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Tired. Exhausted. Dirt under my fingernails. More than my share of mosquito bites.
We were on our way to the airport in Belize to go home after our two-week adventure. Our first week we spent on Ambergris Caye, scuba diving every day and the second week we spent birding at places such as El Pilar, Mountain Pine Ridge, Aguacate, Blue Hole National Park, and even Tikal, Guatemala. But now it was time to go home and my heart ached a little bit at the thought of leaving Belize.
We were squeezing in one more birding trip before our guide, Eric, was to drop us off at the airport. The nervous-Nellie side of me didn’t like the idea of doing some birding right before we caught our flight back home, but Eric assured us that there was time and he promised me that I’d get a good look at some Jabiru Storks at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
That’s all I needed to hear. I wanted to get a good look at a Jabiru Stork. I saw some juveniles–not yet fledged–in Rio Lagartos, Mexico on our honeymoon two years earlier, but it was only through a scope. I wanted a better look.
Eric was not lying. There were birds galore: Jabiru storks, for sure, and herons, egrets, ibis’s, and terns and the list goes on. It was the end of the dry season and the water was low, which was a special treat, as all the birds were concentrated together. Birding was almost too easy.
An osprey swooped down to catch a tilapia from the lake,
we caught a Limpkin eating an apple snail,
and I was fascinated as I watched a heron shadow feed. (Shadow feeding is when the bird makes a shadow with his wings over the water, which helps him see the fish better for feeding. Rather clever, I’d say.)
The birds didn’t seem to mind that we were there. Unlike warblers who flit around dense leaves and play a game of hide and seek, or the toucan, which I never was able to get a good look at, the waders at Crooked Tree seemed to be indifferent about our presence and had no problem parading out in front of us.
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last who will write this: Being out in nature and seeing wildlife–birds in this particular instance–is a very reverential experience.
I find spirituality in churches, synagogues, cathedrals, temples and especially in nature, and the reverence I feel in watching birds astounds me every time, and never so much (at least up to this point) as when I was at Crooked Tree.
Wonderment. Respect. Awe. It’s akin to the feeling I had when I sat in the Sistine Chapel and looked up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece until my neck couldn’t take it any longer. Or when I first heard Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor played live on a big church organ. Yes, sometimes birding gives me spine-tingling moments.
And so who cares that I had dirt under my fingernails. I was in a sacred place and my soul felt cleansed.
More photos of the birds at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Click on any in the gallery below and you will taken to a slide show where you can view it much better.
When I stumble upon a bird’s nest I’m always fascinated by how it’s constructed. Today, in fact, when Steve and I were out running errands we saw loads of barn swallows building nests on a building. We stopped and wikiSteve (that’s what I call him because he seems to know everything) explained how they spit out little pellets of mud to make their nest. (And wouldn’t that have been swell if I actually had a picture of one here, but I don’t. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time.)
I’m not a nest collector, even if the nest has been abandoned. I don’t believe in that. I find nests a little sacred because I consider my own home a little sacred. But I love taking photos of nests. And hey, they don’t move around like warblers and other birds that flit about, so I actually find great joy in having a subject that stays still.
Here are my favorite nests and some of the nest builders. (Click on each photo to enlarge. You’ll find great detail when you do that.)
To read the story about who won the battle over the nest hole see my previous post, House wars: Pale-billed Woodpecker vs. White-fronted Parrots.
When Steve and I spent two weeks in Belize a couple of years ago (one week on Ambergris Caye scuba diving and the next week at Crystal Paradise Resort in the Cayo district outside San Ignacios), we spent a day at Mountain Pine Ridge.
Eric Tut, our guide, drove us and another couple for about 40 minutes on a gravel road up to the reserve where we were surrounded by pine trees. I hardly knew I was in a tropic jungle anymore.
It was a bit of a quiet morning, and we were also in a prime location to see the 1000-foot falls.
And good thing they posted this sign:
While looking out at the 1000 Foot Falls, we also got this awesome view of the Orange-breasted Falcon.
While a “quiet” morning we did see a variety of birds.
Of course, once it hits around noon or so it got really quiet. And hot. So Eric took us to the Rio On Pools for a dip in the pools. I love this kind of birding–bird in the morning and then go for a dip afterward to cool off. (Remember: Always bring a bathing suit on birding adventures.) On the way back to Crystal Paradise, we stopped at a little store for ice cream cups. The ice cream is made by local Mennonites and I have to tell you, it is some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Ahhh, the life.
