An itchy night was explained the next morning when I looked down at my legs; they looked like I’d been peppered with buckshot, both sides and right up to the sunny side. My little jaunt into the long grass the day before without tucking my socks into my trousers broke the golden rule of birding Central America and now I was paying the price, Chiggers. Below is an edited version of Wikipedia’s graphic description of the beast.
The Trombiculidae are a family of mites in their larval stage which bite their host and “causes intense irritation. The name chigger originated as a corruption of chigoe. Trombiculidae live in the forests and grasslands and are also found in the vegetation along lakes and streams, and even in drier places where vegetation is low. They are most numerous in early summer when grass, weeds and other vegetation are heaviest. In their larval stage, they attach to various animals, including humans, and feed on skin, often causing itching. The best known species of chigger in North America is the hard-biting Trombicula alfreddugesi of the southeastern United States and humid Midwest and Mexico.
After crawling onto their hosts, they inject digestive enzymes into the skin that break down skin cells. They do not actually “bite”, but instead form a hole in the skin called a stylostome, and chew up tiny parts of the inner skin, thus causing irritation and swelling. The itching, for humans, usually occurs after the larvae detach from the skin. After feeding on their hosts, the larvae drop to the ground and become nymphs, then mature into adults which have eight legs and are harmless to humans.
At some point in their life all birders will get a chigger bite, many will not even know they’ve had one and put it down to ants or mossies. Chiggers area easily deterred by tucking your socks into your trousers and spraying bug spray around your ankles when you go into longer grass and of trails, it is also a good idea to keep your shirt tucked in and spray around your waistline too depending on your birding location. Antihistamine creams or pills and various lotions will ease the itch and the problem is over in a week but it can itch, believe me. Had I followed the golden rule or stuck to the trail I’d likely be bite free now so don’t ever let Chiggers or anything else put you off birding in more exotic places than Ile Bizard where, let’s face it, the mosquito bites are just as bad. I speak from experience when I saw I’d rather be chiggered than spend the day at Parc Mont Tremblant in late June without bug spray!
Armed with my new plumage, which gave a whole new meaning to going spotting, we went off for our final tour of the Rancho Primavera trails. Something bright red had caught our eye in a bush on the far side of the lake but, like all bright birds, it managed to avoid giving us a good view and could not be re-found in what appeared to be the same flock. I thought that it might have been a Red-breasted Chat, which is why we spent an hour or so looking for it although; in the process of searching we did see a ton of birds again. We eventually arrived back at the main house feeders where we were introduced to a Military Macaw.
People put wild parrots in cages and treat them like animated furniture, these people should be hit hard financially when caught and thrice as hard if caught again. If these people realised that this would happen, and that if they had wild caught parrots if would empty their bank accounts, then superb species like Military Macaws would no longer be being pushed steadily towards unsustainability. Now before anyone says that the poor people who catch the parrots are only exploiting a market it is not them we should be hitting hard but the buyers. No buyers equals no market. Unfortunately the parrots don’t help themselves because they seem to like people. If macaws had wised up early on and severed as many fingers of early cage bird collectors and owners as possible then they might have been given a wider berth but now they are seen as pets, even by birders.
In the World of Falconry there has been some progress made in stamping out nest robbing by using Dna to register captive bred birds and offspring and by sampling wild birds at their nests and producing a database of irrefutable proof. Prosecutions have resulted when protection officers have been able to prove that the falcon on some hairy throwback’s wrist came from a wild pair. Perhaps it is time to adopt the same process for the protection of endangered parrots, had we done this years ago then we might still have Spix’s Macaw out there to enjoy.
Bonnie told us that poaching was still a major problem in Mexico, and that the poachers got 500 pesos per bird ($1. USD = 12 pesos). Traders charge $2,000USD per bird. So charge anyone owning a wild caught parrot $10,000 USD per bird, give $2,000 to the Government for their time, $1,000 USD for admin! And give the locals 500 pesos per bird to protect them to fledging and you have a self-funded conservation programme. It will never happen though because it is only parrots.
But I digress.
We met a Military Macaw, a wild bird which came as a rescue bird, was released but sticks around. Macaws don’t breed until they are eight years old so their reproductive cycle is pretty slow. To sex them before the breeding cycle requires and operation but once the urge kicks in the male is usually the one on top and the female lays the egg which is a dead give-away. Bonnie hopes that ‘her’ wild but friendly macaw will one day feel the need and pick up with one of the groups that fly over regularly as has happened before, or perhaps it can be sent where a similar bird is in the same situation, after all there is a 50/50 chance that they will be one of each gender.
