REPORT NO. 23 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP (Now I know that the next report, #24 will be the last report. Much cheering can be heard from a generally northerly direction)
Alarm at 5:00, and this day is a little different than the previous days. I have made a list of our most-wanted birds, and will show it to our guide, in hopes that he can get some of them for us.
6:00 am and there are six of us with Rick this morning. Sharon and I got there first and convinced him to take the Loggers Trail, which we haven't done yet. This after showing him our biggest target birds remaining.
Early on, a GRAY-HEADED DOVE* flies out. We have seen this bird a number of times, but haven't gotten it ID'd till just now. Dick and DeeDee, from Salt Lake City are with us as is a new couple from England -- Derek and Jude. We get a quick flyby of two BROWNHEADED PARROTS*, identified by Rick by their call.
A Keel-billed Toucan flies across the grounds and lands high in a tree, so the new people are excited to see them. A Plumbeous Kite lands in a nearby tree.
At 6:11 am, Rick can hear a bird he knows we need, and he points out the sound. We head right for the sound, and quickly get two WHITE-THROATED ROBINS*. They act very much like our American Robins, but they look very, very different. And like the American Robin, they have several different calls.
Rick hears a Black-cheeked Woodpecker and a calling Red-billed Pigeon. He takes a branch away from the Loggers Trail, in hopes of getting us the hard-to-see Tody Motmot. He calls and calls when suddenly there is an incredibly beautiful burst of song.
[Note to webpage readers. Clicking on "download" will load four seconds of song, and took about 30-45 seconds on my 56K modem PC. My Mac took about 40 seconds, also on a 56K modem. The file size is 97 kb, and "Starting Java" came up on the PC while it loaded the file. It (the PC) also gave a warning that a virus might be attached, but you can ignore that. I think the song is worth the wait].
What on earth is THAT? "SPOTTED WOOD-QUAIL*," says Rick, and we all hustle back to where the sound came from. We learn later from Rick that these birds are not afraid of people, and should be easy to find. But they have flown away or walked deeper into the jungle, so we miss seeing them. But that song . . .
At 6:37 am, we have several Crested Guan overhead, and the new kids have good looks. We can hear the toot toot of the Blue-crowned Motmot. They were so easy to see on Trinidad, and especially on Tobago, but not here.
We again hear the high-pitched call of the Yellow-olive Flycatcher, but again we don't see it. Then we get a good look at an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, a nice upgrade from the "heard only" we have had before this. At 6:51 am, Sharon calls for everyone to stop. She spots a very plain, dark, olive bird on the trail in front of us. "Thrushlike Schiffornis!" I yell. "What's THAT?" says everyone but Rick. "They changed its name from Thrushlike Manakin to Thrushlike Mourner, then to Thrushlike Schiffornis. This plain little bird needs three names!" says Rick.
This exemplified our typical situation. Sharon spots the bird, I ID the bird.
Rick then resumes trying to call in the Tody Motmot, but still no success. At 6:57 am, we get the female Plain Antvireo. Then we hear the Tawny-winged Greenlet again. Rick is trying to call it in around No. 106, on the lower level.
At 7:02 am, Rick gets us a GREENISH ELAENIA*, high up against the sky. It's a kind of flycatcher. Rick hears, then I get great looks at the Chestnut-colored Woodpecker. At 7:11 am, we hear the call of the GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO*.
At 7:23 am, we get another lifer, a pair of WHITE-BELLIED WRENS*. Soon thereafter, Rick picks up the sound of the BRIGHT-RUMPED ATILLA* flycatcher, far off to the left. Rick calls, but it doesn't come.
At 7:46 am, we get an unexpected treat. We have arrived at the part of the Loggers Trail where it comes to the river and turns left. But Rick steers us to the right, hoping to get the Royal Flycatcher. This doesn't mean much to me at first, but then I remember something Carol said yesterday. I really want to see this bird.
Only ten or twenty yards to the right, and we get a pair of what seem like very plain flycatchers [Sharon later points out that as they moved from place to place, they would flare their golden-yellow tails, and they weren't plain at all]. But they won't do what we're dying for them to do -- raise their crests. Then I would imagine that it would be like finding a five-hundred-dollar bill while you're walking down the street. When alarmed, this ROYAL FLYCATCHER* raises the most elaborate red, black and blue crest that you can imagine. They should call this the "No Way" bird.
We finally leave the pair of birds. Sharon says that she saw a little red and blue peeking out from under the flattened crest of one of them. How exciting for HER. I can wiggle my ears.
We get a Black-headed Saltator, very noisy, and then a sighting of a pair of Blue-black Grosbeaks, which we have only heard before. We finally exit the Loggers Trail, right at the suspension bridge. AT 8:11 am, we get a wonderful visual upgrade of a Ruddy Quail-dove. Then we begin our walk along the paved main road, in to the main plaza.
The film crew is shuttling back and forth about every four minutes in their Acuras and other supporting vehicles, interrupting our birdwalk over and over. The only thing I can figure is that they're delivering a deck of cards from the lodge to the suspension bridge, one at a time.
