By Reid Glenn
COSTA DE PÁJAROS, Costa Rica — A group of scientists from the Centro Científico Tropical (CCT) traveled to the Gulf of Nicoya near Costa de Pájaros Jan. 10 to check the progress of the Bellbird Biological Corridor project. They found only one three-wattled bellbird, the namesake for the project.
Alexander González, the Coordinator of the Biological Corridor program at the CCT, led the mission to search for the bellbird. González said the CCT knows the bird uses mangrove forests along the coast this time of year for habitat in their migration pattern, but the center wanted to better understand its movements and to estimate the total population.
The scientists use the online database eBird to track sightings from amateur and professional bird-watchers, but they needed to authenticate the avian hot spots for themselves.
González and his team selected three areas where birders had reported bellbird encounters. Costa de Pájaros was used as a central base for four search squads early Friday morning. Two groups scouted a mangrove forest at La Ensenada National Wildlife Refuge, one on land and one by boat. Another group took to the backcountry just east of Costa de Pájaros and to the south on land near Punta Morales. The fourth group traveled by sea near Punta Morales.
The scientists did not expect to see bellbirds at the southern location because the forests along the coast are surrounded by large agriculture plantations, which aren’t suitable habitat for the bird. González said reforestation efforts have not been as successful there as other parts of the corridor.
“It’s a difficult area where we need more improvement in connectivity because there are big plantations,” he said. “The situation is different. There are different stakeholders.”
Only one bellbird was spotted and documented by the group. Yoryineth Méndez, a research coordinator of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, first laid eyes on the endemic bird. She was surprised that she saw it rather than hear its characteristic call.
“There was a tree with a lot of bird activity,” Méndez said. “There were trogons, jays and yellow-bellied flycatchers. We had seen a trogon, and then I saw something white and brown. I kept looking, and I said, ‘It’s a male!’”
Méndez judged the bird to be a juvenile, but in adult plumage.
“I had it in my binoculars and I didn’t dare move, because if I took my eyes off it I would lose where it was.”
She and González were disappointed to find only one bellbird on the expedition but were optimistic for the coming years.
“It was a combo of a nice experience, but a disappointment from a biological perspective,” González said.
Next year they will use the same strategy but perhaps will ask for additional volunteers to cover more area, they said. Méndez said she hopes the group will see a minimum of five bellbirds next year.