Greetings of the Season and Two Presents for You

We wish you Happy Holidays with some hope on the horizon. Here are two fun gifts from us to you:

1) No Membership Dues for 2020. If you were thoughtful enough to send dues this year, we will extend them to 2021 when we hope to offer Bird Walks, Outings to local hotspots, the Annual Meeting, other Special Events and Detectives de Aves classes in local schools.

2) A rooted, ready-to-plant Hampea appendiculata, full of brown clusters of fruit at this time of year and feeding tyrannulets, warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, thrushes, saltators, motmots, aracaris and toucans! If you don’t have one of these in your garden, you DO want one — trust us. It’s a small, thin tree and doesn’t get super tall so all these birds are readily seen.

Please send an email to: to place your order!

It’s a Hampea Holiday!

Special thanks to Harry Hull for his festivication of the Hampea photo.

Happy Birding! High Hopes for 2021!


Zooming With Owls — Part 5, the End

What is the first thing you do when planning a birding trip? Buy or borrow a bird book and note the ones you really want to see. In the case of your trip to Costa Rica, who didn’t include the Crested Owl?

Crested Owl at Finca Cantaros, photo by David Rodríguez Arias, Biólogo Regente de Vida Silvestre at Finca Cántaros

So, we’ve saved the ‘best’ for last and we’re saying ‘best’ because this owl is San Vito’s Most Distinguished Avian Visitor of 2019-20. For the past two years, one — and sometimes two — of them have spent the green season right here, in a huge stand of bamboo near the lake at Finca Cántaros: arriving in June and departing in December.

We have many questions, not the least of which is ‘where do they go’? And ‘why’? Thirty years ago, when the definitive book A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch was published, not a huge amount of this species’ natural history was known. Their diet was described as “. . . beetles, orthopterans, roaches, caterpillars.” But, as one of their habits was said to be “. . . daytime roosts, especially at gaps and edges and along streams. . . “, what do you want to wager the diet included aquatic insects, frogs, small fish?

So here is the question we asked this beguiling owl, “Where do you go when you leave Finca Cántaros?” and the owl said, click here and hit ‘play’ to hear its answer.

Roughly translated, this means, “. . . to Guanacaste, like everybody else!” Just kidding, we have no idea what this Crested Owl was saying but it was recorded by Costa Rica’s own Patrick O’Donnell (Google him, if you haven’t already).

And now, we are sorry to say, it is time to ‘End Meeting for All’. 


Zooming With Owls — Part 4

Tropical Screech-Owl, Megascops choliba, photo by Randall Jiménez Borbón, aka Ciccio

Of the five species of Screech-Owls in Costa Rica, we are lucky to have two in our corner of the southern Pacific: Tropical Screech-Owl and Chocó Screech-Owl. Fairly commonly heard (and seen) in San Vito is the Tropical, with two color variations. Seen here is the gray version (of four sightings spread over 20 years, the author claims three of them were the rarer rufous morph). An important field mark is the facial disk outlined in black.

These endearing creatures are small, about 9″, and can be found in forested areas along with gardens and city parks. They pounce on prey from bare, low branches favoring large insects, spiders and scorpions (!).

Chocó Screech-Owl, photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Chocó Screech-Owl (Megascops centralis) is harder to find and was formerly known as Vermiculated Screech-Owl. With some perseverence, you might find one a little lower down the ridge toward Cuidad Neily. A good field mark for the Chocó is its lack of a distinct facial disk and less vertical streaking on the breast.

When we asked the Screechies if they found it difficult to sleep during the day, the Tropical said (click here and press play to listen), “Yes, because you humans are constantly taking pictures of us” — in Owlish, of course. On the other hand, the Chocó (click here) said, “No, because we know where to hide.”

Zooming With Owls — Part 3

Striped Owl, photo by Randall Jimenez Borbón, aka Ciccio

The Striped Owl is a favorite — just look at that photo! Considered “local” and “uncommon” in the Coto Brus-Terraba region, they can be found perched on roadside utility wires at night. Let’s say, for example, you are driving home to San Vito after a weekend at Manuel Antonio National Park. You see an upright figure on a wire ahead and it’s getting dark so you slow down to see what this might be: a Striped Owl! What a prize!

The ear tufts are reminiscent of Long-eared and Short-eared Owls of North America but hunting techniques differ in that the northern birds tend to fly over large, open areas like salt marshes whereas ‘Stripeys’ favor roadside edges of forest or rice or palm plantations, often near lights, where they can dive for prey that includes small mammals, large insects, amphibians and occasionally small birds. 

