By the light of a
head lamp we crossed the barbed wire fence into a wall of cricket sounds,
across Eladio's banana patch, then trudged our way up the steep muddy trail
into the forest. Metallic sounding Tink Frogs ring out above the din of insects,
despite the darkness our sense of urgency was reinforced by the loud flapping
of a male chestnut-headed Oropendola as it changed perches between trees.
The dawn duet of Rufous Motmots reverberates from the canopy in a rhythmic
bo-bo-bo boom boom, boo-boo-boo bo bo! like some sort of bassoon or drums.
They were soon joined by the frog-like Aahrrr ahrr ahrr ah ah ah-ahrr of Broad-billed
Motmots, followed by the mellifluous caroling of a Pale-vented Robin. I point
to the perch where a male Bare-necked Umbrellabird had displayed (boomed)
during the two prior trips, a Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush sings from beneath
the umbrellbird perch as it had on many mornings, but on this morning at least,
el Sombrillo or Pavoncilla is a no-show.
An Olive Tanager begins his morning song bout moving
to a perch to give a long complicated medley of squeaky calls and trills,
and then off to the next perch. The tanagers will soon be in loose flocks
joined by the likes of Common Bush-Tanagers, Golden-crowned Warblers, and
Spotted Barbtails. From somewhere down hill a Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
utters its rattly call, a day of birds has begun.
The tripod is hefted onto the shoulder on top of tape
recorder and parabolic microphone straps, and Tony gives the typical "lead
on McDuff". We work our way along a ridge-top trail to a Green Hermit
lek, the males are spread out though the understory, from low perches they
tirelessly give there repeated one note nasal squeak "Aeair eair eair"
while flicking their long white-tipped tail downward almost in rhythm with
the notes. We move from the ridge top down the trail where a White-throated
Shrike-Tanager's loud calls are almost inaudible above the roar of the creek
below. In rubber boots we hop across rocks and shallow rushing water of the
Quebrada Pavoncilla, to the other side on boards on top of mud, to firmer
ground. The forest glazed by last nights mist is best described in the rich
greens of Fujichrome, leaning out across the path tubular flowers glow a vibrant
scarlet that can't be missed by the color sensitive eyes of the hermit hummingbirds.
The Rio Penas Blancas roars in the distance, an accelerating
Too Too Too Too-Too-Too Too Too draws a Black-headed Antthrush. We confer
on the direction it came from and then I begin my whistled imitation of its
call. This is a bird on Tony’s hit list, we wait and the bird approaches
the odd sounding intruder on its territory, it nears to give us a look, Apretty
cool bird eh? I gloat, Tony replies "not bad". Again the sound of
boots on mud, a Lattice-tailed Trogon calls from a location that refuses us
a look. We hear the "bweer" calls of White-breasted Wood-Wrens from
beyond some thick herbaceous growth,
The forest rings with life, most vocalists go unseen. To
our right there is a churring chortling rhythmic rattle, interrupted by one
or two pure toned short whistles, the low vegetation ripples as the vocalist
move from stem to stem beyond view. The chortling gives way to melodic tuneful
whistling, and than to very variable song phrases. The whistles are in the
range of my whistling and the vocalist approach, we're rewarded with nice
looks at Song Wrens some four birds hopping along the ground, and duetting
from low perches. Days in tropical forest especially such middle-elevation
Caribbean forest are precious, and the early mornings priceless.
Rio Penas Blancas Valley
a narrative of a trip through a Caribbean Slope Rainforest
L. Ross, Jr.