Each year, Bird Watcher’s Digest partners with Swarovski Optik to give out an all-expenses-paid birding trip to Costa Rica and new optics from Swarovski Optik for the grand-prize-winning entry! Here’s a letter from Mark Tower, the 2015 Birder of the Year:
I just returned from Costa Rica with Clay Taylor and Alex Villegas from Swarovski. What a trip! Clay and Alex were the consummate professionals (and superb birders). Alex clearly has the respect, near worship, of all the other tour guides in the country. Wherever we went, everyone wanted Alex’s approval or opinion about something birdy. He has a collection of over 1,000 personally collected bird sounds for nearly all the native species. Additionally he can audibly mimic most of these songs and calls! Hummingbird chip notes heard from a moving car were correctly identified upon inspection. Predictions of exact locations of sought after species (ie. turquoise-browed motmot) were fulfilled within minutes. And this professional brilliance was combined with a thoroughly humane personality. Alex has a magnetism about him that is not explained by any technical skill.
Clay’s role in the trip was no less instrumental. Looking back on it, I don’t think Clay used binoculars the whole trip. We mostly birded in thick rain forest, and his chosen optic was a 95mm spotting scope! I probably don’t have to tell you how much practice it must take to be able to locate a 3in bird on a leafy limb 50ft above the ground. But Clay’s specialty was photography (through a scope), and he was master of it. Through Clay I learned the value of scope birding (beyond ducks and shorebirds). If you could learn to quickly find the bird in the scope (a big ‘if’), the views were far superior to anything seen in a pair of binoculars. This is a particularly helpful skill to have if I am ever on a bird walk with others who might appreciate such a view. At Clay’s urging I toted a 65mm scope around on our walks. With it I began learning the challenges and advantages to scope birding. Needless-to-say I’ll be using my scope at home more since my CR trip.
I should probably mention that I ended up travelling with my dad, not my 4-year-old daughter. In the end, this was a much better decision. My daughter did have one request however: that I see a scarlet macaw, her favorite bird, and take a picture of it! I was able to bring her home stories of several encounters with the macaws. And Clay did her photo request one better–he took a digiscoped video of one macaw feeding on some tree nuts.
Thanks again BWD for this wonderful opportunity,