We wanted to know more about “owl pellets”, so fascinating to nature centers around the world, so we decided to ask ‘Stripey’: why do you all cough up those (potentially) gross detritus-y balls of ??? and this is the answer (click here and click play). The bird didn’t really answer the question but we were happy to hear a recording from so close to home.

This Striped Owl comes to us from the extensive nature photography collection of Randall Jimenez, a Detectives de Aves teacher, who works at Finca Cántaros as the Coordinador de Alcance Comunitario, i.e., the public face of the new Asociación Ambiental Finca Cántaros.

Randall can be found on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms and, should you wish to visit Cántaros, please contact him.

Zooming With Owls — Part 2


Mottled Owl, photo by Pepe Castiblanco

Everybody loves owls, no? Yes! They are particularly endearing and, with their round heads, round bodies and big eyes, they almost look like Bobblehead Toys. The problem is we need to go out at night to see them or have a spectacular bit of luck on a daytime bird walk.

Mottled Owls are the most commonly heard of them all in San Vito. You can often hear them start to call at dusk or later into the night and they sound a little bit like dogs in the distance until you accustom yourself to their voice. They start breeding in February and, when two of them get each other wound up — calling back and forth — it makes a big, kind-of-scary, duetting racket!

Apparently there is a question on the correct scientific name of this owl. According to the Taxonomy Seer of the SVBC Jo Davidson, in Costa Rica we use Ciccaba virgata. You will see it referred to as Strix virgata in the links below. In either case, or both, Mottled Owls are found from Mexico to Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina.

Black-and-white Owl, photo by Yeimiri Badilla

The larger Black-and-white Owl is far less common but has been reliably seen and heard near the forested area around the Las Cruces Biological Station. It takes bigger prey than its cousin, feeding on small rodents and bats in addition to large insects favored by both.

You won’t be surprised to learn these owls are in the same genus with their similarly rounded shape, no ear tufts and prominent, fancy eyebrows. Ciccaba nigrolineata is the Black-and-white found from Mexico to Venezuela and Peru.

Let’s see what they have to say for themselves when asked about swiveling their heads around to nearly 180 degrees: is it fun? It looks like a conjuring trick! Click the link here and press play to hear the Mottled Owl’s reply. It sounds like it is saying, “Wow, wow, wow!” And the Black-and-white had this to say: click and press play. This sounds like “Just who are YOU?” to us.

And finally here are both of them arguing over the answer; see if you can tell who is calling by clicking here!

Just one more view of the Mottled Owl from Pepe Castiblanco’s collection.


Book Club Members Discuss a B.A.O. (big-ass owl)

Shown below, San Vito Bird Club members discussing their most recent book club selection ‘Owls of the Eastern Ice, A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl’.

(Row 1: top left–Charles and Sara Beeson-Jones, Lydia Vogt. Row 2: Helen LeVasseur, Jennifer Talbot, Julie Girard. Row 3: Alison Olivieri, Jean Schroeder)

The world’s biggest owl; from the book.

Cotinga y el Café — Parte Dos: Entrevista con Cholo, dueño de Mercado Viriteca, Sabalito

Escrito por Dra. Lilly Briggs

Versión en español

Cholo en el mercado! Foto de Lilly Briggs.

1. ¿Cuándo y por qué abrió Mercado Viriteca?
Hace cuatro años el local estuvo a punto de cerrar porque no funcionaba solamente con laventa de frutas y verduras. Yo soy arrendatario, el dueño del edificio Abinal Rojas, me dió la oportunidad de emprender el proyecto de Mercado Viriteca para reinventarlo. Mi objetivo era crear un lugar que pueda beneficiar a la comunidad y el medioambiente. Compro vegetales, frutas, quesos y huevos de productores locales, y así los consumidores locales tienen acceso a productos frescos sin tener que ir al supermercado. La quebrada atrás estaba llena de basura, entonces yo estaba comprometido a limpiarla. Todavía me comprometo a mantenerla así, y así ayudo el medioambiente y ofrezco un espacio relajante para los clientes que vienen para comer y tomar café.

2. ¿De dónde surgió su ética por la conservación?
En las generaciones previas, como la de mi abuelo, les enseñaron que la tierra era más
valiosa despejada para criar más ganado o cultivar más café. Pero desde niño yo podía
apreciar la belleza y la diversión en la Naturaleza, y nuestra responsabilidad colectiva  de protegerla. También podía apreciar los beneficios tangibles de proteger la Naturaleza; por ejemplo, existe una conexión directa entre la protección de un árbol de naranja, y la capacidad de tener naranjas para cosechar.

