An Artist’s Eyes Never Rest!

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“All artists are a little bit crazy!”   “Artists are different.”

Over the years, I’ve chuckled when someone looked at  my whimsical works and noted the difference in our personalities.

Yes, artists are programmed differently, and most of us rejoice that every waking moment is a gift!  Whether soaking in a sun-drenched street scene or admiring an alignment of  overhead pelicans or noting subtle color differences in a landscape, an artist’s eyes never rest!

When living in Costa Rica, I lived immersed in nature and marveled at the beauty that surrounded me.  I was also intrigued that most of the handmade products I bought were made in Ecuador.  Hammocks, pottery, linens, masks – Ecuador, Ecuador, Ecuador.   From my first exploratory visit,  Ecuador stole my heart!  I divided my time between Ecuador and Central America and eventually weaned full time to Ecuador.  There have been good times, and there have been bad –  Destructive tides, the evolution of ‘Casa Loca,’ Dengue and Chikungunya epidemics, light-pole painting competitions, impromptu painting sessions, visits to the oldest hacienda in the country, a wedding on the equator, shrimp harvests, floor-painting memories.   The April 16/2016 7.8 earthquake upturned the coastal area, and with a heavy heart I watched the ‘Casa Loca’ chapter come to an end.

Most of my posts feature light-hearted stories, though at times I poke and prod at much-more serious topics.  Deforestation and continued abuse of our planet’s natural resources remind me to speak up for those who have no voice.  Our planet is sick, and we are the ‘predator’ responsible; it’s time for all of us to remember that the other species deserve the right to thrive in their natural ecosystems.

This site will give you a glimpse into the life of the zeebra.  Hopefully you’ll emerge with a lighter heart!

Thanks for stopping by!  Z

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Refugio Paz de las Aves – An Urgent Dilemma

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(Nanegalito Ecuador)  –   “I wondered why there were boots in the truck when you picked me up at the airport,” my friend Marie stated as we were leaving the Paz Bird Refuge (Refugio Paz de las Aves)

Like many nature enthusiasts, I had read Noah Strycker’s Smithsonian story:  Why Birdwatchers Flock to Ecuador  and secretly plotted to surprise Marie with a unique start to her visit.

One visits Refugio de las Aves with expectations of a positive birding experience – and gets that.   One also leaves with a lighter heart, thanks to the spell of a magical realm that began years earlier when Angel Paz tossed those first worms to an elusive and whimsical little bird he named, ‘Maria.’  (in honor of his wife.)

Strycker states in the 2015 story, ” Ángel Paz could be the poster child of local-scale birding. Paz used to log trees on his cloud forest property but realized eight years ago that he could earn more through ecotourism and farming blackberries. When he discovered that visiting birders went crazy over seeing a giant antpitta, he gradually befriended a pair of the birds, naming the female Maria. That led to him becoming obsessed, and soon knowledgeable, about other bird species in the forest. “

Who wouldn’t want to meet this man, his family, and witness the admirable work he was quietly doing?

We experienced the magic of Angel Paz and his feathered friends’ private performances.

Angel Paz

We nibbled ‘mora’ (blackberries/raspberries) as we walked the trails.

We witnessed Angel’s brother Rodrigo calling the birds, and I wistfully recalled when my father mimicked the wild turkeys with the aid of a supple green leaf.

Rodrigo Paz calling his feathered friends

That magical realm is now threatened, and I nudge any earth-loving nature-loving person to please read Angie Drake’s story: Save Refugio de las Aves

How many people have experienced that same magic and would be delighted to help – but how can they help if they don’t know about this dilemma?

The GoFundMe page states: “… After seventeen years of dedicating our lives to these birds and allowing others to share in this experience, we now urgently need your help.
This past year, the beloved Matriarch of our family passed away leaving the property where we originated the business to her nine children. However, Angel and his brother Rodrigo are the only family members who want to preserve this land and its forests so it can continue to provide a refuge for these rare birds into the future…

The brothers Paz are witnessing the selfless aid from strangers as the donations arrive from various GPS points in the world.  This is how our world evolves for the better.

Hope.  Esperanza. 

and one more:

.

Aphan-WHATsia?

                       What color are your eyes?

Manabi Province, Ecuador  — Today a precious young lad greeted me at his family’s gates, and after a 15-second introduction, he exclaimed, ‘You have the eyes of a cat!’ – much more amusing to hear in his own voice and native language when he blurted:  “Ojos de gato!”   

As I adjusted to his high-octane energy – and his mother’s expanded introduction/apology by saying that they sometimes call him, ‘Tarzan,’  I thought of my eyes and what he must be seeing.

