Now, I won’t tell you I’m an expert. But for someone who has enjoyed such a feathered life as mine, I’ve certainly got a handle on them and, if my binoculars haven’t yet, they’re getting ready to because girl is always looking up.
Well, that is, except when I’m keeping eyes to the ground for all the serpientes, cool insectos and whatnot I’m sure to bumble across in the coming months down in the neotropics..
For my first travels to Costa Rica back in 2002 I have my grandmother, Grandy, to thank. She took me to the country where we joined a tour run by Neotropical Expeditions and Marcos Soto when I was 18. This was her high school graduation present to me. I was there for the birds and we had the right guide for it. A few days into our tour he was already testing me on species identification and showing me how important it is to always carry a scope when you’re carrying out a bird tour.
To get an idea of just what kind of overall biodiversity making up the Costa Rican avian realm, let’s compare this teeny tropical powerhouse of a country up against the big boys: the United States–for obvious frame-of-reference reasons–and Colombia, because it really is the jefe leader in total number of birds found within a country. Colombia rocks more than twice as many species than we ever hope to see here in the states at a whopping 1,826 species. Costa Rica may show not much greater in the way of species as the U.S. but you do have to consider that to the states’ 844 bird species compared to Costa Rica’s 856 is pretty phenomenal for a country about the size of state of New Jersey! The place is dripping with them..
Right now, I’m reading Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata which gives a whirlwind summary about all the facets that make up the multitudes of life that support the tropical pulsing heartbeat of the Central and South American neotropics. It’s especially fun to read back through a book that I read as part of my Neotropical Ecology and Conservation course at Warren Wilson College in which we studied the book and, at the end of the semester, travelled to Costa Rica for a two-week field section where we could see what we’d learned first-hand.
Looking at just one family of life in any kind of habitat can mean missing out on all the ecosystemic connections that make life ever more interesting. Birds are my first and foremost passion and where my eyes are drawn first, a flick in the leaves, a flit through the branches or a blaze of color across my vision. But watch them, don’t just cross it off your target list and move on, but rather study it, see where it’s going, what food it’s following, what habitat it occupies, how it interacts with its predators, its prey, how it has fallen into the niche–or place in life–that it now occupies.
Taking in all of life makes for a slow nature walk, but that’s kind of the point. There’s so much of it, so many connections and interactions, symbiotic relationships, mutualism, parasitism, commensalism. There’s a nitty gritty there, where there are so many pieces to the whole and we’re still a long way from knowing all that makes it up. The ecosystem as a whole is what we see when we back up, but it’s important not to neglect to narrow down our perspective and look at all the parts that come together to make the whole that we’re looking at from way back here.
And I certainly don’t see everything, it’s a lot to take, which is why I specialize on birds (when I say specialize, I don’t really think I ever had a choice, it was love at first sight) and then can span out from there. What are those bugs they’re all crowding around to prey upon? Why are there so many right here? Is that fruiting tree attracting them? All life’s first mission always seems to be: follow the food. Are the birds being spied upon by their own predator just like they’re spying upon their own? Are other things eating the fallen fruits before the rot and the bugs come?
Oh all the connections. Life can never be boring. If you’re bored, you just look in a different direction.
..and then, look even closer.