3. ¿Cuales son algunos de los desafíos que ha enfrentado desde que abriera el local?
¡Hemos enfrentado un desafío nuevo y diferente cada año! Desde que abrimos nuestras puertas en 2016, nos vimos afectados por el Huracán Nate, una huelga nacional de maestros, y la introducción del IVA y la factura electrónica. Apenas estuvimos agarrando el momento y ritmo nuevamente cuando, en 2020, bueno… todos sabemos que algo muy diferente ocurrió: la pandemia global de Covid-19. Es difícil con un negocio pequeño porque los gastos siempre serán los mismos. Dependemos de nuestros clientes regulares para ganar la vida. Entonces, cuando las reglas cambian cada día, cómo ha estado ocurriendo durante la pandemia, y no podemos abrir el local con consistencia, los clientes empiezan a frustrarse.

4. ¡Y de repente llegó la Cotinga! Nos puede hablar de esta experiencia en el contexto deunos comentarios previamente expresados sobre su ética de conservación y los desafíos de manejar un negocio pequeño durante una pandemia.
Esperaba que al proteger el bosque y la quebrada que están detrás del negocio
atraeríamos aves que los clientes podrían disfrutar, y pensé que iban a llegar especies más comunes como Trogones. ¡Cuando la Cotinga apareció por primera vez ni siquiera sabía lo que era! Mandé una foto a Bley (uno de los Pajareros del Sur), quien me pidió permiso con mucha emoción de compartir la foto en grupos de WhatsApp. Y de repente “bang”, gente empezó a llegar para observar esta ave, ¡no solamente del área local, hasta de tan lejos como San José! Realmente ha dado mucho apoyo al negocio durante un momento tan difícil económicamente.

5. Cuéntanos sobre los comentarios y conversaciones que la Cotinga Turquesa ha inspirado.

Pajareros al Mercado Viriteca de Sabilito. Foto de Lilly Briggs.

Unos de mis clientes regulares empezaron a preguntarme: “¿quiénes son estas personas? ¡Parecen que son de National Geographic!” por causa de todo el equipo—binoculares, telescópicos, y cámaras. Es emocionante de ver cómo la gente sin mucho interés mostrado antes en las aves, están haciendo muchas preguntas ahora. Por ejemplo, uno de los vendedores de queso me preguntó si podía enseñarle la Cotinga. Unos miembros de la comunidad me han comentado que veían más Cotingas en el pasado cuando todavía habían más Aguacatillos, porque las Cotingas aman sus frutos. He tenido la oportunidad de hablar con personas de diferentes sectores sobre la conexión entre la conservación de la Naturaleza y el apoyo a la economía local. Hay gente que saludaba casualmente en el pasado, y a través de esta nueva experiencia hemos desarrollado una conexión más profunda. Finalmente, creo que muchas personas han cambiado su perspectiva sobre la accesibilidad de pajarear como una actividad que todos puedan disfrutar—no necesariamente hay que viajar muy lejos, ni tener todo el equipo que lo haga a uno parecer como un explorador/a de National Geographic!

6. ¿Tiene algún comentario final?
El dinero es importante porque todos lo ocupamos para vivir, pero para mí es de igual
importancia el objetivo de ayudar a dejar el medioambiente en mejor condición de que lo encontré. Quiero que las próximas generaciones tengan las mismas oportunidades de aprender más sobre las maravillas de la Naturaleza, incluyendo un ave tan especial como la Cotinga Turquesa. Este objetivo es especialmente importante el día de hoy, dado que muchas personas de la actual generación están muy pegadas a sus teléfonos y a las redes sociales. Experiencias significativas con la Naturaleza y sus especies pueden inspirarles a cuidar nuestro planeta.

Lilly Briggs, PhD, Director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association

San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica

Facebook and Instagram: Finca Cántaros

Cotinga and a Coffee — Part 2: Interview with Cholo

Interview with Cholo, owner of Mercado Viriteca, Sabalito

Written by Dr. Lilly Briggs

Cholo at work! Photo by Lilly Briggs.

