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Lifer Tours Guide Finds A Mega for Costa Rica

It's always exciting to find a rare bird. By nature, they just aren't that easy to see! Even so, if you go birding every day and pay close attention to your surroundings, rare birds eventually happen.

"Megas" are another story. "Mega" is short for "mega rare" but it could also mean "mega happy surprise". These are the birds we just don't expect, ones confined to our best of birding dreams. Go birding in the same quality habitat for years and we can hope for rarities. Megas...not so much.

Megas are birds so rare, we aren't sure if they still live in certain areas. They can also be birds extremely difficult to see throughout their range (Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo comes to mind). Likewise, megas are birds such as the Spectacled Petrel; a sea gypsy from the South Atlantic that arrived on a beach in eastern Costa Rica- not exactly expected!

Every place has its megas, Costa Rica included. One such bogie bird is the White-bellied Emerald. Nope, you won't see it on any bird tour lists, can't expect it either. But, you can see it if you go birding where it normally lives; eastern Mexico and northern Central America.

Yes, the White-bellied Emerald does grace the official bird list of Costa Rica but it's not a bird any of us local birders expect. Wish for it yes! Expect...not exactly. This small, plain hummingbird is known in Costa Rica from a handful of old sightings, way back in the pre digital camera days. Given the subsequent complete lack of sightings, some of us have wondered if those old records were valid.

After all, White-bellied Emeralds don't normally sip nectar in Costa Rica. Well, at least not until May 10th.

On that fateful day, while guiding clients near Boca Tapada in northern Costa Rica, Lifer Tours founder Juan Diego Vargas just happened to see one. Although Juan Diego is extremely familiar with birds in Costa Rica, he's still careful about identifying whatever he sees and hears. It's why, when he glimpsed the hummingbird, even though he was pretty sure it was a White-bellied Emerald, he didn't want to confirm that until someone got a definitive photo (see his account for finding the bird!).

Juan Diego and other birders have often gone birding in the Boca Tapada area. Why would the emerald appear now? Was it just overlooked? Although it's pretty easy to not notice a small hummingbird, I bet the bird's appearance at this point in time wasn't a coincidence.

For the past months, the emerald's normal range has been suffering in the grip of a terrible drought. Those severe conditions are likely taking a toll on the bird's habitat along with the birds that live there. As hummingbirds tend to do, it's possible that Costa Rica's first photographed White-bellied Emerald left its normal range because the bird's usual flower buffets weren't happening. Or, maybe it and a few other emeralds actually do migrate to Costa Rica from to time.

In any case, this special bird, this local mega, ended up at a fine patch of roadside Porterweed. It happened to be seen by Juan Diego, was positively confirmed by guides from Rancho Naturalista, and has entertained dozens of happy local birders ever since.

There's no way to know why this little bird came to Costa Rica or if has even been here since 2023 but its presence makes us wonder if a few more White-bellied Emeralds might be around. Or maybe a few Blue-tailed Hummingbirds? Maybe something else?

In any case, we'll be in the right places to find them. We'll be birding in Costa Rica, it's what we love to do.


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