Pura Vida Indeed

Mucha más para venir..

Much more to come..

In the meantime, please visit my Facebook page and Instagram for photographic updates sobre mis experiencias fantásticas! WiFi is limitado en la Osa, por eso, voy a usar estas paginas primero para compartir mis experiencias.

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Costa Rica: And so it begins..

I’ve officially arrived to Costa Rica!!

Flew in this afternoon to popcorn clouds that put the rolling hills of the verdant land beneath us back and forth between shadow and light. Below me I imagined all the toucans, motmots, aracaris, macaws, monkeys, sloths, snakes, iguanas and all the rest of the rich biodiversity that awaits.

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After standing in line at immigration for over an hour, I finally had my official welcome to the land of Costa Rica from the friendly (!) immigrations officer. I blissfully headed toward my new adventure, ready to take on the world. Unfortunately though, an empty conveyor belt at baggage claim had other ideas. I’d checked my large backpacking bag full of nearly everything I’d need for the coming high season back at BWI Airport in Maryland and somehow I guess the darn thing just didn’t get the memo as to where I was headed.

What made it even more fun was that I didn’t know what to tell them when they asked where to send the bag if it did happen to be found. Saladero Ecolodge doesn’t have a real address since it’s pretty well in the middle of a rainforest and you can only get there by boat. I’m so content in my denial at the moment, that I can’t say I’m particularly bothered by the situation. Mainly the denial is that my precious Swarovski binoculars might never find me again, but I’m not going to go there right now. Anyways, there’s nothing much I can do but wait and see.

23760414_672861589685_1112514050_oBut back to the real matter at hand: STACEBIRD HAS RETURNED TO THE TROPICS!!! Glued to my airplane window, my first bird from the air was none other than a black vulture soaring below the plane. Don’t you ever wonder why a certain everyday bird species with a range as wide as the BLVU would opt to be anywhere other than here? I feel bad for the ones that circle above the ho-hum suburbs where I grew up. I’d totally be a Costa Rica black vulture any day..

Didn’t see much else except for what likely was a tropical  kingbird along with some boat-tailed grackles and snowy egrets from the taxi en route to my hostel. There I had to get situated and figure out food. The girls staying in my shared dorm room heard me asking the host about where to find coffee and suddenly I found myself walking through Alajuela on a gorgeous afternoon listening to travel stories from this pair of of well-travelled young women, one was from Hong Kong and the other from Norway. We enjoyed coffee and the all-day desayuno (breakfast) option at a cute open air cafe called Delicias located a few blocks away.

Staying in hostels is the best way to meet the most fascinating, intrepid souls. Finding a cheap place to stay off the main tourist circuit can be hit or miss on cleanliness (or even sketchiness, based on where they might be located), but I’m pretty thrilled with the one I found. It’s called Lajuela BnB & Hostel, and I must say, I’ve only been here a few hours and I already highly recommend it! The staff is wonderful, it’s clean and comfortable and has a very cool, laid back crowd. Not to mention the vegan/vegetarian breakfast option in the morning before I head out on the final leg of my travels!

So tomorrow I’ll be headed deep into a rich, fantastical, lush avifauna wonderland, so stay tuned for whatever is next..

…here goes!!

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Finding my Love for Birds, a HubPages throwback

Here’s a lil’ throwback from 2011 when I was just trying to beef up my “published” writing portfolio to attempt to get into grad school..guess it worked.

More HubPages posts from back in the day here!

 

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Finish the article here..

 

Btw: Countdown to Costa Rica, 11 days!!

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Siesta Key Beach: Seabirds at Sunset

Siesta Key, just off Florida’s west coast, is a barrier island protecting mainland Sarasota. These naturally formed islands protect the mainland from disasters like the onslaught we’ve very recently just seen. While the Key is home to a constant influx of tourists and well-off snowbirds whose large houses line the gulf, this is a place that is still wild in a few ways if you look beyond the sea of oiled up beach goers. Beyond a field of beach umbrellas in every shade of the rainbow, the sands of Siesta Key are is also home to a variety of nesting seabirds and shorebirds. And there is quite an array species of birds that we share this ecosystem with, as you can see in this bird-and-sunset-centric video I just whipped up or on my Warm Winter Sands blog post from last year. These hardy, feathered creatures occupy parts of nearby keys , those that stay local during the summer breeding season to have their young (some of which I have visited, see Skimmers) and even more seabirds will gather each fall on the wide, white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico along with their newly produced generation of young. Here, they’ll spend the long winter months feeding from the warm waters and people watching.

Terns and sandpipers that return in the fall to the beach have finished their nesting in the upper temperate zones, from Maine up into the Arctic where a brief summer bids a rich harvest of insects, juvenile “feeder” fish, aquatic invertebrates and other seabird and shorebird prey. As winter approaches, I’ve watched the stark black heads and bodies of the various seabirds decline like a receding hairline or fade to a fuzzy gray..although skimmers don’t tend to follow suit, remaining crisp and handsome black throughout the entire non-breeding season.

Anyways, as I think about wintering birds, see them here at the end of a busy season of egg laying, feeding hungry chicks and watching them take their first flight now resting on my own local beach, I feel grateful that, between the umbrellas, there’s still something wild. Just think, some of these birds have flown hundreds of miles to get here. Now, they’re just trying to do their own version of hibernating. Except they don’t need to do it underground. Instead, they get to soak up the rays and enjoy the warm gulf breeze..

 

 

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Birds of Costa Rica: StaceBird Rambles

No1923242_505255498635_7797279_nw, 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..

