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Beauty at Every Turn

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dull name, beautiful birdlet: the slate-throated redstart. These little tropical warblers forage for flying insects along trails, perching predictably on fallen logs as they sally out to catch their prey. They are flashy as all get-out and pretty easy to photograph, being confiding and always ready with a fabulous pose.As if deep slate-blue upperparts weren't enough, they have this ruddy crown, like our ovenbird. I find their color combinations captivating. Fierce, as Christian from Project Runway might say. This bird is workin' that little red Mohawk.
I found the slate-throated redstart on the way up to find a roosting black-and-white owl in an enormous strangler fig at the top of a long hill above Los Tarrales. The black-and-white owl is a prize of tropical birding, rarish and hard to see, unless there's a stakeout like this one. I'd never have known to look for him unless our guide, Josue, had pointed him out. We'd made a long climb and Josue asked if we were game to climb another 5 km to see the owl. Without hesitation, Liz, Jeff, Lisa and I said, "Sure!" Josue smiled and led us another 100 feet to the shade of the strangler fig. We looked up and there it was, the beautiful strange owl we'd been hoping to see. Understand that this is a horrible photo, because it was pitch-dark in the canopy of the fig (as an owl would have it), and I had to burn everything out to get any detail at all. This is a sharp owl, barred black and white with burning red eyes and corn-yellow bill and feet. I'll never forget watching a family of them catching moths under a light at Las Ventanas de Osa in southwestern Costa Rica. What a privilege to have seen a handful of black-and-white owls.

Just beyond the owl tree, an endemic blue-tailed hummingbird taunted me by sitting close and still in terrible light. It seems ever to be thus with iridescent hummingbirds in the tropics. The light is usually tough, and they're usually between you and the sun. You'll remember the photo in my last post--blurry with decent color. Well, this one is sharp, with no color. Take my word--he's bronze, green, and violet-blue, and very beautiful, except here. Hummingbirds are fan dancers; they only give you a peek and then cover it up again.
Water poured from a weir. Rushing water, in canals and chutes, is everywhere at Los Tarrales, watering the plantations of flowers and bananas. It was such a balm to my soul to hear running water, having been frozen into our iceblock in Ohio for so many months.
As I came down from fairyland, I was reminded that everyone else was working around Los Tarrales. This elderly man was bent almost double under probably 100 pounds of firewood. Still, he had a bright smile and a soft "Buenos!" for me.
Beauty peeks out of every corner here. A nameless vine, clambering over a chain-link fence near the coffee processing plant. Needless to say, the cinnamon hummingbirds were working it.I'll leave you with a tree that completely blew me away. This is a rainbow eucalyptus. Its trunk was smooth and cool and damp, striped with the most perfect Martha Stewart colors. Andy Burge's grandfather planted several of them decades ago, and only two remain, because as Andy put it, "Lightning likes those eucalypts."The thought of having a yard full, an allee, perhaps, of rainbow eucalyptus trees is almost enough to make me move to Guatemala. I could lose myself in these colors. As I moved around the tree, moaning in delight, I saw that I was not the first to admire it.


Oh. My. God. That tree bark takes my breath away. I'm reminded of the song Balm in Gilead "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole" Thank you for putting a sense of awe and magic into my day.

No way! That's tree bark? It's absolutely beautiful.

Holy cow! What amazing tree bark! What color! Now I want to see one in person...

And the owl...

What a wonderful post. The birds, the trees, the people...just lovely. Thanks

The bark on those eucalyptus trees is unreal. The folks on HGTV would spend days trying to get a faux finish as good as that. Which says a lot.

I've noticed in your Guatemala posts that you sometimes apologize for (or excuse) the quality of your photos. I might be over-speaking here, but I wish you wouldn't!

Glimpses of these birds are an ephemeral thing. You capture that when you talk about how lucky you are to have seen "a handful" of those black and white owls. And now, with the richness of technology, you can share some small part of those fleeting moments with people like me who are unlikely to experience them ourselves. I will never know how your heart lifts when you see these amazing creatures, but I do get some sense of the wonder that comes with gazing on something so beautiful, wild, and uncommon. And I appreciate your sharing it with me, with us, as imperfect as you may think it is.

The colour of the trees are amazing! The birds, beautiful! but, what bird isn't?

Boy, those trees would make all the neighbors peek into your yard! How beautiful!

From the redstart to owls to waterfalls to the eucalyptus tree - magic around every corner. If I saw all of this in one day, I think it would be too much :o) Thanks so much for sharing your adventure.

OK--there's no way I can be original--love that eucalyptus tree bark.
I love the way eucalyptus tree leaves shimmer and dance in the breeze--but I have never seen one with such lovely pastel shades in the bark. Martha Stewart must be green--ahem, rainbow--with envy.

I am sure there is a name for all those glorious colors in that Just spectacular. Very cool owl sighting!

Wow. That tree bark, and those birds. Thanks for even a peek at them, as I'll probably never get any closer!

Junior Science Chimp here; I'm guessing that vine is some sort of trumpet vine?

I think that nameless flowering vine of yours might be a columnea. I can't tell - were the leaves opposite?

I am enjoying your post immensely. I haven't been to Central America in 15 years, but your posts make it seem like yesterday. Thanks, Troy and Martha

Oh I love it! I took me a moment. The hand imprint.

" . . almost enough to make me move to Guatemala."

Nah. You'd miss the seasons. (Well, at least a couple of 'em)

Was there fragrance as well as eye-delight?

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