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Best Birding Boardwalk Ever!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

From Hotel Las Glorias on Lake Yojoa, Honduras, it was but a short jaunt to Los Naranjos Archaelogical Site, an ancient Lenca Indian ruin that has been developed for ecotourism. A French non-governmental organization (NGO) built the bitchinest concrete piling and wood boardwalk I had ever seen. It wound for blocks and blocks through a flooded tropical forest, and it was absolutely popping with birds.

How inviting is that? You could walk silently on it without getting your feet wet or stepping on a viper. It was like being in a tropical bird museum.

A squirrel cuckoo peered silently around, looking for a big orthopteran breakfast.

Ah, squirrel cuckoos. What a gorgeous bird. Look at those rounded wings, that pheasant-like white-tipped tail. This bird is about the size of a magpie, a big honkin' you're-in-the-tropics-now bird.

When you think about it, the cuckoo family is a great one. Our black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos are charming enough, with their weird mechanical songs, lizardlike motions and bizarre behavior. For instance, if you frighten a nest of baby cuckoos, they'll point their heads straight up with their eyes closed, like bitterns. They eat fuzzy caterpillars no other bird can manage, and periodically shed their inner stomach lining, felted with the urticating hairs, revealing a new one beneath. 
The cuckoo family includes roadrunners and other ground-cuckoos, crown jewels of tropical birding.
And everybody loves a squirrel cuckoo.

I dunno what this orchid is, but I sure liked seeing it growing freely along the boardwalk. 

Oh, hello  there, hooded warbler! I will see you back in Appalachia soon!
Chink! to you, too.

It was such a gas to see things like climbing begonias

Monstera philodendrons (they ought to look familiar, being fabulous 1950's era houseplants); cool spleenworts (that fern thing in the middle of the trunk), and North American migrants all jumbled together. A hooded warbler is about 1/100th the size of most of these leaves, so it messes with your mind a bit to see them foraging in this kind of vegetation.

Nesting Amazon parrots (these are probably red-lored Amazons) added their cacaphony to the chips and twits of migrants.

Robert Gallardo, our highly overqualified guide, called birds in with pishes and squeaks. Organizer of the first MesoAmerican Birding Festival, Robert had designed the birding itineraries and chosen the locales with great care, sending us all home delirious with enormous lists of birds. I saw 226 species, ten of them life birds. Mmmm. Thank you, Robert!

 I could easily have spent the entire day at Los Naranjos; the boardwalk was generous enough for a scope to be set up, and I had the feeling that each time I walked it, I'd see a completely different cohort of avian marvels. I like places like that, places where you can be silent and let birds come to you.

One of the many attractions of this site is the sungrebe, a reclusive little swimmer in its own weird family, the Heliornithidae. Brown with a black-and-white striped head, it darts silently through the thick underbrush, paddling around in the darkness. My photos are not good enough to inflict on you, but I got some nice, if fleeting, looks at a life bird here.

This lovely thing is a bare-throated tiger heron, a kind of short-legged, long-necked tropical heron. 

Cool flight profile, too, quite bitternlike; a neck propelled by a pair of wings.

No feathered birds of paradise in the New World, but they grow their own.

A gray, rainy day, with spots of sun reflecting in the vine-tangled waters.

Our walk came to an abrupt end where a massive tree had crashed through the boardwalk. No getting around that, but I trust it's been fixed by now.

I was thoroughly amazed at the engineering and construction of this massive birdwalk.

And I felt privileged to be here, drinking in the sounds, sights and smells.  Just as we left, my eye was drawn by a patch of shining white. I peered deep into the vegetation to see a drake Muscovy duck preening his viridian wing. This, the ancestor of those weirdest of barnyard ducks, the Muscovies, with their red face patch, warty caruncles and hissing voiceless voices. No matter how fat a domestic Muscovy may get, it can still fly, and fly they often do. This wild drake, slender, secret and shining: a sight to hold in my heart.


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Your tropical photos always look so lush and beautiful and I sigh. No matter how incredible the birds would be to see, I don't think I'd ever be able to really enjoy myself since I have such an aversion to heat and humidity. I whine and complain every summer here in DC, I can't imagine what it would be like in the tropics!!

I smiled seeing the photos of the squirrel cuckoo. Who knew there was a squirrel cuckoo??

I'm embarrassed to admit the first time I heard a cuckoo I was hiking some small hills close to the Alps in Grenoble, France. I kept hearing them and finally asked my traveling companion (who was a native) if there was a clock tower nearby!!! I wish I could describe the look on his face! I was mortified. Oh well...

Oh silly Possum. If you look at what we're wearing in this post, you'll see that Honduras in February can be cold! It was in the 50's F for a lot of the time. But still, squirtle cuckoos and toucans. There are lots of places that are incredibly lovely without being miserably hot. Highlands are usually great--mountain weather, without the snow and freeze. Please think about a trip to Honduras. I guarantee you'd flip out.
Love the cuckoo story!

I remember seeing a squirrel cuckoo when I was in Costa Rica a couple years ago - I was on one of those amazing treetop walkways, and suddenly it came and perched close by right at eye level, very different from the shy tanagers and warblers we'd been squinting at. Not knowing my Neotropical birds very well, I couldn't figure out what it was until I saw down and paged through my field guide. Such charisma!

Just the Squirrel Cuckoo alone is enough to set my heart racing. I love cuckoos. I was serenaded a few years ago by a yellow-billed that seemed to enjoy having a human audience. Of course, I told him how fine and talented he was.

I really enjoyed these exotic birds and tropical forest. I enjoy all of the knowledge you share, but most of all I think I enjoy your love and appreciation for them. Thank you.

Squirrel cuckoos are very cool. Thanks for posting the photos. I'm hoping to score one or two in Puerto Rico next week.

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