A Stateside Whirlwind

I flew against the migration a few weeks ago leaving Panama to head north to the United States of IMG_1944.jpgHavoc and Conundrum. I had the opportunity to visit family and friends (and VOTE) before diving into the high season in my new position as a naturalist and bird guide at Tranquilo Bay. Graciously the new bosses gave me some time to see the family since I’ll be busy guiding holiday travelers in the tropics through the holidays. I can’t say I’m sad about missing them, being that the tropics will keep me plenty occupied.

So while in the states, it certainly has been a whirlwind, starting off with three days in Sarasota to see my grandmother, then five with my brother in LA, then just under two weeks seeing the parents and other family and friends in the DC/MD/VA area. And back in Florida for one last goodbye to Grandy before heading ever further south!

During this stay, I was lucky enough to get into nature and see some great birds in each state I found myself in. The fall migrants are well on making their way south but I did see some remnants, a blackpoll warbler, pine and palm warbler in VA and DC. The western version of the yellow-rumped warblers (Audubon’s) and white-crowned sparrows were in LA and the white-throated sparrows, kinglets and juncos are flooding into MD/DC/VA to spend the winter! So while I was sad to leave Panama’s perspective of the migration during my stay stateside, I got a lot more than I expected here up north and I’m sure to see a bit yet when I get back south!

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Check out my eBird and iNaturalist page for these sightings and more!

Not to mention I had the thrill of getting a good taste of autumn colors and a bit of the briskness that is taking over upon the approach of winter to these northern latitudes.

So with the smell of fall in my senses, I’m ready to start the high season. Not a bad way to get started!

 

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A Fond Farewell!

This is my tribute to Dave, Suzanne and Mina for a glorious two-month run at Casa Cayuco.

I’m moving a short jaunt down-island (Isla Bastimentos of the Bocas del Toro archipelago) to join the Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge family as their third guide and I’m beyond thrilled!

Before I go, I want to share my love for Casa Cayuco and the beautiful hidden nature I’ve discovered during my time there..

 

 

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The Tropical Life

Whew, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted..a lot has gone on since I first arrived here in Panama just two months ago! It’s been a dream, staying at Casa Cayuco and helping out with guests, slinging drinks from behind the bar and taking folks into the forest on the hunt for red frogs, sloths, monkeys and birds. Dave and Suzanne are magnificent, hard-working human beings who have created such a beautiful refuge and place for guests to experience the beauty of the forest and Caribbean and all they have to offer. And Mina is my little buddy for life.

And oh the wildlife..

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Nonetheless, I have a big new adventure ahead of me, as I’ve been invited to become the third guide at nearby Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge. I’m going to be sad to leave the amazing friends I’ve made here, but I believe that I will be much more in my element and put to good use at Tranquilo which is a lodge hugely dedicated to birding–I mean, they have a 60ft birding tower for one thing, where you can watch in awe as parrots fly by at eye level! I’m going to start out shadowing their star guides, Natalia and Ramon, who have an infinite knowledge of not just the birds and wildlife of the archipelago and mainland Panama, but also the life under the sea.

How on earth did this happen? Well, I’m certainly still reeling and can’t believe this has basically fallen into my lap! How it fell into place was, Dave and Suzanne had family visiting and gave me a week or so off and they set me up to spend several days at Tranquilo. Renee, Jim and Jay have run this lodge for 10 years and have created a stunningly gorgeous haven for both nature-loving guests and the enormous variety of garden and forest birds that reside there along with the long-distance migratory birds that spend their winter months here in Panama. They’d been looking for a third guide to add to the team and, with the skills and knowledge of the birds and tropical ecosystems I’ve gained over the course of my ~2 years spent in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and here in Panama, I managed to fit the bill..with glee!

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View from their birding tower, Casa Cayuco is close to the farthest right of the island quite a ways in the distance. I think they’re waving!

Dave and Suzanne were kind enough to let me fly and so, I’ll be here at Casa Cayuco for another few days to help with some big groups that are coming and then they’ll take me the 10 minute boat ride down-island to my new home. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I already know that every minute spent with Natalia and Ramón will massively increase my knowledge of this tropical world I adore so deeply and get so much out of sharing with others. I’m looking forward to starting out shadowing them as they lead birding hikes on the mainland where we’ll be seeing a wider range of species in a variety of ecosystems as I work toward eventually leading those very tours myself!

This is a pretty incredible new development and I will certainly be keeping you all updated. Also, check out my Patreon page where I’m headed right now to upload my newest video, Hidden Nature of Casa Cayuco. Thanks so much for following along!

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Red Tide: Florida’s Plague

I made this video last month while I was in Sarasota, a beautiful tourist destination known best for its pristine, award winning Siesta Key beach. I’ve been lucky enough to frolic in Siesta’s clear waters along southwest Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline just about every year of my life. Visiting Grandy and Gramps always meant major beach time, running across the vast expanse of immaculate, soft white sand and throwing ourselves into the gentle waves of the warm, gleaming blue waters.

