Sunday, April 10, 2011

at a snail's pace

Good deeds in nature are like anything else in life.

You often do not get to share in the rewards of your work.

Not so with our little swamp.  When we harvested the water lettuce and water hyacinth last year, we saw two immediate results.  And they both arrived on large wings.

The morning after we opened a small patch of the water, I discovered a wading bird I had never seen before.  Mottled brown and white.  And a bit shy.  He was aloft before I could get a good look at him.

At first, I thought he was a variety of ibis because of the down turned beak.  It turns out I was wrong.

He was a limpkin.  And he kept coming back.  Each time a little more confident.

It is amazing that I saw him at all.  According to my bird books and local birders, we are on the border of the limpkin's range.  They are not a common sighting.

More than one lives in the laguna.  You can hear them at night.  Their call is almost like a scream.  Chupacabra stalks in the dark.
But the limpkin was not our only new visitor. 

About a week later, I saw a large black bird with a white tail patch circling the pond.  Mexico has all sorts of eagles and hawks.  But I had never seen one like this.

When I finally got a good photograph of his bill, I decided I knew what he was.  Neither hawk nor eagle.  He was a snail kite.  The hooked beak betrayed his ancestry -- and diet.

But I have a few doubts about his identity. 

With the exception of the bill, he looks a lot like a common black hawk or a solitary eagle.  His build does not look like that of a kite.  And his legs certainly are not the orange tootsies found in bird identification books.

But it is not only his field marks that make me wonder if I have the correct name for him. 

If he is a snail kite, he is out of his range.  The limpkin may have been on the border, but as you can see on this range map, Melaque is not even close to the green area -- the snail kite homeland.

For now, he will be a snail kite.  And if he is, there may be a reason for these two birds to be out of their normal range.  They both feed on apple snails.  And the laguna offers a healthy buffet of snails for both species.

I have never seen one of the apple snails alive.  They have a snorkel that allows them to live underwater most of their life.

But whenever I clean out the vegetation, I find plenty of empty snail shells.

It is easy to see why both birds look for these snails.  They are big.  Almost as large as a man's fist.  I suspect, based on the pierce hole, this snail met its demise on the beak of a kite.

When I picked up the shell, it reminded me of something.  Those escargot kits that you can buy in "gourmet" shops with the empty shells and canned snails.  Having tried them, I suspect the kite is getting a better gastronomic deal.

There is a bit more vegetation to fish out of the inlet.  But, for now, I am going to enjoy the avian rewards that have come our way with a lot of hard work.


Francisco said...

Thanks for sharing the fruits of your labor.

Steve Cotton said...

It will help me to remember what the place could look like when the lettuce starts invading again -- and it will.

Felipe Zapata said...

I love escargot. I wish I had some of those little devils right this moment.

John said...

Mexico provides many bird siting opportunities - we enjoy the colorful parrots and humming birds here in Puerto - glad you brought it up.

Steve Cotton said...

Escargot is just one more reason that Parius wiould be a great place to live. And good escargot. I wonder how these apple snails would taste?

Steve Cotton said...

I hear there are flocks of parrots in the Barra laguna, but I have never seen them. I need to get my camera and binoculats out early enough to go searching for them.

Kim G said...

It's nice to know you are leaving the laguna in better shape than you found it. And I'm sure the birds appreciate it too.

Saludos and Feliz Domingo,

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we live a block from the beach, but no alligators, and few if any exotic birds.

Steve Cotton said...

I brought three Mexico bird books back to Melaque on my short jaunt north. Daily I am finding (or not finding) the names of birds I have never seen before. And a lot of the local cast will be heading north for the summer in The States and Canada. Then I will have a better idea which birds live here all year -- just like me.

By the way, a huge croc showed up in the inlet this morning. As big as a Buick. I noticed it was there because of the splashing. It had killed something. I am staying away from the shore for the rest of the day.

Kim G said...

Thank goodness! We readers can't have you dragged off by an alligator just yet, thank you very much. We need more blog posts.

So you stay outta that water, ya hear?


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where, perhaps, we have over-vivid imaginings of alligators.

Steve Cotton said...

I have not seen him return today. But I didn't see him before all of the splashing this morning, either. I still wonder what he took down. As for me, I am staying on high ground. For a bit.