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There was a knock on the door. I could still hear it even though I had earplugs. I rolled over and looked at my iPhone and with my middle-aged vision barely made out the time: 4:30 a.m.
It was our wake-up call. Someone goes around knocking on doors when it’s time to get up. There are no phones, you see, at Sacha Lodge in the Amazon.
I took out the ear plugs and as I sat up in the bed the chorus of frogs and cicadas were still trying to “out sing” each other just as they did six hours before when I had shoved the earplugs in my ears with the hope of a good night’s sleep. I put my hand to my head and felt my thick, curly hair, which seemed to have grown bigger and more unruly during my sleep. (It’s what happens in humidity.)
I wiped my eyes and then said to Steve, “Babe, I feel like I’m at camp.”
“We are,” he said with his groggy voice. “We’re at bird camp.” And then he smiled that smile he gets when he knows he’s going to go birding.
A birder’s “vacation”
This is day two at Sacha Lodge in Ecuador where we’re vacationing.
Yes, the kind of vacationing where you get up at 4:30 in the freaking morning.
But it’s what birders do. I know that now. (I should have been more specific when questioning this before I married the birder.)
We showered quickly, brushed our teeth using bottled water, lathered up with bug spray, put on our birding uniforms (cargo pants, long-sleeved breathable shirts, hiking boots), grabbed binoculars and camera batteries, hurled bags and gear over our shoulders, and made our way down the long, wooden staircase in the dark to the main lodge for our breakfast.
Breakfast was short, but very filling. There’s no shortage of food at Sacha Lodge. Yet as soon as we put the last bite in our mouths, our guide, Marcelo got us on our way. You don’t dilly dally around as a birder. Birds don’t wait for you and your guide knows that. We got into our a canoe and Marcelo and his assistant, Wilmer, paddled us down one of the creeks—the Amazon’s highways and paths are really waterways—where we met the trail that would take us to the great Kapok Tower.
There’s a theme here: STAIRS
The Kapok Tower is a wooden tower constructed around a giant Kapok Tree, reaching 135 feet high. We had magnificent views around the area, much like we did at the Canopy Walkway the day before. Boy, I feel out of shape climbing these towers, but I was also glad for the challenging exercise. It at least made me feel like I earned my big meals back at the lodge.
A few of the highlights
For some reason, I spent more time taking photos of the tower than I did birds. It was, indeed, very active at this tower, but I spent more time looking than I did shooting photos. We saw the Ornate Hawk Eagle, Laughing Falcon, the Golden-collard Toucanet and we were visited by the Many-banded Araçari right above our heads in the branches of the Kapok tree. That’s just a small sampling of what we saw up there in the big Kapok tree.
Time for a dip with the anaconda, piranha and caiman
The Amazon is hot. Did I mention that before? I mean REALLY hot. So hot that after our morning at the Kapok Tower I didn’t hesitate to go for a dip in Lake Pilchicoacha—the lake just outside Sacha Lodge. The same lake where there are anaconda, piranha and caiman.
I didn’t care that reptiles of the alligator family were hanging around to cool off. Or big ass snakes like anaconda were lurking near the shore (which is why the sign says to not swim near the shoreline and why I obeyed that—we just jumped off the deck into the lake). And the piranha? Well, I had previously read from a reviewer on TripAdvisor that the piranha are asleep during the day and so as long as we didn’t wake them we’d be okay. And everyone knows that everything on the Internet is true, right?
So, shhhhhhh. Don’t wake the piranha.
The dip was so worth it as it cooled our bodies in the Amazonian heat, though we didn’t stay in the water too long. If we had one of those floating styrofoam noodles, that would have been awesome and I would have hung out there longer, but we didn’t and dog paddling around wasn’t much fun. Plus, I was worried we’d wake the piranha. (Shhhhhh!)
We made our way back to our room to notice that the leaf cutter ants were busily collecting their leaves and we noticed prickly tree trunks and big ass fruit that looked about the size of a bowling ball.
This is just another day at bird camp in the Amazon.
