For two glorious weeks between February and March, Drew Weber and I were in northern Nicaragua completing bird surveys on shade grown coffee farms for the lovely folks over at Birds and Beans. Much of our time was spent in the department of Madriz, an area that previously was severely under-birded. Relishing in the challenge of birding unknown territory and racking up a slew of ‘eBird department firsts’ (not to mention lifers), Drew and I undertook these surveys much like high school seniors undertake prom: overly excited, naive, and sweaty. Fortunately for us, the naivete and formal dress wear would soon pass, but the excitement, sweat, and awesome bird encounters would remain…and we were still the popular kids in school!
While virtually every bird (be it migrant or resident) encountered during the surveys was ‘punch-you-in-the-face’ awesome, there is just that special something about birds of prey that have the tendency to blow minds and leave one speechless. Drew and I seemed to have particular luck this trip, as we ran into more raptors than expected given our rather limited habitat exposure (almost exclusively shade-grown coffee forest).
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl wins the award for most adorable carnivore we had all trip. On nearly every survey we could hear at least one tooting away the afternoon, and a few mornings we were treated to a close encounter with an intrepid owl.
Vultures were quite common in all of Nicaragua, and our surveys were no exception. Black and Turkey Vultures cruised the skies for nearly every part of the day. While these guys were nothing new, and can often be overlooked by many a birder, I was quite glad to be surrounded by things that vomit to defend themselves.
Almost as common on our surveys were Swallow-tailed Kites. I know everybody has said pretty much everything there is to say about how great Swallow-tailed Kites are. We get it, they’re awesome. But c’mon, they’re awesome.
The big wins for Drew and I were the slew of raptors we can’t get in the eastern US. Gray Hawks, Short-tailed Hawks, Bat Falcons……Any one of these birds would have been killer, but the fact that we were able to get multiples of almost every target species was fantastic. At one point, while finishing an afternoon survey, Drew, myself, and Bridget (one of our lovely Canadian survey companions on the project) crested an open hill, surrounded by coffee, banana, Vaux’s swifts, and raptors catching thermals. The exchange of dropped jaws and semi-coherent exclamations of amazement were all we could muster in the face of mind-blowing natural wonderment.
Our final raptor of the trip was also one of our favorites. We were heading back to Managua for our last night in the country before we caught our planes home. Naturally, we were stopping along the way to add to the trip list, to the amusement of our driver. At one stop, we spotted a raptor cruising over the road and had a mini freakout…Laughing Falcon! One of our most wanted species for the trip. We were fortunate enough to be able to watch it for about 15 minutes as it perched in a tree, distant, but well within view.
Unforgettable birds…unforgettable trip…more to come of our coffee adventures!