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Operation RubyThroat's
Hummingbird Expeditions:
•5-13 December 2015•


(Trip info & pricing updated 28 Jan 2015;
inclusive land costs $2,250, plus air)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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


Based upon 24 very successful Operation RubyThroat Central American expeditions since 2004, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History--in conjunction with Holbrook Travel--is offering another exciting and educational field trip to Ujarrás in the Orosi Valley on Costa Rica's Caribbean Slope in December 2015 to study Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their Neotropical wintering grounds.

Click for Orosi, Costa Rica Forecast 

No previous experience is necessary--just a willingness to assist with field work and help make observations. All trip participants get chances to hold and release hummingbirds and take up-close photos of a wide variety of resident and migrant birds during six mornings of field work. Most afternoons and one full day will be devoted to trips to cultural and natural history sites, with plenty of time for birding, botanizing, and nature photography.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris--which occur in 38 U.S. states and across southern Canada from March through October--are the most widely distributed hummingbird species. Nonetheless, they are poorly studied in Mexico and Central America where they spend their non-breeding months. During our nine-day field trip in December 2015 to Ujarrás, Costa Rica, Center director Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. will teach participants how hummingbirds are observed, captured, banded, and released. As "citizen scientists," participants will play integral roles in conducting field work, will visit diverse habitats, and will learn about fascinating aspects of Costa Rican natural history and culture--from volcanoes to rain forest ecosystems, from coatimundis to tropical butterflies.

The trips are open to ANY adult interested in studying and reporting observations of hummingbirds in Costa Rica (and--after the trip--in the the rest of Central America, Mexico, Canada, and/or the U.S.). You do NOT have to be an experienced birder or scientist or have advanced training; we will teach you everything you need to know to participate in the project.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The nine-day Costa Rica expedition to Ujarrás will be headquartered at Hotel Tapanti Media Lodge (above) east of San Jose in the scenic Orosi Valley region.

This facility is used by international tour companies because of accommodations, food, and proximity to outstanding Costa Rican nature locales. Modern rooms are comfortable with fan, private bath with hot and cold running water, clean towels daily, and single and/or double beds. The dining room offers fresh fruit, meats, and vegetables at every meal. Transportation from the airport and to our study sites and all field trip locations is via air conditioned tour bus.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Although most of our hummingbird studies in Costa Rica have been during mid-winter in the dry forests and savannas of Guanacaste Province near Liberia (see map above), in late autumn 2011 we first led a highly successful expedition to the country's Caribbean Slope east of San Jose near Paraíso (see map) to study RTHU in November--shortly after these birds had arrived from North America.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We began working in eastern Costa Rica after our long-time tico guide and colleague Ernesto Carman Jr. discovered a previously undocumented population of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feeding on nectar in plantations of Chayote squash, Sechium edule, in the picturesque Orosi Valley (above) at Ujarrás.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Chayote (above) is grown on big horizontal trellises in the lush river valley around Ujarrás, not far from Paraíso where Ernesto lives at Finca Cristina. Chayote, which produces male and female flowers, blossoms throughout the year but is most useful to Costa Rican nectarivores late October through early December when few native plants are blooming. Ever-observant Ernesto saw dozens of ruby-throats taking nectar in the Chayote fields--all the information we needed to talk with Holbrook Travel about organizing our new autumn hummingbird expeditions.

Our fifth trip to Ujarrás in December 2015 will be especially attractive to birders interested in seeing hard-to-find species; there are many endemics (i.e., birds found nowhere else in the world), including Prevost's Ground-Sparrow, Ruddy Tree Runner, and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and hummers such as Scintillant Hummingbird, White-bellied Mountain-gem, and Coppery-headed Emerald. The region's 500-plus kinds of birds--including parrots, raptors, trogons, toucans, and other tropical species--give beginning and serious birders alike the chance to add significantly to their life lists.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Because making you a hummingbird bander is NOT the purpose of this particular trip, you will not actually be banding birds or removing them from nets. However, you WILL be involved in every other way: Handling and releasing colorful tropical birds including multiple hummers (above), deploying mist nets and traps, collecting and recording data, making valuable field observations, photographing flora and fauna, etc. With all this to do you will NOT be disappointed--especially when you see all or some of the 27 species of hummingbirds we observed in the Chayote during the 2011-13 expeditions.