Each time we have heard them coming, we have moved to the side of the road. Sharon has had enough, and is intently studying a bird in the upper reaches of the nearby trees. Everyone moves out of the road except for Sharon, who just stands there, continuing to check out her bird. The car slows to a stop till Sharon moves out of the way.
"Awwright, Sharon," we all yell from the safety of the roadside.
We are standing under several birds and we get another lifer, a pair of BLACK-CROWNED TITYRAS*. Also on the same tree is a Black-cheeked Woodpecker. A SHORT-BILLED PIGEON* does his bark-like-a-dog call, then follows with a sort of pdddddddddd. We can recognize it now.
We have breakfast, then head down to the River Trail, hoping for the Black-collared Hawk again. We get an upgrade to the Masked Tityra, seeing it really well this time. A Louisiana Waterthrush does his tail-bobbing maneuver. We are told that they are the last warbler (yes, warbler) to migrate. Then we get a visual upgrade of the Short-billed Pigeon.
We carefully document the description of a bird we're seeing and the single-note, repetitive call. Later, we make the ID ourselves by listening to our Chan Chich bird song tape, and it's an upgrade of our previously heard-only Tawny-crowned Greenlet.
At 10:16 am, a Kinkajou passes over our heads, climbing away from us on a horizontal vine. It's getting pretty quiet in the late morning heat, but at 10:58 am, we again get the snapping of the White-collared Manakins at their lek. We still haven't seen one.
We get a few more birds already on our life list: Olivaceous Woodcreeper, then a female American Redstart. The Waterthrush isn't the only warbler still here, apparently. Finally at 11:28 am, we get our last birds of the morning, a pair of Plain Xenopses, hanging precariously from some vines, as usual.
On the way back up, we pass Jose's brother Felipe and two other workers, replacing some old tree-round walkways.
We have lunch and talk a bit more with a single birder here named Carol, an American who has lived in Guatemala for 43 years. "How did you happen to go to Guatemala 43 years ago?" I ask her. "A MAN," she emphasizes, and laughs. We find that she has a wry and dry sense of humor, and like us, has been birding only five years. She is very good, but doesn't let on like she is. She tells us this incredible story, like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield bleachers before hitting a home run exactly where he had pointed. Only this one is even more preposterous -- except that it hasn't happened yet.
There is a spectacularly-beautiful blue and purple bird called a Lovely Cotinga, but no visitor has seen one here that we know about. Carol says that Gilberto claims that you have to go down to the suspension bridge between 4:20 and 5:00 pm, and watch the right area of the trees on the surrounding mountain. AND IT WILL COME!
"Hoo Boy." - Pogo.
She invites us along and at 3:48 pm, the four of us set out to bird our way there. We have also heard that there is a Cinnamon Becard nest near Gilberto's house, so we ask him to show it to us on the way. Carol gives us some grief for delaying our suspension bridge arrival, but it's good natured.
Gilberto shows us his house, but there are no Becards around at the time. He says you can see them in the early morning and late afternoon. I suggest that maybe we can see them after the Lovely Cotinga, and we all laugh.
By 4:02 pm, we are at the bridge, checking the birds around. A White-necked Jacobin (hummer) is in the orange flowered tree across the bridge. Gilberto says it is a May Flower tree.
We get a nice, comfortable, shady, grassy site to wait. Incredibly, Gilberto starts describing the exact trees that the bird will land in. He points out two "naked" trees on the skyline, which Carol objects to. "They're bare, not naked," she laughs, but Gilberto keeps calling them naked, as he laughs too. We're all laughing and having a great time.
Gilberto continues by pointing to a large seed pod-bearing tree to the right of the "naked" trees. Rising from its center is a narrow, bare branch that has a scattering of leaves at the tip top. Like the colors at the tip top of an 1800 sailing ship.
He says, "It will fly into one of these three trees. Sometimes it lands right on that highest point on the seed-pod tree." It's 4:30 pm, so Carol starts giving Gilberto a hard time.
I'm laughing and getting in my bits too, when a lone bird flies from behind us, high over our head in the general direction of the trees. "Bird," I yell, spotting it first, as I raise my binoculars. Can't possibly be. As it flies on and the sun angle changes, it takes on a dark blue color. "Blue, it's blue!" I yell a bit louder, way excited.
And as it heads straight for the seed-pod tree, now a long, long way off, it begins taking on this electronic, turquoise blue color. "That HAS to be it! LOVELY COTINGA*!" I'm screaming now. "It landed right on that highest bare branch, just below the flag," and everyone is on it. I tell you this, you simply cannot believe this color without seeing it. I don't think I've ever seen a blue like it. A cross between Southwest Indian turquoise and that wonderful blue that surrounds the the small islands of the Caribbean.