1. When and why did you open Mercado Viriteca?
Four years ago, the existing business in this location was about to close because it wasn’t working with just the sale of fruits and vegetables. As the tenant, the owner of the building, Abinal Rojas, gave me the opportunity to take on the Mercado Viriteca project to reinvent it. My goal has been to create a place that benefits the community and the environment. I buy vegetables, fruits, cheeses, eggs and more from local producers, which also gives local consumers access to fresh produce without having to go to the supermarket. The creek out back was filled with garbage, so I committed to cleaning it. I’m still committed to maintaining it that way, which helps the environment and allows me to offer a relaxing space for clients who come to eat and drink coffee.

2. Where do you think your conservation ethic come from?
The previous generations, like that of my grandfather, were taught that land was more
valuable if it was cleared for raising more cattle or planting more coffee. But I saw the
beauty and the fun in Nature, and our collective responsibility to protect it. I also saw the
tangible benefits to protecting Nature; for example, there is a direct connection between
protecting an orange tree, and then having oranges to eat.

3. What have been some of the challenges since you opened?
We have faced a new and different challenge every year! Since we opened our doors in
2016, there has been Hurricane Nate, the nationwide teachers’ strike, and the introduction of the IVA and the factura digital. We were finally getting things going, and finding our rhythm. But then in 2020, as we all know, something very different happened: the Covid-19 global pandemic. It’s hard with a small business because the expenses are always going to be the same. We depend on our regular customers to earn a living. So when the rules are changing every day, like they have been during the pandemic, and we can’t open consistently, clients start to get frustrated.

4. And then along came the Cotinga! Tell us about this experience in the context of some of the previous comments you expressed about your conservation ethic and the challenges of running a small business during a pandemic.

Birders at the Mercado Viriteca in Sabilito. Photo by Lilly Briggs.

I hoped that by protecting the forest and creek out back we would attract birds for the clients to enjoy, and I was expecting birds like Trogons, which are much more common. When the Cotinga first showed up I didn’t even know what it was! So I sent a photo to Bley (one of the Pajareros del Sur), who asked if he could share the photo in birder WhatsApp groups. And suddenly so many people started coming to see this bird, not just from the local area but from as far away as San José! It has really helped save the business during such a difficult time economically.

5. Tell us about the kinds of comments and conversations the Turquoise Cotinga has inspired.  Some of my regular clients started asking me: “who are all of these people? They look like they are from National Geographic!” because of all the equipment—binoculars, telescopes, and cameras. It’s been exciting to see how people who might not have had any interest in birds before are asking lots of questions now. For example, one if the cheese vendors asked if I could show him the Cotinga. Some community members have commented that they used to see more Cotingas when there were more Aguacatillo trees because the Cotingas love their fruit. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to people of all different backgrounds about the connection between protecting the environment and supporting the local economy. There are some people I used to just say hi to casually, and now I’ve been able to connect to them on a deeper level through this experience. And I believe many people have changed their mind about the accessibility of birding as an activity that everyone can enjoy—you don’t necessarily have to go very far or have all the equipment that makes you look like a National Geographic explorer!

6. Do you have any final points you would like to make?
Money is important because we all need it to live, but for me it’s equally important that I
help leave the environment even better than I found it. I want the next generation to have the same opportunities to learn more about the wonders of Nature, including a bird as special as the Turquoise Cotinga. This is especially important among a younger
generation like today, which is very attached to the phone and social media. Meaningful
experiences with nature and its species can inspire them to take care of our planet.

Lilly Briggs, PhD, Director of Finca Cántaros Environmental Association

San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica

Facebook and Instagram: Finca Cántaros

It’s Almost Halloween — Let’s Zoom With Owls!

We have several species of owls living here in San Vito so let’s have a chat with them. After all, Halloween is just around the corner and owls are prominently featured during this holiday as costumes, pumpkin carvings, cookie decorations and more.

Barn Owl of San Vito. Photo by Angelo Altamura.

First we look to the Barn Owl, Tyto alba, thought by many to be the origin of ghosts. Imagine yourself, crossing a meadow at dusk and flushing this big owl — seeing its soft beige and white, heart-shaped face. With its wings stretched out in flight, it’s the same size as a human child with arms spread wide! Let’s not pretend that wouldn’t give you a fright.

They nest in barns, under bridges and in buildings where human activity is at a minimum. This one  lives in the bell tower of a family chapel. With a diet of small mammals, including mice, rats, shrews, bats and even sleeping birds and large insects, they keep their surroundings vermin-free and are considered farmers’ friends.

Owls in the belfry. Photo by Angelo Altamura.

As to our Zoom call, first we asked this owl if it thought its kind IS the original human ghost story.  Now turn up your volume and follow the prompt to hear what it said: click here to hear. Spooky, right?

