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    Birds of Belize

Barstool Birdwatching-Chan Chich

After a morning walk, I lured Bubba into the Looter's Trench Bar with Norman's promise to serve him cold Belikin draft in a bowl. We needed a pep session before the competition began.

Years ago when I pulled Bubba from under his mother, I thought the best I would ever achieve with him would be to convey six very important understandings for a bird dog, " No, sit, shake, outside and good dog." I'm surprised with how far he's come using those fundamentals. Here he is about to undertake his 4th 'Barstool Birdwatching' event. He's become a widely published, world renowned bird columnist whose opinions of birds and related subjects are prized by Internet surfers visiting his 'homepage' and showering him with fan e-mail. Since gametime was nearing, Norman, the presiding bartender, and equal competitor, poured himself a scotch on the rocks and said " When the guys finish inflating your egos, I'm ready."

"Would you like me to go over the rules Norman?"

Norman twisted his moustache and put a wrinkle on his brow, "I think I know them, one species equals one point; you can't leave the bar, and the dog just has to bark to score his point."

"Norman, Bubba doesn't like to be called a dog. Since you're new to this sport, you go first."

Norman leaned forward on the bar with one arm and took a quick sip of  scotch with the other, "Sure fine! Two crested quan in the top canopy above the temple mound, a tree of 20 nesting orapendula at the edge of the plaza, six keel-billed toucans in that wild fruit tree beside cabana #6, three red lored parrots at the crest of that sapodilla, a single bat falcon at the top of the dead cedar by the pool and the pale billed woodpecker cleaning out that hole in the cabbagebark tree.  That's 6 to zero to zero, your turn."

I was stunned, Bubba's eyes were wider than I had ever seen him open them.  Neither of us had thought of what kind of Birder a man in Norman's position might have become.  He’s has been pouring drinks and chatting with ornithologists from around the world for the last ten years.  We should have suspected at least.

Norman mixed me a rum and soda and put a large bowl under the beer tap for Bubba.

Still in awe I said, "Well....uh....cinnamon hummingbird in the Heliconia."  Bubba

barked at the oscillated turkey on the walkway.  there was a long silent pause.  Norman took long slow sip of scotch, looked at us and said, "sure, fine!"

"A longtailed hermit hummingbird next to your cinnamon, a blackheaded vulture in the tree with those red loreds, a collared aracari mixing with the keelbills, 2 rufus tailed jacamar in the shade above the hot tub, a yellow winged tanager eating those small wild berries and a pair of masked tityra inspecting that old woodpecker hole.  That's 14 to 1 to 1."

I realized that my mouth was hanging open and shut it.  Bubba had stopped panting, his

head bent down with his lips frozen in a circle that seemed to say 'oooooh!"

He regained his posture and began to look Norman up and down in deep thought.

Suddenly he asked aloud ' Where do the Mennonites get all those suspenders?"

I was confused and surprised.  Bubba rarely speaks aloud to anyone but me.  He must be fully aware of how annoying those inane touristy questions must be to someone like Norman.  I realized it was a diversion and weighed for a moment the sportsmanship of this, then asked, "Where do the monkeys sleep at night?"  Norman reeled back from the bar with a devilish grin exposing his teeth from below his handlebars, " Well the monkeys sleep in the trees with that pygmy kingfisher over there on the boton wound in philodendron, and the Mennonites get their suspenders from a suspender bush like the one over there by the two violaceous trogans digging in the termite nest.  That's sixteen to one to one.  Would you guys like another drink?"

Bubba shouted, "There's more tropical plants around here than in a bank lobby!"

"Cool it Bubba, can't you see we've failed to frustrate him?"

Norman mixed me another rum and soda, filled the beer bowl and called 'time' to visit the kitchen.

After he left the room I turned to my rocket scientist partner and asked, "You're supposed to be the most intelligent bird dog in birderdom, why can't you score a few points for us?"

His shoulders slumped again and he answered, "Intelligence has much less practical application than you think! this is Norman's turf, he's been staring at those birds since before I was born. Let's face reality, we've lost!"

"Lunch!" Norman entered the room carrying three plates of beans  and rice with chicken and announced, "This isn't fair, you boys don't know this jungle like I do.  I'm going to cut you a deal! I appreciate what you guys have been trying to do for a bird awareness so the deal is, I'll give you a Latin name of a recent sighting around the bar.  It's the oldest jungle fowl in recorded history.  You identify it in its vernacular and I'll concede the title to you and Bubba."

Norman pushed himself back from the bar and shouted, "Gallas, Gallas! You have 60 seconds."

I was completely stumped and bubba seemed only interested in chowing down on the beans and rice.

"Norman can we have another clue?"

"OK! But just one. 2000 years ago around Caesar's court the gallas were prized and even lived in populated areas of Rome.  20 seconds left to say the secret word." Unconcerned and smacking his lips Bubba looked up from his plate and said, " Your cook Annamarie makes the best chicken I've tasted in Belize."

Suddenly a wooden duck with a cigar in his mouth dropped from the ceiling. On a spring.  Around its neck was a placard with the word "chicken" printed on it. Its wings  flapped up and down as it bounced around Norman's head.  Expressionless, he clutched his scotch glass and raised it in salute before emptying it on one long drink.