Hilton Pond Center Offers
Operation RubyThroat
Hummingbird Expedition:

(Updated 29 October 2010)

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Week 1: COSTA RICA (29 Jan-6 Feb) See below
Week 2: NICARAGUA (9-17 Feb) (POSTPONED UNTIL 2012)
Week 3: GUATEMALA (20-28 Feb)
Week 4: BELIZE (3-11 March)

Multi-trip discounts available as we move northward in Central America, following Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they head
out on spring migration in 2011.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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


Based upon ten very successful expeditions in 2004-2010, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History--in conjunction with Holbrook Travel--is again offering an exciting and educational field trip in January-February 2011 to study Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on their wintering grounds in Costa Rica. Plus, we're goping back to Belize and for the first time will take groups of hummingbird enthusiasts to Guatemala and Nicaragua! Join us this year as we "Follow the Hummingbirds North" in spring migration.

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 2011 to Guanacaste Province in northwestern Costa Rica, Center director 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 Pacific coastal ecosystems, from coatimundis to tropical butterflies.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The nine-day Costa Rica expedition will be based at El Sitio Best Western Hotel (above), on the outskirts of Liberia. (NOTE: In previous years we stayed at a lodge halfway up a volcano but opted for a modern hotel more centrally located to our field sites that does not require a one-hour bus ride each morning.) El Sitio is used by international tour companies because of its accommodations, food, and proximity to outstanding Costa Rican nature locales. Rooms are modest but have air conditioning and ceiling fan, private bath with hot and cold running water, clean towels daily, single and/or double beds, and screened windows; there is a fitness room and outdoor unheated pool. The dining room offers fresh fruit, meats, and vegetables at every meal. An inner courtyard has many large trees--one of which held the nest of a Green-breasted Mango hummingbird in 2008--and the hotel property adjoins a small wetland where egrets, Northern Jaçanas, and other birds can be observed. The hotel is within walking distance of Liberia's shops and restaurants. Transportation to our field sites is via air-conditioned tour bus.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Guanacaste Province, in northwestern Costa Rica (red star on map above), 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 ecologists liken the terrain, climate, and vegetative structure of Guanacaste to that of West Texas in the United States--except there are several active volcanoes overlooking pristine Pacific beaches in Guanacaste!

El Sitio Best Western Hotel in Liberia (see map above) is at about 600-foot elevation. Daytime temperatures are typically in the 80s or low 90s; nights are 10-15 degrees cooler and occasionally bring windy conditions. Nearby study sites where we spend mornings catching and observing hummingbirds are almost always sunny, although some days may be partly overcast. It does not rain in Liberia during January. Field temperatures go from mid-70s at 6:30 a.m. to 90 at about 11:30 a.m. when we usually quit for the day.

The trip is 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

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 multiple hummers (above) and other colorful tropical birds, deploying mist nets and traps, collecting and recording data, making valuable field observations, photographing flora and fauna, etc. You will NOT be disappointed!

Our 2011 expedition to the Costa Rica wintering grounds of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is scheduled for 2-10 February. 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; 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 at Holbrook Travel (1-866-748-6146) if you have any questions and/or to request enrollment forms. Register early to guarantee you can participate!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

  • 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
  • Pacific Coastal Ecosystems field trip to Santa Rosa National Park and to Junquillal Beach, including swimming in the surf
  • Wetlands Ecosystem field trip to Palo Verde National Park
  • All-day visit to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
  • 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
  • Coastal Ecosystems Ecology
  • Tropical Dry Forest Ecology (deciduous & evergreen)
  • Wetlands Ecology
  • 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 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)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center


Costa Rica is host to up to 54 hummingbird species (Trochilidae). In addition to banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds during our previous expeditions to Guanacaste Province, we've also captured the following seven non-migratory hummer species: Canivet's Emerald (formerly Fork-tailed, male above), Cinnamon Hummingbird, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, and the noticeably long-billed Plain-capped Starthroat (below). The only likely Guanacaste low-altitude species we've missed are Stripe-throated Hermit and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

(all optional; some can be arranged through the hotel)

  • Horseback riding
  • Swimming
  • Day hiking
  • Nature exploring & photography
  • Night hikes

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

-DETAILED ITINERARY for COSTA RICA-29 January-6 February 2011
(Saturday thru Sunday of the following week)

DAY 1: January 29 (Saturday)--Arrival & Liberia's El Sitio Best Western Hotel

  • Early Afternoon: Arrive Liberia International Airport, greeted by local personnel; lunch at nearby open-air restaurant. Transported by air-conditioned tour bus to El Sitio Best Western Hotel on the outskirts of Liberia (central plaza, above), our home base for the week.
  • Evening: Introductions & Overview of Operation RubyThroat and methodologies to be used while monitoring, capturing & banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 2: January 30 (Sunday)--El Sitio, Cañas Dulces & Day of Discovery

  • Early Morning: Breakfast at El Sitio (occurs daily, unless otherwise noted). Bus to Cañas Dulces for Day One of field work; make observations; scout for concentrations of hummingbirds; set traps and/or nets at various sites, including Aloe Vera plantations that may be one of the most important local habitats for wintering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (above, immature Ruby-throated hummingbird approaching aloe flowers); record data; band and release hummingbirds as captured. (NOTE: Most days we are at the study site by 6:30 a.m. and depart by 11:30 a.m.)
  • Lunch: Back at El Sitio (occurs daily, unless otherwise noted).
  • Afternoon Free Time: Explore Liberia or El Sitio grounds on your own; great chances for observations and photos of local culture, flora, and fauna. Siesta and/or dip in the pool (optional). Some afternoons we may take short bus trips to a nearby nature locale; there will also be two half-day field trips (see below) and one all-day trip.
  • Late Afternoon: Gather to watch sunset (occurs daily, unless otherwise noted).
  • Supper: At El Sitio (occurs daily, unless otherwise noted).
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations by trip participants. (On at least one evening we will have opportunity for an optional night hike to observe nocturnal inhabitants of a nearby natural area.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 3: January 31 (Monday)--El Sitio & Cañas Dulces

