Of Brown Birds and White Clouds

Yesterday we were awarded with vigorous green season actions, a preview of the weather we usually experience in September and October. Our rainy season has been dryish around here so far this year, and dangerously dry in many other Central American regions. Farmers and ranchers are facing serious trouble with their harvests; and procuring feed for livestock has become an issue, especially in Guanacaste province. This year’s dryer-than-average season is attributed to el niño conditions, caused by very warm southern Pacific water, which alters storm patterns around the Pacific Rim. 
Se pueden leer más acerca de este fenómeno oceánico-atmosférico aquí.
The series of thunderstorms, which passed through El Valle Central yesterday was a welcome change from drought worries. This is the wet season I love! Rapidly changing cloud formations and eerily drifting veils of fog shrouding the familiar landscape in milky white gauze. At times, the fog seeps through the insect screens into the house so you can feel its moisture like cool fingertips briefly caressing your cheek. 
The first rumbling of far-off thunder could already be faintly perceived around 10:30 in the morning. That’s pretty early in the day for storms to roll in. Between noon and three thirty in the afternoon, one storm after another passed through in ebbing and cresting waves of heavy rain. Our roof acts like a steel drum, magnifying the sound of rain in deafening crescendos. Thanks to the efforts of our friend and skilled Fixer-of-Everything, Don Julio Calderon, we only enjoyed sounds and visual effects – no more leaks!!! Watching the Green Bay Packers play the Rams, on the other hand, was more like watching a vividly colorized silent movie.
Eventually I went to my desk to upload the pictures I had taken of those raindrops dancing in the lap pool, when I became aware of loud conversations in the guarumos below my terrace. A flock of juvenile oropendolas had descended on the skinny cluster of trees, hopping around and chatting loudly about this and that. A lively bunch of birds and just as impossible to photograph, as a horde of kindergarteners in a play ground. Can you even see them? Their yellow tail feathers are the only giveaway. They’re much better documented in this post of last year. The teenagers flew off again very quickly and calm settled over my canyon. 


But not for long. Within thirty minutes the trees rustled with chit-chat and frantic activity again. Were the oropendolas back? No. Several rather, hm, ugly chicken-like thingies were using the guarumo branches like acrobats on high wires.


I had never seen these long-legged and agile birds before. Their poor little heads reminded me of undersized vulture faces with their scraggly, stubby feathers, while the rest of the plumage displayed beautiful blue-green and russet colors.



With their flight feathers dragging down their sides, they looked a bit like wild turkeys. 
It took me a while to determine their identity. The grey heads and chestnut primaries finally lead me to Graukopftschatschalaka, otherwise known as Grey-headed chachalaca, Ortalis cinereiceps. Chachalacas do belong to the chicken order, but contrary to most Galliformes, they’re tree dwellers and rarely come down on the ground.


And then there was … a toucan? Amidst the flock of chachalacas hovered a toucan, also munching on guarumo fruit!
He looked just like the fellow I had captured (through window glass) in bright sunshine at 06:30h, four days ago.

But let’s watch those tree chickens, while we have the chance. They hung around for a good five minutes and were quite entertaining in a hectic sort of a way.





Fifteen minutes after the chickens flew on to tastier pastures, we had more visitors zip through. These athletic guests stayed for only 31 seconds.





Brown jays, Psilorhinus morio, southern variety, are loud, gregarious and busy birds. And fast! As soon as you notice them, they’re gone again. 
Melanerpes hoffmannii, male below,
female above
Peace returned to the guarumos after this latest group invasion. By then it was after 16:30h and on an overcast day like yesterday, only about an hour remained till nightfall. Gradually the usual dusk suspects trundled in. Mostly assorted passerine birds, like flycatchers and, of course, the ever reliable Mr. & Mrs. Hoffmann, our resident woodpeckers.

2 thoughts on “Of Brown Birds and White Clouds

  1. Enjoyed your rain and birds report, especially the dreamy, foggy treetop view. The tree chickens, alas, remind me of DFW's rowdy grackles and cowbirds, or as a young garden visitor identified them, Those Birds That Eat French Fries.


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