Thursday, March 13, 2008

Steve and the monkey

One of the great things about my recent Guatemala trip was the people. A veritable who's who of British, Guatemalan, and North American birders, and it was great to meet so many new friends, and get to spend time afield with them. I want to share more about them in later posts, but for now I'll mention THE MAN of Central American birds.

I was thrilled to see that Steve Howell was along, and never expected the opportunity to meet him, or spend time in the field with Steve and be able to discuss birds and the tropics with him.

Steve is author of the benchmark Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, the gold standard reference of birds of this region. Steve made his first visit to Mexico in 1981, and since then has spent countless hours in that country as well as all of the Central American countries. No one knows the region's bird life like Steve, and he generously shares his knowledge. The above book was published in 1995, and provided the first comprehensive reference of the area's avifauna. When Steve began his field research, nearly nothing had been published on many of the species in Mexico/Central America. We were treated to a talk that Steve gave regarding his time in the tropics and what went into the research and travels for the book. Pretty amazing stuff, and not too many people would make the sacrifices that he did to learn about these birds.
Perhaps the most conspicuous - and horrifying, to the unitiated - vocalization in the jungles are the roars of howler monkeys. They travel in sizeable troupes, and the bellowing of the males can carry nearly a mile sometimes. Ofttentimes nearby troupes get to howling back and forth at each other, filling the forest with waves of raucous sound. Essentially, the howlers sound like a pack of coon dogs locked in a one-car garage and set to baying, and then projected through a stack of Marshall amps.

Fortunately, the young female above was silent and well-behaved, and quite tame. She would visit the grounds of the Vista Maya lodge, where we spent a few days, and amble over to investigate the activities of the humanoids. Quite a charming little monkey, actually. And apparently quite keen on learning about birds. And she picked the right group of people to learn from.

We noticed that the monkey was having difficulty separating the various species of tanagers and warblers flitting about the grounds, and remembered that we had Steve Howell close at hand. Obliging chap that he is, Steve brought over one of his guides and spent a bit of time tutoring the monkey on various ID issues. The monkey was enriched, Steve did a good deed, and we had some nice photo ops of teacher and student. Hard to say who's the better looking of the two, though...

1 comment:

BT3 said...

Hilarious post, Jim! But which one is Howell and which one is the howler?