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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.
It was the last day in Southeast Arizona and all weekend all I could think about was Saguaro National Park. We had been there before and I was eager to return. I love the open feeling of the park and there is just something about it that makes it feel accessible. Perhaps it’s because there are no high rock walls surrounding me or maybe it’s because it feels like it’s just part of the neighborhood. Locals are often seen going for a morning walk or run or just cycling through it and I suppose they do this pretty much every day before they head over to Starbucks.
Saguaro National Park is actually in two different sections and we were at the east section or Rincon Mountain District. We were there to do some birding before we caught our flight back to Salt Lake City and besides just looking for some more birds, I wanted to commune with the Saguaro cacti. I’d venture to guess that when most people think of Arizona or even the Southwestern part of the U.S. they imagine the Saguaro cactus—the mascot of the Sonoran desert. Besides, it was President’s Day in the U.S and what better way to spend the holiday than at one of this country’s National Parks?
Here’s a little photo essay of our morning at Saguaro National Park.
I was a little sad to be leaving Tucson. It’s definitely high on my list to live when we retire. (It’s #2, in fact. Panama is #1 right now.) Our weekend in Southeastern Arizona was a perfect respite from the awful winter we had been having in both Salt Lake City and in Calgary. Finding the Mountain Plovers was very exciting, the visit to Patagonia Lake State Park was certainly a highlight and the Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw was absolutely memorable. We’ll definitely have to return, if not just to find the Rufous-winged Sparrow.
Below is a list of all the birds we saw over the weekend. But before you start looking through that list, I just wanted to let you know that the next post you see from me will be in Ecuador! We’ll be birding in Ecuador, focusing really only on two areas. I’ll fill you in more about it next week.
Until then, happy birding!
Lifers for me are in bold. (I got 11 new lifers, folks!)
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Neotropical Cormorant
- Snow Goose
- Northern Pintail
- American Wigeon
- Northern Shoveler
- Green-winged Teal
- Lesser Scaup
- Common Goldeneye
- Ruddy Duck
- Turkey Vulture
- Northern Harrier
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Harris’ Hawk
- Golden Eagle
- Crested Caracara
- American Kestrel
- Gambel’s Quail
- Great Egret
- Great Blue Heron
- Sandhill Crane (See post here for story on this)
- American Coot
- Mountain Plover (See post here for story on this)
- Common Snipe
- Rock Dove
- White-winged Dove
- Mourning Dove
- Eurasion Collard Dove
- Long-eared Owl (See post here for photo of this)
- Northern Flicker (Gilded race)
- Ladder-backed Woodpecker
- Cassin’s Kingbird
- Black Phoebe
- Say’s Phoebe
- Gray Flycatcher
- Horned Lark
- Barn Swallow
- Chihuahuan Raven
- Bridled Titmous (A lifer for Steve as well)
- Bewick’s Wren
- Cactus Wren
- Rock Wren
- Northern Mockingbird
- Curve-billed Thrasher
- American Robin
- Black-capped Gnatcatcher (A lifer for Steve as well)
- Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Loggerhead Shrike
- House Sparrow
- Western Meadowlark
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Great-tailed Grackle
- Brown-headed Grackle
- Pyrrhaloxia (which would make an awesome Scrabble word)
- House Finch
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Vesper Sparrow
- Black-throated Sparrow
- Chipping Sparrow (See post about this one)
- Song Sparrow
- Chestnut-collard Longspur
Where is the water? If there’s going to be Sandhill Cranes there has to be water. Let’s be honest, Arizona is pretty dry. So when I heard some birders talking to Steve the day before about the thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw I was not expecting a drive out into what I thought was the middle of nowhere. And I was expecting to see water at any time, but I had to wait.
Wait and be patient. (The latter not being one of my many talents.)
After our morning birding at Patagonia Lake State Park, we drove through the town of Tombstone via Highway 89 and turned east on Davis Road then to Coffman Road in search of the Sandhill Cranes. I realized that once I started to see agricultural fields I knew water had to be around somewhere. There had to be a way to irrigate. We were only about 100 miles from Tucson and then we found it: Whitewater Draw. This area in Southeast Arizona is very unassuming, and if you weren’t looking specifically for it you’d easily miss it. The 1400-acre site has a pond that varies with the runoff and it’s almost shocking to see a pond clear in the middle of this dry Arizona.
A love for water birds
I think I’ve decided that I love water birds: shore birds, rails, waders, ducks. I loved Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, I love Antelope Island, of course, and Bear River NWR, both in Utah, and I adored Crooked Tree in Belize. Perhaps it’s because I can see a variety of species in one place. Or maybe it’s because they sit still and don’t really hide much (unlike warblers, sparrows, or other song birds). But I actually think it’s more than that. Generally these places are a refuge—a resting place. There’s something very cathartic about it, watching birds feed and get ready to journey on to their next destination. Water is always relaxing, there’s generally great landscape around, and with a lot of birds there’s always drama going on. You don’t have to look very far to find it.
