Bird-watching 101

10 04 2008

Potoo

The Common Potoo: so named for its poor manners and swearing

 

The common potoo is not actually common at all. If it was common, the park ranger wouldn’t have jumped up and down with glee when he saw one for the first time in several months. The excitement he showed was extremely contagious and although I had no idea whether a potoo was a root vegetable or a musical instrument, I nodded appreciatively and strained to get a closer look.

 

I followed his outstretched arm to a dry leafless tree several metres away. The focal point of his attention appeared to be a brown – apparently dead – branch. His eyes were still wide with awe and I smiled enthusiastically, not wishing to spoil his reverie by telling him that I’d seen dead trees before. As I was preparing to back away and leave him to his derangement, I detected a subtle movement and discerned an impeccably camouflaged, perfectly still bird clearly designed to fool amateur birdwatchers, unappreciative tourists and hungry enemies alike. I trampled the ranger to one side to get a closer look.

 

As a 6 year old, I had once used my pocket money to join a junior bird-watching club. I was torn between it and a rubber crocodile that had a small reservoir in the centre that enabled it to float in the bath and spit out streams of water. In a moment of scholarly madness the club won out and I duly received my membership certificate, a small lapel badge, a little guidebook and a piece of ruled-paper on which to record all the species I spied. I started earnestly enough listing the usual sparrow, blackbird, starling, robin and thrush before losing interest and confining the entire package to a drawer never to see the light of day again. Several weeks later I bought the crocodile. 

 

My uncommon potoo experience in the tropical dry forest of the Santa Rosa National Park in northern Costa Rica had me wishing that I still had that list so that I could gloatingly record the rare sighting and drive some diehard twitcher to paroxysms of envy. I must confess that my new-found ornithological enthusiasm was actually quite genuine and the potoo was the highlight of a great morning spent hiking in the park.

 

However, it would have been even better had I known anyone back home who would have been suitably impressed and gratuitously and magnificently jealous!

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

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