Xandari’s 2016 Big Day

A male Red-legged Honeycreeper, the highlight of my 2016 big day

Last year, we shared some details about the Global Big Day, an event that I participated in very casually from Chicago back then, and contributed to more seriously this year, as did the rest of the global birding community, as the data from eBird published today shows. In 2015, 6,158 species were reported on 38,923 complete checklists from 14,787 participants across 140 countries. This year, 6,263 species were reported on 43,848 checklists from 15,953 participants across 145 countries. Every point of comparison displays an increase in participation and effort this time around!

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Xandari, Monday Morning


We are currently in the middle of filming a series of short films at Xandari, here in Costa Rica, to match the series of short films we have made of the various Xandari properties in Kerala, India. The film crew arrives at 4:45 so we can catch the rising sun, which I find best viewed from the west edge of the property. Above you can see some of the coffee planted in the last two years, in the midst of one of Xandari’s highly productive organic vegetable gardens. The film crew is drawn to this space at sunrise and sunset. Soon you will see why, cinematically. For now, some more images from the edge of the forest reserve, following Saturday morning’s outing; this time focused on various introduced species of flora that complement Costa Rica’s most famous introduced species of plant (high grade arabica coffee). Continue reading

The Back Stories


Beach time with little Adoniya and her mother Sini, member of the Xandari family.

Ask me the most meaningful part of my job around here in recent time and I’d hold up the Xandari films without a doubt. To call them films or videos is an acknowledgement of their formats and the creative process that goes into them. But to embrace all of them together with the words labour of love is simply the truth. (Watch them here).That we loved making them, loved dissecting the resorts to take a closer look at their DNA, their dreams. Above all, loved the Xandari family a little bit more. I’ll tell you why.

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We All Like a Good Lek

There’s a couple places where we’ve mentioned leks on this blog before–primarily where grouse have been involved–but the first happens to be from 2012, when I was sharing about another bird from the same family as the species shown in the video below. That was the Club-winged Manakin, which I caught on video with a small point-and-shoot camera looking through a guide’s spotting scope. As I explained back then, lek is a Swedish word that has come to mean competitive displays between males of a species to become the breeding choice of one or more females of the same species, most often in the avian world. This time, I got some video from my hand-held (and a tad shaky) Canon Powershot SX50:

In the video above, you can watch one, and then two, male Long-tailed Manakins call and flutter together in the woods just off-trail at Xandari Resort, perhaps as a display Continue reading

Great Backyard Bird Count at Xandari

Patricia works at Reception, with the Great Backyard Bird Count sign behind her

Xandari Resort & Spa’s Great Backyard Bird Count started off with the piercing whistle of a Common Pauraque, followed by some wren vocalizations and a Great Kiskadee‘s eponymous (“great kis-ka-dee!”) call. While drinking my morning coffee before the scheduled birdwatching tour I listened to the sounds from the forest and recorded my first GBBC checklist of the day at 5:30.

Then, some guests and I watched birds from the restaurant terrace for almost half an hour before walking through the gardens as well, leading to two more checklists. The most exciting sightings this time were a small group of White-crowned Parrots and a Zone-tailed Hawk soaring alongside a Short-tailed Hawk.

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Coffee Going Strong at Xandari

When I got back to Xandari last year in June, I posted a couple photos of the Caturra plot, the Borbón plot, and the bagged seedlings. Since then, all the plants have grown quite a bit, and we’ve gotten a strong yield of cherries–and therefore coffee beans–even though the plants were only a year old in the ground. In fact, many of the plants of both varietals are experiencing a second round of flowers despite the dry season: climate change is putting the plants’ phenology out of whack, and so some shrubs even have cherries and flowers growing at the same time, which normally would never happen. The bees are certainly happy though!  Continue reading

Reimagining Trees


“When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.” PETER WOHLLEBEN Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

There is an article in the Saturday Profile section of the New York Times this weekend that catches my attention for reasons made obvious in these pages since 2011. Thousands of posts about community, collaboration and conservation, many of which have dealt with the importance of forests. But it most importantly reminded me of a conversation I had with a couple who visited Xandari Costa Rica last year. We had trekked together in the forest reserve, all the while discussing our mutual interest in the concept of biophilia, which has been covered plenty in these pages.

Among other things I recall from that strolling conversation was each of us sharing experiences from years earlier that had caused us to rethink the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, to consider “what a walk in the woods does for us.” Of course, the simple pleasure is still there, but understanding biophilia can intensify the pleasure of a walk in the woods. And then, if we take it a step further, or deeper, it then causes us to consider the importance of forest conservation, and our prospective roles with regard to conservation.

Those conversations with guests are essential components of our work, so (shout out to Andrew and Holly included) I recommend this article for reminding me…:

…After the publication in May of Mr. Wohlleben’s book, a surprise hit titled “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World,” the German forest is back in the spotlight. Since it first topped best-seller lists last year, Mr. Wohlleben has been spending more time on the media trail and less on the forest variety, making the case for a popular reimagination of trees, which, he says, contemporary society tends to look at as “organic robots” designed to produce oxygen and wood. Continue reading

Lepidopteran Diversity at Xandari

Over the last month or two one of my goals has been to identify as many of the butterflies and moths–or lepidopterans–that we have here at Xandari. Part of this work involves looking at old photos taken since 2014, when James and I first arrived on property and started taking pictures of wildlife; another element of the job is going out and photographing the lepidopterans in a more determined fashion.

