Monday, December 22, 2008

Dutch in Chiapas

Today, Hector and I met with fellow Dutchman Tammo Hoeksema (right), who grows flowers here in Chiapas. He showed us around in his greenhouses, and explained to us all about growing flowers in an eco-friendly way.

We met with Tammo because he has worked with our client Pronatura, and because he lives right next to one of our field sites, Granada.

This field site, by the way, looked great for warbler flocks. Half-open situations with both pines and oaks of various ages made for a diverse, well-structured forest that insectivorous birds just love. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to walk around in it, but I’m sure we will find large flocks at this site. Our current site, Moxviquil, is mostly young oak forest, with some variation in the vegetation only near the entrance. Everybody here tells me that Golden-cheeked Warblers can be found throughout the Moxviquil site, but having birded it for five days now and having seen only one very briefly, I remain sceptical. I asked Javier, one of the Pronatura staff who has worked on the GCWA project, which species is more common here, Black-throated Green or Golden-cheeked? A loaded question, of course, which I’m sure he recognized, because he paused a little before stating that he believed they were more or less equally rare. Well, at Moxviquil I’ve seen three different Black-throated Greens already, including two together, but so far I’ve had only half-a-second view of what I think was a Golden-cheeked. I never saw the head but I saw a warbler with a white belly and breast, black throat and black streaking on the sides, and a blackish upperside. Probably a goldencheek then. But large tracts of forest at the Moxviquil site are quite homogeneous and young; in my experience, older, more differentiated forests tend to be richer in bird life and more attractive to warblers.

Anyway. Tammo was super nice and over coffee told us all about growing flowers in Chiapas. He uses no pesticides. Instead, he controls insects that are harmful to his flowers with insects that are only harmful to those other insects. And he’s got two larger mammals – cats – prowling around to take care of smaller mammals – mice. He told us about the economics of the flower business, how the key driver in this trade is still price, more than quality. His flowers are a little more expensive than regular-grown flowers, but they are of higher quality and last much longer. He tries to convince his clients – hotels, large offices etc – that in the long run they spend less on his flowers, but apparently this is a hard case to make. His main crop is a flower that I knew from Holland, but in a much smaller version. He explained to us that he has to grow them big, because in the Mexican market, ‘bigger is better’. That, of course, is a widespread philosophy on this side of the Atlantic.

For some reason, there are many Dutch here. Tammo knows at least four who live in San Cristóbal. A couple of nights ago, we went to a restaurant called El Gato Gordo (The Fat Cat). There were two girls there whom Hector thought were Argentinian, based on their accents, but at three other tables, Dutch was spoken. I’ve never heard so much Dutch outside of Holland!

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