Sunday, January 17, 2010

El Jicarito revisited

Yesterday I spent all day birding El Jicarito, a wetlands complex in the Honduran department of Choluteca. Kashmir, Fabiola and I went there about a week ago, and back then we only had a couple of hours to bird this fantastic place. Being in the neighborhood, and figuring there could be Pearl Kites here as well as any place, I went back for a full day of birding.

The day started with some bad luck. This winter, I sometimes feel like the entire field season is nothing but bad luck, with various car problems, passport theft and a lot of waiting. I passed two police road blocks yesterday morning, but about a kilometer before my turnoff, I was stopped at a third. The police officer and I went through the usual routine with car papers, driver's license, and the check of the triangles and fire extinguisher. This time, he found the fire extinguisher to be empty. "Look," he said, "the meter is in the red. This thing is empty." To prove his point, he squeezed the handle, as if to spray, but nothing happened. Seeing he had a point, I didn't contest his findings, and meekly paid the 200 Lempiras. Before I paid, he wanted me to get back into the car. Later I realized why: the transaction had to be performed without the other cops seeing it, so that he could pocket the money himself. As he handed me back my driver's license and the car papers, he leaned over the rolled down window into the car and stuck out his hand for the 200 Lemps. Reflecting a bit on this, it occurred to me that all Honduran cops received the money I've given them this way, and I assume they all keep it to themselves. None of them write actual tickets.

Anyway, I got to El Jicarito a little before 9 AM, and then pleaded with the guard to let me in. You see, in the dry season there's a few small puddles with some shorebirds and ducks here and there and this presumably is the reserve. Then there's a gate. Behind the gate, the birding is much better. Last week, we had no problem going through. Yesterday though, a different caretaker informed me that the road was a private road, and that he had instructions not to let anyone enter except fishermen who worked on the shrimp farm it led to. I pleaded a little bit, saying I was a birder, only interested in observing birds, nothing else. Reluctantly, he let me in.

In just a week's time, many wet areas had become dry and bird numbers and diversity seemed lower in the areas we visited the week before.

Then I stumbled onto some good luck. A large SUV pulled up to where I was parked, its windows rolled down, and inside was a wealthy-looking older couple with worried faces who asked me what I was doing. "Birding," I said. They then smiled and sighed a big sigh of relief, and said "ah - birding! Yes, we have many birds here." They were of course the owners of the shrimp farm, and the man even got out of his vehicle to talk to me. He was not a birder himself, but he was clearly enchanted by the multitude of birds on his property. "Oh, it's quite a spectacle. Sometimes it's just like a movie!" Super-friendly, he said I was welcome to bird the premises. I had to sign in at another gate, and after that I got to the shrimp farm itself, which indeed held many more birds than the area outside the gate.

Rather than list every species I saw, I will mention and illustrate some highlights. Most unusual species was probably Franklin's Gull, of which I found two individuals in the large Laughing Gull flock. Franklin's Gull you would expect here in migration; as a winter visitor, it is fairly rare in the region.

Other cool birds included resident Mangrove Yellow Warblers, which were common. Wintering (northern) Yellow Warblers were also abundant.

This bird has just begun molting its contour feathers, and will soon have a burgundy head, like the bird pictured above.

A good number of raptors can be observed at this place. I stumbled upon this immature Peregrine Falcon, which I photographed at maybe 10 meters (30 ft) distance - through the windshield.

Then there was this muddy-legged but very confiding (Mangrove) Common Black-Hawk. I was able to approach this bird at 5 m distance, and it even remained while I got out of the car for more photos.

I don't know if I've ever been this close to a wild raptor that wasn't being held by a raptor bander...

I was also lucky with this Eastern Meadowlark, which sang its little heart out just meters away from me.

At the moment, I'm back in San Salvador, about to get ready for heading out to Honduras again, to do the remaining goldencheek field sites, La Tigra and Uyuca.

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