Forward to post: One hour’s drive separates Poza Honda and Portoviejo, the latter also known locally as ‘Rock City.’ I am now dividing my time between the two locations. My neighbor Melissa lacks one more month before her baby’s delivery date – but the baby is impatient, and Melissa was admitted to the hospital on Saturday night. (Perhaps ‘Bebe’ wanted to be born under the water sign of Cancer and not the fiery Leo?) Melissa is doing well, and we all hope that the baby will be patient!
The above statement was written yesterday morning, and in the afternoon ‘little bebe’ was again impatient to be under the zodiac sign of Cancer! Welcome, Little One, who might need to spend the next two weeks under the hospital’s care. I will update when possible!
Now for the ‘Addiction’ story, which was written this past weekend at Poza Honda – when I should have been packing. There have been many detours and interruptions, so all mistakes are definitely mine! Enjoy!
Poza Honda – July 20/2019
Barely breathing, I watched as the sleek brown bird hurried from one side of the yard to the other. Elusive, this chicken-like visitor has mastered the art of stealth foraging, and I admired its ability to blend with its surroundings. Without a watchful eye, one could totally miss a rare and fleeting glimpse of the Brown Wood Rail.
Perhaps eons ago its ancestors imprinted the importance of dodging predators. Perhaps its skittish nature is a recent adaptation, triggered by the humans’ intrusion into its habitat. Whatever the reason for their skittish behavior, the birds manage to elude many avian photographers; some of those photographers have stated that my photos are some of the best ever taken. I remain humbled that these sly birds have allowed hundreds of photo ops, and I am equally humbled to have watched their behavior over the past two years.
There are special times when the neighborhood Brown Wood Rails are easier to observe than other times. These birds have a weakness, and their fondness for ripe bananas clouds their instincts. When the ‘Geneau Platanos’ (a shorter variety of bananas) ripen in the back yard, those Brown Wood Rails seem to lose most of their survival instincts; with addictive nearsighted vision, they see only the bananas and make repeated raids throughout the day.
As I type, one Brown Wood Rail circles the back-yard area. Every half hour or so it leaves the unkempt wilder area under the citrus trees and crosses the recently-manicured (almost bare*) area near the house. Other times it emerges from dense natural areas that border the yard – and sometimes it emerges beneath ‘my nose’ from the plantings near the house!
A Scarlet-rumped Casique lands at the banana feeder, positioned only a meter or so from the 2nd-floor window, and beyond the feeder its recently-constructed nest dangles from an arching branch of bamboo. I admire the squawking blue-eyed cacique as it complains about the not-so-ripe plantain I presented for its breakfast.
I whisper, “Well Good Morning to you, lovely Cacique!” – and instantly it darts to the far side of the macadamia tree which cradles the feeder.
Scanning the area below, I note the Brown Wood Rail making an equally-quick departure from the not-quite ripe bananas growing at ground level. An exceptionally-happy Superciliated Wren chirps with top-of-its-lungs volume while another answers from a faraway distance.
I ponder what a small-but-significant role every single living organism plays in this delicate fragile planet we call ‘Earth.’ As if to confirm, the blue-eyed beauty named ‘Scarlet-rumped Cacique’ flies from its nest and lands six feet from my own perch. Exchanging intense eye-to-eye contact, we acknowledge one another before it inspects the just-replaced plantain. Between samples, it peers at me then peers left and then right before it pecks at the not-much-better replacement. I admire its crisp blue eyes and the slight fluff in its crown of feathers.
A year earlier while struggling with grief over the felling of trees – some of them favorites of mine, I concluded that God gave us stewardship of the planet, and our species has done a poor job. Perhaps we did not deserve this responsibility. We weren’t ready to grasp the importance – and instead of being guardians, we became the most-destructive predator to walk this planet. Perhaps its time we acknowledge that being in charge does not always mean that we have all rights to domineer.
Presently, I remain all but frozen as I witness the movements of today’s cast of inhabitants. Almost cocooned in this magnificent slice of the Garden of Eden, I too am a part – but what exactly is my reason – my honor – my duty for being here? Perhaps by sharing these experiences, I am a biographer for this GPS point of the planet?
