A Birding Day in Ruins
We ate quickly and then raced back out to enjoy as much of Tikal as humanly possible in the time we had left in this magical spot. The hype was very much real, and we hadn't even gotten to any of the park's fantastic archaeological treasures either! There was a bit of a stir about an Orange-breasted Falcon and most of us hot foot it out to the main courtyard in hopes of finding this spectacular bird. As a booby prize, you have to simply endure views of the amazing palace and temple ruins found here though.
As a long-time raptor fan who'd spent years studying Peregrine Falcons, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the Orange-breasted Falcon was a bird I'd dreamt about seeing for some time. I'd seen them in captivity at the Peregrine Fund's breeding facility near Boise, Idaho years earlier, and may have drooled on the picture in the book a time or two since. At any rate, as we drew closer to the courtyard, Bill Thompson (BT3) and I sped ahead of the group heading toward a spot he'd seen them the previous year. As we approached I heard the definitive "kek" calls of a falcon and spun to see a male Orange-breasted Falcon coming in over my right shoulder carrying prey. "HERE HE COMES.." I shouted to everyone and no one in particular, "CARRYING PREY!"
adult female Orange-breasted Falcon digiscoped @ Tikal NP, 3/5/08
As I watched him course over, I noted the female sweeping off the back of the temple ahead of me. Like Bat Falcons on steroids, the larger, more muscular OBF's had a distinctly, attenuated look compared to their stubby cousins. Don't get me wrong, Bat Falcon's are spectacular, but take one give it a bit more color, a bit more muscle, and make a whole lot harder to find and you have yourself an Orange-breasted Falcon!
I guess it's like anything, Rock Pigeons, a breeding European Starling, even the male House Sparrow... All are beautiful birds, but they are so common and easily seen, that they are often taken for granted. I suppose if the OBF was more widespread and Bat Falcons were rare and local, the scale could easily tip the other way, but that's not the way it is. I believe I've actually seen Bat Falcons on every birding trip to the tropics (be it Costa Rica, Panama, and now Guatemala) and I've been jazzed to see each and every one. However, I'd be lying if I didn't suggest this was a different level of excitement for me!
male Orange-breasted Falcon w/ prey, digiscoped @ Tikal 3/5/08
The male swung into the same tree the female had settled into and I took quick glimpses of both in my scope. Then I took off like a shot to the stairs and up to the top of the Temple for a closer view and better angle. The hazy sky, and remnants of the recent mist hung heavy in the air, reeking havoc with my digiscoping, but I didn't care. What these shots lacked in overall clarity, they made up for in rarity points in my book! I stood transfixed imaging and viewing until the adrenaline finally subsided, and I slowly came back to the present. Happy high-fives were exchanged throughout the group and I went straight over to BT3 and thanked him for "keeping his promise"! Trust me he had the harder part of the deal, I'd much rather promise someone views of Bat Falcon than the rare OBF!
part of the happy crew after viewing the OBF at length!
With the pressure of the fabled falcons of Tikal over, we resumed business as usual and began enjoying everything else around us. The amazing cultural ruins upon which we stood, the history, and of course the birds. Hook-billed Kites soared over with King Vultures, and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts spun high above. A female Black-capped Tityra perched on a dead snag near some of the more common Masked Tityras for a great comparison.
Crested Guan adult, digiscoped w/ Leica APO Televid scope & C-Lux 2 camera 3/5/08
A pair of Crested Guans with at least one chick provided the perfect opportunity for outreach, and since so many of our crew were involved with education, tour leading, and similar it was only natural that we would share our finds (and GREAT optics) with the many tourists passing by. We enjoyed Plumbeous Kites building a nest on a high epiphyte, and saw a female Great Curassow on a nest.
Slaty-tailed Trogon male, Tikal, 3/5/08
A softly croaking male Slaty-tailed Trogon sat guarding a nest hollow in a termite mound while Royal Flycatchers "Pee-dunk"ed from nearby trees. Everywhere we looked there was yet a new bird mixed in: Green-breasted Mango, Long-tailed Hermit, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager... the calls and birds continued even through the heat of the day until our time was up. Reluctantly we left this gem of a spot, but our hearts and heads were happy from a great day of birding and we all knew that we'd try to come back and we'd bring more of our friends and families when we did!
Not that we needed any more treats, but a Laughing Falcon was perched at roadside in perfect sunlight as one final reminder to stop back to see more some other time. We could only stop for a moment and then it was off to Flores where we would all catch planes to carry us to our next adventure!