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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for July, 2007

Two turkeys, a Quetzal and some funny flying bats

Fiona and I are both back at Base Camp now. Yesterday evening we went for a very nice nature ramble along a gentle path near base camp. It was mostly uneventful - lots of fungus and bromeliad watching - all stationary stuff, until we found two huge turkey sized birds crashing around in the trees; these were Crested Guan - a fine looking bird, crested as the name suggests, and with a big red wattle.

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Back at base camp I managed to cause a minor disturbance when a male Resplendant Quetzal flew over the clearing and landed in a tree. There was a small rampage away from the dinner queue as many people here are rather eager to see this fine bird. Some school kids looked on in amusement and enquired as to our activities. When I informed them we were looking for a Resplendant Quetzal their faces remained blank so I qualified it with “arguably the most beautiful bird in the world” and they shuffled over with mild enthusiam. The Quetzal soon flew off. Fe saw it, but few others did and the dinner queue was gradually restocked.

We dined on a picnic bench as the sun went down. Five medium sized bats flew overhead for our delectation - these were much more directional and faster than the bats we see in the UK - I likened their flight to that of a sandpiper, a Dunlin perhaps. This appeared to distress Caroline the Habitat Surveyor who was sitting next to us; the poor girl has a painful experience watching sandpipers for her undergraduate dissertation and had been enjoying the bats until then.

Science must go on!

Fiona and I went out counting birds at Guanales early one morning. We were at a site at the end of a truncated transect (the transect had been shortened due to an illegal coffee plantation and the frequent presence of an armed gentleman). I had just begun a point count and was diligently listening for birdies when we heard voices coming from the path above us. They sounded like school kids so Fe set off at pace (would you believe she ran up the hill?) to ask them to please be quiet - science was in progress, after all. On her return she gingerly announced there was a man with a gun and another with a large machete just up the path and they were most definitely not school kids.

I’m not sure what she said to them, but it worked and they remained perfectly quiet for my census, before passing us and exchanging pleasantries.

A week at the Guanales Play Park

I’ve just spent the last week at a field camp called Guanales. Fiona came too for a couple of nights. Guanales is about 1.5 hours walk from Base Camp, up a gradual hill, then down a very steep hill. It’s at around 1250 metres above sea level, so is warm and sunny-ish.

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The best thing about Guanales is its showers - hollow bamboo pipes extending horizontally from the top of a small waterfall direct a powerful jet of water outwards creating the most powerful shower I have ever experienced. Privacy was somewhat lacking, but the setting was marvellous.

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A close second to the showers comes the newly created play park. Bex, an invertebrate person, learnt the Spanish word for a see-saw, so asked the Honduran forest guides if they could build one. They were happy to oblige and created a fine see-saw from forest products with machetes. This see-saw is special however. It has the revolutionary new feature of rotating on its pivot, as well as going up and down in the traditional fashion; a see-saw crossed with roundabout, if you will. It goes fast too. Every play park should have one.seesaw.jpg

The play theme continued with the introduction of an adult sized swing and a pull-up bar (would you believe I am near the top of the chart of number of pull ups in one go - I am a super hero after all). Guanales even has its own custom made Opwall Monopoly, again made with natural forest products. Science seemed to take a back seat to play for a while as herpetologists and bromeliadologist combined forces to make chess pieces from bamboo. Once complete I suspect a chess board will be etched on the dinner table.

Pygmy Elephants

Whilst lying in our tent at Base Camp this morning, enjoying the nearby yelping of Emerald Toucanets, Fe enthusiastically proclaimed “I want to see Pygmy Elephants!” this was followed by an only marginally less confident “Do they exist?”.

We’ve been together for three and a half years today. We might celebrate with half a can each of illicit Salva Vida and a chocolate biscuit!

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Resplendent Quetzal

The Resplendent Quetzal, arguably the most beautiful bird in the world is a resident of our forest. They can often be heard at dawn yelping away, occasionally fly overhead, but rarely provide satisfactory views. Last week, towards the end of my time at El Danto, a stunning male silently flew into my view, pranced around a little, showing of its ridiculously long tail and flew off again. I haven’t a picture so you’ll have to Google for one.

Rather a highlight, I’d say.

Death is around every corner

At El Danto I encountered several deadly snakes each day as I walked the through the forest to my bird survey sites. Indeed, an Emerald Palm Viper (small, green, but with enough oomph to kill you in a few hours) took up residence just a stones’ throw from my hammock and stayed for several days.

Sounds dangerous doesn’t it? Fortunately, most of the venemous snakes here are rather lazy and don’t actively pursue prey. They sit and wait until their prey conveinently strolls past them, then one bite does the trick, wait for the beast to die, then gobble it up. When they encounter humans, they mostly shuffle off quietly and considerately.

