Ranging from mid-Mexico down through central South America, the Squirrel Cuckoo is common and is most often seen in gliding from one tree to another, or energetically hopping from branch to branch in search of a wide variety of arthropods. It is a fairly common resident in the Yucatan Peninsula, but had somehow eluded me in my previous birding stops. As I related in myLet’s Groove Tonight post I had been photographing some very cooperative Groove-billed Anis along the side of the road.
The anis were feeding around a big ant swarm and other birds were joining in on the feast. Seemingly out of nowhere, my “lifer” Squirrel Cuckoo seem to just appear on a branch in front of me. The Squirrel Cuckoo is in the same family of birds, Cuculidae, as the Groove-billed Ani.
The name ‘Squirrel Cuckoo’ comes from their coloration and the fact that their movements in trees resemble those of a squirrel at first glance.
According to BirdLife International, the Squirrel Cuckoo is listed as a species of Least Concern.
Taking a slight deviation from my theme of Yucatan Birds, one of the biggest Holy Guacamole moments was actually of a different kind of flying vertebrate – bats. Deep in the forests of southern Campeche is a unique natural protected area known as “Zona Sujeta a Conservación Ecológica Balam-Kú” in Calakmul Municipality. This ecological area is home to “El Volcán de los Murciélagos”.
There are seven bat caves known in Mexico, but this is the only one featuring a visual volcano of erupting chiropterans. In fact, it is one of only two know to exist in the entire world. The second one being in Malasia.
There have been 9 bat species identified in this cave with one being nectivorous,
Pallas’ Long-tongued Bat – Glossophaga soricina,
and the others insectivorous.
Davy’s (lesser) Naked-backed Bat – Pteronotus davyi,
Big Naked-backed Bat – P. gymnonotus,
Parnell’s Mustached Bat – P. parnellii,
Wagner’s Mustached Bat – P. personatus,
Ghost-faced Bat – Mormoops megalophylla,
Mexican Funnel-eared Bat –Natalus stramineus,
Hairy-legged Myotis Bat – Myotis keaysi
and Broad-eared Bat – Nyctinomops laticaudatus).
Over the years a 130-feet-deep landslide has formed due to rainfall and erosion. At the bottom of this landslide there is a cave with an entrance 400 feet wide and 500 feet deep, at its longest with a depth of almost 2,000 feet. Every afternoon, approximately between 5 and 6 pm, “the volcano”, erupts with between three and four million bats as if they were lava. From the first handful of emerging bats, the eruption can last up to 90 minutes until the last bat leaves its roost.
Hushed conversations in Spanish, French, English and German coming from the small group of ecotourists that were gathered with much excitement in anticipation of this living volcano of bats. Standing on the edge of this expansive grotto, the quiet conversations seemed to be absorbed by the mysterious and beautiful setting. Suddenly the talking stopped as the first handful of bats flew right past our observation point – “Here they come!”
My mind tried to envision what the guide said would be almost 8 million bats erupting from the cave. At first, a few dozen began to circle around the opening, slowly rising higher and higher. Gradually the numbers grew, slowly at first and then increasing almost exponentially. Dozens became hundreds became thousands became MILLIONS. ABSOLUTLEY INCOMPREHENSIBLE.
Soon, the cave walls resonated with the sound of a million tiny bat wings flapping mightily to rise into the jungle sky. Creating their own mini-weather system, the circling bats generated a funnel of rising winds, laden with the sulphureous odor of uncountable tons of bat guano.
Contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning. For centuries outdoor enthusiasts have given testimony to the joy one can derive from a simple walk in nature.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
― William Shakespeare
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
― Albert Einstein
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
BENEFITS OF BIRD WATCHING
A study from the University of Exeter in England found that people living in neighborhoods with more birds and tree cover are less likely to have depression, anxiety and stress.
The study, published in the journal BioScience, surveyed more than 270 people from towns throughout southern England. Researchers found a positive association between the number of birds and trees in a neighborhood and residents’ mental health, even after controlling for a neighborhood’s poverty level and other demographic factors.
“Evidence is there to support the conclusion that contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning,”
Improve cardiovascular health
Many may be shocked to learn that birding can count as a workout. But often, locations that offer the best opportunities for bird watching are located off of the beaten path and require a bit of a hike in order to reach. Getting your blood pumping with a moderately-paced walk is a great way to keep your heart healthy, and by taking part in an activity you enjoy, you won’t even notice you’re getting in a workout.
Hone patience skills
The payoff of bird watching isn’t always immediate, and usually requires time spent waiting for the much anticipated glimpse of the birds you’re seeking. Refining your patience skills isn’t only a practice that will improve your mental well-being, but also has physical health benefits. A 2007 study found that people that are more patient are less likely to experience headaches, ulcers, pneumonia, acne and other health problems.
Obtain quicker reflexes
After a lengthy wait, a bird watcher has to be ready at any given second to grab their binoculars or camera to bask in and capture that long-awaited moment. Every birding opportunity gives you the chance to exercise your reflex speed, as well as improve upon it. Having fast reflexes not only allows you to be a successful bird watcher, but will prevent a barrage of small disasters from happening in your day-to-day life and help you better thwart off danger.
SUGGESTIONS FOR PANDEMIC-SAFE BIRDING
With just a few social-distancing tweaks added to your routine, birding (ornithology sessions) can be safely practiced in most outdoor settings.
Don’t go with a group of your friends
Avoid public transportation
Keep at least 12 feet away from others not in your immediate family social bubble.
Have a mask at the ready in case others approach within the 12 foot limit.
Don’t share optics with others not in your immediate family social bubble
Have a bottle of disinfectant in your car and use it liberally as soon as you return to it.
ORNITHERAPY – TAKING BIRDING TO ANOTHER LEVEL
WHAT IS ORNITHERAPY?
Ornitherapy is a portmanteau of the terms ornithology (the study of birds) and therapy. Borrowing from “Our Guide to Ornitherapy – Getting Started” by Whitehawk Birding, “Simply put, Ornitherapy is the practice of observing birds to calm the mind, to ground or center yourself, or to help focus your thoughts on the presentmoment.
Ornitherapy endeavors to transform the data-intensive, species listing science that is birding, into a sensory journey of the sights, sounds, smells and species interactions of nature. Ornitherapy is more about the sensory experience as one becomes enveloped by the sphere of life.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Connecting to the natural world facilitates streams of creativity and learning, while providing benefits such as: stress reduction, improved focus, and a more positive mindset.