Yet.

After at least 40 years of beginning my day by putting in the corrective lenses/contacts, I can no more tell you or draw/paint what my eyes look like, than a stranger’s.    There are times when I peer at my eyes while putting in the lenses, and I think, ‘Yes, my eyes do have unique colors…’ and sometimes those colors change.  One day hazel; one day more green; another day more green with blue.  But draw them or paint them or be able to know what others see – not a clue, unless I peer into the mirror and silently analyze what I see while looking at my eyes.  Walk away, and the image vanishes.   Close my eyes, the image vanishes, even four inches away from the mirror.  Open eyes, the image is clear.  Close eyes, the image vanishes.  Black screen.

About a year ago out of idle curiosity, I followed a link about aphantasia. ‘What in the world is that?’ I wondered.

aphantasia.com Network

A few minutes into the description, I was dumbfounded.  I was reading that most people can visualize things in their ‘mind’s eye.’

What?  “Mind’s eye” is something real?  Not a figment of speech?  People can really ‘see’ things in the blank canvas of their mind’s eye when they close their eyes?

I see nothing.  Dark.  Nada and and assumed that everyone else saw nothing as well.

One often-used test is to ask people to visualize a red apple on a white plate.   And maybe seeing someone cut that apple with a knife and expose the interior.   Or visualize a sunset, and palm trees… an ocean. Maybe sea gulls over an idyllic scene.

For me, yes you understand – I see nothing.

It’s called ‘aphantasia.’

Oddly, many artists have this same ‘challenge,’ yet only recently are people realizing that there are many ways that people see – and process information.

For the past year I have attempted to analyze exactly how I process information for my art.  For a long time I have shared with people that in order to remember a certain color, I talk my way through with narratives like this: “Start with two tablespoons of mayonnaise, mix one tablespoon of mustard, and a dash of soy sauce, and that’s the color of yellow for the petals of this flower…”

The byline on this blog is, “An artist’s eyes never rest…” and it’s as if a background computer is always at work, looking, processing, breaking things down into lines and geometry, analyzing how I would draw this or that, matching random colors and connecting those colors, all running in the background as I go through each day.

Then one day I realized – after reading about aphantasia –  that some people can see an image or landscape, and it’s recorded as in a photograph?  I still find that hard to believe, but it must be true.  If so, I wondered, couldn’t all of those people have an easy ability to draw – if the image is ‘right there’ to see?

When I veer from my day’s tasks and read more about aphantasia, there are always new layers.  In fact, one link led to a connection to the inability to remember names or – ahem, learn a second language.  Down the rabbit hole we go!

I try to read with a neutral attitude, absorbing what is presented, digesting it, and eventually deciding what is ‘verdad’ and what is gray.  I find myself asking, ‘This is a joke.  People can REALLY see these things when prompted to imagine them?”

Could you make a snowman from this snow? 2012 Photo by Karen Koen, Little Rock, Arkansas USA

A snowman with a bright orange carrot and a sky-blue scarf and charcoal eyes?  I immediately think about how I would draw it. Big circle, medium circle, go to the refrigerator and find a carrot, etc.  But imagine a snowman?  Nope.  Blank page until I start scribbling with thoughts.

Heba Azmy discusses this topic in a new TedTalk:

For today I will stop with that and see how many of you might have a little or a lot of this inability to visualize – or if you’re like my friend Andres who has the total opposite. He, a master of languages, of data, of information – a walking encyclopedia –  has almost a photographic memory and sees things in clear detail.

After getting your feedback I will write again and explain how I process visual information in greater detail than using mayonnaise and mustard and soy sauce!

Thanks in advance for sharing what you do or do not see when you close your eyes and visualize that snowman!

‘Step into my World’ – A Birding Walk on Saturday

‘Step into my World – Entra a mi Mundo’

Parque las Vegas – We will meet near the Saman tree by the bridge: “Walk with me, starting between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m.”

Parque las Vegas – Portoviejo, Ecuador – May 14/2022 – 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon –

Continuing the theme from the show at Museo Portoviejo, ‘Step into my World’ invites interested birders to meet at Parque las Vegas at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday May 14th to observe the birds on Migratory and Global Big Day.   (To see the official list of 101 birds at Parque las Vegas, go here: Hotspot Parque las Vegas )

Several friends expressed an interest in participating, and though my main focus will be the serious study at nearby Refugio la Tomatera, I also planned to visit Parque las Vegas and a few other sites.    So, why not invite others to ‘Step into My World’ and walk with me?!