Then we asked where they used to live, before humans started building barns, bridges and belfries and it said, click here to hear that. We don’t know about you, but that kind of sounded to us like “None of your business — go away now”.

Special thanks to Angelo and Julia Altamura, new Honorary Members of the SVBC, who generously allowed us to use these wonderful photos.

A peaceful chapel, perfect for Barn Owls! Photo by Angelo Altamura.

Cotinga y el Café — Parte Uno

Autora Lilly Briggs, PhD

Versión en español

La palabra esperanza esta surgiendo mucho en el 2020. O desesperanza. O a veces las dos palabras, en una misma hora. Los motores de nuestras montañas rusas emocionales incluen: la pandemia global, incendios forestales fuera de control, y fuegos aún más feroces e inestables en la escena politica de los Estados Unidos, que tienen impactos geopolíticos trascendentales.

Es crítico enfocarnos en ejemplos pequeños, con igual de importancia, a nivel local y que día a día nos dan esperanza dentro de tanta incertidumbre. Personalmente no puedo pensar en un contrapunto mejor al caos que la historia de la Cotinga y el Café.

Turquoise Cotinga, foto de David Arias Rodríguez

La Cotinga Turquesa, una especie “casi endémica” es codiciada por las pajareras y los
pajareros, tanto nacionales como internacionales. No solamente se debe a que tiene una distribución limitada a Costa Rica y Panamá, sino también porque es simplemente una especie espectacular. Su apariencia sugiere que salió de las exuberantes aguas del Pacífico, revestida en ese turquesa brillante que da origen a su nombre, en combinación con el violeta rico de su pecho. Luce esos colores tan bien y con tanto brillo que su aparición podría provocar derramar el café caliente sobre su regazo.

¿Qué tiene que ver el Café con la Cotinga?
En tiempos de COVID, negocios pequeños en todo el mundo han estado golpeados
fuertemente. Pero la luminiscencia de la Cotinga Turquesa destaca el hecho de que
cultivando la ética de conservación y apreciación por la naturaleza, puede verse
beneficiada la economía y el medio ambiente, aún durante una pandemia.

“Cholo”, el dueño de Mercado Viriteca en Sabalito de Coto Brus, hizo una decisión
consciente en nombre de la conservación al abrir su negocio en medio de una intersección llena de bullicio. Al frente de una antigua estación de servicio en el centro de Sabalito, es un lugar improbable para encontrar un río y una exquisita vegetación que su local protege. Cuando tomó posesión del local hace cuatro años, dedicó tiempo y energía a limpiar la quebrada. Los Aguacatillos contribuyen a crear un ambiente bonito y relajante para la clientela, y sus frutos son tan atractivos para las aves (no solamente para la Cotinga, también a otras especies especiales como el Quetzal, el Guácharo y el Pájaro Campana), como los granos de café son para los humanos.

Recientemente, el fruto de esta labor del Mercado Viriteca se manifestó con los frutos del Aguacatillo de su patio, para el deleite histérico de la comunidad de pajareras y pajareros locales y más allá. Los Pajareros del Sur cuentan entre la multitud de gente juntándose para fotografiar a la Cotinga comiendo de estos preciados frutos. La cafetería al aire libre y el espacio entre sillas, ofrecen un lugar perfecto, en esta época de distanciamiento social, para poder disfrutar de un buen pinto y la vista de un buen pájaro. Cholo dice que ha hablado con mucha gente de sectores sobre esta increíble especie, acerca de porque los esfuerzos de conservación son tan importantes, y en cómo han ayudado a su negocio.

Es importante de entender las fuerzas grandes estructurales que impactan el mundo entero hasta nuestros contextos locales. Pero es de igual importancia enfocarnos en las acciones positivas que empiezan en nuestros contextos locales, que causan una reacción en cadena, para tener un impacto al revés: de local a global. Entonces, cuando usted empiece a desesperarse sobre las próximas elecciones o debido a
las aves migratorias muertas por causa de los incendios forestales, los animo a recordar también historias como esta. Cómo la Cotinga y el Café han unido a personas que les importa la conservación y la comunidad. Esta historia representa un llamado de esperanza, en un año tan diferente como lo es el 2020.

¡Próximamente compartiremos una entrevista que hicimos con Cholo!

Lilly Briggs, PhD

Directora, Asociación Ambiental Finca Cántaros 

San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica

Facebook y Instagram: Finca Cántaros