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Hilton Pond Center Offers
Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE
Hummingbird Expedition
To Costa Rica
11-18 February 2006

(Updated 27 Sep 2005)

For a complete report on our two excursions in 2004,
please visit "This Week at Hilton Pond" for
1-14 January 2005.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (above),
captured for banding


In conjunction with Holbrook Travel, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is offering exciting and educational field trips in February 2006 to study Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their wintering grounds in Costa Rica.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds Archilochus colubris--which occur in 38 U.S. states and across southern Canada from April through early October--are the most widely distributed hummingbird species. Nonetheless, they are not well-studied in Mexico and Central America where they spend their non-breeding months. During our eight-day field trip to Guanacaste Province in northwestern Costa Rica, Center director Bill Hilton Jr. will show participants how hummingbirds are observed, captured, banded, and released and teach how to implement protocols that are part of "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project" and The GLOBE Program. Along the way participants will visit diverse habitats and learn about fascinating aspects of Costa Rican natural history and culture--from volcanoes to Pacific coastal ecosystems, from coatimundis to tropical butterflies.

The eight-day expedition will be based at Buena Vista Lodge & Adventure Center (above), used by many international tour companies because of its excellent accommodations, food, and proximity to outstanding Costa Rican nature locales. The rustic-but-comfortable lodge even has its own on-site Serpentarium!

Guanacaste Province, in northwestern Costa Rica (red star on map below), borders Nicaragua. Unlike the Caribbean side of the Costa Rica, the west coast is drier; rather than tropical rain forests, Guanacaste has tropical dry forests--some of which are evergreen--and there are expanses of grassland that even today are used by cattle and horse ranchers. Some ecologsts liken the terrain, climate, and vegetative structure of Guanacaste to that of West Texas in the United States--except that there are several active volcanoes overlooking pristine Pacific beaches in Guanacaste!

The trip is open to ANY adult (see below) interested in studying and reporting observations of hummingbirds in Costa Rica (and in the the rest of Central America, Mexico, Canada, and/or the U.S.). This expedition to the wintering grounds of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will occur on 11-18 February 2006. We especially encourage participation by K-12 teachers and will be happy to collaborate with them in their efforts to find grants to help underwrite trip costs and/or to work with their home institutions if they are seeking graduate credit for the experience.

Two English-speaking Costa Rican K-12 teachers will receive full scholarships from Holbrook Travel and Hilton Pond Center to join the excursion as active participants. Their involvement will help create connections with fellow educators and students from other countries in which Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also occur.

After reading the information below, please contact Debbie Sturdivant at Holbrook Travel (1-866-748-6146) if you have any questions about enrolling and/or to request enrollment forms. Register early to guarantee you can participate!

  • Observation, trapping & banding of hummingbirds in the field
  • Training & certification for GLOBE’s hummingbird observation protocols
  • Full-day field trip to Santa Rosa National Park
  • Pacific Coastal Ecosystems field trip to Junquillal Beach
  • Horseback ride to volcanic hot springs

  • Hummingbird Observation & Banding
  • Neotropical Migrant Bird Behavior
  • Coastal Ecosystems Ecology
  • Tropical Dry Forest Ecology
  • Nocturnal Animal Behavior
  • Biodiversity
  • Volcanology & Landforms
  • Conservation
  • Nature Photography
  • Pedagogical Field Techniques
  • Research Field Techniques
  • Costa Rican History & Culture
  • Full certification in the Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE hummingbird observation protocols
  • Optional graduate credit is available through Weber State University (some trip costs may be deductible as educational expenses and/or be eligible for loans or scholarships from outside sources; teachers should ask principals and district offices if partial funding is available locally)


  • In additional to banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during our initial December 2004-January 2005 expeditions to Guanacaste Province, we also captured and/or observed the following hummer species: Cinnamon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Canivet's Emerald (formerly Fork-tailed), and the noticeably long-billed Plain-capped Starthroat (below).