This urban park, the phoenix that emerged from literal rubble of the earthquake, offers a balm not only to the humans, but also for the feathered visitors as well.

A fellow birder (Jeff Caplan from California) sharing his love for birds with curious children!

The grasses along the rio sometimes get big enough to set seeds, and then lots of birds flock to the edge to eat the seeds. Unfortunately, the grounds crew and sometimes the public want it to be less wild.

Yay! They are allowing the trees to have their natural growth – and reach for the skies.   The grasses along the bank are cut back, and maybe in time some areas will remain natural, while others are managed.

Yay! Yum yum for the birds –  and the photographer gets an easy photo!

“Yum, Yum, Grass seeds, our favorite, and this driftwood makes a great dining perch!”

“Grass seeds are delicious!”

The taller grasses also allow the photographer to get closer without scaring the bird. What’s down there?

Ah! A Spotted Sandpiper!

Do you see the rare Eastern Kingbird?

Another easy photo of a rare bird – thanks to refuge/vegetation and food at ground level!

The landscaping crews now work with more respect, allowing more areas of protection for the birds along the river and by the little lagoon.   The rare Scarlet Tanager, the Green Heron and the Eastern Kingbirds must use some type of travel handbook that suggests they visit Parque las Vegas on their winter vacations! Higher up will be Pacific Parrotlets, perhaps the endangered Gray-cheeked Parakeet, euphonias, kingbirds and flycatchers.   It’s my hope that the administrators continue designing more bird-friendly spaces that connect the humans to nature.

What might we see on Saturday?   Purple Gallinules, Common Gallinules, nesting Masked Water Tyrants and nesting Striated Herons, loud-mouthed Yellow-rumped Caciques and perhaps even the tiny Yellow Warbler  that flits through the cattails.

Look up – what’s that?

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron!

Look Down! A Purple Gallinule.

Look there! (from the bridge) A Striated Heron – “Thanks PortoParques for more refuge!”

Walk to the back side of the pond, and an careful study will allow a glimpse of another nest:

Two Striated Herons are in the tiny islita in the pond. With luck the eggs will have hatched by Saturday…

April 16, 2022 – eggs!

A lovely ‘Espina Tierra’ tree along the pond has low branches – Yay!

The White-browed Gnatcathers were in the lower limbs of the Espina Tierra last week.

The Streak-headed Woodcreeper makes its rounds here…

The Yellow Warbler often peruses the food options here…

The Southern Beardless Tyrannulet stopped in recently…

 

As did the Blue-gray Tanager

Tropical Kingbird waiting for its next appetizer….

Tropical and Eastern Kingbirds earlier this year..

One Yellow Warbler claims one side of the pond as its own domain! Look for it in the cattails.

An easy walk along Rio Portoviejo might provide views of seedeaters, anis, Golden Grosbeak, and many of the same birds that are at the laguna. Looping back to the laguna, we will look for the resident Burrowing Owls, which are usually quite predictable.

Can you spot the Burrowing Owl in this image?

( Find out where the Burrowing Owl lurks in the shadows – or presides over the park from a roof-top perch!)

To find an event in your area, check the world map:   WORLD MIGRATORY BIRD DAY

In February, eBird moderator Daniel Arias hosted Cullen Hanks from eBird’s home base in Ithica. Cullen is not only a walking ambassador for eBird, but for the human race as well.

eBird’s Cullen Hanks visited the park, and we were discussing the Burrowing Owl’s reasons for choosing its (predictable) perch.

Pacific Parrotlets

Nothing listed in your area?  Well, giddye-up – it’s not too late to organize an impromptu event! What’s most important is to go out and celebrate the birds of your area!  You might get lucky and stumble upon a rare bird!


Happy Birding!

Love,
Lisa

 

Ceibo Day? Dia del Ceibo, Yes!

 

 

View of Portoviejo Ecuador from a trail on ‘La Tomatera.’

Portoviejo, Ecuador

My friend Dady sent a reminder this morning that April 27 is Dia del Ceibo in Manabi Province.   Dia del Ceibo?  Really?   Yahoo! Yay for Manabi!  This post will be a little tardy, but the Ceibos and their special realm deserve some recognition.

Ceibo Loco – Watercolor y Acrylic – Copyright Lisa Brunetti

Jardin Botanico

Jardin Botanico – Portoviejo, Ecuador

Ceibo y Iguana – Hojas de Jaboncillo/Portoviejo, Ecuador



A large Ceibo at Hojas del Jaboncillo/Portoviejo Ecuador

Oftentimes a person is needed to show the scale of a tree like the above, and that same tree seems to dwarf my friend Giovanni in the next image.

