Today, May 9th is when we would have been immersed in birds, likely from dusk to dawn. In our neck of the woods, marking Common Pauraque as the first species of the day, attempting to identify shorebirds in the dark of the night (not easy..), and listening for owls just before dawn. We would have been straining the ears to get lucky with the faint notes of at least one migrating Upland Sandpiper before getting down to business with a hectic focus on the many birds of a tropical dawn chorus. There would have been forest interior birding shortly thereafter followed by visits to wetlands, edge habitats, highland forests, and other places to finish off a grand Global Big Day in Costa Rica.

A nice spot to watch for soaring raptors.

But, as with so many other 2020 endeavors, this GBD will take place within the parameters of the pandemic. Restrictions in Costa Rica keep us from driving on Saturday and that’s why we are doing all of our birding from home. Even if we could drive, we wouldn’t have been able to start until 5 a.m. anyways (no one is allowed to drive from 7 in the evening until 5 in the morning). I bet some other birders in Costa Rica will be celebrating GBD with a rush for species in as many places as possible but most will be enjoying this day like us; in a much more relaxed and restricted fashion. In other words, we will be doing the GBD dance from home and although it’s going to be a slow-paced binocular shuffle, this is some of what we will probably be doing on May 9th:

Start early

We will have to leave the Great Potoo for another GBD 

If it’s not raining, at least one of us on Team Tyto will get up at four in the morning to walk outside and listen for birds. I’m not sure if there will be more than a pauraque calling but it will be worth a shot because why not, it’s still GBD! Maybe I will catch the faint notes of that Upland Sandpiper, maybe find a Barn Owl. Either way, the birding day is best started in proper pre-dawn fashion. No matter where you live, city or farm, birds will be on the move and some will be calling just before dawn.

Catch the dawn chorus

I don’t expect a whole lot in the urban area where we reside but the riparian zone out back still hosts various birds and a nearby coffee farm has others. Start the birding by dawn and we can get a proper count for our local patch. We might hear Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, four wren species and more than a dozen Clay-colored Thrushes along with other species. With luck, maybe we will hear a migrant or two.

Clay-colored Thrush

Migrant birds

With luck, some migrant species will be in our area, the most likely ones are those “late” migrants of the north, the flycatchers, maybe a Red-eyed Vireo or two. We will be watching and listening for Willow and Alder Flycatchers, keeping an eye on the snags for an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Most of the warblers have already left but with fortune, we could still connect with a Canada Warbler.

Eat meals at home

Unlike other Big Days, this time, we will be close enough to home to actually eat there! Nothing special but I can at least enjoy a hot cup of coffee while watching and listening for birds from the back balcony. Same goes for lunch and we can also have a celebratory dinner replete with special eats and drinks. This is GBD after all and this day will always be a celebration.

Not bird all day long

Yes, it borders on blasphemy but what can I say? Walking the same streets will be rather far from exciting, I don’t foresee us finding many new birds by covering the same spots over and over. That said, we might till get in a bit of late afternoon birding.

We might find a Crested Bobwhite.


Listen for birds after dusk

Although we won’t be inspecting every nook and cranny of our neighborhood from dusk to dawn, after the night falls, it will be worth it to listen from the front of the house, just listen and see if something else will call. Whether it will be a new bird for the day or not won’t matter so much as paying attention to the birds on GBD. The good thing about birding from home is that we can also listen for our final bird while enjoying home made mojitos or some other celebratory drink of choice.

We will be watching birds from home but we will still be celebrating this special day in communion with thousands of other birders around the globe. We will still see a lot because birds are everywhere. We will still see something different, maybe something rare because the more you look, the more you end up finding. We will still be watching birds tomorrow and when we get past these trying times, will experience hundreds of birds from habitats as varied as the misty cloud forests that top the nearby volcanoes to the humid forests of the tropical lowlands. Not to mention, with luck, come October, we will do the type of kung-fu birding required for a proper many hour, Red Bull drinking Big Day!

Written by Patrick O'Donnell
Patrick O'Donnell became a birder at the age of 7 after seeing books about birds in the Niagara Falls, New York public library. Although watching thousands of gulls in the Niagara Gorge was sublime, more bird species (and warmer weather) eventually brought him to Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and other very birdy tropical places. A biologist by training, he has worked on bird-related projects in Colorado, Washington, Peru, and other locales, and has guided birders in Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. These days, he lives in Costa Rica where he juggles guiding, freelance writing, developing bird apps for Costa Rica and Panama, posting on his Costa Rica birding blog, and discussing dinosaurs with his young daughter.