Other posts about this trip:
- Birding high atop the canopy at Sacha Lodge
- It’s Elementary, my dear Hoatzin
- I held a hummingbird in my hand today
- Picturing Quito (from my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years)
- The Tree Tomato welcomed me to Ecuador (from my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years)
- The Amazon and Sacha Lodge: Getting there is half the fun (as long as there are toilets) (from my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years)
I won’t lie. I was a little out of breath after climbing the metal stairs to the top of the 94-foot high tower. It was then when our guide Marcelo turned to us and asked, “You don’t have vertigo, do you?”
I laughed. “Now you ask us that?”
It was a beautiful morning in the northern-most part of the Amazon basin in Ecuador. We were at the famed Sacha Lodge Canopy Walkway that spans across 940 feet. Yes, it’s not for the skiddish, but it is sturdy and offers spectacular views of many birds we wouldn’t be able to see from the ground. (See my other post on my other blog about our arrival to Sacha Lodge.)
I love canopy towers and not for the reason you think. Sure there are birds to see up there, but I actually enjoy taking stairs high up in the sky on vacation because I feel like I’m getting the workout I wouldn’t otherwise get. I also try to count in Spanish the number of steps as I go up, but once I hit “Dias” I have to revert back to English.
Morning workout: Check!
Basic counting to ten in Spanish: Check!
(ps: Need to pull out the Rosetta Stone CDs I bought last month.)
Cardiovascular workout and my awesome grasp of the Spanish language aside, we did see some pretty marvelous birds atop the canopy. It’s actually a great way to bird and my second-favorite. (My very favorite way is to bird while canoeing.) When you climb towers you get to spend a couple of hours or more pretty much in one spot. Just set up the scope, pull out your binoculars and wait. The birds just come in and sometimes so fast you don’t know what to look at first. I could be focused on a great tanager and miss the toucan. That’s why it’s always best to have other birders around to holler out when a new birds flies in.
We had Marcelo Andy, our guide for our four days at Sacha Lodge, and his “assistant,” Willmer. They were expert spotters and combined with Steve and I we had four sets of eyes fixed on seeing what would come our way. When we had left for the morning is was pleasant. Not exactly cool, but I didn’t feel the heat of the jungle like I thought I would. These are good conditions for birding. It was quiet except for the sounds of the Oropendola, which reminded me of water dripping in a sink in an empty room that echoes. We’d hear or see big branches moving in the distance and I’d always hope for a good view of a toucan, but mostly it was monkeys hightailing it across the canopy as though it were a highway. And where there are monkeys you can most definitely see the Double-toothed Kite, which is chasing the insects the monkeys stir up while jumping branch to branch. Birds are really clever.
On our way back to the Sacha Lodge I started to feel the heat, even under the shade of the lush tropical leaves. We’re always birding, of course. It doesn’t matter that your feet are tired or that it’s hot or that you need to get back to the lodge to use the bathroom. All of that doesn’t matter when you happen upon a pair of Crested Owls. There they were, out in the open.
I have an immense attraction to owls, for some reason. I always feel it a treat to see them in daytime, even those that are diurnal. But I think it’s mostly their big wide eyes that appeal to me. They’re looking at me while I’m looking at them. Oh, and also the fact that they typically remain still and if the lighting and surroundings are just right I just may get a decent photograph (neither of which were the case as you can see below).
A productive day, indeed! As we made our way back to the lodge, aside from realizing how bad I smelled (never have I smelled this bad), I couldn’t wait to see what the next day would bring. There are over six hundred species of birds that have been identified on the 5000 acre (2000 hectare) property under the care of Sacha Lodge since it has been open to the public in 1992.
Here are some shots of some of the many birds we saw. Click on any one of them and it will enlarge it for better viewing.
For more information on Sacha Lodge, visit their website. They are listed in the book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
Hoatzin. I just love saying it. You say it like it has a “W” in it.
It’s odd looking.
It makes a sound that reminded me of bagpipes filling up with air.
And it smells like a cow. Because it’s kind of like a cow. Really.
