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.