Wednesday, February 25, 2009

All Birds All the Time-The Mesoamerican Birding Festival

No, I didn’t sail here. In fact at the moment I’m landlocked, watching a fine rain fall on the hibiscus and citrus gardens of the Finca Las Glorias Hotel, on Lake Yojoa. This week, while Kim sailed off into the Sea of Cortez, with friends Angus and Graeme, I flew into Honduras (where I used to guide an eco-tour every February). I haven’t been back for a couple of years and so I jumped at the chance to re-visit some of my favourite places.
I’m here, as a writer, for the first Mesoamerican Birding Festival, so I thought I’d “fly” (sorry) some of my first impressions past you, dear readers.
First, let’s be clear. I am not in the same league with the birders here. I am far too sloppy with my birding details to be a real birder. For example, this morning, in a reserve up in the mountains, I watched Violet Sabrewing hummingbirds. Someone asked me if I had ever seen this species. If a Violet Sabrewing flew into your kitchen right now you’d remember it forever (and not only because that would be a very unusual event) but because it is a wondrous thing. It is the size of a swallow, wrapped from head to tail in iridescent purple lamé. (If birds are the earth’s jewels then tropical birds are its bling). You might even have what one of my co-birders here called a “birdgasm”.
female Violet Sabrewing

But I couldn’t remember if I’d seen a Violet Sabrewing. I can’t account for this lapse in my bird memory. I could put a good spin on it by saying that I get gob-smacked, side-swiped by beauty and slip into an altered state, in the way you forget the details of a conversation when you are falling in love.

Great Kiskadee

But even though I am not the most diligent lister, I am passionate about birds. 
Once I went to a teapot show at a museum. There were rooms and rooms of teapots of every shape and material used in the past, and more rooms of artists’ conceptions of teapots; teapots shaped like human hearts, where tea poured from the aorta, nautilus teapots, where tea spiralled from inner channels; bejeweled, enameled, scaled, tiled, hammered, hand-painted and hand-blown teapots. It seemed that an explosion of possibilities was contained in the vessel of the teapot.
I think this is part of the delight of birds. But making the delight more perverse, more interesting for the mind and heart to reconcile is that this sheer extravagance, this endless ingenuity has been fashioned by the slow, indifferent hand of evolution.
I looked up the meaning of beauty in the Oxford Dictionary: a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight. But also, a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense.
It’s difficult, this meaningless beauty. And it always leads me to something I can only describe as the inherent morality of nature. A morality which is not utilitarian, but complete in itself. Beautiful.
By the way, I checked my notes. Turns out I have seen the Violet Sabrewing, not here in Honduras, but ten years ago in Costa Rica.
Cecropia leaf on umbrella


materfamilias said...

You write so well, my dear -- it was great to see you last week, altho' for far too short a visit. Have fun with your inland birds before you go off to check off their pelagic fellows!

Brigitte said...

STILL FOLLOWING YOU ON YOUR BLOG . Your charming post about birds reminded me the lovely moments i spent in your house watching your humming birds on the terrace. Last year when i came back from protection island i had a look on internet to see if it could be possible to have humming birds on my terrace in Marseille !! i am afraid the answer is no ! it"s always a dream to read you !! Brigitte

Colene said...

As a first time reader of your blog, I had some catching up to do. And it was delightful. I loved your most recent wanderings on the myriad forms and decoration that birds display. I look forward to more drifting with you. Thanks!

Alison Watt said...

yes, very fine to spend some time across a table from each other, even such a short time. hope you're surviving the last stretch of term.

well, I guess a Mediterranean climate and the best cheese and wine in the world has to have some drawbacks...So glad you're still visiting the blog. I keep dreaming up ways I might make your party this Sept. but might have to spend some time at home once we return from our travels. Love to Laura...

great to hear from you Colene. It was a special bonus of the festival to have the chance to get to know you and Bill. Let's keep in touch.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Well, I think it's perfectly reasonable to forget whether you've seen something, especially a hummingbird, because their names are all so arbitrary. As one who forgets more than she remembers, I send you absolution.

Maybe you got a crappy look at the Costa Rican sabrewing, anyway. Though I saw it for a glimmering moment in Guatemala last year, as it hung in the air before a heliconia, then sped off, I truly never saw a violet sabrewing until Cerro Azul.

The beauty is the thing, as far as I'm concerned; it doesn't matter what we've named it.

Alison Watt said...

thanks for the moral support re. sketchy bird memory. yes, maybe beauty is the most important thing...