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Friday, March 15, 2013

Naturally Nicaragua

In February twelve travelers from the North Branch Nature Center ventured to Nicaragua with the Montpelier-based organization Planting Hope.

I was just thinking how comfortable our young Nicaraguan companions were in the woods, when one little girl in flip-flops tumbled head over heels down the steep trail. Led by Marvin, our host at La Hermandad, along with four Planting Hope staff and a small gaggle of young children, we were exploring the coffee plantation and cloud forest habitat on a windy, misty afternoon. The little girl, who had just taken a spill in front of me, bounced up with a smile on her face and kept marching right along.

Soon we stopped to listen to Long-billed Hermits lekking unseen in the dense undergrowth. Male hermits, a type of tropical hummingbird with relatively dull plumage, but with long curved bills and long white tips tails, often gather in loose groups to “serenade” prospective mates. We couldn’t see any of the calling males, but I was able to show the children (and the rest of the group) a photo on my iPod and play its call. A good use of technology in such a unspoiled setting?

I had also lugged my heavy spotting scope along, trusting that something special would appear to show the group. So far there was no occasion to use it. It was too windy and birds were keeping a low profile. Soon, however, I was glad I had made the effort. Marvin, our eagle-eyed guide, had spotted a sloth nestled on a branch in a tall tree. Even with binoculars, the sloth just looked like a hairy gray mass. With the scope we could distinguish its claws and occasionally its face as the sloth turned his head. I even spotted a moth on the sloth’s fur – could this be the fabled sloth moth that is only known to live on sloths? Best of all, we were able to share this strange and beautiful creature with children that were with us. 

The community of La Hermandad, with its coffee farms and intact cloud forest, is looking to establish itself as an ecotourism destination, much like El Jaguar which we visited earlier in our trip. Planting Hope is working to help them along that path and the North Branch Nature Center is hoping to establish some kind of “sister nature center” relationship. To that end we brought our hosts a nature center “care package” with hand lenses, bug boxes and butterfly nets, to use with local school children and visitors to La Hermandad. One member of our group even brought a pair of binoculars to donate.

Planting Hope is known for its service projects, and birding was ours! We started to put together a checklist of resident and migrant birds for La Hermandad. That list already includes three species of trogons, Keel-billed Toucan, and a wide variety of overwintering species from North America (including Vermont) – American Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green and Golden-winged Warblers.

Red-winged Blackbirds are already back in Vermont and soon our migrant warblers will be returning. I can’t help but wonder if the Chestnut-sided Warblers and the American Redstarts that frequent the riverside habitat along the North Branch have visited some of the same beautiful places we did while in Nicaragua.

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