Our autumn 2015 trip to the Costa Rican wintering grounds of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is scheduled for 5-13 December. The trip is strictly limited to 15 participants to maximize learning opportunities and hands-on experiences. We especially encourage participation by K-12 teachers and will be happy to collaborate with them on efforts to find grants to help underwrite trip costs and/or to work with home institutions if they seek graduate credit for the experience. (NOTE: There's also an option for a U.S. or Canadian teacher to travel and participate for FREE by recruiting 14 high school or college students for a special 7-, 8-, or 9-day trip to one of our Central American study sites; student trips can be scheduled anytime November through late February. Please contact us for details.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

After reading the day-to-day itinerary and requirements below, please contact Debbie Sturdivant Jordan at Holbrook Travel (1-866-748-6146) if you have any questions and/or to request enrollment forms. Register early via the Holbrook Web site to guarantee you can participate!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Chayote flower photo courtesy Ernesto Carman Jr.

  • Observation, trapping/netting, and handling, banding & release of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the field
  • Up-close in-hand examination of many migrant and resident Neotropical bird species
  • Cloud forest field trip to Tapanti National Park
  • Unforgettable all-day field trip to world-famous Rancho Naturalista & CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center)
  • Field trip to the top of Irazú Volcano
  • Field trip to Lankester Gardens orchid research site
  • Field trip to Finca Cristina (shade-grown organic coffee farm)
  • Plenty of opportunities for exploration and observation and photography of fascinating tropical plants and animals

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center


  • Hummingbird Observation & Banding
  • Neotropical Migrant Bird Behavior
  • In-hand Views of Non-migratory Tropical Birds
  • Rain Forest Ecosystems Ecology
  • Riparian Ecology
  • Pollination Biology
  • Agricultural Practices (Chayote arbor above)
  • Nocturnal Animal Behavior
  • Biodiversity
  • Volcanology & Landforms
  • Conservation
  • Nature Photography
  • Pedagogical Field Techniques
  • Research Field Techniques
  • Costa Rican History & Culture
  • Optional graduate credit is available through University of the Pacific (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)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Costa Rica hosts to up to 54 hummingbird species (Trochilidae). In addition to banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during our 2011-14 expeditions to Ujarrás we spotted 27 different kinds of hummers among the Chayote--and, amazingly, we mist netted and released 14 species, including Canivet's Emerald (above) and Plain-capped Starthroat (below). In fact, our Ujarrás study site may offer the greatest diversity of hummingbirds in the world for such a small area!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Click for Paraiso, Costa Rica Forecast 



5-13 December 2015

(Please note that all activities below will occur at some time during the expedition but actual days may change due to weather and other factors.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

5 December 2015 (Saturday)
Fly-in to San Jose

Participants fly into San Jose's modern international airport, met by trip leaders Bill Hilton Jr. & Ernesto Carman Jr., for an air conditioned bus ride to Hotel Tapanti Media Lodge at Orosi. Observations of birds, ecology, and culture begin immediately. Lunch at airport or en route. Afternoon move in and unpack. Watch sunset over nearby volcanic mountains (daily). Supper at Lodge, where a well-appointed dining room also has panoramic views (above). Evening orientation. (NOTE: All flights must arrive by mid-afternoon; otherwise, plan to arrive a day early and overnight in San Jose.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Color-marked RTHU photo courtesy Juan Diego Vargas

6 December 2015 (Sunday)
1st Day in the Field
Tapanti National Park

Breakfast at Lodge or at El Cas ethnic outdoor restaurant near our study site (daily), followed by air conditioned 20-minute bus ride to Ujarrás Chayote plantations. Typical procedure: Erect mist nets & traps; capture, band, measure, photograph, color mark, and release Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (immature male with blue color mark, above); record observations of RTHU behavior; band other Neotropical species such as warblers, tanagers, and orioles; observe and photograph in-hand other exotic non-migrants in-hand such as mot-mots, seedeaters, and resident hummingbirds. Lunch at Lodge or in the field (daily). Afternoon bus trip to Tapanti National Park and adjoining reserves at the edge of the Talamanca Range; these cover hundreds of square miles of unspoiled cloud forest that reach all the way to Panama. Waterfalls are a highlight, as are diverse birds and wildlife. Supper at Lodge (daily). Evening instruction (daily).

