A new season to embrace. Winter guests checking in by each their timely manner, and you standing on the apron with your anticipating smile, knowing that you will not be going to rest for a while now. They will fill your mind and take you to the forests, to the creeks, to the lakes and even to the driest of deserts, and you will know them and salute them, in a blink of an eye or by dwelling deeply into their presence as they, and you, just sit there. A winter long. They will thrill your deepest heart by every recognition, those small wonders of befeathered magnificence. And comes the moment, when unfamiliar colors and movements shuffle through the understory, making your heart go wild and your hands to tremble. That's when you feel you're alive, and that's when you know that whatever kind of despair had you troubled through the year, it will now fade and excited joy will abound while trying to put a name on these flittering creatures.
The last weeks have seen the first warblers showing up here around Ciudad Guzmán, Red-faced, Black-and-white and Northern Waterthrush. Not much else though, and a visit to Laguna de Cuyutlán on the coast in Colima a few weeks ago didn't reveal many shorebirds either, though it coincided with the official Shorebird Day. Being too early in the season, I knew it of course, but I was destined by another assignment that day in the same-mentioned village of Cuyutlán. Attempting to find and buy a turtle that my sister had left indecisively behind, when my family had visited some weeks earlier. While being there, visiting the salinas at the northern edge of the lagoon sounded like a visit worth doing, both to contribute to the count-day, but also just to learn about the accessibility to this part of the area now in the middle of the wet season.
The area I wanted to visit was the ponds just north of the village V. Carranza on the eastern shore. The other area close to the village Los Reyes further south, would most likely be closed off, as they normal do this in the wet season, when even the solid roads turn slippery and treacherous.
I had visited the V. Carranza ponds for the first time earlier this year with clients, but we didn't have enough time to explore the area well, why I was genuinely interested to get to know it better this time.
It's a two branch area, leading you to two different parts of the same vast area literally covered with salt ponds from one end to the other. Square kilometers it looks like. Family sized entities, it's a fascinating scenery to watch, but also truly worrying, because all the ponds are nowadays constructed by covering the sand base with a thick black layer of plastic. Resulting in a more effective production, I guess, making the water evaporate faster, speeding up the process of crystallization, and probably making it easier to collect the salt afterward as well. The troubling part is not the use of plastic as such, but rather the fact that it was obvious that many of the ponds were not in use anymore, and as it is so depressingly common in this country, it looked like they had been abandoned for good, with nobody caring about cleaning up. If there's no money in it, or a forceful hand pushing forth, no one will move a muscle. I fear that if the owners are to decide, the plastic will remain forever.
Quite disturbing, if you're a romantic nature lover with a passion for the unspoiled, these same plastic tubs is where you'll find the shorebirds foraging and resting during their winter retreat. But that sentimental approach toward life, is not a burden felt by the birds themselves. Assuming of course. As long as there is food, and the environment isn't hostile, it's attractive to them. But in the long run, having sucked it out of the deep underground, the black fluid, that in all its sophisticated derivates, undeniably is affecting the compositions of all living organisms on the planet, will also have effect on the Lesser Yellowlegs, the Least Sandpiper and the long-legged Stilt that were present here this day.
And the Wilson's Phalaropes too, which was the surprise of the day. Being a species that normally prefers the higher lying lakes and wetlands away from the coast, it was extraordinary to find 45 birds.
But environmental concerns put aside.
As I said earlier, it was still early in the season why the rest of the shorebirds were in modest presence including only a few Short-billed Dowitchers, both yellowlegs and a few Western and Least Sandpipers beside the resident Willets and Black-necked Stilts. And a very few Semipalmated Plovers. Favoring the true sand flats, however, I doubt that this practice with the plastic cover will suit them, and in hind sight I should have taken the time to enter the Los Reyes area, if only by foot, to check out if the plastic practice had been implemented there as well. Because, earlier, in that area, there were extensive sand flats that favored the various Charadrius plovers that come here, Snowy, Wilson's, Semipalmated and perhaps occasionally a Collared too. If they have been plasticized too, the area as an important shorebird locality might truly be threatened. I need to go back sooner than later, I think, to check it out.