They are quite cryptic however and occasionally I executed 10 minute bird counts whilst standing right next to a Godman’s Pit Viper. Once I very nearly put my bag on one; I suspect the mighty MacPac would have lived.
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This is a Godman’s Pit Viper, fangs at the ready.

El Danto

I have recently returned from the deepest darkest, and most remote part of Cusuco National Park.

I spent two weeks at a field camp called El Danto (the Tapier) which is six hours’ walk from the nearest civilisation of Santo Tomas (a small shop, a bunch of dispersed houses, and another OpWall camp).

El Danto is in the thick of the cloud forest, situated by a rather beautiful stream. Accomodation is mostly in hammocks suspended between the trees, and in the few flat areas tents are squeezed in. The large dining table, kitchen area & shelving are made entirely from staves cut from the forest (the table was made last year and the underside is starting to rot). Two large tarpaulins keep the rain off.

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The stream provides a scenic, if rather cold bathing facility. The trench for toilet matters is up a steep hill and provides fine birdwatching (and sometimes snakewatching). Clothes can be washed but due to the humidity take two to three days to dry and often have to be finished of by a night in ones sleeping bag.

Food is provided by two nice Honduran ladies who stay with us for five days a week and cook rice, beans and maize tortillas in vast quantities. On lucky evenings we were given salty cheese.

A sunny morning

To prevent us from getting lost, bitten by snakes or into any other mischeif we were guided around the forest by men from a nearby-ish town. They wielded large machetes in occasionally alarming ways, necessitating walking a few steps behind them, but were generally agreeable, and endured my terrible Spanish with a spring in their step and a laugh on their face.

Since then I’ve been drying out in Buenos Aires and am now back in Base Camp with Fe.

A little holiday…

On Tuesday Chris got back from the west, so I duly walked down the mountain to go and meet him at his new base of Buenos Aires - I finally got to stay in the ‘luxury’ that is the ecolodge for a couple of nights, and so I’m not so keen on heading to my tent this evening. BA was lovely as ever with its great views over the mountains. Chris is lovely as ever as well and has pretty much got rid of his cough (his voice started going again a little, but prob just from wittering too much, hard to imagine, I know!). He seems to have had fun over on the other side, but I’m sure he’ll let you know all about that in due course - he might nip up for the afternoon for some data entry and internet…

Yesterday we went down to “El Tucan” Cascada (waterfall) it was beautiful and we even managed a swim, although it was a bit chilly, it was definitely worth it for the power shower alone! We had a bit of a sunbathe on the rock afterwards and I spotted an American Dipper - apparently they’re not supposed to be here, so it could be another plus point for the park… well it adds to the list anyway.

On the way back to the village I got rather frightened by some very loud thunder overhead - we were in quite an open area and was beginning to worry about the potential for lightening strikes. Needless to say we soon got drenched, although I am beginning to realise my trips to BA are not complete without a good soaking - this is the third time it’s happened to me.

Think that’s about it for the time being. Will try and add some more photos in the next few days…

Three little pigs…

Another highlight of the last week was the arrival of three freshly slaughtered pigs at base camp. Although the cooks were wanting to know how to cook them, and the men on camp were excited at the prospect of finally getting some proper meat, they were carted off into the forest by Matt - our camp manager - who seems to be willing to do anything. It made a pretty impressive sight:

Matt and Pig

The pigs are being used by a forensic science dissertation student who wants to look at the succession of insects that visit the dead animals. They have hopefully been placed at a good distance from the camp so we don’t have to smell them as they rot away - bets are being taken for when the girl doing the project will throw up first! I’m not sure what this project has to do with conservation, but it’s certainly a talking point!

My new neighbours

The other day the Honduran army (airforce) turned up at Base Camp complete with big guns and small guns - apparently not loaded, but I wouldn’t know about such things - it is a bit disconcerting, but as Chris has mentioned before, such people tend to be quite nice actually. My highlight to date has been seeing one of the guys in shorts and a vest with his machine gun slung over his shoulder and a naked lady tattoo on his leg. Nice. I would have taken a photo, but feared the consequences. The downside of having them was that last night they slept in the tent next to me, right at the end of camp - all a bit disconcerting knowing there’s a load of guns nextdoor. They also woke me up in the middle of the night talking loudly, needless to say I didn’t dare ask them to keep the noise down.

I guess I should now explain their presence - apparently they are here to help stop the illegal hunting and logging that goes on in the forest - not sure exactly what they’re going to be doing to help, but they did go off for a walk the other day and seem to have got lost and eventually turned up at the village down the mountain (BA for those who are keeping up!) - we at Base Camp were slightly concerned/amused that we’d managed to lose the army! All good fun.

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