  • Horseback riding
  • Swimming
  • Day Hiking
  • Nature exploring
  • Night hikes (optional)
  • Zip line through the canopy (optional)
  • Unique tropical forest water slide (optional)



February 11--Arrival & Buena Vista Lodge & Adventure Center

  • Early Afternoon: Arrive Liberia International Airport, to be greeted by local personnel and transported by air-conditioned tour bus to Buena Vista Lodge near Rincon de la Vieja National Park (above), home base for the week. Formerly a cattle ranch, the Lodge now focuses on ecotourism. Keeping its rustic style, the property sits on a volcanic slope (altitude 2,450') with the Pacific Ocean visible in the distance. The peak of the volcano is shrouded in clouds and is seldom visible, but in the mist frequent rainbows--and occasional moonbows!--make up for it. Of the lodge's 2,000 acres of private reserve, approximately half are primary (virgin) and secondary forest with the rest dedicated to livestock and equestrian activities--a big part of the lifestyle of Guanacaste Province. The lodge's finca (working farm) also produces organic foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk, and cheese.
  • Evening: Introductions & Overview of Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE protocols and other methodologies to be used while monitoring, capturing, and banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris).

February 12--Buena Vista

  • Morning & Afternoon: Check hummingbird feeders at Buena Vista. Make field observations; scout for concentrations of hummingbirds; set traps and/or nets at various sites, including Aloe Vera plantations (right) that may be one of the most important habitats for wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds; band and release hummingbirds as captured.
  • Evening: Continuaton of Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE protocol instruction. Informal presentations by trip participants, followed by optional night hike for observation of nocturnal inhabitants of the reserve.

February 13--Buena Vista

  • Morning & Afternoon: Continue hummingbird observations and banding.
  • Evening: Continuaton of Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE protocol instruction. Informal presentations and introduction to Costa Rican culture.

February 14--Buena Vista & Santa Rosa National Park

  • Morning: Field trip to Santa Rosa National Park. Created to preserve the field where a decisive battle was fought, Santa Rosa is a naturalist's wonder. The park, covered with trails, encompasses almost all habitats of the region, from deciduous tropical hardwood forests to dry mountain regions (with cactus and thorny shrubs) to mangrove swamp estuaries near the beach. Excellent opportunities for wildlife observation and photography exist during the dry season, due to concentrations of animals such as peccaries, coatimundis, and tapirs at water holes. Within park boundaries are the beaches of Nancite and Naranjo, both among the most pristine in Costa Rica and known for mass nestings of sea turtles.
  • Afternoon: Visit Junquillal Beach for an introduction to tropical coastal ecosystems. Swim in the Pacific Ocean (optional).
  • Evening: Informal presentations and optional night hike.

February 15--Buena Vista

  • Morning & Afternoon: Continue hummingbird field observations and banding.
  • Evening: Informal presentations.

February 16--Buena Vista

  • Morning & Afternoon: Continue hummingbird field observations and banding.
  • Evening: Informal presentations.

February 17--Buena Vista & Rincón de la Vieja National Park

  • Morning: Travel by horseback to thermal springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where the active Arenal Volcano (above) rises about 5,000 feet; because of cloud activity, the summit is seldom visible, so we'll content ourselves with an invigorating mud bath at the spa. Although formed by the merging of several volcanic eruptions, Rincón de la Vieja is a single mountain. On the summit, nine eruption sites have been identified, two of which are still active. Costa Rica last heard from Rincón from 1966 to 1970, when it released huge clouds of ash and rumbled underground. Rincón offers a variety of habitats to explore due to variations in altitude, rainfall, and effects of volcanic eruptions. Learn about tropical dry forests and the species found in them, with sightings of monkeys and other small mammals, various butterflies, and up to 300 species of birds.
  • Afternoon: Final analysis of hummingbird data.
  • Evening: "Farewell Fiesta."

February 18--Buena Vista & Departure

  • Morning: Depart (hugs optional but likely) for Liberia airport for flight home.
  • Evening: Dream about hummingbirds and Costa Rica!

NOTE: The main purpose of the Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE Costa Rica expedition is to learn about Ruby-throated Hummingbird winter behavior; thus, your active participation in making daily observations and collecting data is critical to the trip's success. We will have many wonderful and enjoyable experiences together, but this is NOT a pleasure trip. If you are not willing to work hard all week and follow the expedition's research and education goals, please do not sign up for the trip. Scheduled activities are subject to change due to weather or to take advantage of unexpected learning and research opportunities, but we'll do everything we can to make sure we offer all non-research activities described above.


BILL HILTON JR. (below left), internationally known educator-naturalist, was twice named South Carolina Science Teacher of the Year and was honored as the state's Outstanding Biology Teacher. In 1998, The Charlotte Observer named him a Carolinas "Guardian of the Environment" for a lifetime of trend-setting work in conservation and environmental education.

