New Course Offering: Birds of Costa Rica with Dr. Alan Poole and Luis Vargas-Castro

DANTA is delighted to announce a new course offering for winter 2016! Birds of Costa Rica will be held from January 1-15, 2016 at Osa Conservation‘s Piro Research Station in Costa Rica’s spectacular Osa peninsula. As the one of the largest tracts of rain forest north of the Amazon (roughly 400,000 acres in the Osa Conservation Area), it is renowned for high species diversity. It is one of only a few sites in Costa Rica that contain 4 species of primate (mantled howler monkey, black-handed spider monkey, white-faced capuchin and squirrel monkey). Four species of sea turtle also nest along its beaches. Please help us protect this unique region which is of international conservation concern.

Our courses are intended for undergraduates or early graduate level students who have a keen interest in tropical biology and conservation, but have little or no experience of working in a tropical environment.

For more information, please visit our website and/or contact us at

Program cost: $2100

Registration Deadline: December 10, 2015

Course Description

Costa Rica is justly renowned for its extraordinary bird diversity, and for the depth of study that has focused on the life histories of these delightful animals, often so social, colorful and full of song.  We will take advantage of these highlights, with a course designed around the ecology and behavior of some of Costa Rica’s most easily seen (and heard) birds, and the biologists who have studied them.  Knowing the history of bird studies in Costa Rica will help us understand these birds more fully, and will also let us see how growth in knowledge of their biology was linked to the vibrant conservation movement that has helped to define this country.

We will base our studies at the remote but comfortable Piro Research Station on Costa Rica’s spectacular Osa Peninsula, home to some of Central America’s last remaining primary forest and its wildest beaches.  Our Piro studies will focus on four key topics: 1) Learning to identify birds by sight and sound. While no one can expect to learn all of Costa Rica’s birds in 2 weeks, students will become familiar with the most common species found on the Osa in early January, at the start of the dry season; 2) Methods of collecting and analyzing the behavior of free-ranging birds. Here we will focus on birds easily seen, designing short but focused studies on such topics as foraging, habitat choice, interactions within flocks, and song (we will have access to basic equipment for recording and analyzing song).  3) Patterns of species diversity: here we will look broadly, and from an ecological and evolutionary perspective, at what kinds of birds are found in Costa Rica.  Why, for example, are there dozen of species of hummingbirds and flycatchers, but far fewer parrots, pigeons and quail?  4) Key studies of Costa Rican birds: some of the giants in American ornithology have spent their careers researching Costa Rican birds. We will pick highlights from these studies, gaining an understanding not only of how ornithology is done, but also of what topics emerged from these studies and how they helped shape conservation in Costa Rica.

Students are welcomed from all walks of biology, but a background in biology is not a prerequisite; key is a keen desire to learn more about Costa Rican birds and ornithology.  Physical demands in this course are modest but real; students can expect to walk 2-3 kilometers/day, occasionally in uncomfortable weather (heat, rain). Good binoculars are key to studying birds: students are encouraged to bring their own, but a few loaner pairs will be available to those who don’t have them.

The course includes a field trip to an sustainable chocolate plantation,and boat tour of the Golfo Dulce for dolphin viewing and snorkeling. We overnight on the Boruca Indigenous Reserve where we will learn about the community and their traditional lifeways, and help with needed projects. The field trip is in cooperation with Planet Conservation, our sustainable and socially responsible travel partner.


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Alan F. Poole, an Associate of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO),was the senior editor of the The Birds of North America – an 18 volume, 18,000 page life history series, now online — from its inception in 1991 until 2015.  His publications have focused on life history studies and birds of prey, including his single-authored book on Ospreys (Cambridge University Press, 1989).   Dr. Poole has developed broad interests in Neotropical birds and has traveled widely in Belize and Costa Rica over the past two decades, with long-term studies on coastal birds in these regions.  He is an elected Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union and a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  Recently retired from a decade as a Senior Research Associate at CLO, Alan plans research on resident and Neotropical migrant birds in the mountains of Belize, as well as continuing studies of nesting Ospreys in southern New England.


Luis E. Vargas-Castro is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Miami, FL. His current research focuses on the ecology and evolution of acoustic communication in birds. He obtained a B.Sc. in Biology (2008) and a specialized degree in Zoology (2013) at the University of Costa Rica, where he investigated song plasticity and vocal learning in Turdus thrushes. He has received professional training at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (NY, USA), the Organization for Tropical Studies (Costa Rica) and the National Institute for Mathematics and Biological Synthesis (TN, USA). Luis has taught in various courses of animal behavior, ecology and tropical biology in both English and Spanish.


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