I and the Volcano
early morning landing in San Pedro La Laguna
Lesser Roadrunner, digiscoped Volcan San Pedro, 3/7/08
There were loads of birds along the way but I didn't stop to photograph many of these. Doing so would have cost me my time to study these birds and slowed the group as a whole. So we continued our slow crawl uphill adding new birds as we did. In the lower, more open areas I spotted a cooperative Prevost's Ground-Sparrow at trail side, and we heard and finally saw 2 Lesser Roadrunners. Flowering hillside shrubs attracted White-eared and Ruby-throated Humingbirds. Mountain Trogons called from nearby brush, and Black-headed Siskins perched prominently in a low treetop to our left. A cooperative perched Blue-throated Motmot offered a welcomed break from our march so I could suck up some of the thin mountain air. (Coming from Florida I prefer my air like my beer, with a bit more body than this light mountain stuff!)
Once again we pushed on, and the crowd began to separate once again. I was spending more time staring at my feet than up hill, but I did manage to glance up at just the right time on one occasion. I think I sensed a bird more than seeing it (as odd as that sounds) but I brought my head up to find myself eye to eye with a stunning stocky songbird. Not 6 feet away we stared at each other as I gave him the once over: stocky and short-tailed, green-backed... it reminded me of a Pepper-shrike... "Huff, Puff" I knew this bird I'd seen it countless times thumbing through the guide... think "Huff, Puff". As I wracked my brain I called up to Jim to get back down here. The bird's white iris gleamed, split by black eyeline below and bright yellow, supercilliary stripe above... what was this bird? I stared at its plain white undersides accentuated by a chestnut breast band that extended down its sides... neurons suddenly flickered, smoke was in the air... "Huff, Puff... of course, Chestnut-sides...This was a Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, and a stunning male at that! All got to see this bird except the two most energetic individuals leading the charge uphill. I wasn't slow, I just didn't want to miss anything that's all (or so I told myself).
Lesser Roadrunner, digiscoped with Leica APO Televid 62 scope & C-Lux 2 camera
I kept an eye on swifts streaming overhead in hopes of adding a Chestnut-collared Swift but every group that passed gave me a familiar chattering laugh, letting me know they were old friends; White-throated Swifts that breed along the mountainous cliffs throughout much of the western US come summer. A stunning hummingbird, the Sparkling-tailed Woodstar fed in a flowered clearing, and a Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch was seen. The warbler list took on a more resident/tropical flair with the additions of Golden-browed and Crescent-chested Warblers as we reached our first "rest stop".
"About halfway there now", Hugo told us. I removed my back pack, already drenched with perspiration and decided to both lighten my load and replenish some of that lost winter weight by sucking down some juice and water! "Huff, Puff, Huff..." My back chilled dramatically as moisture began to evaporate from my soaked back.
An Emerald Toucanet rocketed by from overhead and disappeared into the treetops below, then a close Whip-poor-will sang. It served as the all call and we loaded up again to continue our ascent! Gray Silky Flycatchers were abundant and had been passing in groups of 4 & 5 almost continuously as we climbed. Soon after beginning the second half of our ascent, Hugo's radio crackled. The reserve guides had located Guans about 1,000 feet above us! We all took off as fast as we could. Those with better conditioning quickly pulled away from the pack though. I stayed in the middle of the pack far behind the leaders.... Not that I couldn't keep up mind you... uhhh... I just wanted to make sure those in the rear were doing alright!....Yeah that's it! ;p
I could no longer see the lead three and my incessant puffing had grown to a dull roar, my heart rate sped, and I found I had to regularly stop and bend over to catch my breath. Reminiscent of the "Tortoise and the Hare", Jim would pass me each time I stopped and and vice versa. Although, in reality we would likely rename this tale "The Two Tortoises" given our pace.
At long last, I could see the leaders stopped ahead. Tim called back, '..no need to hurry...' They'd flown up slope even before these speed demons arrived. Slightly disappointed and decidedly ragged from the rapid ascent over the past 1,000 feet, we trudged slowly upward. Eventually, reaching the top of the bird's preferred habitat. Now it was a simple matter of working up and down the trail in this area. I hated the thought of giving up altitude, but the thought of not seeing this spectacular bird was a stronger drive than mere limitations of flesh and man (despite what my lungs, heart, and legs had to say about it)!
first glimpse of Guan
At least, the pace was more leisurely now so I could soak up the birds here as I scoured the dark tree tops in search of this enormous bird. There was one particular tree here in full bloom that was absolutely chock full of birds, easily hundreds of them. We counted as many as a dozen Gray-silkies on one little snag in the expansive crown of this tree, along with countless warbler, bushtits, hummingbirds, etc. We found a gap where we could look down on the tree top from above with the scope and add numerous birds to our growing day list. An amazing spectacle! (I'm sure someone can remind me of the name of the tree which now escapes me, a tall tree with broad canopy, with VERY distinctive flowers that resemble bright yellow & red chicken's feet!)
Another pleasant distraction was seeing the tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird, once conspecific with Bumblebee Hummingbird, "Howell & Webb" list the length at a mere 2.7 inches making it the tiniest hummingbird in the Americas and perhaps the world! (Bumblebee listed@ 2.8") Despite being tired, these wonderful avian distractions had all but taken the sting out of missing the Guan (and my legs for that matter), when a whistled note from below came up. I asked the reserve guide, "is that our sign?" and he nodded. "Eagle-eyed Jim" had found the Horned Guans, and this time they were close by and downhill to boot! At first I couldn't spot them but when one finally moved it couldn't be missed. A huge dark shape in the shadows with a white band through the tail, definitely our bird but not the view one hopes for.
Horned Guan digiscoped through Leica APO Televid 65 scope with C-Lux 2 camera
As I said we were perfectly content and really didn't need the much closer views of the bird above when it crash landed right over our heads. But hey... you can't look a gift horn in the mouth... or something like that. Views of this bird, who I affectionately dubbed "Don Guan" was just the icing on the cake, an absolutely astounding end to a spectacular birding day a in a VERY bird rich location. Should you ever get the chance to bird here, by all means do. Of course, if you have time for a bit of cardiovascular training in advance I'd also recommend this (I did not heed this advice). This is perhaps the most physically demanding (and as such one of the most rewarding) bird hikes I've taken to date! For those who have seen Bristle-thighed Curlew in Nome, this makes Coffee Dome seem like a walk in the park! ;)