After a bit more birding it was time to go and explore the area a bit more. We took a road from El Tuito to Bioto; it looked a fantastic place to spend dawn to 10.00, humid Pacific slope forest and a very quiet road. Unfortunately the temperature gauge in the car told us it was 32°C outside, a bit warm. I did manage a look at an Elegant Euphonia but it was officially quiet time now so we set off back towards to Puerto Vallarta intending to check out a couple of sites on the way.
After leaving El Tuito we took a turn east between km markers 174-175, the Providentia road, and climbed up into the pine belt. The reason for the turn was to get a visual on the Eared Poorwill site for ‘next time’ and to perhaps pick up the odd species typical of the change in habitat and altitude. The poorwill site was easy to find but not much was happening there so we headed back downhill, windows open, ears on high chirp alert. After a kilometer or so we hit a birdy corner and parked. I got out of the car and boom (or buzz?) a Bumblebee Hummingbird was feeding on the verge flora. In the woods chirps, cheeps and whistles seemed everywhere, a sapsucker appeared, Yellow-bellied and not the hoped for Williamson’s, poot. Black-headed Siskins flew over calling but didn’t land in view then a woodcreeper fed acrobatically, White-striped, tick. More woodpeckers appeared, Arizona and Grey-crowned, ticks. Green Jays foraged in the undergrowth and each tree crown seemed to have a Plumbeous Vireo bouncing around in it. A small flock of warblers came through, nothing new at first but active, then a mystery singer showed, Painted Whitestart (or redstart, whatever) blimey, tick. Vaux’s Swifts flew over-head and a beautiful Tufted Flycatcher sallied around a tall pine, tick. In fifteen busy minutes we had added ten species to the trip list, seven of them lifers, not bad.
It went quiet very quickly as the flock moved off, we lingered a while but it was just one of those bird flash mobs that sometimes happens, right place, right time.
Our next stop was to be the (famous) Vallarta Botanical Gardens. As we wended back towards PV a West Mexican Chachalaca flew over the road in front of the car, Sandra was looking the other way but I got a great view. We stopped, went back but it was gone. Here the chachalaca species changes from the very Rufous-bellied from Puerto Vallarta going north to the white bellied West Mexican as you move south. They are hunted mercilessly for food and so are always very wary and I was very lucky again, I thought the chance had gone after missing them at Rancho Primavera but no, the birding deity – if there is one – had smiled at me , next time Sandra, next time.
The Botanical Gardens were OK, nothing more. They had no hummer feeders just some crappy basket with a bit of fruit in it for the Yellow-winged Caciques. The restaurant is ok but expensive, $20USD for two ice creams and two cokes, please! It sits perched over a gorge which is scenic but not so good for someone like me who does not like heights; still, if they’d had served Walnuts in the shell I’d have had no problem cracking them with my clenched buttocks. There were a few birds in the grounds but I would say it is another morning place and, unfortunately you only ever get one morning per day.
We eased our way back making a note of the bit where we went wrong on the way out of Pueto Vallarta, those tricksy Mexicans had slipped in a filter via an anonymous ramp, crafty, we will know next time. We got back to base before dusk and with enough time to add a few birds to the day list from the balcony making it a very respectable 102 species. Tomorrow would be the last full day and we still had gaps which we thought we could fill by looking around a bit more locally to the hotel. Sandra was slowly emerging from her snot frenzy and my legs and bum would have made a good read for somebody proficient in braille.
The photos below are: The path at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. View from the restaurant at Vallarta Botanical Gardens (see what I mean!). Three as yet unidentified butterflies, there were loads. Arizona Woodpecker. Another butterfly. Painted Whitestart. Fat bloke blocking the view at the Eared Poorwill site followed by a less obstructed view. Same fat bloke blocking the view thereby breaking any number of International regulations relating to the number of fat bloke pictures allowed on a blog. Sandra on the deck of the Adobe house at Rancho Primavera, she will hate this photo but it is my blog and my lovely wife so there! Last of all the Military Macaw again.
And if you are tempted to go birding in Puerto Vallarta here is a link to their bird festival, sounds fun.