The full moon illuminates a mountainous landscape of forest and cow pastures. Wind whistles through the treetops and cold air cuts through our jackets. It is 11:50 PM on New Year’s Eve and our eyes lock onto the eye-shine of a Dusky Nightjar. In ten minutes, we hope to call this species our first bird of 2018. As the clock strikes 11:59, the eye-shine abruptly vanishes into the darkness. We cry out in disappointment, but are determined to re-find the bird. With an early morning of work ahead of us, we desperately search for the bird so we can snag both our first bird of the year and a few hours of sleep. My partner in this mission is fellow bird bander and Coloradan, Holly Garrod, who is visiting the Madre Selva banding station here in the highlands of Costa Rica. After ten minutes of scouring the landscape, we finally relocate the endemic nightjar hawking for insects in the top of a swaying tree. With a sigh of relief, we turn in for the night.
Before the first rays of sunlight, I emerge from beneath my warm blankets. Accompanied by Holly, and my coworker, Steve Dougill, we pull on rubber boots and head out to set mist nets in the cloud forest behind the house. On behalf of Costa Rica Bird Observatories and their avian monitoring efforts, we are literally preparing to ring in the New Year. As the nets unfurl, birds begin vocalizing. First, I hear the ascending whistle of a Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush. Next, a pair of Black-cheeked Warblers flit across the trail. In quick succession, I hear the calls and songs of a Mountain Thrush, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Large-footed Finch, Black-faced Solitaire, Lesser Violetear, Collared Redstart, Barred Forest-Falcon, and Spotted Wood-Quails. This strong predawn chorus is a good predictor that our morning of mist netting will be productive.
Across six hours, we capture and process 31 individuals with 20 represented species. For Steve and me, this is one of our best days of ringing in Costa Rica yet, and we are both immensely grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the research on the many regional endemics, as well as all the other spectacular residents and migrants of Madre Selva.
Today was certainly an excellent way to kick off 2018. Happy New Year everyone!!!