Caring for two cats that couldn’t care less has been a breeze. Especially after the, ahem, fowl experience we endured earlier this summer with the Angry Bird. Here in San Pancho, we awake not to the shrieks of a feathered fiend but silently, at our leisure, to a couple of cats that barely crack an eyelid at us. As Valentino, who has grown from a whiny baby to an aloof teenager, turns his back to us, Pico, the (supposedly) wild one, seems to think it’s his duty to act as morning greeter. Heavy-lidded and yawning, he’ll haul himself up from his comfy place of repose on the dining room chair, pad into the kitchen, rub up against our legs, accept a few head scratches, then, his work done, amble back to his chair to re-take his position as your common house cat. Did I mention this was the (supposedly) wild one?
And that’s how they’ll both stay — All. Day. Long. Oh, they might rouse themselves for a lick of water, a bite of food or a bit of a poop. But that’s their job, to laze around and siesta the day away, and they take pride in how well they do it. Come dusk, however, they’re on the prowl, like lions on the hunt. Off they’ll slink into the jungle, heads down, ears up, ready to take down a water buffalo. Or lizard.
That’s the extent of this particular pet-sit, and it’s been easy-breezy, stress-free, and blissfully quiet. Until one day I awoke with a jolt at the sound of — say it isn’t so! — the Angry Bird?! I sat bolt upright, my panicked eyes scoping the room, ears cocked. Did I hear right? Yes, there it is again: a squawk. A really loud, distinctively cockatoo-like squawk. Good lord, the wing nut’s found me, tracked me all the way to a tiny Mexican pueblo to continue screeching at me. I threw back the covers and rushed to the window. I scanned the horizon in search of the source of that squawk. I saw nothing.
While there are indeed parrots, parakeets, and even macaws in these northwestern parts of Mexico, there are, mercifully, no cockatoos. Phew. What I eventually spotted in the trees was a black-throated magpie-jay, a rather beautiful blue bird that stands up to 30 inches high, with more than half that height taken up by a long tail with white tips. And while nothing can match the ear-piercing shriek of a cockatoo, this guy came pretty close (magpie jays’ raucous calls have actually been compared to the parrot’s) with his cacophonous rah-rah-RAH! I was just glad he was on the other side of the window and not in the next room.
Other pretty birds we’ve glimpsed so far include a streak-backed oriole, a gorgeous little bird of bright yellow and orange feathers that hangs outside the kitchen window, chittering and snacking on the palm berries; a red-headed woodpecker that knocks on the
parota trees across the road; a cinnamon hummingbird that flits around the hibiscus flowers and chirps like a chipmunk; a beautiful vermilion flycatcher; egrets who risk their snowy white plumed necks by picking their long legs through the lagoon, just out of reach of the resident crocs; and the magnificent frigatebirds that ride the thermals in lazy circles high above the ocean.
The ugly ducklings of the bird world here would have to include the vulture, those evil-looking opportunists in their feathered black cloaks that scavenge dead things; the brown pelican that, while cool to watch glide and dive, really is quite hideous with its long beak and flabby throat pouch; and the chachalaca. A family of three of these large, gangly, goofy-looking birds hangs out in the palm trees, competing with the orioles for the berries. While they might win the berry fight, due to their size, they certainly lose the beauty contest. Where the oriole is colourful, gorgeous and graceful, the dull black/brown chachalacas, with their red-rimmed beady eyes, crash and bumble their way amid the fronds, always looking like they’re about to fall off, which is why we started referring to them as chuckleheads. And then there’s their sound, holy guacamole. Imagine standing beside an ancient, rusted-out train squealing along corroded rail tracks around a continuous curve and you get the picture. There are lots of other feathered figures flitting around out there — boobies, grebes, cormorants, herons, spoonbills, ibis, storks, sandpipers, terns and gulls, owls and hawks — but we’ve yet to spot too many of those. I’ve also yet to discover the bird whose call sounds like a sneery “BIG deal!”, or the one that sing-songs, “THERE you go!”
I’m sure Luis Morales could tell me. Luis is a local guy who heads up the family-owned tour company Birding San Pancho. He’s also a marine biologist who lives here year-round and is involved in environmental initiatives that preserve and restore natural habitats. Birding San Pancho has recently been incorporated with the San Pancho Bird Observatory, a non-profit group here in town dedicated to bird and habitat conservation in the southern Nayarit coast. And, just announced earlier this month, the Rotary Foundation in Oregon and northern California awarded the Observatory $12,000 in grant money to help with their efforts. Good for them. If we’re ever lucky enough to find ourselves back here in the winter — prime viewing season — we’ll definitely take a tour. For now, we’ll kick back with the cool cats and take our flights of fancy from our own backyard.