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Barstool Birdwatching

La Laguna Del Pajaros

Beginning my journey to the mainland, I hopped aboard Carlos Alejos' river trip boat from the island for Altun Ha, a thousand year old Maya site on the main land. We crossed the Back Bay and cruised up the Northern River to the Bomba Village. From Bomba we chartered a van. Carlos dropped me at the Maskall Village, home of the Pretty See Jungle Ranch where I had been invited to stay.
After a tour of the grounds around the lodge, I was given an unusually elegant cabaña and introduced to a guide named Alex.
Alex surprised me with his "quick study" English, and we chuckled about how we both wore similar "Botas Grandes". He immediately led me across a pasture of horses, thank God for big boots. We were on our way to his special bird watching spot he called "La Laguna Del Pajaros".
Beyond the pasture among strangler fig and cahune trees was an ancient spring fed lagoon, a special year-round supply of water at the foot of the jungle and end of the savanna. Just what I had come to see - the conjuncture of two rich habitats at water. A small pier extended from the bank into the arena of the lagoon. Its surrounding trees created a panorama of jungle.
I was almost overwhelmed by the birds that seemed to be everywhere I pointed my binoculars. Some I may never be able to identify.
For a while I was frantically looking up new species in my field guide. I decided after a few minutes to just relax, let time go by and enjoy my watch.
Chachalaca crackled in the background. Blue-gray Tangers, Tricolored Heron, a tree of Ani, a Green Kingfisher perching on a stick, two Gray Necked Wood Rails hunting along the bank with Little Ruddy Crakes mixing their hunting ground, two Red Billed Pigeons cooing from the tallest tree, a tree filled with yellow-lored Parrots, a variety of hawks soared above rocking wings and casting hunting eyes downward.
I turned slowly to study four Boat Billed Heron perched on a dead tree leaning in the lagoon.
During our stillness and quiet of awe, a crocodile larger than myself rose from below, then surfaced in slow motion, crawled atop a lagoon log and lay fully extended in the sun.
Crocodile watching must be similar to bird watching.
He was light mud brown and oddly yellow with dark, vertical bands on its tail. Reaching forward with his hind leg and twisting his neck back, he scratched behind one ear like Bubba does when it's time to relax on a rug.
A passing light breeze blew open my bird book, flapping and flashing its white pages. The crocodile only paused a second at the notice of me then slid below the surface. I think even Alex was amazed.
I was in bird watcher's heaven and nearing overload before I noticed this different looking tityra. I raised my binoculars to catch a close look and saw the bright red mask of a Masked Tityra.
It was all I could take. I had to put down the binoculars. It was time to leave.
Time started back slowly as I walked back across the pasture to the bar at the lodge.
I'm going to like this place!

I settled in the lodge and warmed up to a stool in its bar. After a few cold beers and an hour of admiring the view of the ranch an idea struck me. I'll christen this place with its 1st annual barstool bird watching count.
Oddly enough, Alex, my favorite guide, is also the bartender. His English and my Spanish mixed into an understanding that a point is a pajaro (bird) and the most "puntas" wins!
Alex said, smiling, "Want a drink?" and started washing his blender in the sink.
I turned to view the ranch's orchard and was surprised by a parrot sitting on the veranda handrail.
Alex said, "That's Bill, Hello Bill, Hello!"
Bill cocked one eye at me, then towards Alex and said, "Auwk!"
Bill wasn't giving anything away and obviously had been listening to the game rules. Alex repeated, "Hello Bill, Hello!" I could tell Alex was underestimating Bill's intellect.
With my best Spanish I said, "Bill puede jugar! (Bill can play!" Alex smiled and said, "I'll fix you a special drink."
Having once been beaten by a dog, I began to focus on Bill.
Suddenly Alex raised the blender cup and scored the first point with "Great Curassow!"
I then realized I had overlooked them because they were mixing with the domestic fowl in the chicken coop.
Alex - 1, Elbert - 0, Bill - 0.
The game begins!
I had a disadvantage to start. Alex is a closet birdwatcher, and this is his turf.
Alex calmly said, "Red Rails" and gestured with the blender lid in the direction of the coop. I looked up to notice two Red Rails had given up the jungle life to live with the chickens.
Alex - 2, Elbert - 0, Bill - 0.
Alex put three scoops of vanilla ice cream in the blender with three very carefully measured shots of Absolute vodka and a bottle of Coke. My curiosity rose!
While the blender was doing its magic, Alex pulled out a well-worn copy of Peterson's Field Guide and then poured me what he calls an Alexo Especial!
I knew I was in trouble and recklessly spouted off - Grackle, Kiskadee, Oriole, Ground Dove and Black-crowned Tityra.
This seemed to cause Bill some concern, and he flew to one of the flamboyant trees around the veranda.
Alex - 2, Elbert - 5, Bill - 0.
From his perch among the bright orange blossoms of the tree, Bill gave three methodical "Auwks".
Alex and I studied Bill's score in the tree and conceded to his credit a Rufous Tailed Hummingbird, a Yellow-bellied Trogan and two Banana Quits.
While Alex and I were confirming this claim, Bill had flown to a small cashew grove in front of the lodge and had given two more "Auwks" at a Cinnamon Hummingbird and Forked-tail Flycatcher.
Alex - 2, Elbert - 5, Bill - 5.
Jamming down the button of the blender, Alex shouted without looking up, "Mangrove Cuckoo, Ant Ani and Red Vented Woodpecker!"
I turned with my binoculars to confirm their presence at the jungle's edge across the pasture.
I was transfixed with my binoculars on the ani's large black upper mandible when Bill flew in to check the official score.
I had slugged down the Alexo Especial, and Alex was now feeding bananas into the blender atop cinnamon and cane juice.
The afternoon was approaching, and I felt a call to visit the veranda's cool breeze. Alex told me Bill is usually entertaining, but today "auwk" is all he will say. Possibly it is the level of concentration on the game!
With a score of Alex - 5, Elbert - 5 and Bill - 5, the three of us relaxed and sipped the banana, cane juice concoction.
Bill cocked his head at Alex's and my contentment with the tie and decided to play his ace.
"Auak! Yellow-head Parrot, Yellow-head Parrot, Name's Bill, auak!"
Every hour or so for the remainder of the evening, Bill would give a mocking "Ha, ha, ha, ha" with a human-like quality.
Alex - 5, Elbert - 5, Yellow-head - 6!