Monday, July 29, 2013

Con Los Ojos Abiertos

Today I'm linking up with Stewart M's Wild Bird Wednesday.

What happens when the world is turned upside down?  And the familiar....gone. Not even Spanish would be of big use on this trip.  A new and empty canvas was upon me. And everyday a new bird was added to my life list, but it was a hard fought battle as both photographer and birder alike.
White-naped Brush-finch
Along the way, I met allies who would aide me in the battle behind these long windy named birds.  Take for example the White-naped Brush-finch.  4 words and one bird!  They were always mouthfuls to say during any birding outing. My first few days in Antigua, Guatemala would be overwhelming for many reasons.  Locating and recognizing calls became super difficult.  As the sun rose around the early 5 AM time, I would jump out of bed to chase the birds outside.  And they were everywhere!!!  No need for an alarm clock.
As the photographer, I had to deal with gray skies, rainy conditions and the dark woods.  I wasn't as successful my first few days with the photography bit as it was super challenging.  Manual focus and flash were a must in the dark conditions.
Blue-and-white Mockingbird
My ears would locate a call in the vast green and dark canopy.  Birds were skittish and moved off quickly.  Sometimes they would be staring right at me which brings up my 3rd issue........eyes adjusting to the greens instead of the browns of my desert.  By the time we left, I had gotten better at finding the birds, but I'm still not great at it yet.  If it weren't for my ears and patience, most of these birds would have escaped my radar!
The other issue was timing.  During our travels, I calculated staying over a several day period at each place so that I could sweep the areas properly. I'd go 4 or 5 times over the same route during a one day period. Again the birds would move around according to their own time tables......I just had to be ready for them. The unique part about this trip wasn't seeing as many places as we could but rather staying in one place and finding as much as we could in one area.   Each place had a different and common group of birds that hung around our cabins or hotel rooms. I just had to find them!
Our cabin
Many of the birds didn't respond to my pishing attempts which made me change my tune....literally.  After several weeks in Guatemala, my whistling would finally attract a few birds. Knowing the general body types would help me quickly locate a bird from my ID ap in the area. The nice thing about their long names is that they usually will include their prominent and physical features. My IPHONE, with the spotty Wifi service, helped out.  Towards the end of the trip, I began to play the calls electronically and pull the birds out.  I played the recordings only twice and never again. At that point, I had become physically and mentally exhausted searching for birds everyday. For most of them, it worked, but for some, I had to wait and return again the next day around the same time to get a photo.
Sometimes I hid in outdoor showers or toilets around light sources during the early morning.  Bugs were everywhere!!!  And so were the birds.......
White-eared Ground-sparrow
Some birds would cooperate while others fled at the slightest movement or sound.
Rufous-collared Sparrow
The early morning skies were many times gray.  On those first excursions, I would see so many birds but never be ready to capture them on film.  One such species was the Squirrel Cuckoo.  It avoided my lens 3 times!!!  The Cuckoos in general can be a secretive bunch.  Once, I had found them in the trees but they flew off into the dark canopy while I tried to focus my lens.  The second time, I was eating breakfast when one flew into a leafless tree.  I didn't have my camera with me.  And the last sighting came to me while swimming in a pool!  And I will admit, those are some of the most frustrating bits about birding. Sometimes it doesn't always work out and I had to be okay with that happening once and awhile.
Gray Silky-flycatcher
But with time and practice, the birds would begin to focus better.
Is it thrilling?  Yes.  It's like finding diamonds in a hidden treasure chest.  The difficult part about Guatemala came from the general public's lack of knowledge about birds in their area.  Generally in Panama or Costa Rica, I found people knowing much more about their local wildlife.  In Guatemala, it was patchy.  Sometimes I would luck out and find a fellow birder.  When I told others that I came to bird, they looked at me funny.  I changed my story to "wildlife photographer" and it was better received.
The shot from this post that made me happiest?  The Blue-throated Motmot.  It took me several days to finally get a picture that made me happy.  We stayed at Earth Lodge for 4 days.  It was a great place and difficult to leave because there were so many great birds.  But on my shower treks every morning at 5 AM, the Blue-throated Motmot would come to visit me.  It became semi-comfortable with my visits and allowed me to get closer.  Each day I tried getting pictures of this bird but they would turn out terrible due to the lack of lighting.  And then on my last day, I took the sports setting off and used the single picture option with flash.  Voila!
Blue-throated Motmot
And so it would go for the first week of photography practice.  As my posts will continue, you'll see an improvement in the shots.  It was definitely a learning curve.  In Arizona, we have to watch out for overexposure from the sun.  In the rain forest, it was all about lighting and quick camera focus.
Spot-crowned  Woodcreeper
The loudest calls came from these wrens below.  A lot of practice went into this one singular shot.  They flew over our cabin every morning with their loud "RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE!"  Imagine shaking an aluminum can full of pennies that owners use to shut poodles up and you've got their call:)
Band-backed Wren
When they flew, they called.  When they landed on a branch, they were silent.  These birds were difficult to capture until one morning I figured out their schedule and waited in our cabin to capture them out on top of the canopy of the trees.  My friend was very patient with me but she could also see that I had gone crazy over the years from the birds.
Meanwhile the views were stunning everyday as we drank micheladas(tomato juice and dark beer). You may say to yourself, "Nasty."  So did I until I took a sip of my friend's drink and then......Oh. My. Gods. I became a fan.
Female Rose-throated Becard
And while we were drinking, the Rose-throated Becard sat upon the bare tree.  It was my first introduction to the Becard family.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to see the male one day but it was still a cool encounter.
Bronzed Cowbird
I was always grateful for the birds I knew.  They were like gifts to me. While my friend did yoga on the hillside, I roamed around the property and searched for birds.
And when it was time to leave, I was saddened to go because I felt like I had become friends with these now familiar birds.  But there were so many more birds to discover. So many more challenges to be had.  Yet I am proud of my accomplishments as I have done all of this alone.  Many people hire guides to help them out, but I used the resources around me to help ID what I was observing out in the field.  As a quick learner into this exciting world, my advice to beginners is to just go out and explore and see what you see.  As time goes on, I am sure I will need to hire people to help me find those elusive birds around the world.   But for now, everything is new and exciting.  More posts to come......


