Manabi Province/Ecuador – Nature provides a tonic for the soul, but its benefits stretch far beyond what we can see. Sometimes I think that nature truly conspires to reward nature lovers with unusual sightings, and even in the city a person can find one-on-one moments with nature.
My friend Dady asked, “Lisa. How did you ever see that one bird way up high on that tower?” We were discussing the Peregrine Falcon, that often perches ‘way up there’ in easy view from her house!
My immersion in nature at Poza Honda provided many ‘firsts’ for me, and I realize what a great teacher nature can be – especially if the student is a patient one. The act of being totally present is perhaps the greatest asset, and when one is present, the whispers of nature can be heard.
How can one not adore the pygmy owls? Active not only at night but also in daylight, this petite species has shadowed – literally! – a large percentage of my outings at Poza Honda. While perfecting the art of stillness, they perch in easy view – yet sometimes only by chance do I see them. At times they appear curious, and other times equally serious about their food-gathering tasks.
When new to the area, I explored a plantain-lined curve in the road while a Pacific Pygmy Owl tagged along like an obedient pet! I surmised that my presence triggered the owl’s curiosity. Captivated by its solemn stare, I studied the new-to-me species with equal intensity. An impromptu photo session stretched into a visual-rich memory, which transports me back to that sun-drenched day when the owl inspected its new neighbor.
The Pacific Pygmy Owls often perch on a specific dead branch high in the tamarindo tree, easily seen from the living area of the casa. Usually one lone bird selects that specific perch, although a second – and every so often a few young ones provided rare family portraits.
At dusk several years ago, a pygmy owl appeared from ‘nowhere’ with a surprise strike on the palm thatch overhang of the roof then darted to a limb near the house. Bits of shattered dried palm drifted through the open windows, and I wondered, ‘What was THAT?’ As the twilight hour waned to darkness, the owl feasted on its prize – a grasshopper almost as large as its petite 6″ body.
A rattling noise once stopped me motionless while walking along the road. Much like a rattlesnake, the sound emerged from almost ground level in dense surroundings. Peering, squinting, moving slightly left and right, I located the source of the sound – or thought I located the source! A pygmy owl stared back at me. Not one feather appeared to move, yet the rattling came from that same location. A-HA! The photographs captured the moment, but I need no photo to recall the the size of that big grasshopper. Was the grasshopper extremely large, or did its presence illustrate the pygmy owls’ tiny size?
Nature’s evolutionary pest control comes at zero costs, as long as the delicate balance thrives. Every single organism plays a role, and humans often forget to consider long-term impacts. What happens when the owls’ habitat is destroyed? What happens when the mouse-eating owls and snake-eating falcons lose their habitat?
When I return to Poza Honda, I mentally prepare myself in case of new changes to the landscape. I was there on the 16th of this month, and yes, the cutting continues. The caustic noise of the city can be irritating, but the sound of a chainsaw would have grated on my psyche even worse. While birding with Joselo, we viewed one freshly-cut raw section straight across the reservoir.
I commented,“Oooh. That must have been difficult to witness – and hear. Did this last for days? Did you all think of me while this was happening?”
“Yes,” and he chuckled about the last question – they were surely glad that I was not there, as it would have been near torture to witness those changes one tree at a time.
My most-recent pygmy-owl encounter happened on that same day, while birding with Joselo, Luis and the newest Poza Honda fan, Giovanni. With maybe a tennis court’s length to cover before finishing our serious bird census, we were seconds from seeing a precious owl. Peering from a man-made hole in a bamboo pole, it provided a perfect finale for our day. (Five birders /split into two Covid-respecting groups/88 species total for the day.)
Working late at night, my art advances one study or painting at a time – and sometimes two or three in various stages. The present painting in progress (alliteration!) is called Happy Birds – a study of Saffron Finches splashing in a puddle of water. Pencil offers an easy balance against the intense painting sessions. Painting is work; drawing is meditation.
Time in the city presents challenges; the greatest one is noise pollution. Sometimes I play recordings made at Poza Honda when I paint at night, and I’m sometimes surprised when I take a break – and realize that I’m in the city and not in Poza Honda!
Visits to the nearby parks provide a true balance – immersion in nature, and nature continues to bless me with unexpected sightings. A few Eastern Kingbirds continue to patrol the edge of the river in the late afternoons, and the little Sora cowers in the most-neutral corner of the pond. The Sora allows me to sit within a few yards and observe its behavior as it forages back and forth along the shallow edges of the water. I think it realizes that my presence keeps the gallinules from wandering too close! I offer protection while it provides viewing pleasure.
The grounds keeper oversees a big project and does a remarkable job managing his crew. He’s also realizing the importance of the pond’s habitat, and this past week I found the perfect word to stress that importance: Refuge. The Soras have little refuge. Many of the always-present egrets and herons are now absent, and I told him of another recent VIP visitor that stayed for only one day.
How lucky was I to witness this bird’s brief visit?
Between Poza Honda and his home in Chone, my friend Luis Saltos stopped at the park in hopes of viewing the Green Heron or the Eastern Kingbirds. “It’s early in the day for viewing the kingbirds,” I warned. We took turns watching the river area while the other circled the pond in hopes of seeing the Green Heron. After two visits, Luis was rewarded by the Eastern Kingbirds. Just as he was about to depart for Chone, the kingbirds appeared. With a childlike wonder and awe, Luis managed a barely audible, “Eastern Kingbird; that’s a life bird for me….”
He wasn’t interested in adding one new species to his life list; he was there to witness and admire a rare bird for this area of the country.
We are all indeed blessed by birds if we merge quietly into their world.