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This Is Our Home

March 1, 2015

It’s 5:00 a.m., another dark and dewy morning at Reserva Las Tangaras. We stand in the candlelit kitchen with a hot cup of coffee and an apple to charge ourselves for the trek up the steep mountain we call our backyard. Headlamps on, data sheet and binoculars in our pack, we slip on our muck boots and begin another day. There is nothing like a hike through the jungle at 5:30 in the morning. All you can hear is the hum of the river and the harmonious symphony of frogs echoing from giant leaves and bromeliads. All you can see is the dense mist that fogs your way along the muddy path.

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Andean Cock-of-the-Rock – allzinfo.com

At 5:50, we have arrived at our destination, the lek of the infamous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. This is one of the most peaceful times of the day. Drops of dew splatter from canopy to soil, the peeping of the frogs becomes less and less, the chirping of awakening birds becomes more and more, the hum of the river down in the valley stays steady, all while the clouds hanging over the mountain tops begin to glow with the greeting of the morning sun. Just when we are hypnotized by the tranquility of the Cloud Forest, it explodes to life with the sudden call of the first Cock-of-the-Rock swooping in to claim his perch. Another male arrives and they greet each other with bobbing heads and flapping wings, squawking in a ritualized fashion. After only a few minutes, the lek is blessed with the presence of at least fifteen males. We spend our time collecting data and admiring their bright-red plumage and their fascinating display.

We stay as quiet and still as possible, but we know we don’t go unnoticed. This is proven true when you happen to make direct eye contact with the Cock-of-the-Rock. Although we’ll never know exactly what he’s seeing through his piercing eyes, we hope he’s only seeing another product of Mother Nature, another creature of the forest. This view is contrary to the perception that many humans possess – that we are separate from the rest of the natural world when in reality, we are all an integral part of it.

The crested guan

Crested Guan

 It’s 9:00 a.m. now, and we are descending the mountain after an epic morning. Suddenly, raucous squawks erupt from the canopy of a nearby tree. It’s a large bird, looking almost dinosaur-like, with its long tail, sharp beak, spotted chest, bright red dewlap, and its crown feathers raised up in alarm; it’s a crested guan. We realize there are three of them, all releasing a prehistoric-sounding call before they depart to find solitude again. We comment on the excitement as we continue on our way.

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Purple-Bibbed White Tip… one of our favorites at the reserve

As soon as we are back at the cabin, we are eagerly greeted by a purple-bibbed white-tip and her hungry friends. They don’t hesitate to let us know that it is well past the time we usually put out their hummingbird feeders. Once the hummers are pleasantly indulging in their sweet treat we begin our work tasks. It isn’t long until we are interrupted by the shrill distinct call of the chestnut-mandibled toucan. Though we see and hear these neighbors of ours often, we never take their presence for granted, so we run upstairs with our binoculars to get a better view. Sure enough, our toucan friend is perched on a branch high in the canopy, thrusting his beak in the air to cast his song far over the hills, showing off his beautiful yellow neck, glossy black body, and red rump plumage. After about ten minutes, the toucans fly away, large beaks leading their flight, and we return to our duties.

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Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan

 Around midday, the usual rains begin. For now, it’s a light drizzle, an ideal invitation for a small mixed flock of birds to play in the trees that surround the cabin. They jump from branch to branch like acrobats searching for their lunch. A golden tanager and a yellow-throated bush tanager hop around in the limon tree. A three-striped warbler pecks at the moss on the branches of a myconnia, while a spotted woodcreeper snacks on a beetle below on the trunk. An orange-bellied euphonia and a tropical parula dance around the guava tree. Each bird releases its own distinct song, chatter, and tweet – as Bob Marley would say “a melody pure as gold.”

Orange-bellied Euphonia

Our day’s work has been completed and we set out for an evening stroll along the Rio Nambillo, hoping to see some more birds. We arrive at our usual spot by the river to find that we are not alone. They stand perched on a mid-stream boulder, male and female, hunting an eddy. They are the true masters of air, water,and land – torrent ducks. We can’t believe our luck. We watch them for over an hour, diving into the swift-flowing river, running up rapids. They gracefully explore the river through every familiar route with their knowledge of every eddy. We admire their spectacular plumage, the male’s white and brown stripes, the female’s golden belly and chest. Eventually, the ducks take flight and we are left alone at the river to ponder on their incredible abilities.

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Broad-billed Motmot

 It’s 6:00 p.m. now, as we relax on the deck, relishing the day’s excitement. We notice, once again, that we are not alone. Two broad-billed motmots perch in a tree in the front yard, their rufous breasts stuck out, tails switching side to side like a cuckoo-clock. They take turns swooping through the air to catch their dinner, which reminds us, we better get started making our own dinner. And so our magical day with our fellow citizens of the Cloud Forest comes to a close.

 It’s funny how a day of going out, in search of birds, really brings us in. In to our natural world where we belong. In to the home that we share with so many others. The experiences we share with these captivating birds encourages us to reflect inwardly on our own place on this planet and how we are similar to the other living organisms around us, in that we share this land and its precious resources. It’s been over two centuries since Darwin and Wallace’s revolutionary visions enlightened humans about our place on earth as just another organism in geologic time, simply newcomers, with much left to learn about our dynamic and ever-changing world. Two centuries passed, and many humans continue to build a barrier between themselves and our fellow species. We all call this planet home, but not all of us realize it yet. It’s time for a change, don’t you think?

– Amber & Tom

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2015 3:41 pm

    How we long for the “typical day” in the cloud forest while we sit at home behind our computers in the iCloud forest !

  2. March 1, 2015 8:18 pm

    Thank you for the insights, Amber and Tom!

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