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.
Jeff Bouton's lunch. I warned him not to eat the pink sausages (lower right).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
What a journey. And I can't wait until tomorrow!