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

7 December 2015 (Monday)
2nd Day in the Field
Irazú National Park

Morning field work at Chayote farms. Afternoon bus trip to Irazú Volcano National Park, whose summit is above the tree line and resembles an alien moonscape (above). Irazú--the tallest of Costa Rica's volcanoes--last erupted in the early 1960s; today it has several craters, one filled with brilliantly colored rain-fed water and rimmed by gnarled, scorched trees. At nearly 10,000 feet, the view from Irazú in all directions is breathtaking. Possible birding stops along the way up and down the mountain.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The endemic Volcano Hummingbird (above) and Volcano Junco are target birds for Irazú. There's also a chance for Resplendent Quetzals and other highland species, as well as looks at the oak forests of the high slopes. Evening meeting.

8 December 2015 (Tuesday)
3rd Day in the Field
Lankester Gardens

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Morning field work at Chayote farms. Afternoon bus trip to Lankester Gardens near Cartago. In the Gardens we'll tour a comprehensive and fascinating scientific collection of living orchids; bring your macro lens for photos of some VERY tiny orchid species. We'll also take a walk on the facility's well-designed interpretive trails (above) and watch for large assemblages of ducks and other water birds in the adjoining pond. Evening meeting. Possible night walk to view nocturnal creatures.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

9 December 2015 (Wednesday)
"Hump Day"
Rancho Naturalista & CATIE

No field work. All-day trip including Rancho Naturalista, home of many species of hummingbirds that come to feeding stations for up-close viewing and still and videophotography. Rancho--within Costa Rica’s ecologically diverse Cordillera Talamanca--is an internationally known birding site with more than 450 species on its checklist.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Black-crested Coquette photo courtesy Herman Venegas

Local hummers at Rancho Naturalista include Snowcaps, Purple-crowned Fairies, Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, and Black-crested Coquettes (above). Lunch on the hummingbird veranda at Rancho. Afternoon visit to 45-acre botanical garden at CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center), which maintains nearly 4,400 genetic samples representing more than 280 species from all over the world. Here you can taste, smell, and touch an incredible variety of tropical fruits. Excellent opportunity for botanical photography. Evening meeting back at the lodge as time permits.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

10 December 2015 (Thursday)
4th Day in the Field
Finca Cristina

Morning field work at Chayote farms. Afternoon bus trip to Finca Cristina, home Ernesto Carman Jr., our in-country guide. We'll have lunch and a behind-the-scenes look at a fully certified shade-grown AND organic coffee farm. Tour the farm with Linda Moyher to see how shade-grown coffee helps 300-plus species of both resident and Neotropical migratory birds by providing habitat. Leguminous shade trees (above) offer shelter and feeding substrates for avifauna while giving orchids, ferns, and bromeliads a place to grow. Linda also explains how ORGANIC farming allows coffee to be grown with minimal negative impact on the local environment by NOT using chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, or insecticides.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Visit Finca Cristina's coffee drying and processing plant (above) designed, operated, and interpreted by Ernie Carman. End up with a first-hand view of how coffee is roasted, bagged, and shipped--complete with a tasting and opportunity to purchase. Evening meeting.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

11 December 2015 (Friday)
5th Day in the Field
Lake Cachi & Orosi

Morning field work at Chayote farms. Lunch at Casona del Cafetal on the shores of Lake Cachi (watch for Yellow-crowned Night Herons) and, as time allows, a visit to town of Orosi--one of the wettest places in tropical Costa Rica. Orosi is also home to a colonial church still in use.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Look for Bat Falcons (above) in gorge below dam that forms the lake. Last chance to buy Costa Rica souvenirs, including primitive carvings by a local artisan. Afternoon nature walk in the area. Evening meeting.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

12 December 2015 (Saturday)
6th Day in the Field
Farewell Fiesta

Morning field work at Chayote farms. Afternoon birding and cultural field trip to ruins of colonial church at Ujarrás, within walking distance from our study site in the Chayote fields.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Pack for return trip. Evening discussion of November 2014 banding results (adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, above, with band), tally of bird species seen, and "Farewell Fiesta."

