JUAN DIEGO VARGAS

Everything started with a bunch of clay pellets a blowgun and a Black-faced Solitaire...

As an 11-year-old boy growing up in a very rural and undeveloped area at the base of the vast Juan Castro Blanco National Park, my only bird influence was my uncle: an illegal bird poacher who caught Cholorophonias, Solitaires and Euphonias from the forest to sell in San José and to keep in his house. He wasn’t a bad guy at all, just a person growing up in an environment with very few opportunities. Ironically, he was the person who planted the birding seed in me by teaching me how to tell apart “valuable dialects” in different individuals of Black-faced Solitaires along an extensive altitudinal gradient in the area where we lived. And just before trying to shoot at them with clay pellets, my mind was consumed with how the same species move, make variation of their call, and change their diet depending on the time of the year. I was full of questions that a bird in a cage was not able to answer, and I understood that I needed to spend more time with these creatures in the wild. I started going to the forest but not using my blowgun, just to sit on a branch and watch the birds interact. I did this until I was able to get my first bird book, the heavy 1989 “Skutch & Stiles” guide.

 

From that 11-year-old boy to now, birds and bird observations had accompanied me and defined a lot of my career, my friends, my work, and my life in general.

Even so, I always say in my talks and presentations about birding: "the bird itself is not important, but the road that takes you to that bird - that is essential." The experience you have every time you find a new bird is - for me - a powerful tool, and one that can mark our lives and turn us into better people.

 

After I stopped illegally catching birds at the age of eleven, my life became closer to what you will hear from your average hardcore birdwatcher. I went to university and got a Bachelor of Arts in Ecotourism, and then studied for two more years to earn a Licenciatura degree (similar to Master’s in Latin American countries) in Management of Ecotourism. At the same time I also earned a Master of Science in Sustainable Development with emphasis in Conservation of Biological Resources. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career, I continued working during high seasons as a full time bird-guide with some of the most renowned birding tour agencies in Costa Rica. Since this time, I have also been active in many bird-related projects, ranging from co-founding NGOs (Cerulean Warbler Conservation Costa Rica and IYIWAK Conservation Association) to being Vice Chair of a Working Group for the Convention on Migratory Bird Species of the United Nations Environmental Program. Apart from serving on multiple local committees for rare birds and birding clubs, my career/hobby has taken me to bird in many sites including Europe, Middle East, South America, and several countries of Central America.

 

Since 2013, I have been working for the Costa Rican System of Protected Areas on a project with the Arenal Volcano National Park and Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, and part of my responsibilities include fulfilling the role of a park ranger inside these two protected areas. This has been an exceptional opportunity for me to study in-depth, 24-hours a day, the birds of the northern part of Costa Rica.

 

I am also author, co-author, and contributor of several publications, including a book of National Parks of Costa Rica and other ornithological papers.

 

This is a quick summary of my birding life; but I have more stories to tell and would like to hear yours as well. All we need is a good cup of coffee or a cold beer after a long and spectacular birding/photography trip somewhere in the tropics.

 

Hope to see you one day somewhere in the Neotropics. Pura vida and good birding/bird photography.

 

Juan Diego Vargas

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© 2020. All photographs and text by Juan Diego Vargas. 
 

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Guiding Jim Peterson

wetlands of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, North Costa Rica