You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2011.
When I first
was dragged started going out in the field birding with my husband I carried a Kodak point-and-shoot camera. Steve would point out a bird to me and “click!” I’d take the picture just like I’d do while on vacation, say to London, a national park, or the beach. It was easy peasy to use and I loved it.
Well, until I got home and loaded the photos onto my computer and realized that my little spec of a bird barely showed up. Even cropping in didn’t help a whole lot. You could see the bird and tell what it was, but it wasn’t very stunning.
So I decided to invest in a new Nikon DSLR. It’s been so great that the recent onslaught of DSLRs have made it so much more affordable for the amateur photographer and enthusiast. I love my Nikon. I’m not a great photographer, but it certainly keeps me busy and interested in birding. While my husband can look through binoculars and his scope for what seems like an eternity, I’ve found the photography a great challenge for me. I’m actually quite happy about my pictures that I get. And it keeps my interest in the field while birding.
One Christmas we decided to do a road trip starting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then south to Bosque del Apache and then to Las Cruces, New Mexico and finishing up in Tucson, Arizona. I loved Bosque del Apache. Well, that is until I saw this:
Crap. I felt my first pangs of lens envy.
Part of the problem with taking photographs at Bosque del Apache with a standard camera sans telephoto lens is that most of the birds are waders. It’s not like you’re going to have the opportunity to get up close to them. I grew frustrated and impatient with myself and my camera. But Socorro (the little town just outside of Bosque del Apache) didn’t have any camera equipment or lenses. They did have a feed store that everyone seemed to congregate at. Oh, and this lovely family restaurant with it’s retro sign that I adored:
Once we arrived in Las Cruces, New Mexico we located a store that sold Nikor lenses. I grabbed up the last 300mm lens and since then I’ve been a happy photographer again.
But I still get lens envy out in the field. Look at these guys:
Celestun is on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan Peninsula where the water is emerald green. It was one of our stops on our honeymoon and you get there by going through Merida, which is the largest city and also the capital of the state of Yucatan.
Once you arrive at the tiny fishing village of Celestun turn north and drive 10 kilometers on a gravel road to the resort, Eco Paraiso Xixim, which is actually an ecological hotel.
I must be honest: never in a million years would I have thought to visit Celestun. But Steve in all his birding wisdom discovered during his research that we needed to go to Celestun.
In Maya, the name Xixim means sea shell and the unspoiled beaches at this resort have a bizillion sea shells. The hotel grounds were conscientiously designed to be self sustaining. In other words, they take caution not to spray the mosquitos.
Good for them!
But bad for me, as mosquitos just love me to pieces.
Thankfully, the hotel provides each cabana with both mosquito repellent as well a little bottle of spray to apply if you’ve been bitten. In the little brochure in our room, the hotel advised, “The perfumed personal hygiene products used in your frequent showers awaken bottomless passion in mosquitos, making it advisable to shun these for fragrance-free products.”
“Bottomless passion.” No kidding.
The Hacienda Chichen, where we had stayed the two nights previous, was glorious and like the Garden of Eden. Eco Paraiso was a different sort of paradise. There are only 15 cabanas and the beach was peaceful. We lounged in our hammocks on our veranda. We swam in the ocean, laid out on the chaises on the beach under straw thatch umbrellas, or swam in the hotel pool with the waterfall and drank smoothies on the cushioned chaises as we played Scrabble and watched the sunset.
The food was authentic Mayan and we took advantage of the pool table in the restaurant There were no TVs (except during certain hours in the common area) and no phones in our cabana. But the cabana was spacious and the high thatched-roof ceiling gave us the feeling that we were staying in a large house. The mosquito netting over the bed looked romantic, but it was for practical purposes, natch. (Those pesky mosquitos.) And every cabana had a fantastic view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Steve had pre-arranged for a bird tour with one of the best birding guides in all of the Yucatan. One morning we met David, our guide who took us to see the Flamingos, which were flying over us like busy traffic, going back and forth from their food source and their nests.
This also was my first experience birding at a landfill. Yes, birders are fond of landfills as they attract all sorts of birds there. Blech.
At lunch time we stopped and had fish at one of David’s favorite restaurants and we enjoyed getting to know him better. Turns out he used to teach English and History as a high school teacher in Celestun. Now he lives in Merida and does birding tours full time. He told of us his concern of the children in Celestun who don’t finish their education, worried that they’ll go right into fishing. “That’s not sustainable,” he said.
It would be difficult to be burdened by your troubles at Eco Paraiso. The daily siestas were growing on me, and I completely forgot that I had a job waiting back for me in Utah. If there were any cobwebs in my head they were gone. The simplicity of the resort makes everything else seem simpler.
