Friday, April 1, 2011

About Those "Most" Beautiful Birds - The "etc. plate," and Ruminations about Howell and Webb

It was my second copy of Howell and Webb's Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America I carried in Belize, or rather the plates therefrom. Kinko's does a nice job of excising and spiral-binding the plates, leaving one much less to carry in the field (not to mention on the plane), though I missed the text for nighttime reading.

As to why I carried Howell and Webb rather than The Birds of Belize by Jones and Gardner, part was functional and most was sentimental. I like Sophie Webb's plates better, they look more like real birds, and since Howell opted not to illustrate most U.S. species in the guide, that kept the plate count down. Somewhat arrogantly, I was banking on the fact that if anything from the U.S. popped up in front of me, I ought to be able to i.d. it!

As to the sentiment - my first ever foray into "tropical" birds, unless you count south Texas as tropical, was into northwestern Mexico, and for that trip I carried my first copy of Howell and Webb. Carried, and then gave away on our departure, to our astounding Mexican hunting guide who accompanied Dave Womer and I through the Sierra Madre in northwest Mexico, us a couple crazy gringoes looking at, not shooting, birds. But Rosando was a brilliant spotter, and you could tell he was getting into the birding as we went along. It helped when we did a little hunting, and he saw the gringo could handle a 12-gauge okay on ducks and doves. . .we were evaluating some hunting sites for birding ecotourism at the time, something someday I hope to revisit.

Now, as to "most beautiful" Belize birds, what a loaded notion that is. But Howell and Webb's plate 34 is a good place to start. Michael O'Brien at one point referred to it as the "miscellaneous cool things" plate. I call it the "etc." plate, because it's offical title is "Toucans, Motmots, Kingfishers, etc."

[A Keel-billed Toucan was my farewell bird in Belize - a solitary individual flapping and gliding its way across a valley as we made our way north on the Southern Highway. This one was up in Cockcomb Basin's jaguar preserve, March 2011. Click to enlarge. ]

[Female Pygmy Kingfisher, Crooked Tree, Belize, March 2011. 5.3" - just a hair longer than a Black-capped Chickadee! Click to enlarge.]

[This White-whiskered Puffbird literally came up and sat next to the Pook's Hill Lodge bar, forcing me to choose between my afternoon scotch or the camera. . . Click to enlarge.]

[Why you need an etc. page: I think the Rufous-tailed Jacamars at Cockscomb Basin were my favorite birds of the trip, at least they were when I was watching them! Click to enlarge.]

[I hope Dave LaPuma, proprietor of the Woodcreeper site, is reading this - my first ever "tropical" bird, at least in my mind, was an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper in the Sierras of Mexico. I remember thinking, "we're not in Kansas anymore," when this bird laughed like a giant, deranged Canyon Wren and flew into "Cabeza de Vaca" canyon - Rosando's name for a spot I'll never find again. The one pictured was much more accessible at Crooked Tree, a stone's throw from the lodge. Not on the etc. page, but deserves honorable mention. Click to enlarge.]


  1. Hey Don!

    Funny, I just now read that- just after getting off of the phone with you. Very cool woodcreeper- and very reminiscent of the straight-billed woodcreeper we saw lots of in Suriname. They are such a diverse and charismatic group (although sometimes within the group they can be downright confusing!).

    I'm looking forward to your posts and especially seeing more of your photos as you make your daily rounds at one of the most photogenic locations along the Jersey Shore!

  2. @ La Puma, great talking on the phone, miss the talking at work amigo!