Sunday, September 6, 2009

¡Que onda!

Numbers of Mississippi Kites picked up these last few days, with a first good flight on the 3rd with 30,630, followed by 24,781 the next day. Other raptors started showing up, with the first Broad-winged Hawks of the season, first Northern Harriers, first Hook-billed Kites, first Cooper’s Hawk; we’re also seeing slightly more Ospreys than before. I suppose the best hawk last week was not seen by us but caught and banded by the banding team that’s working at the Cansaburro site a little north of Cardel: Red-shouldered Hawk! That’s a bird we don’t see too many of, and usually they show up much later in the season.

Friday, I was stationed at the Chichicaxtle site, where we started the day with low-flying, dragonfly-hunting Mississippi Kites. We didn’t get the big numbers the other team in Cardel counted, but we had great looks at several hundreds of these graceful birds.
Here’s one about to feed on a dragonfly.

For us in Chichicaxtle, the afternoon was quiet and relaxed. While scanning the skies, we listened to some music on Fello’s cell phone, and I found myself explaining English lyrics to Fello and Citlali, neither of whom speak much English. We listened to some Michael Jackson, whose music this summer can be heard throughout Mexico and Central America. After his death last June, I remember hearing it everywhere in Nicaragua, and here too all the hits from the 80’s are played contstantly. People love it, even though they often have no idea what it’s about. Well, explaining Michael Jackson songs in Spanish isn’t too hard, I found. Some Bob Marley I could manage too. But then we got to Guns ‘n’ Roses, Welcome to the Jungle. I don’t particularly care for GNR, and had never spent much time listening to the lyrics. Which evidently are quite suggestive! Try explaining that, a rock star solliciting sexual favors from a fan. We also listened to Oasis’ Wonderwall, a more accomplished lyric, hard to do justice to for one whose Spanish is still at beginner’s level.

Late in the afternoon, we were joined by two local girls, of maybe 14 or 15 years old, who got an introduction to hawk and waterbird identification from Citlali. They seemed altogether too busy giggling – as girls that age will do – to really assimilate this information, and I think they were more interested in learning English than in bird identification anyway. So we spent some time on that, with them trying to name whatever we saw around us (tree, table, mountain, etc), and on greetings like good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night. In Spanish, there’s only three such greetings, so it was a little challenging to them to figure out the difference between good evening and good night. And we threw in some slang: ¡Que onda! – What’s up! Lots of giggling of course. They walked us home, and wanted to know when I would be working at the Chichicaxtle count site again, for more English lessons.

Which won’t be for a while. Saturday I had a day off, and went to a coastal site north of Cardel, where the birding and butterflying was fine, if not spectacular. Lots of migrant Blue-gray Gnatcatchers everywhere. Some shorebirds – Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Plovers, Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings – and some gulls and terns, Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, a Reddish Egret. All cool birds of course, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Best bird was perhaps a Lesser Roadrunner at an archaelogical site, Quiahuitzlán. On the way back, while waiting for the bus, a taxi stopped and I asked how much it would be to Cardel. Not too much more than the bus would have been, so I got in. Oh, how nice to be able to talk to people now! Pretty soon we were five people in the car, it was quite cozy, and of course the driver and passengers wanted to know where I was from. I’ve found that whenever I tell people here that I’m from Holland, invariably the next question is: is it cold there? Every Mexican seems to think it must be terribly cold in Holland, and I know why: there’s a popular brand of ice cream called Holanda.

Back in the Cardel bus station, waiting for the local bus to Chichicaxtle, I saw the blind guitarist again. I remembered him from last year: he played achingly beautiful music at the Chichicaxtle bus stop one fine morning at daybreak. There he was again, asking for people to direct him to the Xalapa bus, bumping into things and into people – but no-one helped him! So I took him by the shoulder and directed him to the same bus I was going to board. Got to listen to some more of his music on the ride home – sweet!
Sunday I work at the Cardel site, and then Monday and Tuesday I have two days off in a row.

For those of my readers I met at the Laguna de Apoyo biological station in Nicaragua, some sad tidings: Aura informs me that Gregory the Peccary died the first week of August and that Blackie (the Dog) died last week. I am reminded of that legendary walk Blackie undertook when he joined James Noonan and myself on a trek to the 'magic shrub' early last month.

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