Everyone at the resort was extraordinarily hospitable and concerned about our well-being while we were there. We stayed at Eco Paraiso only two nights but Steve had to practically drag me from the place. I didn’t want to leave.
When we were planning our two-week honeymoon to Mexico three years ago I was thinking about lounging around on the beach and spending a lot of together time watching sunsets, eating Mexican food and just blissfully looking into each other’s eyes.
Steve, on the other hand was thinking about birding.
I was a little skeptical at first, because the only birding we had really done together during our two-year long-distance courtship was when he was in Utah visiting and we went to Antelope Island or Bear River Wildlife Refuge. Those were really just day trips. We hadn’t really done any serious birding with guides in Utah.
But Steve didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see some lifers in Mexico while we were there, so he arranged to have bird guides at each of our locations: Cancun, Rio Lagartos and Celestun. (We also went on to Cozumel for the last three days of our honeymoon, but we didn’t do any birding there–we went scuba diving instead.)
One of the most memorable birding trips was when we arose at 4:00 a.m. (yes, on our honeymoon) and drove two hours north to Rio Lagartos, a little fishing village where flamingos are known to nest. We got a little lost as we went through one of the small towns on the way to Rio Lagartos. The streets were crazy! All were one-way streets, and would you know it, all the signs were in Spanish. We eventually flagged down a taxi driver and we convinced him to let us follow him out of the town on to the main road. I gave him a few Pesos for his effort and on our way we went. At 6:00 a.m. we arrived in Rio Lagartos and met Diego our guide. Steve had made arrangements with him before the trip to take us on a private birding tour.
We saw so much! The highlight was seeing the young Jabiru storks in their nest (it was a total National Geographic moment, as I saw them practicing how to fly by flapping their wings and lifting up their spindly legs over their nest). We also saw the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl get hassled by a bevy of birds (including a hummingbird) who all wanted him to get out of town.
We walked deep into the mangrove jungles and navigated carefully across broken foot bridges and I was impressed by Diego’s thoughtfulness in taking care of the precious area by picking up trash left behind by previous explorers.
At lunchtime we took a break and had lunch at Diego’s family restaurant. (Yea! More chips and guacamole!) Then Diego’s son, Diego Jr., and his daughter, Andrea, and her friend joined us for a boat ride. We saw American flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, and even a crocodile among other things. We stopped at the salt flats and played in the foamy bubbles and the mud. I just loved spending time with Diego and his family. They were so hospitable to us and at the end of our trip I didn’t want it to end.
The next morning we got up not as early and took a private tour of the grounds at the Hacienda Chichen where we were staying in Chichen Itza. My favorite bird, by the way, at this place was the Melodious Blackbird. He’s like the tenor in Turandot and has a big “voice.” To watch the bird sing is fun–the bird squats down a bit to fill his lungs with air and just belts it!
One of our favorite places to go birding in Utah is Antelope Island, which is smack dab in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. I had lived here 12 years and it wasn’t until I had met Steve that I finally ventured across the causeway to see Antelope Island and all that it has to offer, which is ironic, because Steve is from Canada and he knew a lot more about Antelope Island than I did and I was from Utah. Here’s a journal entry from September 20, 2008 that I recently stumbled upon:
On this day we saw over 10,000 Avocets (shore birds) that were staging, which Steve tells me is stopping for about three weeks to feed and double their body weights before they continued on flying south. We stopped to feed and double our own body weights by having lunch atop Buffalo Point where we picnicked in the car, eating our sandwiches, because it was so windy outside. But an advantage of sitting in the car was that we got to listen to my favorite NPR radio show. “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!”
We saw two Great-Horned Owls snoozing, and I spotted a female American Redstart, which is unusual for Utah. She must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Otherwise, it was a quiet day. We did startle a doe mule deer and her two fawns as we were lurking around the Garr Ranch. They took off running and then kept their eyes on us at a distance. We made a friend on our trip–Bill Fenimore, who is not only a bird expert, but has his own Wild Bird store in nearby Layton, where we dropped by after our trip. Now, I’m excited to see all the new birds that will be visiting our feeders in our backyard. It’s just a matter of time now!
My husband and I both love Antelope Island. It’s truly peaceful and without having to venture very far from the urban sprawl in the Salt Lake Valley, you’re taken away to what feels like a very remote area. One day I asked Steve where he would like his ashes spread (we both decided we want to be cremated when we die) and without hesitation, he said, “Antelope Island.” Let’s just hope I don’t have make that kind of trip to Antelope Island anytime soon.