I look out my apartment window this morning at the new snow cover taking note of the new parking restrictions in my neighborhood (no parking on the even side of the streets until April 1 or some significant snow melt happens). Sigh, not so long ago, I was in Panama, starting my morning with fresh bananas, papaya and watermelon (there was also fresh pineapple but I can't eat that). A little bacon, some eggs, a weird banana bran muffin and a tangy little picante sauce.
The breakfast area at Canopy Lodge was in a buffet style and tables were set up in various sizes to accommodate the various travelers. Some were traveling solo like myself but there was also a birding tour group there too from Field Guides led by John Rowlette. During siesta and after dinner, John and I would find ourselves sitting together taking advantage of the wireless in the library. One night as John and I arrived with our MacBooks in hand someone said, "Watch out, here come the computer nerds!"
"Nerd, eh," I said, "that's big talk coming from a birder."
And while you ate breakfast outdoors, you could watch the feeders--I have a TON of photos from the feeders between using the Wingscapes Camera or my digiscoping like the above photo of clay-colored robins and a female crimson-backed tanager grabbing onto a blue-gray tanager. You'll be seeing a lot of feeder photos.
I found a group of people who I naturally gravitated to at mealtimes and on field trips. One was a man my age named John, a non birder who was on a month long journey of several stops in Panama. The other was a couple from Amsterdam named Ellen and Emile who were general birders like myself. After initial conversation and birding pleasantries, we revealed our occupations. The man my age turned out to be a writer and film critic and the couple from Amsterdam owned a publishing house. We laughed that 2 writers managed to find the one table in a foreign country with a publisher.
After breakfast, we'd head out on field trips. If you were in the foothills, the atmosphere was sunny and you could get great photos and watch the clouds play at the tops of the mountains.
Or your field trips were in the tops of the mountains and you were birding among the clouds. It may not have made for the best photos, but it was almost as though you were birding in a dream with mist momentarily revealing birds with bright colors and then shrouding them suddenly in cloudy mystery. Though overall it was very humid, the temperatures were quite comfortable and I was surprised that I wasn't sweating like crazy.
My first time out with Tino the Human iPod we walked a road in the foothills near the lodge in bright sun. That's where we got our first sloth of the trip (and certainly not the last) and I saw some familiar birds like the above red-legged honeycreeper. A bird seen throughout Central America but who cares, it's cool, it's blue, it's always a pleasure to see.
Hummingbirds were all over the place and I had an easier time of getting photos of them perched in trees than at feeders. This hummingbird is called a garden emerald and I think the describes it perfectly--it looks like an emerald and can be found in a garden.
We got an Amazon kingfisher right away and I chuckled a bit to myself. Right before I left town, an Amazon kingfisher showed up in Laredo, Texas and many of my birding friends were hightailing it out there to get the bird on their US list. I got one, not on my US list, but that's okay. No matter how you slice it, the bird is a huge green kingfisher--what's not to love?
This was one of my favorite birds we saw--a lineated woodpecker. These are about the size of a pileated woodpecker (the bird that got me into birding). We saw quite a few of these and I was excited to get a photo.
Here's a yellow-crowned euphonia which were different than the ones coming to the lodge's feeders. I couldn't believe my luck at getting photos of birds this time in Central America--it was very challenging for photos on my first trip to Central America last year with the shade and the birds hiding in the leaves, this time it was much easier. I've been with all sorts of bird guides and I lead trips myself. I know that when I go out of the US that guiding practices may be different depending on how young the tourism industry is in that country. The guides with Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge were some of the most professional, accommodating and helpful (while still being respectful of the birds) that I ever birded with. They whistled in birds, sometimes used iPods and even laster pointers to help everyone see the birds. There were also little differences too:
One of the target and prized birds to see is the very secretive tody motmot. Tino came to a spot where he had seen them before, had all of us bunch up next to him and watch a particular thicket. He whistled the motmot's song and then whispered, "There it is." I didn't even see it fly in and I was watching hard but Tino pointed it out. We trained our binoculars on it. As I was getting my good look of this secret and small motmot, Tino set up his scope and my scope on the bird so everyone could get a look and I could get the above photo. I didn't ask Tino to set up my scope, but more than once he would do it unasked. Even more impressive, my scope was different from his. You could tell that he's accustomed to training all sorts of scopes on good birds. It was the look of a lifetime at a very cool bird. I mentioned earlier that Tino played the guitar as well as being a musical wiz with bird calls, but he appears to be a true Rennaisance Man. He's quite the artist, he has quite the sketchbook of art work and his tody motmot illustration is framed at the lodge. He is definitely one of the highlights of the country.