“A man is getting old when he walks around a puddle instead of through it.” -R. C. Ferguson
Poza Honda/Manabi Province/Ecuador – With great pleasure I bring updates on the nesting Becards! The rainy season has arrived, so my footware of choice is much like the ones pictured above. This past week I met a new neighbor who lives a few kilometers away; Nancy looked at my boots and asked, “Are you a vaquero?” (A rancher/cowboy/cowgirl)
I laughed and explained that I’m an artist. The locals have been curious about the gringa that stands on the roadside and gapes skyward. Some stop and inquire, and most appear interested to learn about the little black bird and its ‘canela’ mate. I explain in my butchered Spanish that the Slaty Becard only lives in their area of Ecuador and a small part of Peru – and that it’s approaching extinction – yet one pair is nesting, and I point to the nest.
Nursing an ‘over-doer’s backache,’ I’ve shifted my activities down to ‘first gear,’ though I feel no pain while walking and watching birds. The arrival of the rainy season has presented its own challenges, and I’m seasoned enough to navigate those mud boots in extra-slow 4WD mode.
The gravel road had a thick layer of sediment, which turned to oozy slippery mud after the first life-giving rains arrived. Within a week, the landscape transformed from dull greens and browns to an explosion of variants of green. It also kicked off a nesting frenzy, and the area songbirds burst into melodies of happiness.
Many birds favor this thick area of vegetation; almost daily one can watch the handsome Orange-crowned Barbets forage in total harmony with other feathered members of the neighborhood. One day while walking back from the Becard’s nest, I heard a familiar faint ‘tweEEEET’ overhead. Wow! Straight up, and very near the Scarlet-rumped Caciques’ nest was a second pair of nesting Becards
Where does one look when standing there? High? Low? Deep into the rank growth of the understory? Each level seems to host different species of birds; Trogons, Pygmy Owls, Laughing Falcon, Tityras, Flycatchers… I’m still hoping to catch the owner at home at this little casita:
The Whooping Motmot often perches on an inconspicuous spindly branch, though that meek backdrop recently changed to more-formal attire. Note the ‘bud’ near the Motmot’s foot.
A week later – after the rains:
Jorge, the owner of the property, enlightened me. “It is called Yuca-ratón.”
“Really?” I smiled, “Ratón?” (Yuca is a root vegetable, also known as cassava or manioc. Ratón means mouse.)
I recalled reading one particular ethnobotany book that mentioned a ‘Rat-killer Tree,’ and I wondered if this could be the same family. No matter what it’s called, it’s stunning when in bloom!
From Wilkipedia: ” Gliricidia sepium is native to tropical dry forests in Mexico and Central America. In addition to its native range it is cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions, including the Caribbean, northern parts of South America, central Africa, parts of India, and Southeast Asia…G. sepium was spread from its native range throughout the tropics to shade plantation crops such as coffee. Today it is used for many other purposes including live fencing, fodder, firewood, green manure, intercropping, and rat poison. “
Jungle Digital Flora provides more information: “Ethnobotany /Madero negro, Madre de cocoa (The plant is attributed expectorant, insecticidal, rodenticidal, sedative and suppurative properties, traditionally used to treat cases of alopecia, headache, weakness, erysipelas, fever, boils, fractures, gangrene, dislocations, pruritus, burns, colds, rheumatism, cough, tumors, ulcers and urticaria The tree has usually been planted to shade cacao trees (Theobroma cacao / Malvaceae) and coffee trees (Coffea arabica / Rubiaceae), and on poles for live fences. fresh leaves have up to 20% protein, are very nutritious for cattle fodder, however they are toxic to other animals, including horses, these are usually placed between the mattresses of the beds to scare fleas, or in places where They tend to tend the homemade animals.The flowers are edible, a dish (practically in oblivion) very tasty was prepared with them mixed with egg) “
The internet search led me to a golden nugget published in 1908: two volumes of NOTES OF A BOTANIST ON THE AMAZON AND ANDES BY RICHARD SPRUCE, PH.D., edited and condensed by Alfred Russel Wallace. Only one snippet mentioned this Yuca-ratón tree, but I look forward to reading both volumes and enjoying the illustrations as well.
“From all that has been said, it may be gathered that the domestic medicine of the South American Indians is chiefly hygienic, as such medicine ought to be, it being of greater daily importance to preserve health than to cure disease. If their physicians be mere charlatans, their lack of skill may often be compensated by the ignorant faith of their patients; and their methods are scarcely more ridiculous—certainly less dangerous to the patient—than those of the Sangrados, Purgons, Macrotons, etc., portrayed by Lesage and Molière. If, to procure for himself fleeting sensual pleasures, the poor Indian’s “untutored mind” leads him to sometimes partake of substances which are either hurtful in themselves or become so when indulged in to excess, examples of similar hallucination are not wanting even among peoples that boast of their high degree of civilisation.
This does not profess to be a treatise on all known South American narcotics, or I should have to speak of a vast number more, such as (for instance) the numerous plants used for stupefying fish. Some of these, but especially the Timbó-açú (Paullinia pinnata), are said to be also ingredients in the slow poisoning which some Amazonian nations are accused of practising; and on the Pacific side of the Andes the same is affirmed of the Yuca-ratón, which is the thick soft white root of a Leguminous tree (Gliricidiæ sp.) frequent in the plain of Guayaquil. The Curáre also would require a chapter to itself, and must be reserved for another occasion.”
Reserved for another location in this blog will be stories of the nesting becards! Take a look below:
They perch not far from the windows of the house, so photo ops don’t require mud boots!
Three nests! One day during a break in the rains, I ventured out to check Nest One…
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.” -Anthony J. D’Angelo
You won’t believe it! Poza Honda must be the top nesting destination in the Becard Travel Guide! A FOURTH nest is under construction in a tree next door to Nest One!
I suspect that I could find half a dozen or more nests if I set out on an exploratory walk… My hands are full with these four, however, so I’d best stay close to home!
With February usually being the rainiest month, I will not be online often; if the world news/notifications tell about bad weather, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc, don’t worry – even if I am silent. My neighbors are thoughtful and doting, and everyone watches out for the other. (There are SO many stories to share!)
Don’t worry about me; I might not be able to send an ‘All’s fine’ message. Most likely I’ll be at home and enjoying my own perch by the window while keeping one eye on Nest Three and the other on my art – or a book or three!
What’s the weather like where you are? It would be interesting to get some round-the-world weather reports. Thanks! Z