Monday, August 10, 2015

Vanishing Lands

Will this road into a protected reserve be a blessing or a curse?
The whole purpose of my trip to Chiapas was centered around our El Ocote trek.  There were several birds endemic only to a small region of Mexico and two of them were on this day trip.  During our time out in the field, I'd hear many people use the word endemic(specific to one area/location).  There was "endemic" as in the "regions between Guatemala and Mexico".  And then there was "ENDEMIC" meaning only found in a narrow band within a small part of Mexico.  Two birds, the Nava's Wren and Long-tailed Sabrewing, were the main reasons I returned back to Mexico.  I needed help finding the Nava's Wren.

I have several strategies I utilize when birding new areas.  1. Research my area for endemic birds like the Florida Scrub-Jay in.....Florida:) And 2. Find them first.  Everything else will fall into place. The endemic species on our planet really face an uphill battle.  And like the Florida Scrub-Jay, these birds could face extinction within the near future due to habitat loss and fragmentation of their habitat. This fragmentation can lead to the birds being "trapped" and confined within one area where they won't be able to breed with other populations. The good news is that there are people listening and work is being done to protect some of these areas like the Ocote region.   But just how well protected are these "biospheres"?

White-winged Tanager
And this got me thinking at a very deep level.  Why are we, as people, allowing greed and capitalism to destroy these incredibly beautiful areas?  It would be easy to blame Mexico for their semi protected wildlife nature reserves.  We found bananas growing in the middle of the forest.  There's a road cut through this mountain range that they are planning to make into a highway.  This highway cuts into the very endangered Nava's Wren territory.  They breed and nest within limestone caves(some along the road) and like many birds, they prefer to remain secretive in the dark forests within this very specific habitat. My experiences abroad have shown me that highways allow people access into these areas so that they can slash and burn the intact forest.  And along with the wood material/farming/cattle land that comes from this act, they will also poach the creatures that live in these protected areas. I could shake my finger at Mexico for being reckless. 

Stripe-throated Hermit
But it isn't just Mexico is it?  It's here in the US, Great Britain, Australia, Nicaragua and pretty much happening all over this planet. Who am I to judge Mexico when we have a mining operation attempting to infiltrate our sacred Santa Rita mountains here in Southern Arizona?  Or the suburb with an Italian flare that will take MORE water from what's left of our precious San Pedro river near Sierra Vista! And while in Mexico, I heard talk of a canal going into Nicaragua that was secretly passed by their President.  Apparently China is paying for the construction and it has already begun.  This would cut into Lake Nicaragua and across large tracts of pristine forest while dislocating thousands of indigenous people.  Ecosystems are in jeopardy. The lake is freshwater and obviously the ocean is not. And with China basically running the canal, I see lots of terrible things happening. Nicaragua doesn't have the money or resources to clean up natural disasters and yet, they are agreeing to put this canal into THEIR country.

When we visit these very special places, I try to memorize every little detail because I know it will change.  The deeper into the life bird realm you go, the more you discover about the world around you.  I am an observer. When I chose this life several years ago, I realized that I could one day face the inevitable  possibility of a bird going extinct from my life list. There is profound sadness in that realization.  Today's trek was a mixed bag of the good and bad. 

Long-tailed Sabrewing
The weather conditions were again not so great on this morning so my pictures are not as crisp as I'd like them to be.  Our first special bird of the day was the Long-tailed Sabrewing.  I was glad to have Martin with us on this trek.  He was a book of knowledge and experience.  Again I learned lots from this wonderful man. 

Slate-colored Solitaire
The Long-tailed Sabrewing is an endangered bird found naturally around the Isthmus of Tehuantepecin of southeastern Mexico around the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and west Chiapas(where we were). This bird's population numbers have been declining due to habitat destruction.  

Blue-black Grosbeak
We spent a good amount of time observing this bird feed from the Birds of Paradise in the area. Martin pulled out his scope and we all had great looks at this large sabrewing.  

Crimson-collared Tanager
As we continued on, the group noticed Bananaquits in the area.  I scratched my head for a moment before spotting a stretch of banana plants along the road.  Then it all made sense. This road is just the beginning of exploitation. 

On a positive note, the area was deemed as a protected space for our next bird, the Nava's Wren.  I enjoy hummingbirds like the next person, but wrens and sparrows and terns and cryptic birds get my blood flowing.  Our wrens in the Americas(yes, the US is included:) are spectacular.  So we continued onwards.  My heart started beating rapidly for this one. 