Oh, and this bird is so strange that there isn’t even a category for it in the field guide. Steve tells me that means it’s a “monotypic” species. (I love it when my husband starts talking all scientific. Total turn on.)
There were always several of them lurking around the shores of the lake outside Sacha Lodge where we were staying for four nights in the Amazon, and it was one of the first birds we saw on our trip to Ecuador. Every time we would canoe in from one of the creeks that fed into the lake I would look forward to being greeted by the Hoatzins.
I immediately fell in love with this bird because it allowed me to get some nice shots of it. Thank you, nice bird!
So, let me introduce you to the Hoatzin.
The Hoatzin eats leaves, and because they have bacteria in their crop that’s where they digest the leaves and get their nutrition. A byproduct of this process is methane gas. Gross, I know. It’s the same process cows go through when eating grass, making it the only bird that does this, and why the Hoatzin is often referred to as the “stinky turkey.”
Another unique tidbit about the Hoatzin is that it’s a very primitive bird. Unlike any other bird on this planet today, the young are born with claws on their wings. And because they nest over water, should a monkey or snake try to prey on them the young birds will escape by falling from the nest into the water and clamor away using the claws on their wings.
So, if you ever go to South America make sure you visit the Amazon basin so you can see these amazing, prehistoric-like birds. They are like nothing else you’ve ever seen.
Plus, they’ll let you take their picture.
If you want to read about our journey to Sacha Lodge, check out my story, The Amazon and Sacha Lodge: Getting there is half the fun (as long as there are toilets) on my other blog, The Baby Aspirin Years.
I held a hummingbird in my hand today.
To hold such a tiny, beautiful creature was thrilling. It was as if time had stopped in my hand. There were over a hundred other hummingbirds zipping past my head on the patio of Tandayapa Lodge in the Ecuador Andes Mountain range, but this one—this Violet-tailed Sylph—was silently resting in my palm. In this moment I felt powerful enough to stop everything around me, as if I were Moses about ready to part the Red Sea. I stopped time with this sweet little bird that zips around all day, yet instead of zipping around, he was still and sitting in my hand.
I held a hummingbird in my hand today.
I had only met the Violet-tailed Sylph for the first time a few days ago during this trip to the Ecuador cloud forest. When I first saw its iridescent colors and long shimmering violet blue tail, I had gasped because it seemed like I had just seen a unicorn, and then I whispered to my husband, “Oh, I love that one.”
As I held the bright blue and violet bird he was panting and breathing fast. He was stunned because he just flew into a window. He stopped to catch his breath and let me hold him as he rested. He was confused and kept looking up at me, probably scared. While I cradled him in my hand I wondered how long he would rest there before flying away. I wondered how long before he would die.
I held a hummingbird in my hand today.
It was all my fault. I left the door open at the lodge and he apparently flew in. I suppose that in trying to get out he must have thought the big glass paned window was the pathway to his world outside. My eyes welled up as I looked into his. I think I’ve killed this little bird by my carelessness. Sure he will fly off but it’s just a matter of time before his little body will give in to the blow. I can’t take back what I’ve done. There’s no power in holding a hummingbird, really.
I held a hummingbird in my hand today.
After five minutes of him looking at me and me looking at him he flew off and rested on the wrought iron railing, still panting. He struggled a few times to fly to a gigantic leaf nearby and then flew back to the railing for more secure footing. This happened three times and then he flew away. I hope he is okay. I want him to be okay.
I held a hummingbird in my hand today.
Of course, we knew it wasn’t the best time of year to go birding in Southeast Arizona. That would be during Spring migration, natch. But this is what it looks like in Salt Lake City (where I live) and it’s pretty much the same in Calgary (where Steve lives).
Yes, we’re a long-distance intercontinental married couple who rendezvous monthly, and this time we decided to head south to escape the snow and get in a little birding—even if it isn’t high season for birding there—and see some of this:
First, a hat tip to Laurence Butler of Phoenix, Arizona who provided us loads of advice prior to our three-day trip. I met Laurence through my blog here (love his comments) and through both his blog and Birding Is Fun where he’s a regular contributor. It’s what I absolutely love about social media—it connects us all, and in my case, it connected us to an expert in the area. (Thanks Laurence! Your directions, details and tips were über helpful!)
