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ON A BUDGET

Bird-Watching Deals--Cheap, Cheap

August 06, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

If you're not a bird-watcher, you might be surprised to know it's a booming pastime, with thousands of enthusiasts (and even more Internet sites) and scores of companies offering birding tours to destinations near and far. The problem is that many of these tours are outlandishly priced: as much as $3,500 per person to hot spots in Central and South America, for example, and even as much as $700 for a weekend in the Florida Everglades--and that's without meals and air fare.

But there are a few reputable places that can provide a good-quality experience for about $100 a day, including room, board and expert ornithologist guides. And the best part is that outdoors-loving folks can enjoy many of these trips almost as much as birders.

Here's a light sampling:

* Arizona: Santa Rita Lodge, Coronado National Forest. Forty miles south of Tucson, open year-round and harboring dozens of species, it's an ideal base for exploring the birding riches of southeast Arizona. The rooms and cabins, priced at $73 to $93 per night, $78 to $93 in peak migrating season (March through May), are modest and kitchen-equipped (you have to buy your own groceries). Guided walks ($12) are offered daily in spring, by arrangement at other times of the year. Telephone (520) 625-8746; e-mail lcollisterc/otheriver.com; Internet http://www.santaritalodge.com.

* Maine: Audubon Society Ornithology Camp, Hog Island. On a 333-acre estuarine island 60 miles northeast of Portland, several weeklong bird-watching camps are held in June and in early September. The cost: $850, which covers room, board, lectures and workshops. Accommodations in an old farmhouse are basic, but the food reportedly is good. Information: tel. (207) 781-2330, Internet http://www.audubon.org/educate.cw.maine-adult.html.

* Texas: King Ranch, Kingsville. A king-size spread in south Texas boasting more than 400 species, the ranch runs full-day, ornithologist-led tours starting at $99. Information: tel. (361) 592-8055, Internet http://www.king-ranch.com. You don't stay at the ranch, but there are plenty of budget-friendly eats and sleeps in the area, which is about 50 miles south of Corpus Christi. Information on the area: tel. (800) 333-5032, Internet http://www.kingsville.org.

* Belize: Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Set on a lagoon 75 miles east of this English-speaking country's largest city (Belize City), the year-round lodge has 18 thatch-roofed cabins with verandas and private baths, a restaurant and bar, ample wildlife (including many spectacularly plumed birds) and even Mayan ruins within walking distance. Peak-season (January through March) cost for room and board is $125 a day per person, but discounted packages are available; most activities cost less than $30. Information: Center Travel, tel. (800) 324-5680, Internet http://www.birdtrips.com.

* Costa Rica: The 125-acre Rancho Naturalista is luxurious and fairly well known, yet it costs only about $135 a day ($877 a week) for spacious accommodations, delicious meals and guided walks. Under the same ownership, the smaller, more rustic Tarcol Lodge is $99 a night ($643 a week). Information: Costa Rica Gateway, tel. (800) 593-3305, Internet http://www.costaricagateway.com.

* Ecuador: Hotel Tinalandia and Mindo Gardens Lodge are about 50 miles from the capital, Quito. Tinalandia has 60 acres of rain forest and comfortable rooms with thatch roofs for $90 to $100 nightly, including full board. The 25-acre Mindo Gardens boasts several rare species of birds and other critters, as well as elegant rooms, all for $84 a night. Information: Center Travel, tel. (800) 324-5680, Internet http://www.birdtrips.com.

* Peru: This trek goes to three fairly well-known jungle lodges 50 to 100 miles outside Iquitos, capital of the Peruvian Amazon, 575 miles north of Lima. The eight-day package is a bit pricey at $1,995 per person, but that includes air from Miami to Iquitos via Lima, transfers into the jungle, meals and stays at all three lodges. Information: Explorama, tel. (800) 707-5275, Internet http://www.explorama.com.

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