“You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.” H.D. Thoreau
With fondness, I recall exploring the wilder areas along the levee, woods, lakes and fields of the Mississippi Delta during my early years. When most children would still be sleeping, I would tip-toe into the kitchen and leave a note to my parents – then strike out in search of my horse. On horseback and other times on foot, I often made my own trail – depending on the whims of each day.
On a hot summer day I might ride my horse into the deep woods and sit beneath a grand old tree. I don’t remember having profound thoughts – I just visually soaked in the surroundings and merged with the peace and beauty of wherever I stopped. Sometimes I rode ‘back in the fields’ where the persimmon trees grew – or along the lower bogs that drained the higher areas. Discovering an explosion of yellow wildflowers intermingled with cat-tails, I wove those small aquatic flowers into my horse’s bridle then resumed my journey. Even when young I rejoiced in seeing new species.
After describing one particularly-exotic flower to our neighbor, I learned its name: “Maypop,” and he – a mentor to me – always took time to satisfy my curiosity. “When I was young,” he smiled, “we liked to stomp on the ripe fruit – and they popped!”
I never saw the ripe fruits, but now I live where that delicate flower has a monster cousin: passion fruit, called maracuya in Ecuador. With a rich unique aroma and quite-tart flavor, maracuya is popular (and affordable) for juices and desserts. (Do you think that those Mississippi Maypops produce an edible fruit as well?) I have veered far from my original GPS location, but that childlike curiosity remains intact!
Here in Ecuador, most every week presents opportunities for discovering new-to-me birds. Just when I think I’ve exhausted the possibilities, something new crosses my path. A bright sunny day provides great light and shadows for photos, though identifying small birds high in a tree is a challenge. Many times I take the photos but wait to view images on the computer to confirm the birds for the day.
Recently a lovely feathered surprise appeared on the computer screen. It was photographed eating small berries with the euphonias, and its turquoise colors – not seen against the bright sky – were very clear on the computer! “What IS that bird?” Sometimes a bird’s name brings a chuckle to my heart, as did this one:
Another day a rattling sound stopped me cold in my tracks. The rattle came from a sloped area with thick vegetation and seemed to be level with my eyes. Scanning slowly and half expecting to see a snake, I was surprised to see a Peruvian Pygmy Owl staring back at me! The vibration seemed to be coming from the owl, yet it was motionless – as was I! (Do Pygmy Owls rattle their tails when threatened?) I finally located the source of the noise… Can you see it in the photo?
Giant grasshoppers must be a favorite food of the Pygmy Owls, as this is my second time to witness their prey-catching skills.
This next image shows an owl with another victim. I hope that the locals cherish this species’ help in pest control!
Every so often the Brown Wood Rails make an appearance, unlike last year when they provided almost-daily photo ops. Sometimes in the early mornings or at dusk, their yelping announces that they aren’t extinct! A few days ago I saw movement in the area where the rails often entered the yard – and yes, even though I was not wearing my contacts, I saw the small brown shape! Focusing the camera on the shape, I could see the viewing screen – but wait – that wasn’t a wood rail!
What a precious rabbit! Not detecting my presence, it slowly hopped across the yard and out of sight!
This morning – again without contact lenses, I was sure that the rabbit was back – same spot. Again with the camera’s help, I took a few photos and then looked at the screen while taking more. No – it wasn’t a rabbit:
The Brown Wood Rails often yelp from that side of the yard, which this year has much more cover than their previous hiding places.
Returning from a long walk, I approached the small stream in the road near the house. High in a Cecropria tree on one side, the Palm Tanagers and Orange-fronted Barbets flitted from limb to limb. At ground level, clusters of butterflies loitered near the stream. Tadpoles and small fish populated the shallows, and I checked the upper limbs of the Cassia trees in hopes of spotting the Laughing Falcon. As I prepared to step through the shallow water, my primal reflexes stopped me before my eyes/brain registered the reptile in the water. Equally as sudden, I relaxed – and smiled.
Much like its cousins in North America, the South American Snapping Turtle has a reputation for a nasty temperament! This one appeared traumatized – maybe from its pilgrimage downstream or from a close call with a passing motorist? Pulled tight into its shell, it barely moved as the water inched it slowly across the paved area. I sat and watched. A man on a motorcycle stopped out of curiosity, took photos then continued his journey. I wondered if the locals eat turtles, and if so – would the turtle be captured – or run over- if I left it in the road. With another half hour before dark, I carefully nudged it (with caution with my boot) past the drop-off, and watched as it blended with the rocks and water.
No human can match nature’s gifts of adaptation! Before leaving the turtle in peace, I covered it with wet leaves in case the motorcycle guy returned to capture it!
I sent the photos to Alejandro Arteaga, who had shared a PDF of the Reptiles and Amphibians of Ecuador. I said that it looked much like the same snapping turtles from Mississippi – and we were always told that if a snapping turtle bit your finger it would not let go until ‘it thundered.’
Alejandro replied, ” …Thank you so much for sending me the pictures of this beautiful turtle species. I am happy to see these guys are still hanging in there in Manabí 🙂
What you did was smart, and probably the best for the turtle.
Oh, beware… this turtles bite as strong and as fast as the north American snapping turtles..”
Rabbits and turtles and wood rails and always new surprises; I wonder what will be next! I’ll close with images of a Squirrel Cuckoo and its breakfast buffet.
“Each person’s journey is unique, but once you merge into the rhythms and pulse of our Earth, you’ll find a spiritual comfort that won’t abandon you in difficult times.” Lisa