Monday, June 11, 2018

Parts Unknown

These two Cactus Wrens gave me a good laugh at sunset. 
During these past few hot Arizona days, I've been walking around nearby parks and practicing with my light settings in the dark conditions to prepare for Trinidad.  This will be my final post from Tucson for awhile. 

Our monsoon may start early this year. 
As I walk the known, I prepare mentally for the unknown.  It is part of the life journey we all take.  Sometimes we do it alone.  Sometimes we share it. This is the way of all things. 

There are nights when I lose sleep because I am both excited and anxious.  Everything has been set up and yet still, I wonder, What am I forgetting? What's out there?!

Round-tailed Ground Squirrels live the life in this terrible heat
Would I ever have gone to Trinidad in my lifetime if it weren't for the birds?  Probably not. I am forever addicted to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking cultures. But if I am to find birds on this planet, I can't limit myself to what is comfortable. I am forced into parts unknown. Trinidad is close to Venezuela and is known as the gateway to the South American birding world while still maintaining a fantastic blend of Caribbean birds. The place I will be visiting, from my research, suggests that I'll be living the island culture similar to what I experienced when I lived on the islands of  Cape Verde, West Africa.  It is different. The words for the dances are different.  Instead of Praia's(Cape Verde) Funana, it will be the Trinidadian Calypso.  Instead of the secretive martial art dances of Capoeira, they practice a similar form known as Kalinda.  

Making my favorite meal.....Cachupa on the Cape Verdean island of Santiago
My experience on Cape Verde sheds a little insight on the cultural similarities where in history, island slave trade had happened. But Trinidad was also a huge trading center for many other things like spice. Today, Trinidad is truly a blend of so many different cultures weaved into one. While the days of old are gone, we can still find history hidden in the language spoken.  In Cape Verde, it's the Portuguese based kriolu. Not quite Portuguese at all.  And not a written language!

I was more teacher than birder during this time of my life.  I did look at birds and try to take pics of them with my terrible camera at the time:)  We still used FILM!!!
My very first chapters as a teacher began training students and teachers alike in language and language design for the classroom on the islands of Santiago and then later Sal. Now I will go to Trinidad, another island with similar histories. I'm always fascinated by what makes the culture different from other places I've been. I purposely rented an apartment for one week out of the nature area to study language, food and the people. It's more than just birds.  For me, it's also about the community that surrounds the birds. While English is spoken there, the familiar words are peppered with strange and new exotic ones.  An English based creole!

Black-crowned Night Heron
And here's the thing.  I can play it safe.  Or push myself to do better.  Be better.  This is the nature of birding.  It's a bittersweet emotion knowing that it may be the only time in this life of mine that I'll be visiting this island.  So I need to make it count. Rushing into an area to see the birds and then leave isn't fun at all.  I want the "cultural flavor" from the birding experience. 

An early and exciting Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a favorite bird of mine
I have my office space and desk.  I have my big meeting with the nature center getting all my birds set up.  It's a rather civilized approach to birding.  Meals are all prepared.  Transportation is there.  All I have to do is go outside my room and they take me away to the birding hotspots. It seriously is a great deal for birders.  Asa Wright can be a bit pricey but after the stress I had this year, I am treating myself to a birder's version of a "massage".  There's even tea time and some of this island adult flavored fruit punch:) So I'll be one week at Asa Wright and one week in Arima doing my cultural studies(and some light birding). 

I'll miss my girls.  Callie rests her head on my chest during the early morning hours.
This summer we'll be exploring island culture on Trinidad and Hawaii during the months of June and July.  I'll be meeting with people and their birds.  I have found that understanding culture is also key to the success of optimal birding.  Now, the birds are pushing me into unknown lands.

A Cassin's Kingbird at a local park
When we speak another language, whether it be bird, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, etc, we have a deeper meaning of their behaviors and culture.  Something always gets lost in translation, but when I speak Spanish or Portuguese, it gives me a deeper insight into the culture.  But as the birds and non-latin countries go, I am forced to start all over again.  

During the day, I am bored and trapped inside my house waiting for the terrible heat to subside. Instead I clean and research for the trip. PS. Catnaps are sacred.
On my last days in Tucson, I walk the familiar parks saying good-bye to my birds and play with light settings for a cave journey I'll be making for the Oilbird colony at the Asa Wright Nature Center. At first birding is easy. Then one has to travel (and) it's still relatively easy if you go to new areas.  But the nature of birding gets trickier the longer we play the game.  The hard part is picking up the endemics(which there are several on Trinidad) 

The tables that changed my life forever.  A balmy fire fly lit night near the Pipevine Road at our stay introduces me to birders who share their excitement and discoveries with us. 
My life's journey is about understanding people, their culture and the birds surrounding it all. The picture above is an important one. I snapped the pic to remember the clarity of thought that happened in this moment during our Panama visit. 

A Snail Kite sits next to me near our bench at the Pipevine Road
7 years ago, this month, I began my serious journey into the birding world. I changed. This blog changed. The photography changed. I let most of my negative attachments go in this world. My job became my job. And the birding and human experiences became my passions.

I discover the dangers of birding and realize that I loved it. On Coiba Island
I watched two birders have a candle lit dinner at a table next to ours in that Panama Canal style home. It was that specific moment that changed the way I saw everything. After our stay in Gamboa, Panama, we went to Coiba Island and discovered manakins. And that's where the addiction began! I know that wherever I go, I will fall in love because there are birds. I am a gypsy at heart.  One who likes good mole, a smoke filled tapas bar, a nice spicy bowl of kakik, and/or a simple breakfast of gallo pinto.  Now the cuisine will change.  The languages will be difficult in both bird and human forms. And I will somehow figure it all out.  The Trinidad adventures begin next week.  This post is dedicated to the memory of Anthony Bourdain.  I recently watched his show on Trinidad to give me a little background on Trinidadian cuisine and culture. He will be missed. 


  1. Here's wishing you an amazing adventure. My DIL's father has retired from Austin, TX, to Costa Rica. He is a major birder, also. Peace and safe travels.

  2. Have a fantastic trip full of surprises and wonderful encounters with people and birds.

  3. Have a great time in Trinidad, Chris, and get yourself into the spirit by playing Dr John's 'Danse Kalinda Ba Doom'!

    Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

    1. LOL!!!! I've already started playing the music and I think it might grow on me.....once I'm there:)

  4. Good luck on your wonderful adventure!

  5. Love this post and some great photos. Have a fabulous trip to Trinadad, looking forward to seeing the holiday photos. Diane

  6. I suspect that you will be so busy while you are there, that you will forget the things you may be worried about. Have a great time.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne


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