Thursday, 10 February 2011

Panama City

There could hardly be a greater contrast than between Paris and Panama City! I'm just back from a morning 's birding the grounds of our comfortable hotel beside the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and the esplanade along the water's edge. Magnificent Frigatebirds glide above like a dozen black-and-white kites. Orange-chinned Parakeets chatter as they egg-beat their way across the skies so clumsily that they look as though they might fall at any moment. The air is filled with bird song and construction hammers and salsa music from portable radios and casual shouts or greetings from the hawkers and taxi drivers who work the hotel district. It's tropical chaos.

Tomorrow, eight of us depart for Burbayar Lodge in eastern Panama. Other than my friend, Martha, I haven't met any of the other birders, but we will get together tonight for dinner. It's always fun when bird nerds meet. Lots of tall tales of birds seen and birds missed. We are all hoping to see a particular bird for our Life Lists. For some, it's Panama's national bird, the Harpy Eagle, which has a seven foot wing span and snatches monkeys from the canopy for dinner. I'm hoping to see the shy and lovely Agami Heron, which skulks along the edge of forest streams. My experience is, however, that what we see is unpredictable, but always fascinating.

Last year in western Panama, we saw the stunning, Lattice-tailed Trogon and missed the common, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. We repeatedly saw a Three-toed Sloth, which has the blank visage of a cartoon character--somewhere between Mr. Bill and the smiley-face emodicon. There's just no telling. Not knowing what is coming next is part of the fascination. So much of our lives is pre-programmed and scheduled. In the rainforest, everything is moment-to-moment. Maybe something wonderful is waiting around the next corner of the trail. Maybe nothing lies ahead but heat and mosquitos. You just never know. It's not television. You can't TIVO it and replay it at a more convenient time. As Aldous Huxley once wrote, it's "here and now, boys, here and now." And really, what could be better?

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