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Baby Great Potoo!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

As big wet flumpy snowflakes pelt down on disconsolate Ohio goldfinches, I am headed back to Costa Rica, and I'm taking you with me. 

To La Selva, where a bold young collared peccary is grinding away on some hard tropical nut. Crounch crounch crounch crounch.

Where spider monkeys swing and leap through the trees, me open-mouthed below. The first thing you know of monkeys is a great swishing and crashing of leaves, a raining of things down from their foraging. They are hard to see and harder to follow. Being a monkey researcher would be taxing, as they can travel so much better and faster by brachiation than we can by walking. 

We watched this mother spider gather herself for a great leap across open air--with her baby, eyes squinched shut, hanging on for dear life. I was happy with this shot, with her brave bony fingers leading the way, her tail a question mark. They made it, to answer the question.

We had another afternoon of messing around at Selva Verde before we headed up to the Central Highlands. I got a bad shot of violet-headed hummingbird on vervain, my only sighting of the trip. Identifiable, at least. Hummer photos get better, I promise. Much better.

A striped-breasted wren flirted with me in the dark forest. There are so many wrens in Costa Rica, many of them giving sweet echoes of our beloved Carolina. Sweet Caroline DAH DAH DAH

We watched a green heron stalking frogs and dragonflies in a small pond.

And torch ginger drew the hermit hummingbirds in a little botanical garden across the road. It was bursting with beauty and color. Just the tonic I need today.

Soon we piled in our nice bus and headed up into the highlands. 

Our fabbo guide Mario would look out the bus window and spot itty bitty torrent tyrants in places like this. It's all about knowing what to expect. Spotting tiny birds atop rocks only added to his highly mysterious wizardy aura.

The crested guans perched near a rural mailbox were a bit easier to discern, as they flew across the road in front of the bus. 

I had two turkey gobblers fly across the highway in Maryland in much the same way on my trip back from New England yesterday. Always a treat to see them fly. Cracids are not turkeys by a long shot, but they're reminiscent. And they too have fabulous wattles!

Costa Rica is just so beautiful, with those mountains giving it relief both in a topographic and climatic sense. You can go up high and get cool, or go down to the lowlands and sweat a bit. Naturally, I liked the highlands. But the lowlands birds, ohhh. Well worth the schvitzing.

Mario holds his cards close to his chest. We were looking for something in the highlands on our way to Bosque de Paz, a private sanctuary/ecolodge. I didn't know what...

But we were happy to scan and watch whatever flew by. Finally he made a couple of cellphone calls and tightened up the directions a bit, and we drove a little farther up the road and came upon a big sign that read, "POTOO."

Which, when you've been fuddling around for about twenty minutes looking for something (you know not what), was about the funniest thing we'd ever seen. Oh. This must be what we were looking for.

It didn't take Mario long to spot the bird just a settin' up in the huge tree behind the sign. The lovely family who owns the land are delighted to share their potoo with anyone who comes by. Hence the sign.

We admired it and took digiscoped shots as well as this telephoto shot. What we DID NOT know was that this potoo was at that very moment incubating an egg she had laid on the bare branch. Mario went back with another group after I was back home, and sent me this phonescoped image.

Baby Great Potoo. Everybody squee together!!
Photo by Mario Cordoba

I have to say, being able to shoot images back and forth via email to my new friend Mario is the bomb. We've been puzzling out some bug and bat ID's that way. 

He knew I'd fall apart when I saw this photo, so he sent it. And I did. And now you can fall apart, too.

Dead Deer, Live Deer, Vulture, 'Possum, Coy-wolf

Sunday, April 13, 2014


In less than a week, the scavengers had reduced a deer carcass in our field to a torso and attached bones. They started at the haunch and kept going. A gray fox opened the haunch, eating most of one, and the vultures, who'd been waiting for an opening, gladly went ahead and finished the job.

Snow fell on the carcass, and this buck came by to investigate.

Everything in his mien said revulsion and apprehension--the pinned-back ears, the hunched back, the tentative steps. 

I figure he knew this young button buck.

He circled the carcass, kept coming back.

Finally he walked off, shaking his foot as if to rid himself of the feeling of coming upon one of his own, dead.

Others were much happier to discover the carcass.

I was elated to have a chance to finally get some decent vulture shots. I needed them for my new talk.

When the coy-wolves found the carcass, it went from food to bones overnight. 

At dawn, I found a fat opossum gnawing on it. And opossums being who they are, I was able to walk slowly out in the meadow, shooting as I approached. When he looked up at me I stopped, took a last photo, and walked back the way I came. He never left, just went back to his stanky breakfast.

What a gift this carcass was to so many animals. 