Hilton is executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. As principal investigator for "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project," he has received a 42-month grant from the National Science Foundation to integrate Operation RubyThroat with The GLOBE Program. Since 1982, Hilton has banded more than 46,400 birds at Hilton Pond, including 3,100-plus Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Hilton taught in Rock Hill and Fort Mill SC schools, and at the University of Minnesota, St. Olaf College, and Winthrop University. He helped start the residential South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, which he served as biology instructor and director of student research.

Hilton is a nationally sought-after speaker on diverse natural history topics. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Newberry College, which he serves as president-elect on the Alumni Board of Directors. As alumni president, he is organizing a major international symposium on John Bachman, founder of Newberry College and a contemporary of John James Audubon. He also earned a Master of Arts in Biology Teaching from Winthrop University, and a Master of Science in Ecology & Behavioral Biology from the University of Minnesota, where he conducted a four-year field study of the behavioral ecology of Blue Jays, Cyanocitta cristata. For a complete resume, see Hilton Biographical Sketch.

Hilton and the group will be assisted by ERNESTO M. CARMAN of Talamanca Hawkwatch and Programa Conservacion de Aves. Ernesto, a native-born Costa Rican (tico), speaks fluent English and Spanish, and is one of only a few naturalists with experience observing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds within Costa Rica. Ernesto's sharp eyes and comprehensive knowledge will greatly enrich our time in the field. Ernesto and his family run Finca Cristina, an environmentally friendly coffee farm that uses shade-grown techniques and recycles processing materials.


(Please call Wendy Frazier, Holbrook Travel's air specialist, at
1-800-451-7111 for international airfare rates from your city. Holbrook often has access to "add-on" airfare at rates cheaper than those available to the general public.)

--Rates are based on: Double occupancy with a full roster of 12 participants and subject to increase with fewer participants; e.g., if only 10 participants sign up, cost will be $1,399 per person; initial invoices will reflect the higher price until the trip fills. (Any participant may select a single room at a higher rate but we suggest doubling as part of the community experience.)

--Participants must be: In good health, at least 21 years of age by the time the trip begins, and willing to participate in field work and all education and research activities. (Consideration may be given on a case-by-case basis for college students and for advanced, mature high school students accompanied by a parent.)

--Program cost includes: All in-country transportation, accommodations, meals, expert local guide (bilingual), learning activities and field trips, and Operation RubyThroat/GLOBE instructional materials, as stated above.

--Program cost does not include: International airfare (about $625-$700, depending on departure point), additional optional activities not described above, beverages, gratuities for local personnel, $26 departure tax, or graduate credit costs. (Please note that because of difficulty with international connections, it may be necessary for you to spend an extra night traveling to and/or from Costa Rica.)

--Payment policy: To confirm your space, send $200 deposit to Holbrook Travel, along with your enrollment form. The deposit is refundable less a $75 processing fee if cancellation is received prior to 60 days. Final payment is due no later than 60 days before departure date; there will be no refunds for cancellations within 60 days of departure.

--Pre-trip activities: You will receive lists of suggested readings and resources that will enhance your trip experience. We expect that you will study and learn all important information related to the trip's research goals.

--Optional graduate credit: Contact Holbrook Travel's Debbie Sturdivant for infomation about how to apply and pay for graduate credit through Weber State University. You may also work with your local college to earn credit there.

--Tax deductions: Since the Operation RubyThroat expeditions to Costa Rica are service projects in support of a non-profit, a portion of your fees may be tax-deductible.

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project derive no financial gain from the Costa Rican excursion; trips are offered as outreach activities and as a way to learn more about winter behavior of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. If you're interested in making a contribution to the Center and/or Operation RubyThroat, please see Supporting the Work of Hilton Pond Center.

After reading the information above, contact Debbie Sturdivant at Holbrook Travel by E-mail or phone (1-866-748-6146) if you have any questions about enrolling and/or to request enrollment forms. See you in Costa Rica!

Adult female Ruby-throated Hummingbird (above),
captured for banding

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Other copyrights as indicated

For a complete report on our two excursions in the winter of
2004-2005, please visit "This Week at Hilton Pond" for
1-14 January 2005.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.