415055_532304836545_372485294_oFor 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..

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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.

25204_750528118584_4682758_nTaking 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.

 

 

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Bird-centric business cards, a @stacebird speciality!

So I’m working on some new business cards, which is always fun, through Moo.com which is an awesome company I’ve patronized on various occasions over the years. I’ve always been pleased with the outcome..

binnez cards

The cards always great fun to give out, I’m always interested to see what image people are most drawn to when I let them pick. Obviously, my cards trend mightily toward bird-centric, though I do make sure to throw in some fun captures of butterflies, flowers and a bit of my own artwork as well.

Here’s a sample of what my next batch will entail..

 

So which would YOU choose? If you message me your choice along with your address before I leave for Costa Rica on Nov. 17th, I’d be happy to send one your way!

And to see more sweet nature-centric business cards, check out nature photographer Jonathan Rista‘s blogpost on the beautiful cards he created!

 

Update: My cards have arrived!! And much sooner than the presumed delivery date they gave me! Thanks Moo

 

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Southward on tireless wings..

So while I’m headed southward, I don’t have the advantage of tireless wings. Or any wings for that matter.

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Magnolia Warbler

Rather I’m talking about the tiny songbirds flying ever-southward, primarily under cover of darkness to evade daytime predators like hawks and falcons. They, along with many other kinds of birds, are carrying out the instinctual urge to migrate with the seasons, traveling to wherever the food is most abundant. As the cold weather breathes crisp hints of fall and the late summer sunshine wanes, the hatchlings of this year are finally grown, fledged and ready to fly south, following the biannual ritual along with the rest of their kind.

The fall harvest along the many pit stops along the way will hopefully provide sufficient resources necessary for the countless birds along their journey, but many birds die along the way nonetheless. Not only do migrating birds have predators to fear, but also concern about where to rest and refuel. Migratory shorebirds and seabirds rely on beaches and coastline boasting plentiful aquatic invertebrates and small fish and the warblers and songbirds, also known as perching birds or passerines, follow the insects and worms that can be found among the leaves and branches of trees. As human development consistently burgeons ever forth, areas for this bi-annual river of bird species looking for fuel become fragmented and overrun with predators. Tired birds resting on beaches constantly have to upend themselves upon every approach of human, pet or predator. The journey is hard enough as it is, but many variables come in to play that also create significant challenges for these relentless little creatures. And a lot of the time, those are human-related variables.

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Resting Royal Terns

But there are ways we can address this. Sometimes, rather than the excitement of running across the beach to flush a flock of gulls and terns could rather be turned into an interesting learning experience for a small child. Where did these birds come from? Where are they headed? Maybe we should walk a few extra steps to skirt around them rather than trundle straight through a group of migratory seabirds that are just trying to recharge for the next stretch of travel.

Anyways, just a thought. I can guarantee that I was probably right there, little stacebird, running ahead of the family in my excitement at setting foot in the powdery sand on Siesta Key, a cloud of gulls rising in front of me as I make a beeline for the water. Anytime I get preachy, just remember it’s to myself as well. We all try to help this big, beautiful, life-filled world our own ways and that’s what counts.

So now as I find myself in the stomping grounds of my youth, here in Maryland, I’m enjoying every chance I can to soak in the hints of fall that are licking at the leaves, tinging them in yellow, orange and red. While mom and I were in Maine, there were shocks of color, an entire maple that may have decided to get ahead of the curve among its still-green brethren. And just like up there, there is a flurry of activity among the leaves here as the birds find the remaining bits food before carrying on southward.

While I was in Puerto Rico, working on a project studying Smooth-billed Anis, I’d arrived freshly from a field season studying warblers in the Bay of Fundy in New

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Black-throated Green Warbler, Bay of Fundy

Brunswick. The very same species of migratory warblers I’d spent the summer netting, banding and monitoring throughout the nesting season were suddenly present in Puerto Rico where I’d just arrived for the winter to work on the project. Bird-jobs happen where the birds are and, in effect, I was following the birds. I remember seeing a Black-throated Green Warbler, a species I’d grown quite fond of up in Canada, for the first time in Puerto Rico and just smiling because I knew this jaunty little warbler had just travelled a long ways to get there and was going to spend the winter feeding on the abundant insect life offered by those tropical climes before heading back north to breed the following spring.

What is especially neat about the work we were doing in Canada was “resighting” bands, meaning, using our binoculars, we’d see if a bird above us in a tree was banded.  In noting the color combination of four colored bands on the legs of the a previously banded bird, we could even determine if very same individual who travels to Central and South America during the winter will actually return to the very same territory, down to the tree, that they’d previously designated as *theirs* in prior years. They do! So, while I did check for bands on the black-throated greens I saw in Puerto Rico, the odds weren’t in my favor that I’d come across a bird I’d recognize..seeing as how that would mean out of the hundreds of millions of migrating songbirds, we’d have to find each other just a mere two-thousand miles later. Not likely, but it sure gave me some perspective!

So while I stop to rest my tired wings, I’m getting prepared for a few more hops before the final flight south to Costa Rica. I’ll have a chance to see who’s hanging out on the beach once I get back down to Florida for a bit, and, in addition to hanging to with my amazing grandmother before I leave, I’ll get in on some Audubon walks to get a good look at the migrants passing through while I’m there. So stay tuned!

Thanks for reading, all and don’t forget to wave hi to the migrants as they trickle past. And keep your eyes ever skyward..

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~stacebird

 

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