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.

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