October 9 was the October Big Day: 24 hours in which hundreds of groups around the world joined in a simultaneous monitoring of birds. About 33,000 enthusiasts from 195 countries participated in the activity and Guanacaste led the podium at the national and Central American level.
The first three places in the number of species observed in Central America were occupied by national teams: a group of female observers called Las Jacanas the ACAT Birdwatching Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area (ACAT) and the Northwest team, which covers the northern cantons of the Chorotega Region. In fact, only in the province 516 different species were registered out of a total of 731 that managed to document the groupings of the entire country together.
The group of bird watchers ACAT Birdwatching was integrated just a year ago and, that day, managed to place itself within the world top 10 with the most registered birds. The key: citizen and collaborative science.
Not only conservation area officials with experience in biology participate in the group, but also housewives, systems engineers and tourist guides. All distributed in the cantons that make up the ACAT: Abangares, Cañas, Bagaces, Tilarán, Monteverde and Upala.
The support of citizens in groups such as ACAT Birdwatching and Las Jacanas placed Costa Rica at the end of October Big Day in the nine position of the best countries to observe birds in the world, by the number of registered species.
People doing science
To understand how they achieved a consolidated group, we must go back to the end of 2018, when the State Distance University (UNED) promoted a project to monitor the 10 migratory birds present in the biological corridors of the three conservation areas in the Chorotega Region: Guanacaste (ACG), Arenal Tempisque (ACAT) and Tempisque (ACT).
After the project, ACAT staff designed a methodology to observe the birds in their area and asked volunteers from neighboring communities to register the migratory birds they observed. They began to form WhatsApp groups to share their records and little by little a group was formed. After that experience with migratory birds, they decided to also monitor the residents, which led to the formation of ACAT Birdwatching in 2020.
The Department of Citizen Participation and Governance of the conservation area began to train community leaders, local committees of the biological corridors, tourist enterprises and educational centers through a basic course of bird induction. There they explain their distribution in the country, migration, habitat and their feeding cycle.
In the course they also teach them how to use the Ebird application, in which they can learn about the birds that exist in the country and record the ones they have seen.
During the massive bird count of the previous October 9, users had to document those they encountered with a photograph or recording their song. At the end of October Big Day, the same platform determined which countries and users registered the highest number of birds.
Ruth Rodríguez, biologist and bird watcher in the Nicoya Peninsula, founded a group similar to ACAT Birdwatching, but made up solely of women, four years ago. It is called Las Jacanas and today it has more than 100 members distributed throughout the country.
Imagine scientists so many years traveling from Europe and the United States to Costa Rica. They found new species, made lists, entered the information, and such a timely investigation took a long time. All that information has been lightened”, explains the biologist.
Rodríguez is one of the 20 reviewers appointed by the Ebird platform in Costa Rica. These people check that the lists sent by bird watchers are correct. “It’s not that anyone can put whatever they want in a whimsical way,” adds the biologist.
A competition where everyone wins
Las Jacanas started by mere chance, explains the biologist, but quickly became a safe space to learn without discrimination. “Before, I used to birch with men and I couldn’t say ‘what is that?’ Because they would say ‘what do you mean you don’t know him? We saw that last time! “And they didn’t help, they didn’t educate, but they made us feel less,” he recalls.
As they observe, learn, and study about birds, Las Jacanas are also a support network for pursuing goals. Some of them have businesses, tourist inns, others are biologists, engineers or educators.
“We are committed to having the forests so that these species visit us year after year, and through women we can contribute to that happening,” emphasizes Rodríguez.
Beyond seeing October Big Day as a competition, the tour guide and member of ACAT Birdwatching, Kevin Quirós, considers it an opportunity to evaluate whether the country’s ecosystems are healthy or not, according to the species of birds that inhabit and pass through. them.
“This is a 100% voluntary job, one may not receive an economic income but the benefits go a little further than seeing money for a tour that is paid to one,” says Quirós. The benefits he speaks of are a direct result of his late nights in search of nocturnal birds such as owls or guinea pigs.
By placing Costa Rica in a privileged position worldwide in bird watching, the Ebird application marks these hot spots or ‘hot spots’ within the map. That will then be taken into account by tourists and bird fans to visit them.
The person in charge of the ACAT environmental education processes, Yarely Díaz, believes that the participation of people like Kevin helps them improve the record of how birds are distributed, what species there are and what their behavior is.
At the same time, [it serves to] give that focus that people help protect, that they know what they have in their territory and are empowered to protect it. It is a way of conserving with people”, she says.
The environmental educator adds that another benefit of integrating society into conservation and preservation is that it solves the existing gaps in the conservation area on the subject of bird research.
Among the limitations is the lack of basic equipment such as binoculars, which most people have acquired with their own resources. Added to this are the budget cuts approved by the Legislative Assembly for protected areas.
“We lead the entire process of sensitizing and training people. With the cut, something as basic and indispensable as fuel has limited us to be able to do our job” laments Díaz. The importance of these groups existing, according to Quirós, the tour guide, is that they allow the implementation of conservation strategies “It is a beautiful, participatory, inclusive, scientific issue and has benefits for Costa Rican society in a very broad spectrum,” she concludes.
Do you want to go out to see birds?
ACAT organizes, annually, a Christmas Bird Count. This year it will take place between December 12 and 19 in the protected wild areas of the Palo Verde National Park, Tenorio Volcano, Taboga Forest Reserve and the Cipanci Refuge, among others.