The passerine of the day was without doubt the Ruddy-breasted Seedeater with males, 15 in all, singing from atop small bushes in each their territory throughout the pond area. That's an experience most visiting birders will never get, because they mainly visit during the winter and spring months when the birds are elsewhere, and when the males are all in dull looking winter plumage, very different from the attractive lead-blue and rufous plumage that I was able to enjoy this late morning. And while doing so, I was further spoiled when overhead, an, to me still exotic, adult Crane Hawk showed up soaring high above the area for a while, before it slowly moved out of sight toward the eastern hills. That was probably the species of the day, but as it should soon be revealed it would not become the best birding experience of the day, because while I shortly after was prepared to leave the area and was driving back toward the exit, a sudden turmoil and unusual activity appeared 50 meters ahead of me right next to the road. Strange action I thought, and as I got closer it turned out to be two Willets fighting!
The action certainly attracted the attention of all of us happening to be present in that moment. That included me, a bunch of Black-necked Stilts, a Least Sandpiper, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and later a Short-billed Dowitcher found it necessary to approach too. Fight here.
The reason for the dispute was difficult to ascertain. Not the time to fight for a partner or a territory, nor did it seem necessary to fight over the small puddle they were occupied in, taking the enormous area of equally suited habitat, ponds and puddles , into consideration. Biased by stereotyping of course one would assume both of them to be males (feminists loudly applauding from near and far ), but the sexes being alike, in the name of true gender-equalizing-ambitiousness we might as well assume them to be two females gone crazy (feminists wringing their noses). Assuming that it was a male-female dispute, which all the worlds feminists obligatorily will have to find as equally likely as the first scenario, is of course a possibility as well, leaving it up to each of us to amuse ourselves about which of the two had taken the initiative to such a dishonorable confrontation.
The fight continued for a long time. I'm guessing, but more than 10 minutes is not unrealistic. And while it took place, all the other birds moved about, approaching but avoiding the fighters, forth and back, agitated and probably anxious too. And then something interesting happened, because while the Willets, unaffected by the by-standers, continued their disgraceful interaction, two of the attending stilts also started to fight, as if the aggressiveness of the Willets had activated an instinctive reaction within them similar to what is so common to experience among higher beings too - no mentioning of any humans in particular. But they soon lost momentum, perhaps demotivated by the fact that their performance would never be as spectacular as that what the Willets could present with their contrasting black and white wings dramatically flashing through the air as they tumbled around and on top of each other. But eventually it also looked like the two Willets had reached their limit. They would now stand motionless for a longer time each time as if catching their breath, or better, contemplating the situation and the unfruitful perspective of their forceful endeavor. Had the purpose of the fight been a matter of life or dead, it certainly looked like the stalemate would force them to redraw now to find another time or date for the continuation, because none of them looked capable of doing much harm to the other at this point. And eventually they did give up and separated, as did all the other birds, and soon after there was no sign of any unusual and hostile activity at all. There was just another empty puddle along the road.
Another daily life drama that the world would never have known of, if it hadn't been for my sister's birthday the coming day. I wanted to buy the turtle as a birthday present, and though it wouldn't be possible to send it to her in Denmark in time to arrive on her day, at least I could send her a photo of it, and then later hand it over to her, when the opportunity was there. Therefore it had to be today.
Arriving in Cuyutlán half an hour later, I went directly to the place where my sister had seen the animal, but it turned out that only the mother of the vendor had the variety for sale that my sister had put her eyes on. And since the mother was not working this day, I had to open a direct line to Denmark to be sure to know what to do then. Fortunately the mobile signal was fabulous in Cuyutlán so we had no problem doing this virtual-and-real shopping trip together, and finally my sister made a decision, and chose 3 different species, and as a bonus the vendor gave me a 4th one as a gift, out of sheer gratitude for this unexpected sale on an off-season week day, I assume.
With the successful deal in place, I went down to the beach to teach the amphibians about the water and the ocean. Baptizing then into their new life. That went fairly well, until a large wave attacked us without warning, forcing me to throw myself into the water trying to save my newly bought companions from being flushed away into the ocean. By charm and spirited luck this was avoided, and by the help of two old native women, who got a good laugh, I got them all together again, and was glad to know that the worst that had happened, was me getting wet from top to toe. I drove back to Cd. Guzmán with bare feet and underwear overly content, and very pleased that there weren't any police controls along the road this day...