So, here’s the trip we took. We flew into Phoenix and then headed southeast. Easy peasy.
That darn new camera and lens
Most people have a goal or target bird when they go on a birding trip. My goal was to start using my brand new camera (Nikon D7000) and new 200mm lens and new 2x teleconverter. That’s a lot of new for someone who is not a great photographer, as I’ve admitted before (and you’ve seen) on this site. I confess to shooting mostly on Auto (yes, I hear your gasps) and I know very little about light, except that I do know that shooting into the sun produces lousy results. My New Year’s Resolution this year is to get out of shooting on Auto and though this trip didn’t change that, I am determined to change my novice practices and start getting better results. I start yet another photography class next weekend.
Our first day out took us to the Sod Farms at the Santa Cruz Flats and it was a wonderful bird day, though a disappointing photography day. Our purpose was to find the Mountain Plover, which would be a lifer for me. Sod Farms, I must admit, are a first for me too. There we were, driving up and down big squares of sod fields looking for the Plovers. We had stopped so Steve could scan the area with his binoculars when a car pulled up and the usual birder exchange of “Seen any Plovers?” was tossed about. “No,” on both sides. The van drove on.
We stayed a few minutes longer and then another car pulled up. “Seen any Plovers?” I was beginning to sense this was going to be a bust at the sod farms today. That car drove on too and we decided to move on as well.
As we turned around another big square of a sod field the people in the first car were pulled to the side with their scope out. Voila! Mountain Plovers! We found them, yes, but they were still quite a bit in the distance. Steve counted 62. Me? I got this lousy shot of a group of them.
So far, I’m impressed with my new 200mm lens that just came out from Nikon—the optics are great—but not so impressed with the teleconverter. The 2x teleconverter produces crummy images at a distance, making it difficult to focus. This whole day was frustrating for me and I was wondering if I had just sunk a ton of money down the toilet. Or if it’s just plain user error. (The latter most likely.) I was beginning to think I could make my Twitterpal, @TheIneptBirder feel pretty good about himself.
Patagonia Lake State Park
The following day at Patagonia Lake State Park I had much better luck with the camera and lens. It was a beautiful day with 75° F temps and we were able to enjoy the warmth, the clear blue skies, and of course find some wonderful birds. Still struggling with the lens and its teleconverter, but doing much better with birds that are closer.
I absolutely adored Patagonia Lake State Park. I loved all the big campers parked at their campsites right at the entrance. Several of them had bird feeders they put out themselves and I imagined that Steve and I could one day buy a camper and head on down to Patagonia Lake and hang out during the winter and just look for birds. And be old together. And have s’mores.
More to come
Next post will have more on our adventures in Southeast Arizona. Promise and cross my heart. There might even be better photos.
ps: I returned the 2x teleconverter and ordered a 1.7x, which from the reviews I’ve read online is much better. Let’s just hope.
When you travel over 6000 miles non stop, of course you want your own patch of grass. Actually, you deserve it.
This deserving avian wonder is the Pacific Golden Plover (or Hawai’ian Kolea)—a petite shorebird that is very common in Hawaii and who I first met on the island of Oahu.
Rhymes with Lover
The Pacific Golden Plover (“It rhymes with lover” Steve explained to me) nests in Alaska and spends winter in Hawaii and other islands in Polynesia. In Alaska they’re quite shy, but when they get to Hawaii they become quite tame and can be fed by hand. I have to admit, Hawaii makes me feel more vibrant and social too. It’s those nice tropical trade winds I suppose. And I’d be open to anyone feeding me by hand too, especially if it’s coconut macadamia nut shrimp.
The Pacific Golden Plover’s journey from Alaska to Hawaii is about 6000 miles and takes about 3-4 days. When Steve explained that to me I thought, “Hmm…that makes sense.” But then he added, “That’s without stopping.“
So imagine, you’re flapping your wings constantly. No stopping to rest.
