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Michael Emenaker

Michael Emenaker

Here is the merry face of Michael Emenaker … one of the volunteer caretakers of the birding site in Salineno. This site is on the bank of the Rio Grande river with Mexico on the other side. It is an ideal place to see the “specialty” birds of this humid, tropical region.  Michael comes down from Colorado to fill bird feeders, monitor people, and insure the health and good will of humans and birds, alike.

Michael Filling Feeders

Michael Filling Feeders

Let us all be thankful that he has assumed the mantle of previous caretakers so that we can enjoy the Green Jay, all the Orioles, the Kiskadee and Roadrunner etc, etc. Every day he spreads peanut-butter/corn meal glop on the tree trunks and awaits the influx of many hungry birds.

One of the most spectacular birds is the Golden-fronted Woodpecker who is seen only in Texas. Another bird seen only in southernmost Texas is the Olive Sparrow with his dull greenish tint on his back. He is shy and hard to see as he prefers dense underbrush as his home. Sharing his neighborhood is the tiny Black-crested Titmouse who darts in, grabs a sunflower seed and dashes away giving almost no time to take a photo …many blurry shots of him I have taken before I managed to get this one of him. Hopping slowly next to the Olive Sparrow is the Black-throated Sparrow in his crisp white and black tuxedo. They all delight the people grouped around Michael who patiently names them for the beginning birders. Thanks Michael!

The Cactus Wren ! A desert bird who is comfortably at home building his nest right in a towering cactus. No one will bother his nest tucked into the protective spines of a cactus. He is a medley of stripes and dots. What a visually spectacular bird!

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Finally, the Pyrrhuloxia … took me a while to get his name right … he is gray with a vermillion face, a pointed topknot, and red scattered down his chest. Sitting on a blue feeder tray he is delightful.

Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Come on down to the Rio Grande Valley to see all these resident birds.

Here is a new wrinkle in the ongoing technology path of taking a picture. It is called “digi-scoping” or maybe “phonescoping”… it is using a digital camera phone with a telescope.  In Panama our guide to finding amazing butterflies was looking thru his spotting scope at a dime-sized tiny butterfly sitting on a tree trunk 25 feet away from us. “Here is a Dirce butterfly” he said. I looked thru my binoculars and there was a patterned beauty, Tino gestured and said “Give me your Iphone”.  I handed it over, he positioned it in front of the spotting scope, carefully moved it in minute increments to the perfect place, CLICK, and look at this wonderful photo.

Dirce Butterfly

Dirce Butterfly

The Dirce butterfly captured on my Ipnone. Marvellous!

Walking further down the deserted dirt road, Tino points to another tree 30 feet away and says “There is a Two Eye Eighty Eight butterfly on that trunk.”  I squint, look thru my binoculars and see an itty-bitty blob. He again takes my Iphone and works his magic … an image of a butterfly with two black spots shows on my Iphone. “Can I try? ” I ask. He gives me the Ipnone and I move the lens close … closer … too close … back a bit. No luck … no image emerges … AND … the little guy flies away. This is much harder than it looks when watching Tino. A delicate touch, and lots of practice is required!

Two Eye Eighty Eight

Two Eye Eighty Eight

Arriving at our lodge we are handed an empty plastic bottle and a man says “ Please fill this with your urine tonight to add to our ‘fermented brew’ which is sprayed on leaves along the trail. It attracts a lot of butterflies.” We are hot, tired, and fresh off our flight from the U.S., and it seems a strange request … but we comply and the next day, when we go out on the trail in the Panama jungle, we are rewarded with the Inca Metalmark butterfly sitting on the leaf sprayed with the brew. Phew! Who knew?

Inca Metalmark

Inca Metalmark

Here is the Canopy Tower

Canopy Tower

Canopy Tower

It used to be a radar tower built by the U.S. and abandoned years ago. Then it was converted into a hotel where birders and butterfliers stay as they look down on the tops of the tropical trees where many creatures spend their days. The deck four floors up provides a place to view toucans, monkeys, and butterflies. Many happy hours are spent seeing a whole different world.