Only a few kilometers from the city of Portoviejo, I have been blessed to bask in the presence of some powerful specimens of this species.  The rainy season prompts the vegetation into Jack-in-the-Beanstalk growth, and clouds of mosquitoes guard seldom-used trails.  After two weeks of heavy rains, the rank growth at the refuge and bike park, La Tomatera, had all but claimed my favorite trail: La Pika.

Ignoring both challenges, I embark on bird-finding treks several times each week and am almost instantly immersed in the magical realm of the Ceibos.  No city sounds intrude; no taxis blaring their horns, no sirens – not even sounds of chain saws whittling away this impressive refuge.  One slow step at a time, I ponder what the early botanists and naturalists thought when they first viewed similar scenes.

Ceibos

Vasconcellea parviflora “Matchstick Tree.”

Vasconcellea parviflora, an ancient relative of the Papaya

I have no idea what this is! iNaturalist will surely provide some answers.

Cousin to the grape, Cissus

“Did someone say, ‘grape’?”

(Peering beyond a Ceibo) – Peace lives here.

Every few weeks, the botanicals rotate shifts.

A petite and spindly – and endangered -hibiscus.

Apply your mosquito repellent, put on your mud boots, and let’s go see some great Ceibo trees.  Warning: we won’t walk far, but a kilometer usually takes me several hours!

Vamos!

Pacific Parrotlets say, “Let’s Go!”

Seven or eight trails spider from the cyclists’ second ‘refugio’ (rest stop) and I was happy to see that my favorite route offered ample space for inspecting high and low.

A Ceibo anchors a ‘Y’ where one cyclists’ trail drops toward the valley at a severe angle. Thank you, but I’ll keep walking forward!  The hole in the tree captures my interest, and I wonder what species has sculpted that new home.

Do you see the eye in that tree above?  Below?  Ceibos often have ‘eyes,’ or at least that is what my imagination sees.

Vasconcellea parviflora “Matchstick Tree.”

Ah, nice! Birds were high and low while anoles and whiptails skulked in and out of sun and shadow.

Grey-capped Cuckoo

Scarlet-backed Woodpecker – did you make that hole, Mr. Woodpecker?!

Aha!  La Pika veers to the right.  The Pale-browed Tinamou whistles often from the area behind the sign, as if the terrestrial bird has no fear of revealing its hiding place.

Only ten or so steps, and the trails reverts back to ‘wild and rank.’    Is everyone ready to move forward? Of course – let’s go, intrepid trail mates!

Hmmm. What’s ahead?

Last Saturday something in that dense growth began to ‘growl’ at me.  Barely moving forward, I set the camera on video and recorded the ‘rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr—— rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr——- rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr——‘ and hoped for a glimpse of the mystery animal.   I was able to spot it briefly – and I laughed.  It was a male Collared Antshrike!

The one that growled at me was about a foot from the ground.

There are various options of refuge and biodiversity – from filtered sun to dense shade, scrubby open areas, thickets of small trees, and the ever-changing samples of botanicals.   It’s human nature to want to whack it all back into submission, but this is a very fragile and rapidly-vanishing ecosystem.

Birds flit and chatter; some seem comfortable with the human presence while others are skittish.  Look high, peer low, attempt to see what’s hiding in those deep shadows…

…and then one catches a glimpse of the elders:

Immense, they need no vocal chords to speak to us.  One stands and gapes skyward in humble appreciation.  No words are needed to acknowledge their presence – they surely feel our awe, our respect, yet look – even out here in the presence of a thriving paradise, someone has scrawled his/her initials on this magnificent tree.  Moving closer, I touch the tree with the back of my hand and offer silent apologies.

Just beyond this monster is the hiding place of the Black Billed Cuckoo, the Grey-capped Cuckoo, the Black and White Tanager – three jackpot species that bask in the protective energy of this grand tree.

The tree has cousins – family, dotted along the trail:

What…have….these….ancients….witnessed?

It’s no surprise that on every outing, there seems to be a new species of bird that tolerates a few seconds or minutes for photos to help identify and sometimes confirm the sightings:

Adorable Ecuadorian Piculets.

Equally adorable Necklaced Spinetails. (They are quite chatty.)

The Chivi Vireo – and yes, it repeats over and over ‘Chivi! Chivi! Chivi!’ (split from Red-eyed Vireo.)

and butterflies, which will provide caterpillars for the cuckoos.

