Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Thrill of Adventure

A slippery climb to view a Swallow-tailed Kite and the epic beauty of Semuc Champey

I love birding.  Period. But I love birding Central and South America a little bit more. My first great passion was Spanish.  It brought me to this chapter in my life.  Once upon a time, a small town boy from Wisconsin dreamed of exploring the rain forests and ancient civilizations of Central and South America. He had read about them in his National Geographic magazines.

Clay-colored Thrush enjoys an avocado
 Today that dream has turned into reality. Back in 2006, I went to Guatemala for the first time but I wasn't a birder.  So I returned last year with my new eyes and camera ready for the journey.  Birding in an exotic locale is an adventure.  There aren't reliable ebird reports in many places.  Many times I had to speak with people about a particular bird.  They didn't always know what the names of the birds were but if I had a pic on my cell phone, they'd generally recognize them right away. At that point, they'd give me directions to the various spots and also the time frame in which the birds usually showed up. I found that I was the first person reporting in many of these incredible places. And it was a very rewarding experience. 


This is where my heart belongs and perhaps one day I will return here for a longer stretch, but there is a great big world waiting to be explored.  I chose Guatemala over Costa Rica or Panama this time because it was underbirded. Plus, if you forced me to choose, I'd pick Guatemala because it is such a colorful country. The Mayan culture is still rich and alive.  However, it wasn't always the easiest place to travel and the birds could be a challenge.  

Watching a volcano erupt in the distance
 But at the end of the day after lots of research and exploration, we had the most incredible views from our lodges. 

Slaty-tailed Trogon
 There are no safety rails in Guatemala like one might find in Costa Rica or in parts of Panama.  People would ask me the purpose of my trip and I'd tell them that I was birding.  They wrinkled their noses.....meaning they didn't understand.  So I began to tell them that I was a photographer filming the amazing Guatemalan wildlife.  And then they understood. Birding is still an unknown for many around the world. We are the ambassadors for our feathered friends in this crazy human world. If people understand that there are those who would pay money to get a glimpse of their birds, they then might consider protecting areas for people to come visit. The idea is slowly catching on. 



And the animals were incredible.  With birder eyes, nothing goes unnoticed.  Plus I had a friend with me who also helped in the searches and she was amazing.  Together we laughed at the most uncomfortable situations.  I think by the end of the month, she understood my addiction towards birds better. 


Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush(that's a mouthful)
 And while on the trails in Guatemala, I noticed during my research of strange birds that there were two birders who also reported on Ebird.  In fact, they were some of the only ones who reported often.   Both had male names and I assumed that they were older until one contacted me via Facebook.  Turns out, the top ebirders for Guatemala were two high school students.  I loved that my stereotype was shattered.  As a teacher, it is my hope that we get more young people to bird.  And I have seen an increase in their numbers!  In fact just the other day, I met a high school student with a group of birders in the Arizona area.  I had assumed the older gentleman was his grandfather.  Turns out he was a birder! Isn't our lot a strange one?  Where else can generations join together for one common goal and discover birds? Each offering the other knowledge, experience and quick spotting by sight or sound.  I think it's pretty amazing.  

Gray Silky-flycatcher
 Now birding still isn't "cool" by the regular gang, but it's catching on.  Why?  Epic locales like the ones we visit entice the young at heart to explore places that they've never heard about before.  And when I asked these young people why they've chosen birding as their hobby, they've explained to me that not only are birds amazing but that it takes them to strange and exciting places. When I heard "strange", I immediately thought about the smelly sewage plants and dumps:) Then there are the epic National Parks. We can camp, hike, canoe, etc.  Birding is also a personal challenge and for some, a competition. How many trips around the world did it take me before I put 2 and 2 together? I'd prefer not to think about it:) I'm here now and that's all that matters. 


My next series for Birding is Fun will focus on several Guatemalan places that I thought were great for birding.  I'll share some secrets with you as well plus give you some info for your non-birder crew who might want to follow. We'll explore Antigua, Tikal, Semuc Champey, Lake Atitlan, and other locales.  Each place offers birders great spaces to explore while having other things of interest for the non-birder crowd.  It's like a two-for-one:) While on this trip, I snapped this picture(below) of an artist painting her mural near Antigua.  It inspired me as I sat and watched her work.  It got me thinking about my own photography and life list. This became the header for a personal blog to help organize the sightings of new and old birds alike. 


 Each year I learn more and more about birds and it's thrilling. That's why Birding is Fun!


Where will this trail lead me?  What will I discover?

17 comments:

  1. Chris, your enthusiasm for birding and travel comes through loud and clear in this outstanding post ... now I want to add Guatemala to my bucket list. Love the avocado-gorging thrush and handsome trojon! You captured the essence of your travels with the fantastic photographs and writing. Wonderful!

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  2. Thanks Julie! Birding is pretty epic. Too many places to visit and not enough time:)

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  3. Hola Chris!!!.. Nunca se sabe lo que depara el futuro, pero España es un buen destino en todos los sentidos, aves, paisajes, pueblos bellos y gente divertida.. Una pregunta.. Exactamente que es lo que tu haces, y en que zona???.. Cuéntamelo porque veo que estás por muchos sitios y llevas a gente.. Es solo pájaros??? Si quieres me lo cuentas en mi blog o en facebook.. Venga saluditos españoles..

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    1. Gracias por visitarme:) Vivo en Arizona pero durante mis vacacciones, viajo mucho por el mundo:) Soy adicto de los aves:)

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  4. Hi Chris. I doubt I will ever make it to Guatemala so I will settle for this little side trip via your blog. It's a beautiful country and enjoyed seeing the birds.

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    1. Thank you Roan for visiting! So many wonderful places and all we have to do is just step outside of our door. No need for Guatemala or any other place when there are birds nearby:)

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  5. I love your birding enthusiasm and wish I could go to as many places as you do to pursue them.

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    1. The secret? Not having kids and some teacher vacation time:)

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  6. It's time to be little bit of birding, and yes, you have done it. I love your birds in centre and south America.

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  7. Isn't it wonderful also to be in a place where you can speak the language also???? That is awesome... So glad you chose to go back to Guatemala... Sounds like a fantastic place to go ---not just to bird but also because of the people and those marvelous views. Thanks for taking us with you.

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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    1. Thanks Betsy for visiting and joining in on the adventure!

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  8. I was going to tell the commenter how profound I thought his comment was on the loss of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, and as I pulled up the blog, I realized it was you! Of course you would make such a sad, beautiful comment! I have only visited this blog once before, and am sorry I haven't done so more often. I love the Mayan culture and wish I could visit that area, but I didn't think about doing so from a birding perspective. Perhaps I should! :-) Loved the post. Thanks again for being such an inspiration to all of us who love nature and birds!

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    1. Thanks Marie. The whole reason I do what I do is from blogging with fellow birders and nature lovers. You all inspire me to do better and work harder.

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  9. Nothing in life beats a good adventure, and Guatemala certainly seems like a terrific place to have one. The scenery shots are breathtaking. It's great to see so much unspoiled wilderness left, and to read about the people's familiarity with their local animals. Looking forward to reading more about your birding adventures in Central and South America!

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    2. Thanks Nicholas! There are still areas untouched. Getting there is a bit um....rough....and bringing all the gear can be a pain, but I don't regret it one single bit. It's not everyday we get to see these pretty spectacular places. I've learned how to pack better to prepare for water needs and hunger fits:)

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