Manabi Province/Ecuador – Are you house-bound/weather bound and wistful for a dose of nature? If so, take a cyber trip to the equator and go bird watching with me! It’s as if the birds take turns in presenting new surprise sightings!
Parque las Vegas/Portoviejo Ecuador – Another migratory species has veered to Manabi Province instead of traditional vacation options. The first day these black and white birds appeared, I was without my camera. Joining a mixed flock of seedeaters, Saffron Finches, doves and Tropical Kingbirds, they dotted the unkempt edge of Rio Portoviejo, which borders the park. They seemed to be having an end-of-day gathering – or perhaps an early celebration for the end of 2020.
I thought, “Variable Seedeater” – but no, they were larger than seedeaters, and their behavior was like a flycatcher’s.
I thought, “Becard,” but no, the behavior was wrong.
I briefly considered, ‘Snowy-throated Kingbird,’ – but no, the coloration was all wrong.
It certainly wasn’t a Masked Tityra, with the right colors below but not on top.
I made a few sketches, but could only see the basic details – white throat and belly with contrasting dark/black upper areas.
A second brief glimpse would follow the next day around noon.
I often check on the lone Sora, which now claims a quiet corner of the pond as its hiding place. Throughout the day the petite bird forages back and forth for the little red ‘fruits’ that fall from the overhead trees. It sometimes cowers as close to the ground as possible when a gallinule approaches. Do you see the Sora in the image below?
Even when I watch it fade into its environment, it becomes invisible to my eyes. After the gallinules leave the area, the Sora re-appears and resumes foraging – or begins splashing as if to celebrate another hide-and-seek victory!
I often marvel at how small it is, and wonder if its body would fit into my cupped hand. The Eared Doves are larger than the Sora! For size-comparison, I placed my Fieldbook near the Sora’s typical path along the water. The Sora acknowledged and then completely ignored the book and allowed a photo session.
Saffron Finches, Parrot-billed Seedeaters and Eared Doves also prefer this shady area of the pond.
While watching the Sora, I peered to the treetops and found one lone stranger with the Scrub Blackbirds, Saffron Finches and Tropical Kingbirds. I took a hurried photo before the bird darted to another location.
With no luck finding any more mystery birds, I returned home, worked on photos and then checked online for more information. Armed with research material and camera in hand, I returned to the park in the late afternoon.
“Eastern Kingbirds are blackish above and white below. The head is a darker black than the wings and back, and the black tail has a conspicuous white tip…They spend winters in South American forests, where they eat mainly fruit.” from Cornell Lab’s All About Birds
As they were the day before, there were at least six along the river. These seemed to have an appetite for insects, and three allowed me to observe them from close range until they roosted – with mixed species – at the end of the day.
These mysterious birds might represent omens of hope!
Exhausting the camera’s battery, I enjoyed watching the various species interacting in a mostly-dead tree that I nicknamed ‘The Tree of Life.’ It might be unsightly to most humans, but it is a bird magnet.
The next day I uploaded my checklist to eBird. As I expected, eBird tossed back a prompt for more information, as this species usually stays on the other side of the Andes.
Enjoy watching their migratory movements on eBird’s Abundance Map.
(If this is not an Eastern Kingbird, maybe someone can help with identification?)
This is a good time for birding in the park; many species are visible and highly active as our rainy season slowly begins. The mango trees are producing a bumper crop, to the delight of the Blue-gray Tanagers.
The endangered Grey-cheeked Parakeets have also graced us with their presence. This species reached the endangered status because of illegal capture for the caged-bird industry as well as the ongoing destruction of their native habitat.
The Parrot-billed Seedeater definitely deserves the rights to its name. These precious birds remain plentiful in the park – as long as the maintenance crew allows naturalized areas to thrive. On this day the birds were pulling the seed heads down, then holding them with one foot while eating the seeds!
The iguanas along the river maintain a relaxed attitude. They seemed to be completely neutral, illustrating that one can observe but not get caught up in the quarrels between others. They were almost regal at the end of the day as if to say, ‘Ah! We’ve earned the rights to be calm and relaxed.’
“Calm and relaxed” – I think that artists were given an extra dose of genes that help us to be calm and relaxed. My nephew Don once stated, “We make choices every day of our lives,” and he is right. I am grateful to have the ability to see my cup overflowing and not ‘half empty.’ I am grateful to have had an abundance of creative projects that keep me occupied and positive during this pandemic.
Spending time with nature also helps strengthen those traits, and I remain grateful that Nature continues to shower me with surprises.
As this year comes to an end, I am hopeful that 2021 will bring an abundance of positive experiences to everyone.
Happy New Year to all!