Birding in Manuel Antonio… in Your Own Backyard

Written by Kent on December 9, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

The great thing about birds is that they don’t stay put.  They tend to pretty much go wherever they want.  Sure, they may tend towards different climates, ecosystems, altitude and latitude–but they also travel more than any of us, and are a heck of a lot more mobile.

Which is why you can pretty much go birding anywhere you are in Costa Rica.  As long as there’s some greenery, there are birds to adorn it–singsongy ones, and squawky ones, and odd-sounding ones, in all shapes, and colors and sizes.  There is nowhere completely silent in Costa Rica; the ubiquitous birds are always interjecting.

Grey-necked Woodrail

Grey-necked Woodrail

Manuel Antonio is a paradisiacal melting pot for our feathered friends, the Raptors. It has a unique setting at the plexus of several different ecosystems–the montane rainforests of the mountains, the endless palms of the flood plain, a massive coastal mangrove system, and a vibrant ocean ecology.  It is a lone set of forest-covered hills, jutting up from the flood plain, some of which form rock islands off the coast.  Two significant rivers empty into the sea to the north and south–the Rio Paquita and Rio Naranjo.

Eat it up, Rio.

Mot Mot

Mot Mot

Strangely, until recently there were no toucans in Manuel Antonio.  Sure they don’t stay put–but it was rare to see a pair of entangled toucans passing through.  Then a couple of years ago–Bam! Sam AND his family moved in, including distant relatives, and even a few  friends.  Suddenly, Manuel Antonio started to ring in the afternoons with the distinct song of toucans, and they became as common as the monkeys.  (Well–let’s not exaggerate…)  Still–I have seen up to 12 chestnut-mandibled toucans (Froot Loops kind) in the same tree one afternoon!

Blue-grey tanager

Blue-Grey Tanager

So now that we’re at our new rental home in Manuel Antonio–Casa Luna, I thought I would really go out on a limb:  Every morning for three mornings, I went all the way out to my back patio and staked out (with coffee) to shoot some exotic birds.  My weapon: a Rebel, with a 200mm lens (not exactly a photographer’s dream, but hey…).  The house backs up to rainforest, and there is a small creek that snakes through the edge.  To one side is an exotic tropical wetland (ie bog).

It’s really amazing what you see if you stop and smell the birds once in a while–so to speak.  A camera makes you a photographer, and the act of photography gives you a heightened sense of sight.  It’s like putting on magic glasses, where suddenly everything takes on more color and vibrance, and you become aware of the myriad of details.  Having a camera in hand not only lends you a creative license, but also stimulates the creative side of the mind.

Scissor-Tailed Tyrant

Scissor-Tailed Tyrant

Of course, photographing birds is a bit like… well, shooting birds.  It’s hard to get a good shot.  They’re either busy in flight… or those darn trees keep getting in the way.  Most don’t seem to want to have their picture taken–regardless of the potential fame.  But I did manage to get shots of a few of the key players.

Fiery-Billed Aracari

Fiery-Billed Aracari

Mornings are when the grey-necked woodrails turn on their jungle chicken alarms.  For such a skittish bird, it seems to want to be heard.  The shadowy mot-mots always seem to melt away with the light.  Grey & blue and black & red tanagers stand out like !s.  Woodpeckers peck to the beat of a different drummer.  Kiskadees dip their yellow breasts in the pool.  Flocks of parrots pass by noisily overhead.  There are even a couple of special visitors–the scissor-tailed Tyrant, and fiery-billed aracari.

By the time I go back for my second cup of coffee I feel like I’ve already been on a safari–and its not even 7:00am.

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