A Southern House Wren chirps from a far corner of the house. In the distance the repeated call of the Gray Hawk overpowers the chattering big-footed water-loving Jacanas as well as the reverberations of the Great Antshrike. Serene doves coo at ground level and illustrate that they appreciate the easy-to-forage areas of a cropped yard. Even a small plot can become a refuge for nature’s residents, and those spaces also give us peace.
In another week three clumps of bananas will be ripe enough to lure the Brown Wood Rails within easy viewing. I will return, with camera in hand to document this year’s census of Wood Rails – presently only two, in contrast to seven a year ago. Perhaps the others remain secluded? If so, their cravings for ripe bananas will bring them into easy view. I will be there to witness and be their official biographer and photographer.
An extremely-handsome member of the feathered population lands in the Nispero tree and vanishes into the dark depths of its branches. The Orange-crowned Barbets recently presented their most-grand performances. Six or seven have foraged, frolicked, hissed and darted from Carambola trees to the Nispero to tall Tamarind, exchanging fruits for caterpillars as they probed and communicated. Seeing them after a too-long absence (four or more months?) I delight in witnessing their return.
As if to retort, ‘What about us?’ the cacique returns, chirps several times then darts away. The handsome pair works in harmony while taking numerous banana breaks. (It will be fun to witness the incubation and feeding of the next generation!)
Not wanting to be overlooked in today’s census, a Limpkin barks from the cove of water below the house. After half a year of quite-high levels, the reservoir now lowers rapidly. I ponder the volume of water and wonder what source drains it so rapidly? Human’s need for electricity? The need for irrigation of crops of citrus and papaya – or routing water to cities that also tap this source for human survival? How many months of an extended drought would lower this reservoir to critical levels? How often do the masses of men consider the source of their water when turning on the faucets? Is the original source of water being tainted by trickle-down effects of man’s presence? How pure is our air? The fragile balance affects us all, one day at a time.
It is no longer ‘enough’ to strictly witness and admire this slice of heaven on earth. Today the area remains quiet – void of sounds of human’s encroachment, yet I know that all too soon the sounds of chain saws will return. Aroma of fires will announce another area successfully cleared, wiped clean of original vegetation so that man can again state, “This is mine – with tiny respect to what once thrived here.’
It is time to find ways to better protect these rightful heirs to this environment – to be stewards and guardians – making sure there are enough bananas not only for man, but also the birds. Our future depends on acknowledging that the old ways are not always the best, and it’s time to find new ways – if we intend to be worthy guardians of this planet.
Like the Brown Wood Rails, I also have an addiction; my weakness is for nature, and I hope to find ways to help save what’s left of the Brown Wood Rail’s habitat. A new file folder on my computer is named, ‘I have a Dream‘ – and it contains images of the neighboring pasture and forest that continues to be altered by chain saws and pesticides.
In my mind’s eye, it has been replanted and designed with life-giving plantings – short term ICU options intermingled with long-term slower-growing selections. It would be filled with poetic trails, places to sit, reflect and observe nature. Of course the low-growing bananas would be planted in many areas so that the Brown Wood Rails were never denied their favorite food!
This slice of Eden deserves to be preserved so that the rails and the barbets and the chachalacas thrive in a protected forest that nurtures them. Perhaps other land owners around the reservoir would notice that one can live in harmony with nature. The dream is pending, and I can continue visiting and checking the status of this slice of Eden.
If anyone wants to observe and photograph the Brown Wood Rail, the odds are in favor of success in the next two weeks. You’ll arrive with expectations of seeing the Brown Wood Rail, but will most likely leave with warm memories of many other bird sightings! Contact Jurg Arnet for overnight accommodations: Casa Swiss – Poza Honda Ecuador firstname.lastname@example.org
* The owner ‘Jorge’ respects the citizens of the natural world; however, there are times when one must make an attempt to reclaim what has returned to its natural state, which in this area, occurs once or twice during the rainy season.