It was already dark in mid-October when we arrived to the Costa Rican birding mecca of Rancho Naturalista to have dinner on the veranda but then were interrupted with a call: There’s a Mottled Owl at the other side! You can imagine the rest: everyone jumped from the table to look for the owl. Lisa Erb, the manager and owner, but also a former bird guide, perfectly understood her guests.
After dinner, some teams walked around hoping for some more birds. My team, the Redstart Wranglers, was still on the veranda when our guide Abelardo Benavides called us out: There’s a potoo calling! All Wranglers went to the other side of the lodge listening… a potoo mixed with human voices. That’s another team playing potoo calls from a smartphone. You have to be extra careful when on a bird race… Hey, wait, let’s play them back some other bird!
Belonging to the Caribbean (Talamanca’s) foothills biome, Rancho Naturalista protects 60 ha of secondary premontane forest and has the fourth longest eBird list among the hotspots of Costa Rica: 478 species, including 36 raptors and 38 hummingbirds. But, beside the ranch itself, up to two miles away there are six more hotspots whose names often end with “near Rancho Naturalista”. Curious to see what the combined list would show, I used the eBird polygon tool to sum them all up to 502 bird species. Now, how many lodges can you tell of with such a list?
Morning started with coffee and sweets and some more birding along the four ranch trails ranging from 400 m/0.3 mi to 2.5 km/1.6 mi. I spent the morning with Lisa among the hummingbird feeders at the upper terrace of the lodge, observing White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Green-breasted Mango, Violet Sabrewing, Crowned Woodnymph and the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
“Hmmm…. well I moved in 1984 to live at Rancho and it was a coffee and sugarcane farm back then. We tried everything, Hawaiian pineapple, black pepper, even jalapeños, and we could not make money from farming,” Lisa told me.
“We loved the forest and had never cut it since we first owned the property. Then my dad spoke to some friends that lived up in the Costa Rican highlands who said they were going to have birdwatchers come to stay with them. My dad asked how did they do that? And they said they put an ad in Bird Watcher’s Digest and people would came, so we did that too! It started small and grew bigger. Over the years we had to expand but we never stopped being a strictly birding lodge.
“We started at the exact perfect time when ecotourism was starting – it was lucky! Plus, I love birds and birding and I begin to guide and did that for 12 years. That background helps me feel what birders want and need in a lodge. We have also been lucky in having awesome guides and they go on to guide for different companies all over the world.”
That background certainly helps, I noticed that. Lisa knew what I wanted way before I knew it, making Rancho Naturalista the kind of place – the rarest kind, actually – where one comes as a guest and leaves as a friend.
Later that day, we went to the El Copal Biological Reserve (about 20 km/12 mi from the Rancho) where while climbing the stairs I found the gem I missed that morning. In a flowering bush maybe two feet from me, there was the snow! I found the snow in Costa Rica, the endemic Snowcap hummingbird, that is. Just imagine how handsome they can be… Well, this one tops that!
Read more at: http://www.10000birds.com/snow-in-costa-rica.htm