Cotinga and a Coffee — Part 1

Hope is coming up a lot in 2020. Or hopelessness. Or both, sometimes within the same

The engines of our emotional rollercoasters include but aren’t limited to: the global
health pandemic, raging forest fires, and the even more ferocious and volatile political
fires in the US, which for better or worse have far-reaching geopolitical impacts.
The need to focus on small but equally impactful everyday, local examples of hope have
never been more important. I can’t think of anything better in our community as a counterpoint to the chaos than the Cotinga and a Coffee story.

The Turquoise Cotinga is coveted by national and international birders alike, as a “near-
endemic” species. Not only special because of its limited distribution in Costa Rica and
Panama, but also because it is simply spectacular. It looks like it emerged from exquisite
Pacific waters permanently coated in the bright turquoise that gives rise to its name,
complete with a rich purple accent on the chest. It wears these colours so well and so
vibrantly that its appearance could provoke you to spill hot coffee all over your lap.

Where does coffee come in?
In COVID times, small businesses have been hit hard. But the Turquoise Cotinga’s
luminescence shines a spotlight on how cultivating a conservation ethic and appreciation
for nature can benefit the environment and the economy, even during a pandemic.

“Cholo,” the owner of Mercado Viriteca in Sabalito de Coto Brus, made a conscious
conservation decision when opening his business in the middle of a bustling intersection.
Across from the abandoned gas station in downtown Sabalito, it is an unlikely place to
find the rushing river and lush forest patch that Cholo’s establishment protects. When he
took over the location four years ago, he dedicated time and energy to cleaning up the
creek. Aside from creating a relaxing ambient for his clientele, the fruits of the
Aguacatillo trees in this patch are as attractive to birds (not only the Cotinga, but other
special species such as the Resplendent Quetzals, Oilbirds and Three-Wattled Bellbirds)
as caffeinated beans are to humans.

Recently, the fruits of his labour were manifested in the Aguacatillo’s fruits attracting the
Turquoise Cotinga to the hysterical delight of the local birding community and beyond.
The Pajareros del Sur are among the masses flocking to Viriteca’s patio to photograph the
Cotinga or to simply admire it over their gallo pinto. The outdoor venue and spacing
between seats are especially advantageous in an era of social distancing. Cholo says he
has talked to people from all walks of life and all ages about this incredible bird, why
conservation efforts are important, and how they have helped his business.

It’s important to understand the larger forces at work and how they trickle down to each
of our local contexts. But it’s equally important to focus on the “trickle-up” effect of
these positive local actions, and the collective impact they have on the world.
So when you start to despair about the upcoming elections or the migratory birds killed in
the forest fires, I encourage you to also remember the many people who still care enough
to support a local business that conserves habitat for beautiful birds and other species.

Stay tuned for an interview with Cholo: Part 2 of Cotinga and a Coffee

Photo by David Arias Rodriguez

Lilly Briggs, PhD, Director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association