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

13 December 2015 (Sunday)

Participants bus to San Jose airport--watching along the way for roadside birds such as Blue-crowned Motmot (above)--and then fly-out to their respective homes. Options exist for post-expedition in-country extensions on your own. (We recommend you NOT plan a pre-expedition extension. Holbrook Travel can help you plan post-expedition activities; again, please contact Debbie Sturdivant Jordan at (866) 748-6146 or via e-mail if you have questions and to register for Operation RubyThroat's a hummingbird expedition to Costa Rica.) See below for pricing and other details.

All contributions are tax-deductible

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: The main purpose of any Operation RubyThroat expedition to the Neotropics 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. A working pair of good binoculars is the only required equipment. We expect you to take initiative, carry your share of the load, and listen to and follow instructions carefully. We also expect you to look out for each other's needs and to be considerate of the hummingbirds we work with. We will have many wonderful and enjoyable experiences together, but this is NOT a pleasure trip--even though you'll have plenty of free time and are certain to have fun.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

If you are NOT willing to work hard in the field all week and follow the expedition's research and education goals, this is not a trip for you; we NEED your help our success will depend on you. Most days involve early through late-morning field activity under warm to hot conditions and after-supper meetings, with afternoons open for you to do as you wish. 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.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Legislators chose the Clay-colored Thrush (above) as Costa Rica's national bird, in part because of its nearly universal distribution and because it is believed to "call in the rain" for good coffee flowering


Dr. 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. He has led 24 highly successful hummingbird expeditions to Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In 2008 Discover magazine cited Hilton as one of the top ten amateur scientists in America and one of the nation's 50 Best Brains in Science. In 2013 Newberry College--Hilton's undergraduate alma mater--awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Science for trend-setting work in environmental education, natural history research, and conservation.

Hilton is executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. As principal investigator for "Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project," he 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 61,000 birds at Hilton Pond, including 5,000-plus Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. In addition, Hilton and his citizen science teams have banded more than 1,200 ruby-throats in the Neotropics--a remarkable number when compared to the 46 that had been banded in all of Central America and Mexico before he began his research there in 2004.

Hilton taught in Rock Hill and Fort Mill SC high 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 served as president of the Alumni Association. In this role, he organized a major international symposium on John Bachman, founder of Newberry College and a contemporary of John James Audubon. Hilton 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 his Biographical Sketch.

Hilton and the citizen science group will be assisted by ERNESTO M. CARMAN of Talamanca Hawkwatch and Programa Conservacion de Aves. Ernesto (at right), a native-born Costa Rican (tico), speaks fluent English and Spanish, and is one of only a few naturalists with extensive experience observing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds within Costa Rica. Ernesto's sharp eyes and ears, comprehensive knowledge, and terrific personality greatly enrich our time in the field. After a decade of involvement with the project he is a true collaborator and not just an in-country guide. Ernesto's family runs Finca Cristina, an environmentally friendly coffee farm that uses shade-grown organic techniques and recycles processing materials.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Rufous-collared Sparrows (above), are a common but colorful species in Costa Rica that remind trip participants of White-throated Sparrows back in North America.

$2,250 (plus air)

(Please e-mail Laurie McLaughlin, Holbrook Travel's air specialist, 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. Holbrook can also arrange trip extensions before or after the Operation RubyThroat expedition.)

NOTE: Alumni of any Holbrook Professional Development Expedition--including past Operation RubyThroat trips to Costa Rica, Guatemala & Belize--are eligible for discounts on upcoming Operation RubyThroat excursions.