This past Monday a buzz of activity proved that my camera gets poor results in low light.  In the midst of at least eight different species, one ‘I-have-no-clue Mystery Bird allowed a few photos before it moved out of sight.

I wondered if the bird belonged to that nest – can you see the nest?

But no, the owner of the nest is a Bran-colored Flycatcher:

A Streaked Flycatcher was near – maybe I did not see it well?  That’s why I try to photograph every bird, then confirm when at home.

VIP birds continue to bless my outings:

The eye ring was strange, as were the white bars on the wings…

A few days later, after Daniel Arias politely helped with identification, he stated, “Amazing. Another new species for Manabi.”

The “I-have-no-clue’ bird was a Blackpoll Warbler, which usually vacations on the eastern side of the Andes.  eBird/Cornell states, ” Known for its exceptional fall migration over the Atlantic Ocean; can travel from East Coast of U.S. to South America in one nonstop flight! “

My eBird report stated, “Time of sighting: 4:33 pm. The trail is rank and rarely traveled by cyclists during the rainy season. Tropical Gnatcatcher, Elegant Crescentchest, Female Black and White Becard, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Necklaced Spinetails, Collared Antshrike – all competing for which one to try to photo, as most were darting around in perpetual motion — and then a Streaked Flycatcher started its normal loud-mouth calls, and I switched to it to confirm – yes/ click click, and then it flew away and I saw the mystery bird and managed to take several photos and a short video before the bird moved away – and I then saw a nest hanging from the tip of a supple limb – about fifteen feet from where the Warbler had been perched, so I froze and watched the nest – and yes, movement – but it was the Bran-colored Flycatcher tending that nest…. This is the same area as the Black-billed Cuckoo, the Gray-capped Cuckoo, and where Cullen and Daniel reported the Black and White Tanager — a true magical spot.”

So we wean back to the magic of the spot, and it’s starting to get dark so we’d better turn around.  Can you see the trail?

Several birds conspire to lure me off the trail with their mystery calls – “What WAS that sound?” but the sun setting toward the horizon waits for no one!  Vamos!

We pause to tell the elders, ‘Goodbye’ in a silent communication only they receive…

Ugh. When Mother Earth hurls her temper on our species, can you blame her?

Oh!  Another Necklaced Spinetail!

Almost back, and the Tinamou calls from its hiding place:

Tinamou, tinamou, where are you?

Ah!  Back on the good trail – and a brief glimpse of the city…

And back to reality. 

The Burrowing Owl welcomes us back to the city, but a part of me remains behind with those grand Ceibos.

 

Earth Day 2022 – from the Middle of the World

From the Middle of the World

Scarlet Tanager

Ecuador –   The lovely Scarlet Tanager joins the list of rare birds that drop in for a photo session then move on!  This one visited Parque las Vegas on March 31.  At first glance I thought it was the ‘common’ Vermillion Flycatcher:

Vermillion Flycatcher

Scarlet Tanager

This bird was quite patient with the impromptu photo session, but it was not until that night that I realized how rare this beauty was in this area.   It was the third time for this species to be reported in Manabi Province on eBird:   eBird/Scarlet Tanager/Manabi-Ecuador

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In nearby La Tomatera, a new eBird Hotspot, several more VIP birds have provided special glimpses, and I continue to find myself Blessed by Birds.   The quite rare Black-billed Cuckoo continues to ‘multiply.’   First there was one sighting, thanks to Luis Saltos, then another visit to La Tomatera resulted in two sightings, and last Saturday THREE Black-billed Cuckoos revealed their hideouts in three different locations.  Sha-zam, thank you Mother Earth!

Grey-capped Cuckoo

In addition to the Black-billed Cuckoos, the lovely Gray-capped often shows up near the former.   Double thank you – Triple thank you!

This morning I visited a group of ‘UrbiArbol’ activists who work every Friday or Saturday along a canal, cleaning trash and planting trees.  I watched for birds while they worked in harmony.  Little by little the planet becomes a better place because of quiet people doing selfless work.

Enjoy the slide show:

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The finale as we were parting at noon?   A ‘lovely’ long snake with a green head was trying to raid a bird nest in the tall grasses!   We were as rapt trying to see the snake as are spectators in a World Cup championship game!

A snake is somewhere – we saw it, but then it vanished!