  1. really neat bunch of birds we don't see too often in blogland (if ever!) very cool that you succeeded, even with a few barriers.

  2. Great post! I look forward to having my eyes opened through your adventure. Love the blue throated motmot, so cute!

  3. What an adventure.
    Sometimes photos are for artistic reasons and sometimes they are just for capturing that moment (bird).
    I think you saw a lot of birds.

  4. Your new blog header is a dream and the girl painting the tree with birds is just perfect!

  5. Wow, Chris, you found so many interesting birds, most of which I've never even heard of! The Blue-throated Motmot is a gorgeous species! Your cabin looks like a sweet place to stay!

  6. I sure admire your patience and fortitude!

    These are some really pretty birds. So many different colors and personalities!

  7. Looks like you improved over the first several days. Love you shots, the cabin, and red-beer.

  8. Hi dearest Kreesh! I've been absent for a while, haven't talked to you for so long, haha! I love your new look, were you on a helicopter when you did that? It is so exciting to be with you in your birding escapades. Even if i don't know any of those birds, I can fully relate and visualize your activities. You're luckier in those areas as no leeches are present, as is common in moist rainforests here. I had some share of them when hiking or camping. Enjoy and take care. Have you seen snakes?

  9. Very interesting post about your birding in a very different habitat. I too get used to photographing birds in the bright sunshine and find the shadows in the bush very challenging.

  10. Your own radar seems to be your best ally, next came the red beer to feel the local mood... :-)

  11. Chris, what an awesome trip. The birds and scenery are just gorgeous. I love the Motmot. And the new header is awesome. Great report on your trip, looking forward to reading more. Have a great day!

  12. What a wonderful selection of birds you found Chris - I do so admire your patience! Some great landscape shots too :)

  13. A famous Aussie birder once described birding as an extreme sport - it certainly can be downunder, and your adventures make it seem even more so!! I don't have any expectations about my bird photos, and so I am never disappointed!!

  14. Różnych sztuczek się imasz, aby podejrzeć ptaki i zrobić im zdjęcia. Udaje Ci się to. Pozdrawiam.
    Various tricks you to preview the birds and take pictures of them. You manage it. Yours.

  15. Oh my word Chris! What a thrill to see all these wonderful birds. Those cute little sparrows, and the Blue-throated Motmot are great captures. You did well to capture so many different birds in unfamiliar territory. The scenery is spectacular also.

  16. YIKES. . . that header photo is so gorgeous!!! I'm enjoying your adventures. Beautiful photos. All of them.

  17. A great post... and I love your blog header.

  18. Love reading your story!!! So many 'real' birders (like you) go through this type of ordeal when searching for those specific, special 'life' birds... BUT--most people don't tell their story as they do it... Reading your story makes it all the more REAL for us.... I'm so glad that you worked so hard to find those special birds.. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Great series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  20. a great adventure and delightful post with fabulous results and photographs

  21. Wow, what a fantastic adventure and so many new birds! The rufous-collared sparrow and motmot are adorable. :)

  22. Exotic and beautiful birds I would never see otherwise. I don't know if I could handle the heat down there.

  23. What an exotic place to birdwatch! The Blue-throated Motmot is a darling bird!

  24. Wonderful post! The location looks similar to the dense forests of Queensland - photography was not easy there either.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS: I have posted another picture to WBW - I forgot last night!

  25. So many beautiful birds. Thank you for sharing :)

  26. You found some very interesting birds on your trip.

  27. What a challenge! But how lucky you were to visit the rainforest. Yep, definitely very different light there than in Arizona!

  28. Chris your shots of the Blue throated Motmot are so very delightful, what a sweet looking bird with beautiful colouring. I can't imagine why anyone would think birding is odd, I can definitely see the attraction.

  29. I like your's very nice places you've been..I love you shots...

  30. You've managed to capture some great birds. And painting birds on a canvas would be a dream come true for me. You're talents shine.

  31. What a wonderful adventure with so many totally 'wild' birds and amazing scenery! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  32. Looks like a trip of a lifetime! How wonderful to visit a totally different environment. Your photos are fine! Looking forward to more!


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