“You rest and you die,” Steve added with dramatic emphasis.
Hey kid, get off my lawn
When the Plover gets to Hawaii he becomes very territorial, staking out his claim and protects it against other Plovers. You’ll find them in pretty much every park, football or soccer field, but they won’t be in a group. You’ll find just one guy. In fact, it’s almost like there’s one Plover per household lawn.
After a couple of days our vacation turned into a spot-the-Plover game–kind of like that game where you punch the arm of that person next to you whenever you see a Volkswagon Bug.
“Hey! Plover!” Punch.
When I was a little girl my mother gave me a sticker book for my birthday that was all about birds. I don’t remember much about it except the Chickadee. I learned that it flew up and down like it was on a roller coaster. That’s all. I can’t remember anything else from that book, except that it was interesting to match stickers of birds with the descriptions.
Fast forward about 35 years or so and I met this man who would later become my husband:
He was a bit sneaky about his love for birding. We had met online and all that time we were emailing before we met in person, he didn’t share one lick of information about his birding. When I finally met him in person in Scotland, of all places (he’s actually Canadian but was over in Scotland at the time), it wasn’t until the third day of our road trip through the Scottish Highlands that he stopped the car at a bird sanctuary and pulled out his scope and tripod from the trunk of the car. That’s when it hit me: This guy is crazy about birds. (You can read the full story at my other blog here: Romance Blossoms in the Scottish Highlands. I warn you, though. It’s a little mushy, and for that reason, not one of Steve’s favorite posts.)
Eight months later (still dating long distance) we spent our first Christmas together in Utah where Steve said, “I know what I’m getting you for Christmas.”
Super! I thought. I was convinced it was going to come in a blue Tiffany box, as every girl dreams of jewelry or something very romantic, and then he said: “Birdfeeders!”
Okay, I’ll play along.
We went to the Wild Bird store and picked out a variety of feeders while he explained to me simple details of each. We bought the seeds together and he schooled me in suet, niger (thistle) seed, and sunflower seeds. The whole process of doing this together actually piqued my interest. (Or maybe I was so smitten I simply didn’t care.) He also bought me my first field guide: The Golden Books Birds of North America field guide.
“You’ve got a great variety of bird life here,” Steve told me.
“Really? I never noticed,” I told him, and then I felt a little ashamed, thinking for certain the relationship was now over.
Then it happened. All of a sudden I noticed all the birds in my backyard. In fact, they were all over the place. “Had they always been here?” I thought. I know my neighbors just on the other side of our fence had feeders (they’re also pretty serious birders), but still I didn’t notice all the birds until I had my own feeders. I soon found myself wanting to sit at the kitchen table for hours as I watched all the bird life in my backyard.
The birds have changed my life more than just noticing new visitors to my backyard. The idea of starting my day looking out the window as I eat breakfast is an extraordinarily wonderful way to start my day before I head to the office where the stress is undeniable. I also soon found myself looking at what birds are around when I come home (if there’s daylight when I come home). In fact, one day I found over 10 Lazuli Buntings in a tree, all queued up to take their turns at the feeders. I had never seen the beautiful bird before and I hurriedly phoned Steve who was in Calgary, Alberta at the time and described the bird so he could tell me what it was (which he did–I wasn’t confident at using my field guide yet).
It is now a treat to look for these migrating Buntings every Spring for the few weeks they hang out in my backyard before they make it to their temporary canyon homes for the summer. It’s weird that I lived here in this home for four years and hardly noticed the birds. It makes me wonder how many other spectacular things in life I’ve missed.
You marry a birder, you become a birder
I married that guy I met online who waited until he was certain I liked him before he told me about his passion for birding. (“It’s not the first thing you tell girls,” he told me later.) In fact, for a wedding gift, he gave me my first pair of binoculars and our honeymoon to the Yucatan was a birding adventure with bird guides set up in three different locations in that part of Mexico.
