Friday, March 2, 2012

An Amazing First Experience on Sierpe Viejo

Powering through the thick aquatic grass

Despite having spent 5 months in Jalova, schedules had lined up in such a way that I hadn’t yet seen the much talked about canal called Sierpe Viejo. This last week, I was lucky enough to be able to do a canal bird survey on this rugged and adventurous canal.

Sunbittern, Purple Gallinule, Bare-Throated Tiger Heron, juvenile Boat-billed Heron

Aside from the multitude of interesting birds that are often found on this canal, the waterway itself creates quite a unique challenge to the people in the canoe that isn’t found on any of the other canals. Aquatic plants, such as Water Hyacinth, Lily, various grasses, and others I don’t know the name of, have bloomed in that specific area to the point where certain entire sections of the waterway are simply not visible. The water is hidden beneath a solid blanket of plants. The truth is that this creates an absolutely beautiful scene and sets the mood of the survey as one of adventure and remoteness. However, it is quite a workout getting through!!! And in fact, some survey teams simply aren’t able to get through and have to abandon the survey. Fortunately, not only would we get through these tricky parts, we ended up having by far my most fascinating survey in all my time here.

Baby Boat-billed Herons

The amazing sightings started before the actual survey started, as we were unloading our canoe from our motorboat. There was a sunbittern where we were unloading, standing on a fallen tree near the bank. This beautiful bird with astonishingly pretty patterns on it’s wings (when it flies) is not seen very often at all in these canals! The next 45 minutes were exciting too, with sightings of nesting boat-billed Herons, a Purple Gallinule, Tiger Herons, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, and several more. We also saw Great Egrets in a mating dance, jumping into the air and flapping their wings at each other, kind of fighting but non-violently.

Our survey team reached the difficult part where we had to power through intense aquatic foliage, and slowly but surely made our way through. We were now inside the tranquil and overgrown Sierpe Viejo. For the next hour, we saw loads of amazing birds including a Green and Rufous Kingfisher, more Boat-billed Herons, a Great Currasow, and we heard White-throated Crakes and White-collared Manakins. But the crowning moment to this survey occurred about halfway into Sierpe Viejo when we realized we had found Boat-billed Heron nests.. These tiny birds were covered in fluff and in one nest they didn’t even have their eyes open yet! I have to admit they were extremely cute! Their big goofy-looking broad bills gave away what they were immediately. There was also an Anhinga nest with long-necked bald little creatures in it! This is terrific news as finding nests like this helps us understand to what degree the birds are nesting, and helps show how crucial these canals are for their survival, which in turn helps us work towards continued protection of the park. Our arms were glad to be done with the demanding canal but it was well worth it.

-Kevin, Expedition Field Staff