Northfield Bird Club experiences Costa Rican biodiversity through photos, stories

  • The crested guan is one of the many bird species that Kim Noyes and her husband, Bill Lafley, saw during their trip to Costa Rica last year. Contributed Photo/Bill Lafley

  • The bare-throated tiger heron is one of the many bird species that Kim Noyes and her husband, Bill Lafley, saw during their trip to Costa Rica last year. Contributed Photo/Bill Lafley

  • Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center Education Coordinator Kim Noyes shared the experience of her trip to Costa Rica with members of the Northfield Bird Club last week. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2020 5:12:34 PM

NORTHFIELD — Members of the Northfield Bird Club escaped the cold and took a virtual trip to the tropics last week during a presentation on Costa Rica’s biodiversity and bird population.

Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center Education Coordinator Kim Noyes shared photos and stories from a visit to Costa Rica, which she took last March with her husband, Bill Lafley. The small, Central American country is home to roughly 900 bird species and more than 9,000 plant species, and accounts for 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

Appropriately, one of the first birds they encountered was Costa Rica’s national bird, the clay-colored thrush. Natively, it is known as the “Yigüirro.” Noyes said that while the clay-colored thrush is not as colorful as other species, it was chosen as the national bird because it can be found throughout the country.

“It has a beautiful song,” she said. “If you ever go to Costa Rica, I guarantee you will hear it singing on your first day there.”

While on their trip, Noyes and Lafley stumbled upon a manakin “lek” — a mating ritual dance. Noyes said the male manakins perform a “popcorn dance” where two males work together, taking turns jumping up and down while chirping. The male pairs will work together for years to recruit a mating partner.

“Research has shown that females are most attracted when the two males are most in sync, so they have to practice a lot,” she said.

According to Noyes, many birds in Costa Rica are cavity nesters and build nests inside sheltered chambers. One such nesting bird is the collared aracari. A member of the toucan family, these birds feature the famous enlarged beak which, Noyes said, helps control the birds’ body temperatures, with their bodies releasing heat by sending blood to their highly vascular, but uninsulated beaks. In cooler weather, their bodies constrict the blood vessels in their beaks to conserve heat and stay warm.

She pointed out that the famous “Froot Loops” cereal mascot is a combination of different toucan species. Toucans, like many birds of the region, are frugivorous — fruit eaters. By eating fruits and dispersing their seeds intact, the birds maintain a symbiotic relationship with the thousands of native plant species.

“Dispersing the seeds by wind isn’t going to work,” Noyes said. “It’s just too wet and it’s too dense with other plants.”

Noyes said she and Lafley were lucky to see a resplendent quetzal. The large bird, ranging from 14 to 30 inches in height, eats wild avocados and disperses the seeds fully intact. The bird was sacred to the Mayans, she said, and only a member of the nobility could wear a headdress with its feathers.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous bird,” Noyes said. “It has green, sort of iridescent colors. The feathers can hang down nearly 30 inches, and they’re actually not tail feathers, but upper tail coverts.”

Unfortunately, the resplendent quetzal has been threatened by deforestation. Costa Rica used to have 75 percent forest cover, and lost more than 50 percent of its forestry between 1940 and 1987.

Inspired to combat deforestation and protect the native species, the Bosque Eternode los Niños, or Children’s Eternal Rainforest, was founded in the 1980s by a group of Swedish students. Run by the Monteverde Conservation League today, it is Costa Rica’s largest private reserve and a hotspot for biodiversity, ecotourism, bird watching and hiking trails.

Through national and global efforts, Costa Rica’s forests have returned to just over 50 percent coverage and a lot of the animals that had disappeared due to deforestation have slowly begun to return. Noyes said one returning bird native is the scarlet macaw. One of the world’s largest parrots, the scarlet macaw mates for life and can live for up to 50 years.

Noyes and Lafley also saw a number of “raptors,” or birds of prey. During their final days in the country, they witnessed the start of their migration back to North America.

“We looked up and there were just thousands of hawks,” Noyes said. “They were heading home, and it was time for us to fly home as well.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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