(Manabi Province Ecuador) Sometimes a “Mystery Bird” presents challenges for correct identification, especially when there are no ‘bird guides’ working in the area. My friend Jorge pulls out his reference books, and oftentimes we stumble upon the correct identification. Other times the photos remain with the title, “Mystery Bird” or “What is this bird?” It doesn’t seem ‘polite’ to lob photos to the birding specialists, who surely are bombarded weekly by people who want easy identification of what turns out to be a common bird!
Although I miss the availability of the Public Library Systems, I treasure the options provided through internet searches. Sometimes a search leads me to unexpected and delightful reading material, especially when the sites provide free PDF downloads.
A search for a mystery bird that resembles the Ecuadorian Tyrannulet or the Marble-faced Bristle-tyrant led me to a search of writings by Alexander Skutch. The identity of the bird remains a mystery, but oh my, did I ever find a source of unpublished material from Skutches journals. Anyone who loves the wildness of nature, or loves botanicals or observing the birds – start here with the same PDF : SKUTCHonePDF
Wildflowers and Landscapes of Ecuador – how we knew it. This second PDF – like Skutch’s writings – is the compilation of writings and botanical paintings of Mary Barnas Pomeroy. Shared (by her daughter) with the Missouri Botanical Gardens after her death, Mary’s stories illustrate the joy of living in the present – soaking in the wonders of the tropical world, and basking under the doting acceptance of her father, who mentored/tutored and encouraged her studies. Anyone who knows Ecuador’s present landscape will appreciate her descriptions – much of what is now lost.
With a voice that seems more powerful as the years pass, Mary Barnas Pomeroy states in the foreward:
“...May this collection become a delight to nature lovers, flower enthusiasts, artists, travelers and explorers – people who care about the marvels of our gorgeous earth which certain types of humanity abuse, destroy or just alter, perhaps by sheer ignorance. We would like to help in halting such activities. May this book attract thouse very individuals who need to learn about the fragile hidden treasures along with the grandeur of Earth’s interwoven patterns of all living and seemingly lifeless forms!… I am confident that soon a deeper awareness of what we can do and how to do it – to preserve what is still vital for Earth’s and our survival – will emerge, be acted upon and become an accepted way of life. A great intelligence is secretly at work underneath all the chaos we witness, caused by selfishness, greed and stupidity. It simply must manifest, so that the generosity of life may flourish for all alike…”MBP
The same is true for Skutch, who studied the flora and fauna through many Neo-Tropical countries. Both feared what would happen to their beloved-but-vanishing landscape.From 1936, Skutch’s words remain sensitive and powerful:
“…The forest is the cathedral in which I worship; and like all the great cathedrals, it
was hundreds of years in the making. Possibly the Indians once cleared the land on
which it stands; but they must have abandoned cultivation here centuries ago.
The forest is my garden, with grander plants, and more varied plants, and an
infinitely greater variety of birds than ever adorned the artificial garden of monarch or nobleman or millionaire. I must have thousands of palm trees – chontas and palmitos and many lesser kinds – for any one of which, to have it growing in his park or conservatory, a rich man would pay hundreds of dollars.
Why should I not count myself opulent? And there are no weeds in my garden, for everything that grows in it was planted by the same careful gardener, and the ranker growths are kept in check by the dominant trees. Sometimes the farm frightens me, with the unceasing expense and care of keeping a bit of coffee or sugar-cane or pasture in proper order. But the forest never costs me a centavo of outlay, yet it is always, except where man has interfered, in good order, and a delight to behold. The very fallen trees and rotting trunks give it an aspect of venerable age which is part of its character, and the young saplings growing
up lustily in the gaps left by the fallen giants are proof of its exhaustless vitality.
Finally, the forest is my museum, filled not with dry bones and stuffed skins and
sapless foliage, but with a vast array of living, growing specimens. Were I to live here a hundred years, I could not exhaust its riches…
Since the first of the year (many of the volteados were actually begun in December) the men have been felling the forest for their plantings, and at intervals through the mornings, when chiefly they work, we have heard the crash of great trees falling on the distant slopes. Before cutting down the tall trees, the laborers cut away all the underbrush with their machetes, which makes the forest look most inviting and parklike, with longer vistas beneath the trees than one ordinarily enjoys in tropical forest, and attractive glades through which one can wander without fighting his way against brushes and vines.
But this idyllic state of the forest is of short duration; soon the big trees are attacked and overturned, and the noble woods are reduced to a scene of chaos and ruin. The tangle and confusion of prostrate trunks, splintered branches and intertwined vines is so great that it requires great effort and a certain amount of ingenuity to make one’s way across them. Only by walking along the horizontal trunks, clean and branchless, and jumping from one to another of them, is it possible to make much progress. If one leaves these slender causeways, he sinks from waist-to-head deep in such a litter of branches, twigs, vines and leaves that it is quite impossible to move either forwards or backwards.
” Skutch/ Clearing the forest,” Journal, Vol. 20, February 4, 1936
Backyard Bird Weekend approaches, and on Thursday I will return to Poza Honda and look forward to more chances to study the Wood Rails, the Oropendolas and the Mystery Bird. Several people have expressed an interest in any future birding ‘Timeouts’ there at Poza Honda. Yes, there is hope!