rob writes: In just a few short weeks, I will find myself in Costa Rica for the very first time. As I've written before, getting ready for a trip to a place that you've not been before can be quite a long process. My two weeks in Costa Rica will be split between 2 groups. First, I will be leading a group from Ohio to Rancho Naturalista and Savegre Mountain Lodge. Then I'll be meeting up with Brian Zwiebel to bird and photograph a few locations in the northern part of the country. I've been studying all of the birds by both sight and sounds as well as reviewing as much information as possible about what species I should expect to see in each location. The following items are key parts of the process of getting ready for a large trip such as this.

The Route:

It took us a long time to nail down our routes for both portions of the trip. After much deliberation, we decided on Rancho Naturalisa and Savegre Mountain Lodge for the first week of the trip with the group from Ohio. It was even harder to decide what to do for the rest of the trip because the options seemed endless. In the end, we settled on Laguna del Largato and the La Selva area.

The Resources:

The Birds of Costa Rica is one of the best field guides in all of Central America. It's a must have for anyone traveling to Costa Rica and actually several other countries in the region as well.

Almost as important as learning to identify the birds by sight is learning to identify them by sound. I've been using many sources as I try to learn a huge number of songs and calls. The first source I've been using is Voices of Costa Rican Birds: Caribbean Slope . This is a set of 2 CDs by David Ross and Bret Whitney which was released all the way back in 1995 but is no less relevant now.

My other favorite source for learning bird songs is I've mentioned this site before on my blog and still find it to be the best source for listening to a variety of songs and calls for pretty much any bird in the world! I use it to listen to bird songs before every birding trip that I go on.

In order to figure out which species I was most likely to see, and thus which ones I should spend the most time studying, I have been using eBird data. eBird's Explore Hotspot option allows me to select the locations that I'm visiting, see the recent reports from those locations, and also limit sightings to those reported during the month of July. All of these things help me take a rather large list of over 800 possible species and whittle it down to a more manageable list of species to study.

Another eBird related tool that I have been using is the Birdseye Central America App. This app, only available on iPhone right now, shows you a map of all of the eBird hotspots and puts together all of the reports from the last 30 days. This allows me to see up to date reports of the species that are being seen in the locations that I'll be traveling to. Being able to figure out what I'm likely to see at each stop is very important for quickly and accurately identifying the birds.

This Gartered Trogon is one of the species that I hope to show my group while we are in Costa Rica.
The Studying:

After looking through all of the data that I gathered from eBird as well as the checklists for each property that I will be visiting, I worked up a list of birds that I was likely to see during my trip. This gives me a great list to study from!

I began studying the birds in the field guide first, trying to learn and memorize as many of them by sight as possible. In addition to the field guide, I like to also look at pictures online to get additional angles that aren't illustrated in the field guide.

From there, I started playing the songs and calls of each species while I looked at it in the book. I've found that this helps me better remember the song if I can see the species while listening to it. I've done this process over and over for the last several weeks, as well as listening to the song whenever I have the opportunity (even if I don't have to book out to see the species).  My wife says that whenever I prepare for a trip to Central America, our house sounds like the rainforest!

Check back to see photos (and hopefully videos) of many of the amazing species that we see during the two weeks in Costa Rica.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Still Time to Join Rob in Honduras this December!

Rob writes: Last November, I traveled to Honduras and the Lodge at Pico Bonito with my partners from Sabrewing Nature Tours. We had a fantastic trip and spend a lot of our time photographing and videoing all of the amazing birds that we saw during our visit. We turned all of these images and videos into a short video about the birds and accommodations at the Lodge. I've posted the video here before but if you missed it, here it is again.

Now, you have the chance to join me as I travel back to Honduras to visit all of these incredible places again! We still have room on our December tour and I hope that you'll consider joining me on this trip. We are offered a very special price of just $1,999 and just an additional $699 for the extension to the Honduran Highlands. That's 8 full days of birding for just $2,698! You can get more information on our website by clicking here or feel free to email us at 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: The New Birder's Guide to Birds of North America

The New Birder's Guide to Birds of North America is a new book by Bill Thompson III that aims to provide beginning birders with a guide designed just for them.

The guide begins with several sections that cover many aspects of what it takes to get into birding. The sections are very thorough and cover many of the tips that I usually give to new birders. While I don't necessary agree with all of the items in these sections, I do feel that new birders will find the tips very useful overall. As with any field guide, always read the opening chapter and don't just skip to the species section of the book.

The next several hundred pages cover 300 of the most common birds in North America. I like the combination of photos and drawings that were used to show the species but do wish that the photos had been larger. Unlike many smaller guides, the author did a great job showing a variety of plumages. I found the "Wow!" and "Find It" sections of each species profile to be interesting and informative.

I would recommend this book for anyone beginning to get into birding since it includes a good introduction to the hobby and many tips for getting started in birding. That said, I would still recommend that a new birder purchase one of the other more in-depth field guides as well. My personal favorite field guides are The Sibley Guide to Birds and Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.

Title: The New Birder's Guide to Birds of North America
Author: Bill Thompson III
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Time at the Biggest Week in American Birding

As many of you know, it's been a few weeks since the end of the Biggest Week in American Birding. It's taken me quite a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about this year's festival. Since I'm the field trip coordinator, you might expect that I would spend most of my post writing about all of the awesome birds that were seen on our field trips this year (and I just might do that in another post), but that really wouldn't do the festival justice. I could also write about all of the incredible speakers that presented at the festival, but that too would not really tell you what the event is all about. I really find that there are two aspects of the event that consistently blow me away more than anything else - the people and the impact on the local economy.

Even though the Biggest Week is a birding festival at its core, it wouldn't be such a great event without all of the wonderful people that live in and travel to northwest Ohio to attend.  You meet people from all over the US and even around the world! Every year, it feels like a reunion of all of my birding friends, and I love reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. We are already looking forward to other festivals this year to rendezvous at and are excited about next year's Biggest Week!

One of our new friends, Bruce Richardson. Not only was he fun to bird with, but he is one heck of an entertainer!
Check out his music and comeback tour on his website.
The economic impact is the other aspect of this festival that is quite impressive to me. We ended up having almost 1,500 registered participants and thousands of others birding in the region (but not necessarily attending the festival). This translates to major money for many of the surrounding communities. As I said above, people travel from all over the world to attend Biggest Week. Participants book rooms at hotels, eat at local restaurants, and fill their gas tanks as they bird in the region, and the local communities are realizing just how much money birders spend on necessities while visiting the area. It's amazing to see the local businesses embracing the birding community.

One such business is Eagle's Nest restaurant which is one of the closest businesses to Maumee Bay State Park where the festival is headquartered. Stephanie and I were lucky one afternoon to go in when it wasn't very busy and had a chance to chat with the owner. It's a small family business, and they couldn't be happier about the traffic that the Biggest Week drives into their restaurant. They serve great sandwiches and awesome ice cream, so be sure to stop in if you are in northwest Ohio!

Not only is the local community supporting the festival, the whole state is getting involved. May 10th was the first ever Bird Ohio Day. There was a big celebration near the entrance to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh with several politicians in attendance to celebrate all that birding brings to Northwest Ohio!

Next year's festival dates are already set - May 8-17, 2015. I hope to see all of you there!

I leave you with one of the stars of the festival, a Bay-breasted Warbler.