Tropical Herping sent a lovely Earth Day newsletter update.   For a glimpse of Ecuador’s stunning beauty and diversity, as well as some serious environmental concerns, please take time to visit their post:  EARTH DAY 2022

I sent the photos of the Laughing Falcon’s unlucky snake to Alejandro Arteaga, also part of the Tropical Herping team.  He mentioned that it was a great sighting,”…This is certainly the first time a predator is confirmed for the snake Mastigodryas reticulatus, so it is very exciting…”   and that he would include the data in the soon-to-be published Reptiles of Ecuador.  For information about that book – or to help sponsor the printing costs, go here:   REPTILES OF ECUADOR.COM 

That’s the update between events on this busy day in Portoviejo Ecuador.

Please, take time to tip your hat to our beautiful planet and to those who are quietly working to restore what we’ve lost…  Love, Lisa


The newest generation of the Golden Grosbeak.

“…I Thought it was the End of the World…”

April 16, 2022 – Portoviejo, Ecuador –      Tonight while having a coffee and a milkshake and a corviche with a friend, (I had been birding all day and was hungry!) I noticed that he kept looking at his phone.     We had discussed this historic date, one that is branded in every cell of every person who experienced the 7.8 earthquake of 2016 that killed over 600 people.

Arturo, a university student aiming for a degree in Marine Biology/Wildlife, picks up trash wherever he goes.

Each person has a unique story, and Arturo said that when the earthquake hit, he had been playing futbol with friends.  A three-story building crashed to the ground and barely missed them.   He ran home to check on his mother, who was alone.  The door was jammed, and he kicked it open.  She was safe, to his immense relief.

He told of ‘earthquake lights’ in the sky and said, “I thought it was the end of the world.”

Various people from Jama (130 kilometers north) told me similar stories about the sky appearing strange just before the earthquake hit.  They also thought it was the end of the world.

A year after the earthquake/Jama – We reminisced about ‘before and after’ the earthquake, and the loved ones we lost.

At 6:58 pm tonight, Arturo showed me the time on his phone, and we most likely joined thousands more who paused and remembered that horrific evening.  Partners with others around the world who face wildfires, tornadoes, flooding and war, we realize that material assets are of little importance – it’s the ones we love that are top of our concerns when tragedy strikes.

Remembering all who were affected by that 7.8 earthquake. Love, Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solid Ground

Hugh Curtler’s book, Alone in the Labyrinth…

Many in my WordPress circle are groping for solid ground today, as we adjust to the news that our friend and mentor Hugh Curtler is no longer in this realm.   For several years his health had been failing, and he mentioned a need to back away from stressful topics – a big one was politics.   He later mentioned a battle with cancer, but usually nudged the attention away from his health – and in the direction of the musings of the day.

He was a master at weaving his epistles into thought-provoking musings that made us reach deeper than the sundry layer of intellect.  I mentioned to Jill Dennison (https://jilldennison.com) that “Hugh was always the lighthouse, always there, always supportive – nudging the best out of all of us and at times challenging us to reach deeper and retrieve the best of our best. He also had a subtle way of punching our buttons in good ways, and he probably snickered about that at times when we reacted!

Our contact with him was via the blogging world, and his silence stretched far too long.  We hoped for a smoke signal, but his absence from the WordPress community suggested that his was a difficult battle.   There is now one more star in the heavens, smiling down and watching over us.

For a peek into Hugh’s world, Jill shares a sensitive testimonial here:  A Short Tribute to a Good Man.   

In addition to having a masters in philosophy and being a cherished professor, he was also renown for coaching the Southwest Minnessota State College women’s tennis team. The SMSU online newsletter states, “…Curtler served as SMSU’s head women’s tennis coach for 14 seasons (1979-92), building a powerhouse program that produced 172 victories and five NAIA All-Americans.”   

The NorthernSun.org stated, “SSU’s superiority in tennis lasted for a decade as the Mustangs went undefeated in the conference from 1983-92. Overall, he had a won-loss record of 169-83. The Mustangs won 18 consecutive dual meets, in and out of the conference, from 1981-83 – a school record for all sports. They won nine Northern Sun Conference titles and 10 NAIA District 13 crowns. In 1992, SSU had a perfect conference tournament, winning every point. ”   

(The accolades stretch so far in both links that a copy/paste in entirety might border on plagiarism!)

For an old photo of ‘Coach Curtler’ on the courts with former player Martha Garzon, see the 2019 feature about the Hall of Fame honor.  SMSU Tennis – Serving up Success.

Jill and I hoped to find some old footage of Hugh playing tennis, but so far no luck.  I was pleased to find this just now – a short feature when he was honored with the (tennis) 2019 USTA Northern Hall of Fame Award:

Those of us who knew him would agree to Jill’s eloquent statement, ” Today, I am saddened by the loss of Hugh, but enriched for having known him.”

