Avian Gems of the Caribbean Foothills

(Patrick O’Donnell, 18 March 2017)

Want to know a good recipe for tons of different bird species? Mix high mountains with abundant water, add warm stable temperatures, throw in a pinch of dry areas, and blend it in a place where different evolutionary lineages meet. The end result is southern Central America and in terms of birds, we get a bonanza of literally hundreds of bird species in a pretty small place.

Whether volcanic, tectonic, or both, the mountains are a vital part of the species equation. The slopes catch or prevent water from falling and thus produce conditions for different habitats and continue with habitat generation by lifting land to different elevations with accompanying cooler temperatures. Microhabitats also come out of this situation for an extra dose of biodiversity, including transition zones that have their own suites of adapted birds. One of those transition areas is my favorite habitat in Costa Rica because it blends the richness of lowland avifauna with some aspects of the highlands along with a local set of restricted bird species. Although the prospect of rare and little known birds is always a draw, the slightly cooler temperatures and dripping mossy vegetation of foothill forests likewise make them an attractive place to visit, and in Costa Rica, another bonus comes into play for birding foothill forests. While steep slopes and heavy rains make these interesting transition areas tough to access in many other parts of the globe, the rare combination of good roads and protected areas makes them one of the easier places to access when visiting Costa Rica.

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