Birder of the Year 2017: Costa Rica with Swarovski Optik

July 04 2018

#Bird watching #Expeditions

Birder of the Year 2017: Costa Rica with Swarovski Optik

Ed Kanze won the Birder of the Year 2017 contest with his essay, "Find a Bird, Get a Life," which ran in the March/April 2017 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. Recently having claimed his prize: a trip to Costa Rica, courtesy of Swarovski Optik, he submitted this story:

Costa Rica with Swarovski Optik

By Ed Kanze

When a fiery-billed aracari, a kind of toucan, poked its blazing sickle-like bill out of a hole in a tree trunk, we knew beyond all doubt that in traveling to Costa Rica, we’d come to the right place. We were in good company, too. The preceding afternoon, we’d been whisked away by our Swarovski Optik guides, Clay Taylor, Alex Villegas, and their driver Marco Morales (a formidable bird expert in his own right). They’d picked us up in late morning at our hotel in San Jose, the capital. Our immediate destination was Villa Lapas, a resort a few miles from Tarcoles and Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Villa Lapas is a favorite spot for birders. The first exciting Costa Rican bird found by our team, which included my wife, Debbie, and our children Ned (14) and Tasman (12), turned up on the way to the coast. It was a turquoise-browed motmot, lurking in a less than promising place: a town square bustling with people. Yet there it was, the first motmot we’d ever seen, lurking in a shadow within shouting distance of several hundred people. We were enthralled.

The aracari clinched our sense of a decision well-made, especially since we got to see every barbule of every feather through Clay’s Swarovski Optik spotting scope.

We’d come to Costa Rica thanks to Swarovski Optik and the magazine Bird Watcher’s Digest, which had awarded me its 2017 ‘Birder of the Year” honor. Debbie and I had chipped in for the kids.

Our two nights and one full day at Villa Lapas were rewarding, with scores of new birds seen and plenty of other wildlife, too. The fact that Clay and Alex showed up with a formidable arsenal of Swarovski Optik scopes and binoculars heightened the pleasure. Everything we saw we examined through lenses so crisp, clear, and bright that it took no coaxing to make me freight this sentence with praise. The kids were most thrilled with the scopes. As an all-round naturalist, I found greatest pleasure in EL 10x42 binoculars, which allowed not only fabulous views of birds but also of lizards, frogs, and leaf-cutter ants at my feet.

The culmination of our Swarovski Optik journey came at Savegre Mountain Lodge, high in the mountains.

Here we enjoyed cozy rooms and delicious meals in the dining room, at least when we weren’t roaming the garden gawking at hummingbirds or trekking through the valley or nearby hills in search of new discoveries. There can be no question about the identity of the star bird of this second and final leg of the trip. I’d seen it praised effusively by fellow birders and in the pages of Bird Watcher’s Digest: the resplendent quetzal, the most celebrated bird in a country full of celebrated birds. Clay, Alex, and Marco took us up the road to a nest. After a suspenseful period of waiting, a male, whose long, brilliantly green tail coverts we’d seen trailing out of the nest hole, extricated himself and landed on a branch. We gasped. So did the other birders who had joined us. Magnifico!

By the time Alex, Clay, and Marco dropped us off back at our hotel, we’d seen, through some of the world’s finest glass, 160 species of birds, white-faced capuchin monkeys, American crocodiles, an array of lizards, poison dart frogs (the Costa Rican species are not considered dangerous despite their name), and lots more. Of the birds, 131 were species new to Debbie and me. We discovered some old friends from the USA, too, including a spotted sandpiper, turkey vultures, Wilson's warblers, and Baltimore orioles.

Many thanks to Swarovski Optik, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Clay, Alex, and Marco for a thrilling, educational time in Costa Rica.

An author and professional nature guide in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Ed Kanze is a contributing editor for Bird Watcher's Digest. His most recent book is Adirondack: Life and Wildlife in the Wild, Wild East.


Resplendent quetzal, photo by Clay Taylor



The Kanze family is in the middle of this group shot: Debbie in pink jacket, Tasman, Ned, and Ed in yellow jacket. Marco Morales, Alex Villegas, and Clay Taylor are at right.



The Kanze family enjoys the beach in Costa Rica. Photo by Clay Taylor.



Turquoise-browed motmot, photo by Clay Taylor.



Debbie, Ed, Ned, and Tasman Kanze in San Jose, Costa Rica, with Alex Villegas’s daughter Sara and wife Deleuis. Photo by Clay Taylor.





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