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During my first week in Costa Rica, I had grown used to waking to bird song and the stream of sunshine that consistently found the folds of my pillow around 6 am. Today, I woke before the sun broke through my window in hopes of learning how to mist net birds. Mist netting allows researchers to assess bird’s health, log which species inhabit the area, and band each bird to be registered with the U.S. fish and wildlife service. (Surprisingly, Costa Rica doesn’t have a national wildlife service). After opening the nets and waiting patiently for birds to come through, we caught and banded an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a Rufus-and-white Wren, a Rufus-capped Warbler, and a Striped-tailed Hummingbird. One thing that surprised me about exploring a different country is how it makes you feel like a little kid again. Everything around you is new; words not yet attached. I enjoyed identifying birds and bird calls as much as I enjoyed my Spanish classes: both were new languages, both brought clarity to sounds that previously ran together in my head.

Biologist Luisa from the Monteverde Institute takes notes on Deb’s measurement of the Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush

Walking past mist nets along trails bathed in morning light, I listened to the melodious calls of the nightingale thrushes echoed by the honk of the Three-wattled bellbird, and all I could think was: I am so happy. I am so happy. I am so happy. And these are the exact words written at the start of my journal entry for today. In my exaltation of the beautiful morning, a line from Monkeys are Made of Chocolate, a book on Costa Rica I had recently read, returned to me. Author Jack Ewing reflected at the end the book, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Perhaps this is a long winded way of saying “be present”, but walking in the freshness of the cloud forest’s morning, I knew I wanted exactly these moments. I wanted to watch the Costa Rican dawn on green mountains from Deb’s car window. I wanted to wake at 5 am to set up nets in la Calandria, to feel the forest floor beneath me and my rubber boots as I walked in day’s loudest, yet stillest hour. I wanted this morning, wanted to feel the lightness of bird’s hollow bones as I held them in the slopes of my fingers. Holding a bird in my hand for the first time, I felt a warmth and energy that seemed of another, higher world.

JP holds a Striped-tailed Hummingbird in his hand.
Photo Cred : JP Barringer

We were all in awe of the hummingbird in JP’s hand. “Everything in nature has a reason,” Deb explained as she measured the wings of the hummingbird. The way the wings are attached give hummingbird flight a unique figure-eight pattern which allows them to hover and retrieve nectar from flowers. As she held the held the tiny creature in her hands, I saw in my mind the evolution from dinosaur to bird. I saw hints of something prehistoric in the bone forming his wing and youth in his vibrant body. Admiring iridescence of the hummingbird’s feathers, I forgot the reasons of nature that both united and separated us, feeling only the buzz and beauty of life.