Monday, October 26, 2009


It's not that I'm crazy about birds (not yet!), but I do like spending time with enthusiasts - anyone (almost) who has a deep enthusiasm and interest in something esoteric (confined to and understandable by only an enlightened inner circle).

Birds generally are present in many, often pretty, places. Each species' individual story tells something curious, or fantasic, or just worth knowing about the world. Hence, a visit with the bird nerds.

Guatemala has plenty of interesting birds of its own. Think toucan and quetzal, then add the less famous but really cool trogon, differentiated hummingbirds, seed-eaters, woodpeckers. But wait! There's more! Many North American migratory species pass through or over-winter here, starting about now. Guatemala, the size of Ohio, has nearly as many species as the entire US/Canadian land mass.

So a handful of us strode off into the back lot of Hacienda Tijax, quite near Fronteras, our temporary 'home town'. Las senoras, from boats were easily identified by their extra-heavy night vision marine binoculars, quirky footwear, and lack of bird book or birding life list. But we caught on quickly enough, with a little help from our new friends. As always, keep your mind open and your mouth shut, and remember the golden rule. Also, on the canopy bridges, don't let your attention wander too far.

So, when all I would have seen was a distant little flutter, Leo or Meynor or Bryan (a young man who also taught us, in the guise of a drawing lesson, to notice the shape of the beaks, the feet, the wings, as well as a bit of birder vocabulary) would announce: "Oh, a white-collared seed eater." Heads swivel. Binoculars up. "Female" "ooh" pencils out to mark down the sighting, Howell's book out to show 'las senoras'.

The birds kept coming - in the hour or so before sunset we, or at least they, saw 17 different bird species, and knew them by first last and middle names, and sex, in several languages.
One of the most charming aspects of birdwatching in Guatemala is that English is the bird-nerd language; aficionados earnestly discuss anatomical features, such as the 'slatey' tail feathers which distinguish one trogon from the next ..., in English!

Probably somewhere, Cicero's ghost is gleefully saying 'and ya know, they still use Latin too!' All the guides knew those names as well.

Next day many more, many different, birds. And some real spectacles: the trogons were a colorful revelation.
The black-cowled oriole is related to my state bird, but I've never seen one in Maryland. The American redstart. The cuckoo something - I forgot to write it down, but remember Leo's description of the long swinging tail and my mental image of my grandmother's cuckoo clock.

And me, another spectacle. Now I've got a pencil and a book too, and a tangle of strings around my neck, connecting me to my hat, sunglasses, camera, pencil in my mouth, book under my arm. Ahha! So that's why they have those vests with all the little pockets! I hope this urge to accouter is not contagious.

I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the speakers. I was also impressed with the quality of the INGUAT-certified guides, not for the first time. In fact, as we noticed, we have almost never spent time with well-educated Guatemalans before. It was a treat.
PHOTO MEYNOR SCOPEMeynor was a wizard at setting up his 'scope' and making sure we all saw something.

So my visit to the nation of birdwatchers was a great success. Makes me think that from now on, rather than wandering around clueless, I'll find the local 'twitchers' as the Brits call birdwatchers, and see what they find interesting.
Photo by Carole Webster.

1 comment:

Gerrymh said...

Wow! Sounds like a great day and makes you a real 'twitcher' now. Congratulations.