Now I’m giving the birds names
Is it just us, or do you give your backyard birds names? Our favorite is Harry the Black-chinned Hummingbird. This guy totally rules the territory around my backyard, fighting off other hummers from the feeder so we had to get two hummingbird feeders. He’s completely bossy but we know he returns each year to our backyard. (Well him, or one of his offspring.)
In the gallery below there are more photos of the birds from my backyard. There’s a lot missing, such as the American Robin, Starling, Magpies (noisy but extraordinarily beautiful), Pine Siskins that are so tame that Steve can approach them, “Cooper” the sometimes resident Cooper Hawk who has been known to ambush the birds in the backyard (which totally freaks me out every time), Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and the occasional migrants, like the Rufous Hummingbird who’s been at the feeders this week. There’s also the House Finch, American Goldfinch, Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Junco, the jaunty Spotted Towhee and Downy Woodpecker. (I know I’m missing more.)
Oh yes, the Chickadee. We have a family of Black-capped Chickadees in the backyard too.
Click on a photo and it will take you to the slideshow for better viewing.
Well, the birds are exciting too. It’s just that I didn’t plan on the naked Germans in our hotel pool and the screaming spider monkeys that were terrified out of their minds while a dramatic wind storm swept through.
During our weeklong stay at Crystal Paradise in Belize, we added an overnight stay in Tikal, Guatemala to see the ruins and to get in some more birding. I loved the handoff by our guide at the border. Our guide at Crystal Paradise drove us to the border, walked us through Immigration up to the counter, and waiting for us on the other side was our driver who would drive us to Tikal. Easy peasy. That’s how I like border experiences to go.
We drove for an hour or so and our kind driver pointed out where the Guatemala season of Survivor took place. Just outside of Tikal we picked up our personal guide to the National Park–also provided as part of our arrangement with Crystal Paradise. I’ll be honest with you–our guide for the park was less of a bird expert and more a teller of tall tales, weaving in undocumented and unreliable Mayan lore with some pretty far-fetched space-aged wacky thinking. (It was the part about aliens that tipped me off.) I started to get impatient (big surprise!) with the tales and wanted to see some good birds. (Note: I’d been told before going to Central America that you have to be careful of your guides at Mayan Ruins as there’s a lot of embellishment being spun and shared.)
As our van began to approach the park and our guide told us to look for the Ocellated Turkey I became very excited and hopeful to see one, since the Ocellated Turkey would have been a lifer for both Steve and me. They’re uncommon because of hunting and nowadays they’re mostly found in areas where hunting is not allowed, such as National Parks. It’s because of the safe haven of National Parks that they’ve become quite tame. We saw our first Ocellated Turkey, and then another, and another. In fact, they were crawling all over the place! But I never tired of seeing them. The colors are spectacular and I enjoyed watching the Tom turkeys make a booming sound before displaying. There’s probably a restraining order against me at Tikal now, as I spent most of the afternoon stalking these guys.
Lotsa, lotsa wildlife and avifauna in Tikal
In these Mayan ruins there is a lot of wildlife and bird life due to the fruit trees. We have he Mayans to thank for that who either planted them or dropped seeds, so Mayan ruins are a pretty fantastic place for birding. Take for instance the Montezuma Oropendola (another lifer!) I love this interesting, beautiful bird as well as its fascinating nest, which typically hangs in a group. The Oropendolas were also all over the place and it just killed me to see tourists not even pay attention to them. A coatimundi, yes. Monkeys, yes. But few got excited about the birds. Sigh.
Speaking of monkeys…
Toward the end of the day the wind started to pick up and our Guide of Tall Tales became very worried and urged us to get out of the park–and quickly. This time I believed him. Branches were falling all over the place and I was getting a little scared, to be honest. So were the spider monkeys, which were screaming and squealing at the top of their lungs. If ever there was a sound track for scary moments in the jungle this was it.
We made it out of the jungle and out of the park safely. I imagine the monkeys were just fine too.
…And enter the Naked Germans
Loved our hotel that was right smack dab in the middle of Tikal National Park, aptly named, Hotel Tikal. Cute thatch-roofed rooms and best of all, a pool. Trouble was, there was a group of naked Germans who were also guests and they were cannon-balling into the pool.