The next morning it was gone! But it wasn't hard to find...see the white dot in the woods border? And the trail of white belly hair leading all the way to it? Coy-wolves, dragging it into cover, not wanting to be spotted feeding. They're strong animals. I'm teaching myself not to call them coyotes any more. 

They're part eastern wolf. Just wrote an article for The Marietta Times called Coy-Wolves: Evolution in Action. 

This photo taken in our meadow a few winters back. Visually inseparable from an eastern (red) wolf. That's because he's got a big dose of those Canis rufus genes, from the interbreeding that went on between western coyotes and eastern wolves in northern Ontario. What we've got in the East is a genetically stable hybrid. Not a coy-dog. A coy-wolf. A new canid, longer of leg, bigger of foot, shorter and deeper of muzzle, smaller of ear and heavier of body and fur than the scrawny pale western coyote.

 And they live and feast and yammer and howl on our land every night. They den on the north-facing slope. So far, they have chosen not to kill Chet Baker, though I know they could in a heartbeat. And I'm grateful they have kept it to deer and rabbits, turkeys and woodchucks, voles and feral cats. I think about it every time I let him out to do his nightly business. And I think he does, too. He hurries back, flaps his ears, shivers. I spank him as he runs by, hug him, thankful each time that he comes back to crawl under the covers with me. Life in the country.

When I hear them howl I tuck what tail I have and run for the house!

The stash.

Every morning, a surprise. The turkey vulture's namesake, partying in the dawn light.

I'll miss my vultures. Must see if we can rustle up some more grub for them. 
You've heard the word catharsis. It refers to the relief, the cleansing collapse you feel after a big emotional event. 

Cathartes aura. The Golden Cleanser. 

Vulture Spring

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I'm traveling through New York and New England. Sitting in a beautiful old guest house on the campus of Audubon Greenwich, the first educational nature center in the country. A Carolina wren has just come to the cedar outside my window, attracted by the light, the life, in the normally dark house. It tip-tilts, calls, makes eye contact. I wave. Hello darling. Yes, it's Zick. If I had a mealworm I'd give you one.

 Tonight I'll give my last talk, for Potapaug Audubon Society at the Old Lyme (CT) Town Hall at 7 pm. Turkey vultures are featured in it. This talk is different. It's equal parts spirituality and avian rehab. Why not? Give 'em something different. As much as I speak, I need something different, too, so it's fresh for the audience and for me.

Last month, I looked up into the warm Costa Rican sky above La Selva Biological Reserve in the Caribbean lowlands, and saw a conveyer belt of turkey vultures headed sedately, serenely north. None of them moving a wing. Just rolling, rolling, rolling on the air currents, conserving energy, headed home.

There are 314 vultures in this photo. I cannot convey the amazement of watching so many vultures roll over for so long. I thought about passenger pigeons, the way people wrote about their limitless flocks. I stood there, open mouthed, in wonder.

They looked like fleas, so high were they in the sky. And it occurred to me that every day, birds do things that we cannot conceive of and would not survive. We have to buy a ticket and get on a jet to get from Costa Rica to Ohio. They lift off and soar there.

Not two weeks later, Phoebe and I had a girl's night out back in chilly cold McConnellsville, Ohio. And here they came. I stood jabbering in a parking lot. Wondering aloud if these were the same birds I'd watched in Central America. Marveling. And feeling so lucky to see them again, home. 

We've done our part to make sure they feel welcome. 

A deer carcass in our field proved a powerful attractant. We set up a game camera. At first it took lots of pictures of grass, with bits of TUVU.

Best count was five at once. That's the carcass, with game camera on it, at lower left. 

The first night I was awakened by the incessent, piercing screams of a gray fox. And at dawn, there he was, full-furred, magnificent, crossing the meadow. I could not photograph him in time. But oh what a beauty. I was so glad to see him, to connect the screams with the animal. That's what the fox says: YEEEEEAHHHROW!! YEEEEARRRHOW!! over and over until you want to holler back.

Maybe my favorite game cam pic. Crow with house.

Sasquatch! They often sample carrion, but not if it's too rotty.

Having a deer carcass in one's field is a fun and lucky thing. Definitely an asset, and it's nice to have it deliquesce in a place where all the animals feeding on it won't get disturbed by cars. Carcasses disappear quite quickly when the clean-up crews can work undisturbed. As you will see...

How I love my vultures. And I think they love me too.

This one's for DOD. He'd be 102 this June. Each year I try to repot my bonsai trees on April 10, the day he died in 1994. Can't do it this year, so it'll have to wait 'til I get home. But I know he's smiling to see my redhead watering the greenhouse while I'm gone. Especially the tomatoes, which are now forming fruit. He loved tomatoes.

The Carolina wren who came to spy on me before dawn just brought its mate and they both yawped at me through the window here at Audubon Greenwich. Word's out. Zick's in the house!
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