--Rates are based on: Double occupancy with a full roster of 12 participants and subject to increase with fewer participants. (Any participant may select a single room for about $300 extra, but we recommend doubling as part of the community experience.)

--Participants must be: At least 21 years of age by the time the trip begins, and willing and able to participate in field work and all education and research activities. (Special consideration may be given on a case-by-case basis for college students and for advanced, mature senior high school or college students accompanied by a parent. We also can offer a full week for a class of 12-14 responsible high school students between November and late February; the sponsoring teacher earns a FREE trip. Please contact us for details.)

--Each participant must: Bring and know how to use a decent pair of binoculars with which to make field observations. Sharing binoculars doesn't work.

--Participants must be: In good physical & mental health and able to walk at moderate pace for short distances (usually less than a half mile) over mostly level but sometimes rocky terrain at the study site, and be able to carry light objects in the field (mist net poles, banding tools, day pack, etc.). Participants may need to stand for extended periods (up to 60 minutes) to monitor nets under sunny conditions, with opportunities for water breaks in the shade. On past expeditions, participants as old as 80 have had no problems with physical demands of the project.

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

--Program cost does not include: International airfare (about $600-$800, depending on departure point; use frequent flyer miles if you can); meals, if any, away from the hotel; any additional optional activities not described above; non-mealtime beverages or snacks; gratuities for guide, driver, and local personnel ($150 total per participant); $29 departure tax; or optional graduate credit costs. (Please note that because of difficulty with international connections and depending on your point of origin, it may be necessary for you to spend an extra night traveling to and/or from Costa Rica. You should plan to arrive not later than mid-afternoon on 5 December 2015.)

--Payment policy: To confirm your space, send $200 deposit per person to Holbrook Travel along with your enrollment form(s); deposit is required by 7 August 2015 to hold your space. Each deposit is refundable minus a $100 processing fee if cancellation is received by 7 August 2015; there will be no refunds for cancellations after that date. Final payment of $2,050 is due on 1 September 2015. NOTE: New enrollees may be accepted as late as early November only if space is still available. (We strongly advise inexpensive third-party trip insurance to cover unexpected circumstances that could cause you to cancel after your final payment is made; such insurance can also cover flight delays and related land transportation, in-country medical care, etc.)

--Pre-trip activities: We will communicate with you frequently via e-mail in the weeks leading up to your trip. You'll also receive suggested readings and resources that will enhance your trip experience. We anticipate you will study and learn all important information related to the trip's research goals.

--Optional graduate credit: Contact Holbrook Travel's Debbie Sturdivant Jordan for information about how to apply and pay for graduate credit through University of the Pacific. You may also elect to work with your local college to earn credit there. K-12 educators may file for continuing education credits.

--Tax deductions: Because Operation RubyThroat expeditions are service projects in support of a non-profit, an estimated $300 of your fees should be tax-deductible on your 2015 tax forms. If you are participating as part of a college degree program or are a classroom teacher, additional tax deductions may be taken--in fact, the FULL COST of the trip may be deductible. (In some cases, this means after taxes the trip actually will end up costing you nothing!)

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project expeditions are non-profit trips offered as outreach activities through which we learn more about winter behavior of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. If you're interested in making a separate 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 Jordan 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. NOTE: On-line registration is now available at the Holbrook Travel Web site. See you in Costa Rica!

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

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

All contributions are tax-deductible

(click on logo above for a complete list)

To register contact Debbie Sturdivant at Holbrook Travel toll-free at (866) 748-6146. You can also register on-line at Holbrook Citizen Science Expeditions.

Multi-trip discounts are available as we move northward in Central America, following Ruby-throated Hummingbirds while they prepare for and embark on spring migration. Information, maps, pricing, and day-by-day itineraries for additional trips are linked from: Follow The Hummingbirds North.

For complete reports on all of Operation RubyThroat's successful Neotropical Hummingbird Banding Expeditions, please visit
This Week at Hilton Pond at the following links:


See a write-up about the 2006 trip in the
May/June 2006 Costa Rica Outdoors magazine

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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.