Not an easy task, when butterflies can have such whimsical flight patterns and startle quite easily. Moths are a little simpler to chase because during the day they’re often focused on staying still and hiding out until evening. Continue reading

Ringing in the New Year at Xandari Resort

On the evening of December 31st, during the transition into the new year, Xandari Resort & Spa’s night receptionist, Lenar, took some video of the massive and lengthy fireworks display throughout the Central Valley. Xandari has a fantastic view of Alajuela and the surrounding towns, so there was gunpowder and colored light aplenty in the air as Lenar panned the night sky for images.

Shooting photos or videos at night can be challenging, so I was only able to extract a few good-quality images (see slideshow below) in addition to the brief footage above from Lenar’s video, but hopefully it gives a sense of the pretty fabulous experience of a new year celebration at Xandari Resort, Costa Rica.

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Splashing Festivities


In the past month, a wave of newcomers has joined the Xandari team, and to my delight, it means I´m no longer “the new girl.” This has been my first opportunity to welcome new members and receive them as warmly as I was greeted when I arrived in July. Our new coworkers at the front desk are the ones I’ve had the chance to help with any questions about billing or assisting with guest needs, and this new responsibility is the one I enjoy the most. Even though in certain circumstances I still have to refer to my other, more experienced, coworkers to help resolve the matter, I still get to learn how to take care of obstacles that I have not encountered before. Additionally, questions or doubts that the new employees have are helpful for identifying the details in the front desk duties and training process that could be made clearer.

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Bird Behavior at Xandari III

For the first two installments of this video series, please click here and here.

With footage filmed between late October and early December of this year, the compilation video below features twelve different families of birds, not including the domesticated chickens we have as egg-suppliers on property.

First, a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird scans its territory for trespassers; next, a female Yellow-throated Euphonia eats some tiny fruit from a local tree, and a male of the same species sings his bubbly song, which includes a mimicked phrase from the Rufous-breasted Wren toward the Continue reading

The Journey of the Xandari Commuters

I wrote about my daily “commute” in the first post I wrote upon arriving to Xandari as an intern. However, circumstances have changed since then (I am proud to say that I am officially a company employee now), so I think it’s only fair for me to share an updated version that not only illustrates my own personal account but also reflects that of many other employees of the hotel as well.

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October eBirding at Xandari

A Mottled Owl seen on Halloween, 2015

This past month at Xandari was a good one for the resort’s eBird hotspot, since it saw the beginning of the migratory bird season in earnest (some species start migrating from North America in September or even late August). Not only were 91 distinct species seen throughout the month, but 15 of these species were newly observed on property (including three new representatives each of both raptors and warblers; four new swallows; and even a new hummingbird that was probably fleeing the rain-induced cooler temperatures at its higher elevation habitat). These fresh observations have bumped the hotspot’s species count up to 137, putting Xandari in a tie for 54th place by species count within the entire province of Alajuela, which as the third-largest province of Costa Rica includes some of the stronger birding sites in the country, like Arenal and Poás volcanoes and Caño Negro National Park (not to mention all the private reserves––like Xandari’s––that get lots of bird-watchers every year).

Last night, fittingly for Halloween, Jocelyn and I saw a Mottled Owl (not the first time at Xandari, but the first time filmed that I know of):

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The Laughing Falcon

James and I first heard a Laughing Falcon from Xandari property on the 6th of July last year, according to our eBird records. Since then I’ve heard the raucous call plenty of times but never actually got a glimpse of the bird until last month, when one individual happened to perch in the same area of the orchards two mornings in a row.

The Laughing Falcon primarily feeds on snakes, including venomous species, as well Continue reading

Becoming Insta-Ready

In one of my previous posts I mentioned the importance of always being camera-ready in Xandari. Now, having learned my lesson, I make sure my camera gets charged everyday because Seth and I have created an Instagram account for Xandari. The idea to make an account for the hotel had been stirring in my mind for a few weeks. However, it wasn’t until I was about to take another breathtaking sunset picture and a dreaded “memory full” warning sign popped up on the camera screen that I realized the concept could no longer remain dormant; it had to become a reality!

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The Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Last month, I was using our most unique room at Xandari, Villa 20, as an office for a while. I say most unique — despite the fact that we have a Star Suite (Villa 27) — because 20 is constructed in a completely different way from all of Xandari’s other buildings. It is a round structure with a natural thatch roof, and it has huge windows affording about 180 degrees of view into the wooded gardens above the orange orchard. It so happens that this vegetated spot, not too far from the river that creates the southern border to Xandari’s property, is one of the stomping grounds for the Gray-necked Wood-Rail, a resident species of bird that is more often seen than heard, not only because it is extremely secretive and suspicious, but also incredibly loud.

As you can see in the final footage of the solitary individual above, they move cautiously while looking all around them for threats, and they move quite quickly when they perceive one. Continue reading