I take my binoculars down and look with my naked eye. The blue stands out even like this. And the double cool thing is that another male has flown in right behind the first one and landed in one of the "naked" trees. They both change locations and trees a bit, and are gone in about two minutes. To where, we don't know. In the excitement, I just now realize that I forgot my scope.
We are TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY. How did Gilberto call this? And what a spectacular bird. Carol, as is Carol's way, complains because a female didn't come in. She wants to see the female, which is a light color, with dark green cross-hatching, a totally different bird in appearance. Later, Bartender Norman says that Victor Emmanuel, the internationally known birder and first paying client at Chan Chich about 11 years ago, discovered lots of secrets, passed them on to managers Tom and Josie and Josie's brother Norman, and they passed them on to Gilberto. Don't you just love hand-me-downs?
In addition, while we are just standing around, we get three LESSER SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFTS*. At 5:45 pm, we are across from Marker No. 75, and Gilberto points out a Collared Aracari in its nest hole. As we are watching it, it wriggles and wriggles, finally JUST able to make its way out, and perches in a tree across the road. It appears to Sharon that this bird should diet or enlarge its nest hole. We get good binocular looks, but it's deep in some leaves, and is no good for video.
Back to Gilberto's house we go, and in a tall thin palm tree, another Emerald Toucanet peers out of its nest hole. Then, as it is getting darker, Gilberto points out the first, and I spot the second CINNAMON BECARD* of the pair, close to their nest, but hidden in the leaves of the nest's tree.
And to top it ALL off, Gilberto laughs and points high, high overhead and says, "And THAT is a KING VULTURE*." We laugh as we look at the tiny dot (reminding us of our first Peregrine Falcon at Cape May, New Jersey when it seemed to be even smaller than this), but then when we put the binoculars on and listen to his description of how the bird flies, and how it appears from below, we're sold. Short tail, very stable, very slow, with black and white both visible on the wings. And a little larger than the other vultures.
What a day.
Back for dinner now, I tell Carol about something Jose told us earlier, about going to "The Escarpment" tomorrow. She is excited about this, and suggests bring Gilberto. Both Sharon and I are immediately thinking that this will hurt Jose's feelings. After all, it was his idea.
But Carol doesn't care about stuff like that and says, "I want to bring Gilberto along. We'll try to get lots of people to come too." She's taken this idea and is running for the end zone. "Josie owes me," she says, laughing, "We'll ask her."
We don't know why Josie owes her, unless it's that this is about her fifth trip here or something. Plus this trip is for two weeks. "You ask her while Sharon and I wait in the bushes," I say, laughing. Then Carol begins to have second thoughts, but that's about how long they last -- a second.
Later, it's 7:00 pm, we're in the bar, and Carol has asked Josie about our plan, so things are set in motion. Josie seems ok with it, so maybe it will happen. I overhear a great one-liner from Derek, who Carol asked to come with us. He is trying to decide whether to postpone their trip to Laguna Seca tomorrow and come with us, on our spur-of-the-moment trip. So here's his line:
"It's not a dress rehearsal -- your life." His way of saying he's changing his plans and going with us. I just love that line.
We have dinner and head for bed, dreaming about the possible Black Hawk-Eagle and Spectacled Owl that Jose says we might see.
Lifers Today: Gray-headed Dove, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-throated Robin, Spotted Wood-Quail (heard), Yellow-olive Flycatcher (heard), Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Green Shrike-Vireo (heard), White-bellied Wren, Bright-rumped Atilla (heard), Royal Flycatcher (crest down), Black-crowned Tityra, Short-billed Pigeon, Lovely Cotinga, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Cinnamon Becard, King Vulture.
Upgrades Today: Thrushlike Manakin (PREVIOUS: heard only; NEW: saw clearly), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (PREVIOUS: both heard, plus Sharon saw briefly; NEW: Bob saw clearly), Blue-black Grosbeak (PREVIOUS: heard only; NEW: saw male and female with nest material), Ruddy Quail-Dove (PREVIOUS: saw in rapid flight; NEW: saw close distance in brush for long time); Masked Tityra (PREVIOUS: saw long distance; NEW: saw male on nest hole tree very clearly), Red-billed Pigeon (PREVIOUS: saw long distance; NEW: saw clearly very close), Tawny-crowned Greenlet (PREVIOUS: heard only; NEW: saw at close distance, but moving around quickly), Plain Xenops (PREVIOUS: saw medium distance; NEW: saw pair closer for long time)
Most Beautiful Bird: Lovely Cotinga
Most Difficult Bird: Brown-hooded Parrot (Two separate fly-bys. Rick says he can tell because their call is softer. Hard for us to tell without Rick)
Most Remarkable Bird: Spotted Wood-Quail (beautiful quick musical chorus, given when excited, by a covey which we never saw. This is one bird that is way more desirable to hear than to see, even as cool-looking as it is)
Lifer Totals: Today 17, Belize 72+17= 89, Trip 241+17 = 258. We crack 250!
Upgrades: Today 8, Total 7+8= 15
Bye for now,
Sharon and Bob
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