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SHHHH! Bird Specialists in Training! (Part One)

(Poza Honda Reservoir – Manabi Province, Ecuador)    Just past ten in the morning, our birding party of three peered beyond the rustic bamboo corral in hopes of identifying the raucous oropendolas that had been playing hide and seek with us for the past two hours.  Luis Saltos – bird guide from Chone and Mindo – and I were guests of “Don Jorge” Arnet, owner of a lovingly-tended tract of land at Poza Honda.  (Jorge also owns the house that I rented for the past two years before I moved to Portoviejo.)  The three of us were conducting an all-day census of bird species in the area with hopes of the area being approved for Audubon’s 2020 Christmas Count.  We had been birding since 6 A.M. in intermittent drizzle.

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A few hours earlier that morning, two birds buzzed us, and we exclaimed, “What was THAT?” as I snapped two out-of-focus images of the rapidly-vanishing birds. “Oropendola?” I looked at Luis for confirmation. “That whooshing sound?”

P2880513 yes dos oropendulas

P2880528 7 19 jorge y luis checking oropendula info

Left: “Jorge” Arnet, owner of Casa Poza Honda and coffee/cacao farm; Right: Luis Saltos, bird guide from Mindo and Chone.

We consulted several books and hoped to see those birds again.   The (McMullan/Navarrete) Fieldbook for the Birds of Ecuador places all species of oropendolas in other areas of the country. This particular elusive group of birds must have taken a holiday vacation to Poza Honda, and we were trying to decide, “Russet-backed or Chestnut-headed.”  Two years ago my friend Xiomara and I saw and photographed one Chestnut headed Oropendola, so my bets were on that species. Photos are oh so important in documenting out-of-range species, even if the photo is a bad one.

P2880653 oropendula

P2880634 oropendula

P2880659 jorge y luis

I waited at the next curve and watched Oropendolas fly towards my friends. “Did you see them?” I exclaimed later, “Yes!” they replied, “Lots!”

There were fleeting glimpses of ‘a lot’ half an hour later – then another viewing half an hour later near the bamboo corral. The Oropendolas were out of sight, but my drizzle-baptized camera managed to document one Rufous-headed Chachalaca in the distance, one Tropical Gnatcatcher way up high, and a Long-billed Hermit inspecting flowers along the living fence.

P2880842 chachalaca out of focus dec 30P2880841 TROPICAL GNATCATCHER Dec 30 just before 10 de AgostoP2880845 barons hermit at bamboo corral

P2880843 Golden Olive Woodpecker

‘Don’t forget about me,’ says the Golden-olive Woodpecker!

P2880866 a year ago there was one long human searching for birds. now there are four

States the mule: “A year ago there was one lone human staring at the birds. Now there are four!”


The last thing I expected to see was another human on the seldom-traveled road and staring at the three of us. A tall, lean and well-scrubbed young man, he wore an expression of curiosity as if observing Santa Clause placing last-minute gifts beneath a tree – or gnomes and fairies in another realm.  I was not surprised that Jorge recognized him, called him by name and asked about his health. Ah-ha – recovering from recent surgery, his outing was doctor ordered – yet he was comfortable and at peace in his neighborhood environment.

P2880853 birding apprentice near bamboo corralP2880851 future birding specialistP2880850 future birding specialistP2880850 the first birding apprentice


After introductions, Jorge explained our day’s itinerary and our hopes of recording an accurate census of birds of the area. We showed ‘new-friend Jariel’ the field book, discussed several just-seen species, then continued our walk toward his little village. Happy to accompany us, Jariel shared information about birds near his house and pointed to a location where ‘the Caciques have nests.’ “Yellow or Red?” I asked.

“Yellow,” he said. We noted the dangling nests near the main road as we began walking up a steep and seldom-used side road. The drizzle resumed, I decided to retreat and try to locate the Cacique nests. “See you back at the intersection!”

P2880873 little girl red dress

Meanwhile back at the intersection…

Jariel was right!  Yellow-rumped Caciques were in an avocado-loaded tree, as were Scrub Blackbirds, one red-eyed Giant Blackbird and a jackpot of OROPENDOLAS! Four nests dangled from open branches of a nearby tree, and the oropendolas ferried across the airspace for the next half hour!

P2880880 oropendola nests

P2880920 detail red eye MALE GIANT COWBIRDP2880916 all the way round yellow rumped cacique

P2880876 the nestsP2880940 oropendola leaving nest

The oropendolas and Caciques share the same yellow-against-dark coloration on their tails, and the former were in perpetual motion! From the tree to the nests, around, inside, out, then soaring to out-of-sight destinations and returning minutes later – how does one know how many birds are constructing the nests?


The most-rewarding sight, however, was seeing our ‘First Apprentice/Specialist in Training’ when he returned with my friends! He raised the binoculars, on loan from Luis, and focused on the Oropendola nests. Documenting and counting the birds was an important event, but the true beauty of the day was witnessing an unexpected candle being lit in Jariel’s new world of Aves.

P2890046 first birding apprentice jarielP2890044 new apprentice

Just before departing, we collectively admired a dozen or more Pale Mandibled Aracaris that paused for refreshments in another avocado tree.

P2890052 aracari

P2890032 bird circle first apprentice

P2890029 the first apprentice

“BIRD SPECIALIST IN TRAINING” – Jariel, Our first Apprentice!

True to the theme of the just-released documentary about the Galapagos, there is Hope for the Future. At Poza Honda, it’s one bird at a time and one apprentice at a time.