“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for…. In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” – JOHN LUBBOCK, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In
Portoviejo Ecuador – Totally content with several creative projects, I had no need or wish to leave the apartment, except for a visual check on the rapidly-growing Purple Gallinule chicks. A visit two days earlier provided ample photos to record the recent changes; those five little balls of black fluff resembled gawky pre-teens dressed in entirely-different attire. Much like their older (and quite-responsible) adolescent siblings, they sported buff-colored plumage with a distinct star on their foreheads. That frontal shield will eventually turn pale blue against a bill which resembles a giant kernel of candy corn.
Not as talented as adults at locating the water-lily fruits, the juveniles struggle to locate then fish for the sunken fruits. Nervously pacing across the lily pads or climbing higher to peer into the clear water, they remind me of a long-ago swimming/diving game we played: Match! (Do children -and adults – still play that game?)
Having mastered the art, an adult bird quickly locates and retrieves a fruit. With fruit in its bill, it chatters while racing across the water hyacinths and lilies. Hearing the unique dinner bell, the babies and juveniles gather for their next feeding.
Two Wattled Jacanas forage in the same area of the petite pond. Skittish, these mild-mannered loners walk across the floating vegetation. Never aggressive, they are, however, often targeted by the Purple Gallinules. Quite protective or perhaps territorial, the gallinules sometimes stalk and othertimes suddenly chase the Jacanas. The Jacanas take flight and land just out of range, while the gallinule retains strict control of the nursery site!
Last week I considered a quick check on the fast-growing baby gallinules. Having spent hours working on photos from the previous outing, I preferred to stay home and work on projects. Like an urge to raid the refrigerator for another serving of cheesecake, I often felt a nudge to check on the birds. Having learned to pay attention to those subtle nudges, I set out for the park, the gallinules and an important dose of Vitamin D.
With a working title of “Looking Down” for my next show (who knows when?!) I now pay closer attention to random wild vegetation as I walk along the streets. Rank growth in empty lots often presents a bounty of material, from ‘Pigweed’-amaranth to delicate sprays of flowers still waiting identification. I recently spotted a rank weed with large faded bell-shaped flowers, quite similar to a species in Mississippi! Could Jimsonweed grow here as well? Of course it could! In addition to checking the Purple Gallinules, I now check the Jimsonweed/Datura between the apartment and the park!
The little cat-tailed edged pond provides the bonus for these outings, and even from afar it presents a visual balm to the soul. Extra-large in comparison to the kingfishers, gallinules and jacanas, one lone Great Egret adds an elegant touch to the scene. Unbothered by the humans, it wades in slow-motion stealth in its perpetual search for fish. Sometimes it allows a close inspection of its catch!
In three short weeks, the young gallinules evolved from tiny balls of black fluff to smaller versions of the juvenile birds. They often tested their still-developing wings, flexed in brief yoga poses or paused for amusing (to me) splash sessions. Much more independent in a week’s time, they foraged and explored their water-hyacinth kingdom – until a juvenile or adult announced a feeding session! The birds provided ample photo ops, as did the Green Kingfishers, Wattled Jacanas and a few lazy iguanas!
Normally punctuated along various sections of the pond, three Striated Herons careened into the scene. Two landed in easy photo range, and the other flared to a more-distant location. Barely moving, I hoped for much-better images of this shy species. For the next five or more minutes, these handsome birds provided a subtle-yet spectacular show. Enjoy the simple delight of watching these two beauties via this slideshow:
After seven or eight minutes of ‘My feathers are prettier than yours,’ the herons declared a truce and resumed their ‘wait and search’ foraging behavior.
With hundreds of photos to process at home, I pondered this finale of observations. Were those two birds courting, or was one (the adult) displaying an alpha status to the younger one? I looked forward to studying the images at home and learning more about the Striated Herons. Quite sated and basically overdosed on photographing the birds, I prepared to leave. The birds, however, plotted one more diversion!
More bashful than the Purple Gallinules, the Common Gallinule often lurks just out of good-photo range. Swimming in an un-hurried manner around and through the water lilies, it paints a serene and idyllic living picture. Sneaking from its ‘preferred’ larger section of the pond to the water-hyacinth area, it swam and foraged not too far from the footbridge. I ducked as low as possible and crept closer along the far side of the bridge. Seeing a human in pursuit, it would quickly swim and fly out of range. As if conspiring with the Striated Herons, it paraded first in one direction, paused then reversed, which allowed photos of its other side. It then bolted for its preferred location, via a quick flight beneath the bridge to the far side of the pond!
Much more-rewarding and long-lasting than a slice of cheesecake, the outing enhanced the quality of my day with a jackpot of simple delights. So many birds! So many close-up views! So little time to capture them on paper or canvas! (I need a dozen lives!)
Happy Independence Day to those of you in the USA. Stay proactive, and may we get through this with as much grace as possible. I should be back online on Sunday, and as always, the laptop battery just announced the 10-percent warning!
Love to you all! Lisa
“In my youth I knew the delight of watching the beauty, wonder and mystery of the natural world unfold before my developing mind; as when one who has climbed to a mountain-top in the night watches the dawn reveal the glorious panorama spread out before him. I have never outgrown that delight, and I hope that I never shall.” – Alexander Skutch / “Delight in Nature” – Thoughts/Volume 6, August 5 1972