But this year, Sarasota ands Tampa area beaches are experiencing one of the worst red tide blooms in history. While red tide is a natural occurrence, it is happening more frequently, for longer durations and with much greater intensity. Polluted runoff has triggered extensive blooms which have muddied the clear blue waters with house damage of dead, rotting fish. Hundreds of manatees, sea turtles and dolphins have also been found washed up dead, their bodies riddled with the toxins.

This video isn’t pretty, it’s reality.

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Casa Cayuco: A Panama Eco-Adventure Lodge

IMG_0593 2I’m here! Wow, it’s officially been about three weeks since I first arrived to this Caribbean island paradise and I’m just blown away by this beautiful locale, the wonderful owners, their lovely daughter and an array of sweet and hard working employees. I’ll be working as the resident naturalist guide and helping in guest services here at Casa Cayuco.

Since I’ve arrived, in addition to getting to know my way around the lodge, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on rainforest excursions, sharing my knowledge of the birds, trees and plantlife of this extraordinary island.

Welcome to Casa Cayuco, Eco-adventure Lodge!

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To give you an idea of where I’ve touched down this time around, I made a handy little graphic:

Casa Cayuco Map

 
IMG_0599I’ve already had many memorable experiences as I get to know this lush, off-the-grid wonderland that also happens to be a marine national park with protected reef and rainforest. The coral reefs here are magical and I’ve found myself entranced on multiple occasions with the diversity supported by these underwater worlds. Parrotfish, sergeant majors, snapper, butterfly & angelfish, colorful wrasses and triggerfish swim among colorful forests of elkhorn coral, seafans, brain coral, sea anenomes, zooanthid mats, featherduster worms and blade coral. Dave and Suzanne also have a secret mangrove reef that boasts color combinations that dazzle, with the added delight of seastars, brittle stars, seaslugs and sea cucumbers. I see an underwater camera coming in handy here..

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Oh and I even “swam” with my first shark! Well, it was asleep, out cold. It was a small nurse shark..docile and harmless to humans, but it’ll happily chomp down on some fish scraps that Jose, our boat captain and hombre of all trades, tosses off the dock when filleting some fresh fish for dinner.

IMG_0837Above the surface, I’ve enjoyed taking guests on excursions into the rainforest here on the island. Often, one of the main objectives of our walks tends to be to spot a sloth, which thrive here on Bastimentos. Read about these fascinating creatures in my previous blogpost. I’m still honing my skills on finding these elusive critters, but with the help of my hawkeyed local indigenous N’gobe guide, Belamer, we’re guaranteed at least two (if not five!) along the two hour hike. I supply the natural history and ecology of the forest, answering questions and identifying plants and birds along the way. We make a good team.

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Another highlight along the trail is the strawberry poison dart-frogs which, while red on our island, sport unique color morphs on the different islands along the archipelago, as a result of divergent evolution. They are tiny little critters and harder to find than you’d think. But their loud daytime trill clues you into where they’re hidden. The bright coloration is a warning to predators: I’m poisonous!

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.05.55 AM.pngThe bellbirds are here too, bonking high in the treetops! Three-wattled Bellbirds are a threatened species that migrates altitudinally, meaning the species moves between montane moist forest where it nests before descending to the lowlands to spend the neotropical winter, which is what we would call summer up in the states. I’m hearing less of them lately, so I think they might have started heading back up into the mountains..

IMG_0598Since I’ve arrived, our guests have ranged from France, Australia, the Netherlands and the states. They’ve enjoyed swimming in these clear Caribbean waters, kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, snorkeling..we’ve had families, newlyweds on their honeymoon, friends groups and even some friends of Dave and Suzanne’s. Aside from taking folks on forest excursions, I’ve been expanding my bartending experience. I’ve already mastered my painkiller, messed up on two caipirinhas, made some killer piña coladas, a caribbean sunrise that didn’t so much look like a sunrise and perfected my margarita. Dave and Suzanne have been very patient with me.

On our free time, we’ve managed to get over to Salt Creek, the indigenous N’gobe village where all the employees of Casa Cayuco live. They play a mean game of volleyball, we’ve had quite the blast mixing up the gringos vs. N’gobe since we have no chance when it’s us against them. On Mina’s birthday, we had a big group over to the dock to share in the festivities and Dave had a net set up in the water and played for hours. They’re huge into baseball, too and it was really fun to go into town on the day of their school’s anniversary celebration and watch them play. These folks are really good at sports.

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For somewhat regular exercise I’ve enjoyed getting out and swimming. It’s partially snorkeling since I wear the mask and snorkel, but while keeping a steady forward pace. I’d like to think I can do a mile in a half hour, but I can’t really measure how far I’ve really gone at the 15 minute mark. Plus I tend to meander. Yesterday I had a start when I found myself face to face with an enormous, four foot barracuda flashing it’s mouth full of razor sharp teeth at me. It circled closer as I slowly moved off, wondering if I was in for it and suddenly it headed slowly straight for me before veering off several feet away. It was very curious. I turned to swim away just waiting to feel those teeth ravage my legs. I was a 12 minute swim from shore. Jose told me, when I hit the dock that they won’t bother you unless you’re wearing something sparkly. Luckily it didn’t hone in on my silver ring or metal and crystal embedded ankle bracelet. I’ll be definitely leaving those behind on my next foray out..

