Thursday, March 27, 2008

March 3, 2008

I went to bed on March 2, 2008, still a young man in my mid-40s. I awoke the next morning, on March 3, having crossed over into my 'late' 40s. This was mitigated somewhat by the fact that I was in Guatemala and had a full day of tropical birding ahead of me. Back in 2006, I also got to celebrate 3/3 in Guate.

Our 2008 group, attending the 4th Annual International Birdwatching Encounter, headed off in the pre-dawn darkness to Cerro Cahui, a reserve in the Peten Department of Guatemala that is mostly recovering woodland. We spent all morning on the trails there and the birding was excellent. If you don't believe me, check out Mike Bergin's account of the day.

Part of our group craning necks to see the gray-throated chat.

This post will be a glimmer across the events of March 3, 2008. I'll try to let the photos do most of the talking.

Rufous-tailed jacamar, calling from high in the canopy.

This tiny brown sprite is a ruddy-tailed flycatcher.


The gray-throated chat--such a boring name for a bird with huge patches of crimson.


Jeff Bouton's lunch. I warned him not to eat the pink sausages (lower right).

Julie Z (right) and Brian Bland, a top British birding tour leader, laughing over one of Brian's stories.

Climbing the nail-less tree tower. Photo by Jim McCormac.

Our lunch hotel had a tree-top tower, built without nails. It snaked up into a giant tree that shades the hotel's deck. From the ground you could not see the top of the tower. I HAD to climb it, so I gobbled down my lunch and hove off. It was a hardy climb up and a scary climb down, but the view was spectacular. When I got back to the ground I had no nails either, having bitten them all off.

The view from tower top, of Lago Peten Itza.


Birthday boy self-portrait in dorky hat on top of the tower.

The afternoon heat was settling upon us, so I decided, unilaterally, to go for a swim in Lago Peten Itza. I was assurred that, yes, there were cocodrillos, but they stayed over on the other side of the lake. The lure of the cool, blue water was too much to resist. My clothes came off. The Guatemalan boatmen shaded their eyes from the bright glare off my pasty-white skin.

I was happy I had very swimsuit-like underpants on. This meant there was a reduced liklihood of being arrested.

Mi amiga fina Liz Gordon joined me for the wonderfully cooling dip. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

Boating across Lago Peten Itza to our buses waiting in Flores.

Nearing Flores we spotted a troop of howler monkeys in the lakeside trees.

Fellow traveler Jeff Bouton and I had an unspoken blood oath that I'd help him find the orange-breasted falcon at Tikal if he could show me a bat falcon. How I'd been to Guatemala three times prior without seeing a bat falcon was baffling to several of our party. Rick Wright even called me on a cellphone while we were in the boats crossing the lake to say he was looking at a bat falcon and did I see it. No. We were miles apart at that moment. It was a very kind gesture on Rick's part, though quite unkind to his cellphone bill I would imagine.

But just a few minutes later, as we were waiting for our afternoon cervezas at a dockside bar, good old Bouts came through. "Hey BT3! Come here and look at this bird! I think you'll want to see this bird, dude!"

It was my bat falcon. At last. Many pictures were taken. High fives were slapped. Bottles of Gallo were ceremoniously clinked. What a GREAT birthday gift. A lifer and a jinx life bird, at that! Jeff has already told his side of the story. But with better photos of the bird.

My birthday bat falcon in Flores, Guatemala!

Three of my best birding pals, (from L to R): Jeff Gordon, Jeff Bouton, and Jim McCormac at the bat falcon site.

Gallo goes great with a life bird.

Soon it was time to head back to Villa Maya for some afternoon programs and, perhaps, a short siesta. The balcony outside our room called to me and I sat there, looking at the lagoon beyond and enjoying the birds that happened by.


A pair of white-fronted Amazons was nesting in the tree near our balcony. This is the male.

On a late afternoon walk with Julie and Jim, JZ gives some scale to a palm frond.


Northern parula, which I later found out was a really great bird sighting for Villa Maya.


My last image of the day, a great egret stalking the dusky shallows at Villa Maya.



The very special (for me) day was capped off in grand style with a surprise birthday party after dinner, complete with yummy cake and candles, arranged by my dear amiga Ana Cristina. Julie had arranged for several of my closest friends to say a few words—toast or roast. I was completely flabbergasted.

Looking around the room at so many smiling faces standing up to sing Happy Birthday. . . lordy--it made my knees weak, but in a happy way.

I wish I could exactly recall the wonderfully funny and sweet things that Julie, Jim, Jeff B., Keith Hansen, and Marco Centeno said in my honor that night. But the truth is, I was overcome. And I am again, even now.

I am so lucky to have the wealth of friends and loved ones that are in my life.
What a journey. And I can't wait until tomorrow!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Bagging the B-day Bat Falcon

My birthday bat falcon in Flores, Guatemala.

My amigo Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics helped me break a three-year birding jinx by showing me a bat falcon in Flores, Guatemala on my recent birfday.

He recounts the adventure, and in vivid style, on the Leica Birding Blog and you can read it simply by clicking here.

I will be telling my own version of the same story here in BOTB in the coming days. But I wanted to give Jeff a shout-out for his birding generosity and kind words. Thanks JB!

Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics is also a raptor ID expert.

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