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WOW birds

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no amount of pictures can ever come close to approximating the experience of seeing something for oneself. Therein lies the primary and heretofore insurmountable challenge in D’s quest to win over S to bird watching.

The first problem is that even when she is armed with binoculars, S only sees a fraction of the birds that D spots on his birding walks, and usually not well enough to be wowed. For serious birders, finding a new but nondescript bird can be more exciting than seeing the same colorful ones over and over again. Not being a birder, S ever only gets excited about the spectacularly plumaged species; those jolts of excitement are usually too few and far between for her to fall in love with D’s favorite hobby.

There are other aspects of bird watching that also do not appeal to S. She prefers to hike for exercise, for example, whereas birding requires a slow pace and frequent, prolonged stops. She enjoys chatting while hiking; whereas, silence is paramount when birdwatching, so as not to scare off easily startled species.

D had all but given up on converting S before we had arrived in Costa Rica, but our first trip outside the capital may have given him renewed hope. We stayed at a rainforest lodge in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui where we saw dozens of indescribably colorful birds up close without having to move from the dining room balcony. “Now that’s the kind of birding I can get behind,” S exclaimed at one point.

Although this kind of armchair birding lacked some of the other elements that D finds enjoyable about this hobby — the sense of discovery, the commitment and effort required to find some furtive species — D also appreciated the opportunities Sarapiqui afforded, especially from a photography perspective.

Some of the birds that are commonplace in Costa Rica are species that D is seeing for the first time, such as the chestnut-headed oropendola below.

Others are old favorites from the United States, like this summer tanager, whose cousins we regularly saw in Arizona.

We saw a handful of tanagers during our eight months in Sedona, but most of these brightly colored passerine birds don’t leave the tropics. We saw half-a-dozen different tanagers during our stay in Sarapiqui that never make it to the States.

Even more exciting than tanagers are trogons. There is one species — the elegant trogon — that can be glimpsed occasionally in the southeastern corner of Arizona. D never made the pilgrimage so was thrilled to find not one, but three different trogon species on our visit to Sarapiqui.

Pictured from top to bottom: collared aracari, silver-throated tanager, crimson-collared tanager, black-cheeked woodpecker, green honeycreeper, chestnut-headed oropendola, scarlet tanager, blue-gray tanager, red-throated ant-tanager, slaty-tailed trogon, gartered trogon, olive-backed euphonia.

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