“Steve, there’s a bunch of naked men jumping in the pool. They’re speaking German.”
“Of course. That makes sense.” he said.
There were also the brown outs. Electricity is sparse so during the daytime there are periods of time where you have no power. (You also start to get really thirsty about that time and are praying that someone in the main building will have something for you to drink.)
But we could deal with all that. As long as there’s a comfortable bed, a hot shower, meals and drinks, we’re fine. But naked Germans I could do without.
Check out more photos from our Tikal, Guatemala birding adventure. Click on any photo in the gallery below and it will take you to a slide show where they look even prettier.
It was April 2010 when Steve and I were canoeing down the Macal River in Belize and where I saw my first Prothonotary Warbler. Eric, our guide, excitedly pointed out the colorful yellow bird to us. Now fast forward to the following Spring–May, to be exact–where I saw my second Prothonotary Warbler at Point Pelee in Ontario Canada.
So this means, the little yellow bird flies roughly 5,000 miles each way when migrating. Me? Well I probably take the elevator at work far more often than I should instead of taking the stairs. I’m too lazy to be a Warbler, I suppose.
Maybe that’s why Warblers have conspired against me. You see, they’re the least cooperative of birds (even moreso than hummingbirds!) when I’m trying to take their photo. They flit around dense leaves so much I can hardly get a shot. Most often, I just give up. The one thing I lack that most really good birders have is patience. (Just ask my husband, the real birder in the family.)
Sigh. I’m working on it. I promise.
The following photos of Warblers are those that were willing and cooperative and apparently not part of the conspiracy. I hope I haven’t outed them here.
I’m into my fourth year of true “birding” and it’s taken awhile for me to really understand what a “rare bird” is, aside from someone just saying, “this is a rare bird.” I always got the whole concept, but until you know the significance of some of these rarities you don’t really understand. And the more I go birding the more I understand that.
As my geologist husband always says: “Every rock tells a story.” And so does every bird.
In the Chiriqui Highlands of Panama, specifically in Cerro Punta, our first day of birding there produced this bird, the Golden-browed Chlorophonia:
While the Golden-browed Chlorophonia isn’t technically rare it’s considered uncommon even though it’s a Panamanian endemic. Well, all of that (uncommon, endemic, bird, Panama) is enough to get me excited about seeing it and it certainly was enough for our quiet and gentle guide, Ito, to become animated about it. However, if Ito hadn’t pointed it out to us with his excitement, I would have just said, “Hey, look at that cute bird!”
(sigh) I’ve got a long ways to go. I know.
Green Shrike Vireo
As Steve and I were atop the tower at Pipeline Road (Part of the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center) our already-animated guide Beny Wilson became very excited when he spotted the Green Shrike Vireo who popped in quite close to us. Not a rarity, exactly, but due to his coloring is often difficult to spot, making him the Where’s Waldo? of the jungle.
To give you a little perspective on how rare the Ochraceous Pewee is, this is what The Birds of Panama field guide shows:
Only those two small purple dots in the western Chiriqui region. Doesn’t give you much hope if you’re trying to chase this guy down, does it? We were in the Cerro Punta area when this guy flew in just in front of us. (Now, why can’t all birds do this for me?) Here’s my shot of the guy:
Our guide, Ito, was so excited about seeing this bird that I knew we had something. I was just thrilled that I got a nice shot of it.
You know my feelings about hiring local guides–I love them and I’m thrilled to be putting my dollars into their economy rather than into international guides’ pockets. But mostly, I know that when my local guides are over the moon at the site of a particular bird, especially since they hike these areas on a daily basis, I not only know that I’ve stumbled onto something wonderful, but that I come back home with a better appreciation for looking for the rarity, the uncommon or even the bird who tries to hide from me in my own back yard.
By the way, Ito called in this bird to the Panama Rare Bird Alert and he was really excited to tell us the next morning before our next adventure and that everyone seemed to be buzzing about it. That put a huge smile on my face–our guide, Ito, was a local hero.