Black-faced Grosbeak
We had a wonderful guide by the name of Michael Retter(works with the ABA) who did a great job locating one of the wrens.  This was definitely a bird where I needed a guide!  Patience is a virtue.  And in the darkness, one bird followed us.  We saw glimpses here and there.  One of Martin's eyes squinted from concentration.  The man of much travel had another lifebird on this trip that he desperately needed to observe. Our fingers twitched above the capture button of our cameras.  But we would not rely on the automatic to focus.  It was manual here on out. 

Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Distractions were constant. We patiently stood.  And stood some more.  The wren was calling.  But birds like the Red-billed Pigeon(below) flew over our heads. Focus Chris.  You are given only this time and nothing more. My finger trembled over the trigger.  My ears tuned into the call and located the bird hiding in the foliage.  But my eyes!  These damn eyes!  It is my one true limitation as a birder.  Being blind in one eye and poor sight in the other really messes up my chances for spotting birds in dark conditions.  But I sure can hear them.  

Red-billed Pigeon
Then a miracle happened.  The shadow moved into an open dark space and delighted the group of birders. 

Nava's Wren
Even I could see the bird!  I focused the best I could on the wren while he skulked from within his dark layer.  It was now or never! And during our excitement, I tried to keep my hands steady on my binos. Within a few moments, the bird disappeared into the darkness again. 

It felt good.  Everything else after this trek was gravy.  But I was left sad after the observation. Does this bird have a chance? The Nava's Wren has a restricted range in easternmost Veracruz, one site in Western Chiapas(that would be us) and two in eastern Oaxaca. This bird is listed as Vulnerable due to its' limited range. Sometimes it's not that the bird is hunted or poached; it's just that it naturally has a small population that is vulnerable to human encroachment. While land has been set aside for these birds here in Chiapas, we also observed that farming has infiltrated this particular spot. Just what exactly defines a "protected" area?  Hopefully some lines will be drawn to help keep this region TRULY protected. So for now I throw this question out to the international community?  Are there natural areas in your part of the world that people are trying to develop but shouldn't?


  1. A thought provoking post Chris and so pleased you managed to see the wren.

    Like you, I get saddened, angry and frustrated at the way man is slowly but surely destroying this planet, its ecosystems, habitats and wildlife :(

  2. Gosh Chris, I didn't realise you had eye troubles you take such super photos! I know exactly what you mean about the human error, the more I see the mistakes we make with our precious planet the more I realise the most stupid/dangerous creatures are people!

    1. yes. It's happening right in my work area! They just cleared a bunch of beautiful desert for another suburb! I know the wildlife that hangs out at my site and I am saddened for them. The critters have less area to forage now.

      Thanks for the compliment. My ears took over for my eyes. I've had it since I was a kid and it can be frustrating sometimes. I'll often to always hear the bird first before sighting it. But I try as best I can:)

    2. My sister is the same Chris, she always says she has supersonic hearing to make up for her eyes.. there's no telling secrets around her :)

  3. I am simply hoping for more nature protection everywhere on earth! We are messing everything up big time. Let's continue not only thinking but fighting too for more protection.
    Wonderful thoughts, facts and pictures Chris.

  4. I am stunned and saddened by the canal project in Nicaragua. A beautiful pristine semi-wilderness is going to be destroyed and no one can do anything about it. I major source of fresh water! What are they thinking??
    Wonderful photos Chris. Glad you got your bird and didn't get sick.

  5. Oh my....thrilling beyond words. Great photos, wonderful finds and your narration had my heart soaring. I understand your thoughts on the wren...will it have a chance? Let's hope and pray it will. I just finished reading a book about USA's Ivory Billed Woodpecker and its once thought extinction and then proof positive they exist in Louisiana and Alabama. At least in 2008---so if people become aware of their plight/existence, we can only hope for positive survival.

  6. Hello Chris, it is sad how people and countries are treating our earth. We only have one earth and can not afford to ruin it, that includes loosing wildlife and habitats for all the animals. I hope your cute wren will survive. I did not know about the canal in Nicaragua. I knew they were making the Panama Canal wider, I saw the work being done when I was there. Great post and photos, happy birding.

  7. I was heartbroken when I read about that canal. We enjoyed that part of Nicaragua so much. Especially Ometeppe. Well, your wren is more exotic than my wren this week. But mine was a lot easier to spot!

  8. It is a vanishing world Chris. You return to this theme a number of times as I do myself and lots of others the world over. Unfortunately the voices of those who would destroy the world for financial gain are presently both louder and more numerous. We can but hope that before it is too late we will see sense. I hope your pleas and eloquence will be read by just a few of those able to make a difference.

  9. I am saddened and angry about the greed of my species with no care for the rest of life that shares our world.


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