To quote my friend Giovanni, “…our friends are turning into stars in the sky…

Michael Kiwanuka’s Solid Ground serves as an appropriate song – not only for remembering Hugh, but also for the many people who are living in the hardest of times.

May our species learn to live in peace.

Our friend Keith has also written a beautiful tribute:  Our Friend has Passed On

I stated to Keith, “It will take us a while to adjust to the news; as it is said, ‘It’s easier to move on than to be left behind,’ and we know that his spirit zoomed to that white light where he was greeted with, “Good Game!’ by our #1 Coach.”

Great Backyard Bird Count 2022

 

A forest of Ceibos – (Ceiba_trichistandra)

(Header image, Black & White Becard, male) 

La Tomatera Cyclists Trails – Portoviejo/Ecuador –  Today is the final day for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, and this past weekend I’ve been in (almost) total immersion in a magical realm – as if stepping back in time and viewing the dry forest through the eyes of the original explorers.   The best part is that this is a cyclists’ paradise, so there are trails for an intrepid birder to navigate while always being on guard for a cyclist to be careening around a curve at any moment.  

Respecting this ultra-quiet area, I try to step way off the trail when the bikers approach.  Usually there is a low ‘roaring’ sound as they race downhill or along the flat stretches, but sometimes there’s a near miss — but their reactions surprise me.  Look at this candid response:

He zoomed past, I exclaimed, “Per-DON!’ and he braked to a stop at the next ‘Y.’

Instead of snarling and grumbling about an unexpected birder in his path, he offered a refreshing respite for both of us and posed before departing.

Jorge (Jurg) Arnet from Poza Honda has accompanied me in the past week, as has Luis Saltos from Chone.   They both brought good luck, as we’ve seen two new species of Cuckoos (for us and for the area) as well as appreciating the beauty and serenity of the area.

Here’s a pictorial of a tiny slice of this refuge: Continue reading

World Wetlands Day – 02/02/2022

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Parque las Vegas/Portoviejo/Manabi Province/Ecuador

Feb. 2, 2022   02/02/2022 – a lovely number!

New Moon.  New Month.  New Chinese Year of the Tiger.

Bravery.  Wisdom.  Strength.

All of these traits are important to moving forward, being stronger, having the courage to believe in yourself – and your own unique destiny.  Trying to stay neutral and centered – being on the offensive so that you’re not in the defensive.

This drab little bird appeared in mid December. Migratory? Juvenile – ? – small yellowish bird. Where are its travel mates? More on this lone bird later…

The year of the Tiger; here’s a small tigress in search of birds

Sometimes we can be brave, wise and strong –  and still be caught off guard. Like a tiger pouncing from a concealed location, our planet continues to express distress.  Maybe it’s not premeditated – our earth’s wrath, but an involuntary reaction to its own pain.   The headlines from Quito illustrate that point:

The month started with disasters that stretched around the world.

With so much misery, and two years with a virus that seems to stay one step ahead of mankind, it’s sometimes hard to share sunny stories – yet without hope for positive, we would all wither.

The Vermillion Flycatcher has returned! Yay! What must it be like to be blessed with colors like this?!

Parque las Vegas celebrates its four year anniversary.  A token phoenix that emerged from 2016’s 7.8 earthquake, the park now offers a solace for healing and reflection.

Today it also gives us an extra bonus for observing World Wetlands Day.  The area along Rio Portoviejo and the little pond give the visitors an easy glimpse into natural wetland habitats – and the birds are thriving!

Male Green Kingfisher

There’s that little bird again! It almost always shows up after 5 and loves what must seem like a jungle of cattails.  It is slowly evolving-changing colors – note the subtle streaks on its chest below:

Thanks to Daniel Arias (eBird/Urban Ornis) for pointing out those streaks!

One or two Striated Herons lurk in the shadows most every day.

Many birders ask me to please let them know if this rare Green Heron ever returns to the park. (Photo from Jan 10/2021)  I continue to watch, but there are plenty of ‘common’ species providing nice eye candy.

A large Saman tree anchors the ‘far’ side of the footbridge. Someone is building a new nest… Can you guess who/what it is?

Two loud raucous Yellow-rumped Caciques will be raising a family – in easy view from the bridge!

They have their own watcher or three:

Yes, we should take a moment to appreciate our wetlands, even little postage-stamped sized ponds can provide easy refuge to many species.

Recently another symbol of hope stepped into the scene while I admired the species from the bridge.  Arturo, a student of ambiente at the nearby university sidled up to me and asked, “Is it bad to feed rice to the birds?