So there you have it! Casa Cayuco! I will be here for awhile yet, no set end date in mind so far unless that barracuda decides to have the last word. We shall see!

 

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Perezosos: A Sloth’s Life

Hey ya’ll! I’m in Panamaaa! Stay tuned for an update on all that, but for now, enjoy a bit of delving into the lazy life of the beloved perezoso..

There is much more going on here than can be seen watching a lazy perezoso long-settled in the crook of a cecropia from a bipedal’s vantage point far below. In fact, a panoply of interactions are happening that we’d need a lot of patience, perhaps an extending ladder and certainly a microscope to bear witness to, that of the oh, so fascinatingly complex life history of the three-toed sloth..

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A low-energy diet of slow-to-metabolize leaves, which also happen to contain a mild narcotic, are both to blame for the eternal dawdling of this beloved and unique icon of the tropics. Nevertheless, its sluggish pace provides plenty opportunity for an entire ecosystem to set up shop all throughout the pelt of this slothfully sedate soul.

Algae finds an easy substrate to grow within the grooved strands of fur which from this furry perch provides nutrients to an array of both microorganisms and invertebrates, including the various species of “sloth moths” which call this (and only this) slow-moving terrain of a mammal home. The symbiotic relationship that provides a substrate upon which the algae can grow reciprocally acts as effective camouflage for this creature that can’t make a hasty escape when predators are near.

Female sloth moths take advantage of the perezoso’s weekly defecatory descent (aka pit stop) to lay her moth eggs in the feces the sloth deposits at the bottom of the tree. When the hatching moths emerge, they fly upwards to spend their lives nestled in the perezoso’s fur, feeding on the algae and nutrients from the sloths’s skin secretions as well as adding their own defecations to the system all while awaiting their next reproduction cycle on the mating grounds that is this very mammal’s own fur.

But that’s not all folks! So when the perezoso makes its laborious and energy-intensive descent, it is making itself perilously vulnerable to predation. So why go through all that trouble to carefully deposit one’s droppings and (perhaps almost reverently) bury it underground at the foot of the tree? Scientists have long debated this and the possible hidden benefits of this arduous journey just to go poo. What this all revolves back around to is the micro-ecosystem within the fur of this fascinatingly complex creature and the algae that grows upon it. The algae itself is rich in nutrients and the sloth in fact feeds upon its own body’s edible garden, which thus provides the animal with nutrients otherwise lacking in a diet solely of leaves.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.28.33 AM.pngWhew, I can hardly keep up! But can you even imagine how this rich interaction of species in such a micro environment evolved? It’s an complex interconnection of relationships that has in fact persisted for millions of years. And just think how much research (and patience!) it must have taken to figure all this out? And yet even within this micro-ecosystem, there’s still even more to learn in regard to energy input & output and how these vulnerable appearing animals have persisted throughout time. The secrets of the rainforest are infinite and every step we take to learn more about it not only benefits the species we’re learning about but perhaps has the possibility of benefitting the planet and we bipeds who inhabit it as well.

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Melt into nature with me..

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Click on the image to learn more about becoming a patron!

As someone who works in the fields of environmental writing, nature filmmaking and bird-centric guiding, you might imagine that the paybacks aren’t at all in sync with the amount of work put in. While the passion and experience is a fantastic reward, it certainly doesn’t meet much in the way of costs of living.

As a FeathersAwry follower, perhaps you might want to take a step further and become a patron and help support my work.  Over the years I’ve put a huge amount of time and passion into making creative, educational, photo-filled blogposts. In more recent years I’ve incorporated videos as a new avenue of imparting interest, curiosity and knowledge from my work.

By becoming a patron, you decide what value (as little as $1 per new video) you care to contribute to each new video for early access, a chance to view my work before the masses (Ha! I wouldn’t go that far..). Not only that, you get a bit of a behind the scenes info on what’s going on in my life as I work toward furthering my knowledge about the natural world and as I dive back into the tropics as a guide and educator.

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Check out my patron page here and decide what amount you care to contribute per new video!

While I’d love it if passion alone was enough to invite you to join me as we melt into nature, I can’t quite make that work. I certainly appreciate your support in reading my blog here, and it takes a lot to ask for you to take a step further because I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate you following along on my adventures here. But by creating quality videos for as little as $1/creation (or as much as you’re willing!), you are going above and beyond. Even as someone who isn’t quite decided, I invite you to visit my patron page to view the free access videos to get a taste of my work and see if it’s worth your while.

If you become a patron now,  you can view my newest video on Black Skimmers, the charismatic seabirds nesting on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Thanks so much for your support, no matter in what form, and be on the lookout for future nature and bird posts and videos to come!

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