  • Early Morning: Day Two of hummingbird observations and banding at study site(s).
  • Afternoon Free Time: Explore on your own. Look for nest, including those of Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds (above).
  • Late Afternoon: Gather to watch sunset.
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations and introduction to Costa Rican culture.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 4: February 1 (Tuesday)--El Sitio, Cañas Dulces & Santa Rosa National Park & Junquillal Beach (above)

  • Early Morning: Day Three of hummingbird observations and banding at study site(s).
  • Late Morning/Afternoon: Field trip to and box lunch at Santa Rosa National Park. Created to preserve the field where a decisive battle was fought, Santa Rosa is also 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 cacti to mangrove swamp estuaries near the beach. Excellent opportunities for wildlife observation and photography exist during the dry season, due to concentrations of animals at water holes and beaches. Visit Junquillal Beach for introduction to tropical coastal ecosystems. Swim in Pacific Ocean (optional).
  • Late Afternoon: Gather for sunset at an unusual locale.
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 5: February 2 (Wednesday)--"Hump Day": El Sitio & Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park

  • All Day: Field trip to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park. One of the protected parks within Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG), Rincon is one of Costa Rica’s most diverse ecological parks. Known for its stunning diversity of flora and fauna, it is home to two volcanoes and 32 rivers and streams. The park extends on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the Cordilleran Ridge; the Pacific slope has a distinct dry season while the Caribbean slope is wet and lush green. Rincon is home to an impressive array of wildlife: birds, insects, and mammals such as Spider Monkeys, jaguars, peccaries, and tapirs. Among the verdant vegetation grow Guaria Morada orchids, national flower of Costa Rica. We'll take our air conditioned bus to the park and spend most of the day walking trails to view scenery, flora, and fauna. Box lunch.
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations and introduction to Costa Rican culture. Optional Night Hike.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 6: February 3 (Thursday)--El Sitio & Cañas Dulces

  • Early Morning: Day Four of hummingbird observations and banding at study site(s). (Often we catch, release, and photograph other tropical bird species, such as the male Long-tailed Manakin above and below.)
  • Afternoon Free Time: Explore on your own.
  • Late Afternoon: Gather to watch sunset.
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations and introduction to Costa Rican culture.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 7: February 4 (Friday)--El Sitio & Cañas Dulces

  • Early Morning: Day Five of hummingbird observations and banding at study site(s).
  • Afternoon Free Time: Explore on your own.
  • Late Afternoon: Gather to watch sunset.
  • Evening: Continuation of Operation RubyThroat discussions. Informal presentations and introduction to Costa Rican culture.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 8: February 5 (Saturday)--El Sitio, Cañas Dulces & Palo Verde National Park

  • Early Morning: Day Six of hummingbird observations and banding at study site(s).
  • Afternoon: Field trip to Palo Verde National Park, which has a uniquely dichotomous character with spectacular wetlands and one of the best examples of tropical dry forest remaining anywhere in the world. This dual nature is a result of the Río Tempisque annually flooding land within a relatively arid climate region. During the dry season, waters reced and concentrate large numbers of wading birds and waterfowl (including Northrn Jaçanas, Black-necked Stilts, and huge flocks of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, above). The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) has an important field station at Palo Verde.
  • Evening: Final analysis of hummingbird data & "Farewell Fiesta." Begin packing for next day's departure.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

DAY 9: February 6 (Sunday)--El Sitio & Departure

  • Morning: Final reading of the Checklist of Birds. Depart via bus for Liberia airport and flights home (hugs optional but likely among new friends).
  • Evening: Dream in your own hometown bed about hummingbirds and warm, sunny Costa Rica!

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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


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 ten highly successful hummingbird expeditions to Costa Rica and one to Belize. The December 2008 issue of 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."

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 54,000 birds at Hilton Pond, including 4,000-plus Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

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 group will be assisted by ERNESTO M. CARMAN JR. 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 six years 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

(Please e-mail Wendy Frazier, 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 & Belize--are eligible for a $150 discount for any and all of the 2011 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 $400 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 $500-$750, 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 (e.g. horseback ride); non-mealtime beverages or snacks; gratuities for guide, driver, and local personnel; $26 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.)

--Payment policy: To confirm your space, send $200 deposit per person to Holbrook Travel along with your enrollment form(s); deposit for all trips is due on or before 1 September 2010. We suggest early deposit to guarantee your space. Each deposit is refundable minus a $100 processing fee if cancellation is received by 25 October 2010; there will be no refunds for cancellations after that date. Final payment of $1,599 is due on 26 October 2010. (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 for information about how to apply and pay for graduate credit through Weber State University. 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 $400 of your fees should be tax-deductible on your 2010 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 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. You can also ENROLL ON-LINE. See you in Costa Rica!

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

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

For complete reports on all our 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

AND . . .

A first for hummingbird banders! One of our ruby-throats captured in January 2008 in Costa Rica was encountered five months later in Baxley, Georgia USA!

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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.

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