His question led to a rewarding conversation, and he told me that he’d seen me from the family’s upstairs window, which overlooked the park.  Then he described a bird that visits, which we concluded was that stunning yellow and black cacique pictured above.   I think that they plan to put a banana feeder outside their window – a great upgrade from giving rice to the finches and gallinules!   They might even ‘draw’ the nearby Whooping Motmot that lives in the neighborhood, but is not often seen.  This image from Poza Honda inspired him:

What would we do without a connection with nature?  We’d probably destroy the entire planet!  Emotions can be passed along a current of invisible energy that flows from person to person through subtle and sometimes obvious ways.

A greeting like this will always enhance the quality of one’s day.

In honor of World Wetlands Day – and in honor of PortoParque’s compassion for the wildlife that shares this park, I share some photos from my many visits to the park – a salvation for this child of nature.

What stunning eyes you have, Neotropic Cormorant!

Previous lumped under ‘Tropical Gnatcatcher,’ this adorable species now claims its own name, “White-browed Gnatcatcher.”

(The male White-browed Gnatcatcher has a darker crown.) They love th fruits of the ‘Frutilla’ tree.

There’s that yellow bird again!

The Eastern Kingbirds are back – and this one was swooping with the look-alike Blue and White Swallows!


To the joy of many, we watched the wetland areas recover from last year’s makeover, and there is abundant habitat for many species.   The petite Yellow Warbler, a new species for the park, appears each day around 5 in the afternoon and flits between the grass, lower limbs and the cattails.  How did this one lone bird find the park?  Did it get lost from its group?  Are others nearby, just not an extrovert like this one which stays in perpetual motion?

Six weeks after it first appeared, it’s yellow colors are emerging, and the streaks in its breast are more easily seen. Keb’s ‘City Boy’ continues to resonate while my base remains here in the city and close to the museum.  Parque las Vegas provides an easy access to nature and almost total removal from the caustic sounds of the city.  Without the park and its wetlands, this would be a more challenging chapter of my life.

I’ll leave you with a peek along the river, where one lone Sora appeared in January.  With so much cover, it’s hard to locate that VIP visitor from the northern hemisphere.

Across from this shady setting is a little grassy island where the Masked Water Tyrants have raised the newest generation

Oh, but beware of the predators that swim strong currents to reach the occupants of that nest.

Beware! Beware!

Pacific Parrotlets add sweet music and lovely colors – they are happy to have seeds at ground level – and near easy cover – what a photo op for anyone with a camera!

The trees are reclaiming their natural shape – and the birds are loving the new nesting options! Thank you PortoParques!

Groove-billed Anis – another easy photo op.

Pale-legged (Pacific) Hornero – always prowling for worms and insects.

Rains and high water destroyed their nest, but the Masked Water Tyrants relocated to a thick area of protection near the water.

One lone ‘Frijol de Palo’ provides food for many species. Yay – another easy photo op!

The Golden Grosbeak also loves those frijoles!

Wetlands add variety to our landscape – and at times we find poses that make us smile!

Sending you all my love – of course there is a lot to share – hopefully more soon!  I’d best get over to the park and show my appreciation for World Wetlands Day!

¡ Feliz AVE Nuevo!

(Detail/Burrowing Owl/watercolor/gouache by L. Brunetti) The Burrowing Owl design graces a Defensor de la Naturaleza tshirt shared with friends this past week. Several days after I began work on the design, the ABA named the Burrowing Owl as the 2022 Bird of the Year.  The bird continues to pop up as if to say, ‘Yeah, I know I’m special!’

Dec. 27/2021/’San Antonio’ Ecuador – Peter Manzaba and Luis Andrade – ready to compile CBC (Christmas Bird Count) data for the Humedal La Segua, (Chone, Manabi, Ecuador) Circle ID: 60074

Burrowing Owl – Parque las Vegas – Dec 2021

Manabi Province/Ecuador –   December 2021 was filled with birding moments.  From visitors to the exposition to art classes to the first Christmas Bird Count (Dec 25, 26, 27) for the Chone/Segua area, to random bird moments in various locations, there’s a lot to share.  You’ll understand why I’ve been so quiet…

Sr. Ludovico, may we have some quiet music to start this new year?

Parque las Vegas hosts the feathered residents as well as migratory species.

Tropical Kingbird, Saffron Finches, Blue-gray Tanagers

The rare migrant to this side of the country returned – one of about a dozen Eastern Kingbirds. Welcome back, Rey!

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