I Am Not a Birder

That is my new mantra.  I know and love many self-identified birders, and birds are great.  (They can fly and sometimes they’re shiny!  What’s not to like?)  I even signed up for a morning bird course in college with the renowned Bill Buskirk, but lasted just one week before I realized that they were actually serious about that 5:30 wake-up time.

But – have you ever gone for a walk with a binocular-wielding birder?  Particularly in a new and exciting place, that may be home to new and exciting birds?  They start speaking in tongues, about yellow-bottom one-eyed burblers and polka-dotted buffleheads and scaly-throated leaftossers, while pointing at a speck in a far-off treetop, and I’m always left feeling a little guilty that I can’t share in their excitement… and a little relieved.

So despite a childhood spent enthusiastically memorizing reptile and insect field guides, I’ve been very comfortable with my lack of knowledge of all things feathered.  However, Costa Rica is putting my willful ignorance to the test with these problematically fantastic birds.  Birds with a scarlet butts and iridescent purple hummingbirds and three-foot tall hot pink things.  A bird with a bright yellow tail that makes a noise like ripping fabric and the wonderfully awkward toucans.  The Costa Rican bird guide (I didn’t buy it!  It was already here at the farm!) keeps creeping up to the top of the pile of books on the coffee table, and I keep finding myself taking pictures of birds so I can look them up later.  I’m afraid this is a precariously slippery slope I’m perched on.

(Which would make me a member of the Passeriformes, commonly known as perching birds.  Please send help.)

These are roseate spoonbills, and they are fabulous.


This is a keel-billed toucan. They are goofy looking, and also fabulous. Imagine having a nose as long as your torso! You could sell ad space. Or Bedazzle it!


This is an oropendela. They make weird noises and build hanging nests up to six feet long, and they hate being photographed.

And there are parrots! Just flying around as if they were normal birds!

This is some kind of heron. I could look it up, but I won’t, because I am not a birder.

But there is one species of bird with which I am beginning to have serious issues.  A word about roosters, if you will.

This is the type of rooster that I grew up with.  Roosters are a bit scarce in Chicago, so until about ten years ago all the roosters I knew were of the two-dimensional variety from the cardboard pages of books like “Our Farm Friends.”  They live out in the country, love to sit on fenceposts, and just as the sun peeks over the horizon they give a proud Cock-A-Doodle-Doo to wake up Farmer Bob.

Actual roosters, however, have clearly never read Our Farm Friends.  They live in every town in Central America, they love to sit next to our truck, and they start making their loud, hoarse, prolonged squawk while the sun is still a distant memory.  And they keep doing it, for hours, only pausing for intervals carefully calculated to let you hope “Maybe THIS time he’s done for good.”

This is a rooster, but he is not crowing. Notice how it’s daylight? He is now quietly recuperating from his pre-dawn exertions.

This is also not a rooster crowing, but while we were on the topic I thought I’d mention that turkey gobbles sound absolutely hysterical and isn’t this a cool picture that Zach took?

The good news is, I’ve been trying to reconcile my vegetarianism with the idea of keeping chickens for eggs when we get back to the States, and a sticking point has been what to do with the fluffy little chicks that grow up to be boys instead of laying hens.  I wasn’t at all sure I could eat a chicken that I’d raised myself, but at this rate I’ll be chasing them around the yard barefoot with a machete at four in the morning.

We’ve been here at the blessedly rooster-free Finca La Puebla for a little over a month now.  Neither of us has turned yellow from banana over-consumption, but the dirt under my nails may never come out.  (Here, Mom, I’ll save you the trouble: “What else is new?”)  We only have to work twenty hours a week, so we’ve taken a few trips with our free time and covered a fair bit of the country – not hard when said country is the size of West Virginia.

Near the end of Lisa and Mike’s stay, we went to the beach.  The Pacific coast is about an hour’s drive south, and the beaches are mostly empty now that the week-long celebration of Semana Santa is over.  We went out and got knocked around by waves for a while, until Zach and Mike decided the day would be incomplete without coconuts.  Like most beaches down here, this one had coconut palms just beyond the high-tide line, but the coconuts themselves were well out of reach.  For one person, at least.

Three matching fruits are irresistible to a juggler.

Our last day together we drove to… I’ve forgotten the name, but there was a treehouse and a waterfall and it was really completely lovely.

You have to scramble upriver to get to the waterfall, and in one rocky pool we found a baby basilisk.  He ran from rock to rock right over the water, so quickly that when he was moving all you could see was the row of splashes left on the surface by his pinwheeling feet.  Finally he headed straight towards Lisa, and when he was a couple feet away he suddenly seemed to notice that there was a pair of legs in front of him.  He stopped running – and immediately sank like a stone.

Crested basilisks grow to be about two feet long.  There is a fully-grown one that likes to hang out near the pool at Frank’s, but I don’t know if the adults can run over water as easily as babies.  This guy looks pretty massive, and seems much more inclined to run up a tree and glower at you.

We also went up to Monteverde for a long weekend, but I can’t write about that now because I promised not to put any bug pictures in this one.  Hey, here’s a picture that I meant to post months ago.  This is our host family in San Pedro:

The mom is the one in the middle.




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2 responses to “I Am Not a Birder

  1. Mike

    The treehouse was at Finca Bellavista, near Piedras Blancas.

  2. Lisa

    Typically birders really annoy me since I just cannot understand their enthusiasm (or ability to see detail on distant birds). However, I could almost understand the appeal while we were in Costa Rica – so many birds, so many colors! All it took though was sitting next to two hard-core birders going over their notebooks on the plane home to cure me of that half-thought. I will excuse you of this temporary insanity as long as you are in the presence of such super-cool birds. Final thoughts: 1 hooray for more exploring of Costa Rica and 2 you guys were not exaggerating about how short your host family in Guatemala was!

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