Back in March when we signed the lease for our new house, sight unseen, in Monteverde, Costa Rica, our manager assured me the previous tenants hadn’t had any pets. Given my allergy to cats, I was relieved. But then she went on: “The house is deep in the woods and an on-sight dominant predator is a good idea for discouraging smaller forest rodents and pests.”
An on-sight dominant predator? Would my husband Tim do? We weren’t up for getting a dog just for one year. We decided not to sweat her warning. At the very least, we figured we shouldn’t be surprised–Costa Rica is teaming with life. I’d read that in ten-square miles, Monteverde contains more plant species than the U.S. and Canada combined. Likely the same held true for the aforementioned “rodents and pests.”
So, when we arrived at our new home and found termite frass (yes, that’s a polite term for poop) in piles on the floor and in regular deposits on our pillows, we got out a broom and moved the bed to the other side of the room. When we awakened to the sound of a mouse chewing the desk in our bedroom, we set traps. And when the army ants marched in a threatening stream across our doorstep, scaring a scorpion out of our mudroom…. Well, that did get us in the habit of shaking out our shoes before putting them on, at least for awhile. But none of this really bothered us. We had been forewarned and, as promised, these creatures were all pests, not pets.
But then about a month into our stay a little five-inch, yellow, black-capped male Wilson’s Warbler showed up on our office window sill. For days on end, hour after hour, he pecked at the glass, peering in at us, and fluttering up and down along the pane.
This seemed distinctly like pet behavior. Had the previous residents left this little guy behind? Finally we opened that window, as a test. To our relief, the warbler didn’t come in. Instead, he flitted to the adjacent window and got right back down to business, peck-peck-pecking at the glass.
After weeks of worrying about our new bird friend (How would he eat or find a mate with all the attention he was giving us and our window?), we finally decided our concern did no one any good. So, we named him Wilson and accepted the warbler as our new office mate.
“Good morning, Wilson,” we shout through the window every morning when the telltale pecking at the glass begins.
On Sundays, when we’re in the kitchen making our weekend breakfast of corn pancakes and papaya and we hear him clocking-in to work–tap, tap, tap–we shout across the house. “Wilson, it’s Sunday. For God’s sake, take the day off.” But when the pecking continues, we let him be. Wilson is a special case, after all.
Wilson is just one of our many winged neighbors. In our first couple of months here, our front yard rang with one of the loudest bird calls on earth: the alternating thunderous “konk” and then high-pitched, metallic whistles of Three-wattled Bellbirds. The males, when we caught sight of them perched high up in tall trees, were particularly showy: more than a foot long, brown and white, with absurd, black, pendulous wattles hanging from their beaks.
With their mating season over, the bellbirds have since moved on, but now we’re seeing a lot of Keel-billed Toucans. About a month ago our banana tree had fruited, and just before we went out to harvest our near-yellow fruit, the toucan pictured at the top of this story swooped in for a snack. With their enormous beaks and spectacular colors, toucans always leave me flabbergasted. “Really?” I talk to them through the window. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Those colors cannot be real.”
So far, our most steady exotic bird neighbors have been the Blue-crowned Motmots with their radiant blue heads, red eyes, long racket tails, and hoot-hoot-hoot calls. These amazing creatures dig tunnels–5 to 14 feet long–for their nests. With all that excavation I was relieved to learn that males and females share the job of parenting.
These four species are just a small sampling of our backyard avian neighbors. I haven’t even mentioned the hummingbirds: Green Violetears, Purple-throated Mountain-gems, and Violet Sabrewings, to name a few. On my morning runs up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, I often stop at a coffee shop just outside the gate to check in on the hummingbird feeders:
And, finally, there are all the wonderful butterflies and moths. One afternoon while Tim and I were eating lunch on our back porch an Astala Eighty-eight perched next to us. We were mesmerized by the red, white and black patterning on the outside of its wings, parts of which form the vague shape of the number eight. And then the small butterfly opened its wings to reveal an entirely different palette of iridescent blues–stunning!
These seemingly-unmatched wing sides remind me of Monteverde’s most famous butterfly: the Blue Morpho. These azure giants float down dirt roads, up forested trails, and through gardens. Morphos make me feel as if I were Alice in Wonderland–the White Rabbit will soon come racing by with his clock in hand, and an unimaginably blue, enormous butterfly is flitting up the road in front of me in a completely untrackable, almost drunken path–up, down, sideways, and gone!
I’ll leave you with a moth, just one of the hundreds of insects attracted to our illuminated nighttime windows.