Tree With a Secret

Tree With a Secret

This ordinary tree hosts a butterfly who uses its mottled bark to camouflage its wings … it is so successful it takes me many minutes to spot the Variable Cracker butterfly. If you walk by this tree you hardly notice the dark gray spot blending in with the other spots.

Variable Cracker Butterfly

Variable Cracker Butterfly

The Cracker is cleverly hidden. I guess the butterfly who blends in the best is the one who survives to pass on his camouflage genes.

Variable Cracker Butterfly

Variable Cracker Butterfly

The pattern on his wings is so elegant…looks like watered silk.

Can You See It?

Can You See It?

There is a bird here! Can you find him ? Look for his open eye … that might help … a master at disappearing. He is the Pauraque, a nocturnal bird of the brushlands from southern Texas to northern Argentina.

 

Moths in Panama

After a long day searching for butterflies, Linda, our guide says,  “I am putting up a white sheet and leaving a UV light on all night to see what moths we draw to the light.”  Later that night we go out to check and there is a weird collection of shapes on the sheet. They don’t even look like moths … rather they look like creatures on a Star Wars planet. Trying to photograph them, we discover we need one person to hold a flashlight while someone else points the camera at them. Here are a few moths … not content we all vow to get up early, early (5 am) and troop out to see what else flew in.  So Many! So Varied!  Linda takes photo after photo and we never see two of any moth … each new one stranger than the last. An unexpected bonus on this butterfly trip.

A 3 inch moth flew in and hung from a post. He looked like a dead leaf.

This moth has a secret

This moth has a secret

Then he fluttered to the ground and opened his wings to scare us … two large “eyes” stared at us …

Surprise! Did I scare you?

Surprise! Did I scare you?

if we were an ordinary predator maybe we would reconsider taking a bite of something which might have a large face behind those eyes. Maybe? Another question to think about …

Zapata Swamp

The Zapata swamp in Cuba is home to the Zapata Wren who sings his melodious song in this 1600 square mile wetland. Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000 this astonishing place has swamp prairies, tidal pools, and mangroves. Going into the swamp on a small boat, poled silently thru the waterways, is like returning to a primeval world. With over 1000 plants species and 23 of the endemic birds of Cuba found here it is a rich treasure. That rare thing, silence, can also be found here deep in the heart of the wetlands Sanctuary … shelter for the soul.

These two paintings reflect my memory of the few hours we spent in the swamp.

Don’t judge a book by its covers … this applies to the entire country of Cuba.Walking down the gray streets of stone in Trinidad, I thought how cold stone is visually. Suddenly, like magic, it was time for the cafe owners, the shop keepers, and people in general to open their shuttered tall windows and doors, and color appeared. Before I took a photo of an interior I asked the person there if it was permitted to do so. They all gave me a “go ahead” smile and here are the results: a living room, an art gallery, a hat shop, a restaurant … and this was only one block! Some are sumptuous, some are restrained, but all show a great deal of thought has been put into form and color. Enjoy the ebullient feel of Cuba!

 

Walking through the landscaped grounds of a resort we see a robin-sized bird hopping around the corner of a building. Snapping to ALERT we begin sneaking slowly toward the corner. Carrina and I put our heads around the edge and a Red-legged Thrush comes into focus.

Red Legged Thrush

Red-Legged Thrush

Our Cuban guide said he is hard to see as he is usually lurking in underbrush. Here he is in an open area with the sun shining on his red legs. They are neon red!  His matching red eye is clearly outlined. We high five and glance around … there are three chambermaids, loaded with sheets, standing still with their mouths open and their eyes wide in concern looking at us. We wave and gesture at our cameras and try to reassure them we are harmless. They relax, smile, and scurry on to their jobs. Our sneaking must have been convincing!