The big news story this day at Whitewater Draw were the thousands and thousands of Sandhill Cranes. Never in my life had I seen so many Sandhill Cranes. They preened, they called to one another with their deep rolling trumpet and rattling, they walked around. They were totally at peace and so was I.
I took gobs of photos of the Sandhill Cranes, but I was struggling with my new lens and teleconverter. I simply could not get a sharp photo. Bad photography notwithstanding, I could sit there all day on one of the benches and just look out at the multitude of Sandhill Cranes with their calling and trumpeting.
We stood out on platform over the pond for quite some time. A group of 50-something-year-old Harley Davidson riders leaned over the railing of the platform, looking at the Sandhill cranes and variety of ducks, commenting on each of the species. Why, they’re birders! I realized.
Two new lifers here
As we wandered toward the willow thicket toward the southeast corner of the ponds I found two lifers I wasn’t expecting: The Sora, a rail that’s likely migrating through, and the Long-eared Owl.
A great show as we were leaving
Just as we were driving away, back on Coffman Road we noticed several hundred Sandhill cranes roosting. I hollered for Steve to pull over and I got this video of the cranes. Not the greatest shot (of course) and pardon my gasp in the video, but it was indeed breathtaking. (It’s only 20 seconds.)
Lots of bird activity today
There weren’t just the Sandhill Cranes or the Long-eared Owl or even just the Sora. There were loads of ducks too, especially the Northern Shoveler with its cartoon-like wide beak, the dapper Northern Pintails and the colorful Green-winged Teal that reminded me of Olympic synchronized swimmers as they tipped themselves upside down to feed while displaying their butts up in the air. There were even Snow Geese roosting among the Sandhill Cranes, which was a real treat. Check out the gallery to get a good look at the other cast of characters at Whitewater Draw. (Click on any photo below and it will launch the photo so you can see better.)
It generally goes something like this:
“Is that a….wait a minute, I think it’s…could it be?”
I have only been birding for six years now and it didn’t take me long to figure out that identifying a bird is not an easy task, even among the more seasoned birders. Especially when it’s a sparrow. It’s like trying to tell the difference between the Kardashians. I couldn’t tell you who is Kourtney, Kim or Khloé. Or even Kris. (That’s the mom, right?) They all look the same and their behavior is the same. (Withholding “immature” comment here.)
Snarkiness aside, my point is that often the differences among birds of the same species are so subtle that were it not for my husband and a bevy of experts out there, I’d miss the differences right before me. I’d think every sparrow was just a sparrow, genericizing it to the degree that it marginalizes each individual bird’s character, whether it be the coloring, the song, or even it’s behavior. In Corporate America we call that commoditizing: When your customer doesn’t recognize any difference between your product and the competitor’s. It’s what every business person wants to avoid. So I imagine it’s probably the same in the bird world. For heaven’s sake, I like to be recognized for my differences, why wouldn’t a sparrow?
Admittedly, my experience with correctly ID’ing a sparrow is limited. I can pretty much tell a White-crowned Sparrow from the rest. And a House Sparrow. (I know those guys too.) But the rest? That’s when I need an expert (read: husband). And a camera. That way, we can snap a photo so we can examine it, zoom in on it when we pull it up on the computer, and flip through our field guide to compare it. Yes, compare it to the gazillion other little sparrow guys who all look the same. I often feel like I’m looking at a police line up or police photo book. (Enter Law and Order music now.)
But alas, awesome little Golden Books field guide notwithstanding, while in Southeast Arizona a couple weeks ago we found the following guy and we were convinced it was a Rufous-winged Sparrow, which would have been a lifer for both of us. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Going throughout the day we were hoping he was the Rufous-winged Sparrow, but hadn’t fully committed to it. No sense committing yourself to something that just may not be so. I had a few other photos besides the one above but we were still puzzled even after pulling up the photo on my laptop back at the hotel and flipping back and forth in our field guide. Was he the Rufous-winged Sparrow or perhaps a Brewer’s Sparrow? An immature? Couldn’t tell.
So, I tweeted out the photo, posted it on Facebook and also sent an email to blogger Laurence Butler, who is from the area since folks from the area are often the best experts, as they have sharper eyes for the resident birds. Here’s his responses:
Hey Lisa,I don’t think this is a Rufous-winged Sparrow since it lacks to two dark lateral throat stripes and the eyestripe on the Rufous-wing should also be rufous unless it’s a juvenile, but there wouldn’t be any juveniles this time of year and they’re much more mottled than this bird.The thin black eye stripe, the bold, wide, white supercilium, and the single stripe on the throat, with the softer white malar stripes, point to non-breeding Chipping Sparrow for me. The other possibility, to my eyes, is a funky Clay-colored Sparrow, but they’re more buffy and have a wider eyestripe, as well as a more buffy supercilium.I think Chipping in the best bet here, but of course it’d be good to cross-check this bird with other folks. Chippers have this really nasty habit of mixing in with other flocks too down there in the southeastern corner, when there are so many other Sparrows to already keep an eye on.