Here’s an “album” of our morning at Pine Ridge (click on any of the photos to enlarge and it will take you to a slide show):
Usually when I tell people that my husband and I are birders I often get an exchange that goes something like this:
Other person: “Excuse me, did you say, birder? What’s that?”
Me: “Yeah, I said birder as in birding or what most people call bird watching.”
Other person: “What do you do exactly?”
Me: “Well, we like to find different species of birds and it takes us to interesting places like Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico and even Panama where we’re going this Spring.”
At this point some people generally drop off in their interest in hearing anything more about birding. Some will give me the raised eyebrow with a “Really?” response. Others will be eager to change the subject because they don’t’ have anything else to say because think they don’t know anyone else who is a birder. Overall, it seems as though most people think birding is just a boring hobby and so they want to get out of a boring conversation.
And then I pull out this photo…
…and I explain about our birding adventure in Belize two years ago where we were birding El Pilar and needed to hire “men with guns” (as our guide, Eric Tut put it) to accompany our group. El Pilar is on the Guatemala / Belize border and is known for its bandits. The prior year Eric had taken a group to the same area (sans men with guns) and some bandits jumped his van, made Eric pull over, tied up the birders and Eric, took their money, jewelry including wedding rings, cameras, and binoculars.
All of a sudden the boring conversation above turns a bit exciting. I generally get a, “Whoa! That’s so cool!”
Back to to the Belize adventure at El Pilar:
I’ll have to tell you, after we picked up the men with guns and were traveling in the van to El Pilar on a very hot morning, not one of us said a peep. It was quite sobering thinking that we could actually be in danger as we walked around the beautiful jungle of Belize looking for birds. I remembered the story about the group of birders in Colombia who were kidnapped by rebels in 1998, four of whom were Americans. My favorite part of that story though (aside from the outcome that they were freed), was that Todd Mark, one of the captives, said that he spent most of his time talking about birds to the rebels who captured him. “I think I bored them to death,” he said.
So I guess birding might be boring to some and in the dangerous pockets of the jungle that kind of boredom can come in handy. One just might be able to bore their captors enough to be freed.
Here are more pictures from that trip:
While we were staying at the resort, Crystal Paradise in Belize last year, Steve and I were in the outdoor dining area chatting with some of the other birders staying at the resort when all of a sudden we heard screeching nearby. The kind of screeching that would make your ears bleed. When birders hear sounds like that everyone grabs their binoculars and/or cameras and walks–no, RUNS–toward the mayhem.
The screeching came from a pair of White-fronted Parrots that were fighting a female Pale-billed Woodpecker over a nest. Clearly, the woodpecker excavated this nest hole, but the parrots wanted it. I suppose the rule of possession is nine-tenths of the law also applies in Belize. And even for birds.
So, in the end the parrots won. Poor woodpecker. I sure hope she found another home. (Here’s a photo so you can get a close up by clicking on it.)
I hate walking. And that was before I had my accident last year.
To be a really good birder, in my opinion, you need to be willing to stand for long periods of time and often walk for long distances. So because I’m not good at either of those tasks, I suppose I’m not a really good birder. But I love and want to be with my husband and I do love being out in nature, not to mention, I crave learning new things. The challenge is (for me at least), to not get tired or bored in the process. Admittedly, there have been a few times I pooped out by noon and Steve wanted to continue, so I said, “Hey, I’ll just go back to the car and play Scrabble on my iPhone,” and Steve soldiered on.
Let me be clear: I don’t find birding boring. I love it and I see and learn something new every time I’m out in the field. But I have a relatively short attention span, so that’s why I invested in a good DSLR and a good lens to give me more purpose and motivation as we’re searching for a bird. But last year when we went to Belize I found something even better than photography to help make birding more interesting for me–THE CANOE!
“You mean we get to just sit and look at all the birds?” I asked our guide, Eric Tut.
“Why, of course,” he said. “And you get to be the queen!”
And the queen I was.
I was so on board with that idea. Especially since my husband sat in the front and Eric in the back while they both paddled us down the Macal River while the queen (me) sat in the middle and shot these photos, which were the highlights from the canoe trip.
For this trip, it was like being on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland but instead of salty pirates and other animated characters, we had all these fantastic birds make an appearance at the right time and all I had to do was sit in the canoe, point the camera and shoot.
We had a great day on the river. The following day, some guests at Crystal Paradise–the birding resort where we were staying–ended up being rained on and their canoe took a tumble, getting them all wet.
But for this queen, it was a royal ride. It’s not surprising that I’m wanting one of our next investments to be a canoe.