Community Feature – Watchful Eyes in Wonderland

Community Feature – Watchful Eyes in Wonderland

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Have you always loved birds? Or have you become fascinated by the hundreds of colorful birds you have seen in Costa Rica? Either way, you are in good company. The Birding Club of Costa Rica is an organization whose main goal is to seek out and see all the wonderful birds in this country. Taking that idea a step further, club members have a reason for traveling around the country not only to see birds, but also places they might not otherwise visit away from the urban and tourist areas.

The club was founded in 1996 by three expats: retired astrophysicist John West, former accountant George Stack and bird expert Henry Kantrowitz. All had an interest in learning more about the country and birds of Costa Rica. In the last several years alone, club visits have been made to 61 areas of the country, from the mountains of Nicoya in Diriá National Park, to the far southeast corner bordering Panama, where members stayed with the indigenous Bribri in Yorkin. Since the club has been keeping electronic records, over 700 bird species out of more than 900 in Costa Rica have been spotted.

Members are an eclectic mix of both Ticos and expats from the U.S., Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and elsewhere. There are more than 100 active members, living all over the country, from Nicoya to Dominical to San Isidro, Heredia, Puriscal and the Central Valley. Some are “snow birders” who only live in Costa Rica part of the year. All members have an interest in birds, but to varying degrees. Some just love to go birdwatching in remote parts of the country and some take more of a photographer’s perspective. Some members are serious birders who have seen thousands of birds worldwide.

The club operates entirely on a volunteer basis, with members elected to specific roles each year at the annual meeting in June. The only other meeting is the December Christmas party. A birding trip is scheduled during each of the other 10 months — sometimes a day trip, but most often to locations involving one or two overnight stays. Members volunteer to plan trips, making arrangements at the host site for lodging and other activities.

With birding trips limited to about 15 participants, for an optimal experience, they are in high demand on a first-ask, first-go basis. Club members stay informed through the monthly Tico Tweeter newsletter, featuring the latest trip reports, upcoming event notices and other birding news and articles. The club’s website features similar trip-related content as well as bird lists and other information.

Red-headed Barbet. Taken at the Chinchona Hummingbird Cafe. As a note on interest, the Barbet is said to be basis for the red bird in ‘Angry Birds’.
Club members searching for a Great Jacamar at Selva Bananito Lodge.

The Birding Club is fortunate to have expert guides such at Pat O’Donnell to lead the trips, and to count Robert Dean, co-author of ”The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide,” as an active member.

Some of the club’s volunteer efforts focus on giving back to the country and to the birding community. Funds have been raised to support the Bellbird project in Monteverde and to supply field guides to local communities. Another club initiative involves sharing information on its 22-year history of bird sightings in Costa Rica with Cornell University’s eBird project.

Birding Club membership dues are $10 a year for an individual and $15 for a family. Requests to join may be submitted online at: To follow the exploits of club members and learn a bit more about the birds of Costa Rica, visit

Club members searching for a Great Jacamar at Selva Bananito Lodge.
Searching for lovely Cotinga at the top of El Silenco ( L to R: Susan Blank, Johan Kuilder and Robert Dean) Note - Robert Dean is the co-author and illustrator of “The Birds of Costa Rica - a field guide”
An Acorn Woodpecker taken high in the mountains at Miriams Cabinas in San Gerardo De Dota.
A white-fronted Parrot posing near Ensenada Ledge