Thanks for the additional photos Lisa.There’s a bit of buffiness on the sides of the bird’s face, but that dark, narrow eye stripe, prominent supercilium, and now more evident lack of dark malar stripes on the throat, plus the clean breast rule everything out but Chipping Sparrow. They’re buggers.
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.
The fog couldn’t make up its mind as it hovered Haleakalā National Park intermittently. It was there and then it wasn’t and it was frustrating me to no end. So we sat there on the trail, damp from the mist, hearing all the birds, but not seeing a thing.
When the air filled with the foggy mist the flowers in the trees would open up and let out their fragrance bringing in the birds we came to see. But then I couldn’t get a good shot, even with my 300mm lens—the birds were just blurs of color, as if I had just had my eyes dilated. Too much fog. But then the fog would lift and the colors of the leaves would change from a dull green to a bright vibrant green, but then no birds.
For Pete’s sake. Can’t I have both: Opened flowers to attract the birds and good light?
Patience, I reminded myself. This is what birding is all about. Steve, my husband is patient. I’m not even close.
We were at Haleakalā National Park to see some lifers. In order to do that we had to be at a high elevation—above the mosquito line. One of the major contributing factors in the extinction of many of Hawaii’s birds (over 75% of Hawaii’s endemics are extinct) is Avian Malaria, which is carried by introduced birds (such as the Japanese White Eye). Because native species did not have a natural resistance against Avian Malaria, they were wiped out, especially where mosquitos occur. Other contributing factors have been deforestation and the introduction of predators (ferrel cats, ferrel dogs, mongoose, rats). At about 4000 ft. elevation you won’t find mosquitos, and so that’s why we were battling the fog at Hosmer Grove at around 7,000 feet in Haleakalā National Park. We only had one day because we were scuba diving the rest of our time in Maui and once you dive you have to wait 24 hours before you can climb elevations at that height.
Waiting. Waiting. Camera in hand and ready to go.
The air was filled with the scent of eucalyptus. Birds were singing and we could hear that they were moving around, but we couldn’t see them. Frustrating. This is common in birding and it’s what makes it so intoxicating and addicting. If it were so simple I don’t believe it would draw so many hard core followers. It’s a game of chase even though we’re really only voyeurs. Yet we always feel successful when the bird finally appears, as if we did something special to make the bird’s entire existence possible. In this case–when you’re looking in an area where there are so many extinct endemics—you can’t help but feel over the moon when you see a lifer.
Earlier in the day we had no trouble spotting the Nēnē. There was a pair hanging out at the Park Headquarter’s Visitor Center. This native Hawaiian bird was reintroduced to the island of Maui by the Boy Scouts of America in 1962. It is still threatened by introduced predators such as mongoose and rats, and remains identified as endangered, which is why you’ll see them tagged.
Not so easy in Hosmer Grove. I was in Hawaii, wearing multiple layers and polar fleece gloves and feeling a little chilled. I was losing patience.
And then it happened. We caught some birds who were probably just as frustrated with the temperamental fog and decided to just go for it when we had some decent light.
Here’s our list of birds we saw in Maui. Some at Haleakalā National Park (HNP) and others elsewhere on the island of Maui. Lifers are in bold.
- Chukar (heard) (HNP)
- Ring-necked Pheasant (HNP)
- Maui Amakini (HNP: Hosmer Grove)
- Maui ‘Alauahio (HNP: Hosmer Grove)
- ‘Apapane (HNP: Hosmer Grove)
- ‘I’iwi (HNP: Hosmer Grove)
- Japanese White-eye (HNP: Hosmer Grove)
- Spotted Dove
- Rock Dove
- Zebra Dove
- Common Myna
- Northern Cardinal
- Red-crested Cardinal
- House Sparrow
- House Finch
- Java Sparrow
- Nutmeg Munia
- Hawaiian Petrel or U’au We saw this from our dive boat between Maui and Lana’i
I also spotted this other endangered species:
Tell me, I don’t really look impatient in this photo, do I?
I also posted this on my other blog, Baby Aspirin Years. I felt that it should live on both blogs. (Apologies if you subscribe to both.)
It’s the last day of 2012. There have been a lot of wrap up posts floating around and I kept thinking how I would wrap up this year. A year of pictures, showing one per month? A list of things I learned? A list of all the fantastic things I did? Others have written eloquent posts going down memory lane. Me? I kept drafting one and then I felt like I was creating something akin to the ol’ Christmas Letter.
Today Steve and I visited Antelope Island. It’s the last day of the year and the last full day we have together before he heads back to Calgary tomorrow. For me, it’s the perfect wrap up of my year.
It was perfectly white. Perfectly peaceful and perfectly sums up how I feel about this year: A balance of harshness and beauty. Challenges and triumphs. But mostly, it’s where Steve and I go to escape the world and spend quality time together.
View the gallery by clicking on any one of the photos below. They look yummier that way.