Tuesday, June 03, 2008


It’s 5am on Sunday morning. In the big fig there are a flock of parrots, maybe 20 in all, making such an incredible racket. They are Red Lored parrots, mostly a bright emerald green with red foreheads and blue and red wing trim. They live in pairs within a greater flock and spend all of their time 30 to 40 feet up in the trees. They are comical and agile birds for the stocky, compact frames and the pairs seem to argue and bicker much of the time. Such a different picture from a single parrot in a cage. I didn’t realize they were canopy dwellers, I wonder how it feels to be a canopy species kept so close to the ground in captivity? Perhaps for captive bred birds there is no recollection of their natural state.
In the other big fig, further down are a pair of Slaty Tailed Trogons, cousins to the famous Resplendent Quetzal. The slaty tailed have orange beaks, dark emerald heads and chests and back fading into gray and a bright red belly (females are dark slate grey and read). They are inspecting a large termite nest. Trogons often nest in active termite mounds, the mounds providing excellent shelter and the termites providing a steady, handy supply of food.
Below them, perched precariously on the tips of banana leaves are a family of Tropical Kingbirds. It’s a new family, the young recently emerged from the nest and their parents are still feeding them. The Kingbirds are in the huge flycatcher family, and are among dozens of yellow breasted birds in this area. The kingbirds are quite small, about 6 inches and very vocal. They build beautiful covered nests, a mess of twigs and leaves slightly bigger than an american football with a igloo style entrance and a covered porch. If you walk within 8 feet of the nest the parents will call you repeatedly from close by on another tree trying to lure you away. They stay very close to their nests.
On the lawn are a pair of Variable Seedeaters. These are among my favourite birds in the garden. Very small, maybe 4 inches and the very sharp bright birds. The male is all black except for a tiny dot on his wing and the female is a dark brown. They flit to and fro singing very sweetly a series of random notes. They eat seeds and insects, and spend most of their time close to the ground. Their nest is a very simple, very thin walled cup – you can see light from one side of the nest to the other, and they build about 8 feet up in the bushes and trees.
Before me on the table is a vase of flowers, heliconias, seemingly hanging motionless in the air is a Long Billed Hermit feeding from them. He is about 4 foot from me. Hermits don’t mind distractions. They are so exquisitely balanced from their long arching saber like beak to their long straight drop down tail. The plainest of hummingbirds the hermits have a different sort of charm, intelligent, curious and actually I think rather friendly given their name.
Across the way I can hear the Montezuma Oropendolas. This is another favourite. They are big birds, 20 and 16 inches tall with naked blue and pink facial patches and a lemony yellow tail. The tail is about all I ever see of them as they stay in the thick of the canopy in this garden. But one knows they are there by their vocalizations – an incredible series of whoops, yips, brrips and an amazing noise like branches falling made by the males. The local flock is about 15 birds, I think, it’s difficult to count.
The parrots have gone, now I can hear other bird noise beyond the river but I don’t know who’s calling. I have a bird book, so far in the garden I have made checks beside 57 different species of birds. The boys who are avid birders have many more.