Ecotourism — how it can save birds, Page 2

Looking northeast off the balcony of Rancho Naturalista, Tuis, Costa Rica, about 8 AM in the morning, April 15, 2000.  What is that at the tree feeder?

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In the binoculars we see a male Montezuma Oropendola, (Psarocolius montezuma), with its chestnut body, yellow tail feathers, and distinctive long colored beak.

Can you spot this Montezuma Oropendola in the photo at the left?

Click image to hear its sounds

Just because you may have a genuine interest in nature,  unfortunately, does not mean you have the skills to convey respect and a lasting friendship to people you may meet.  For ecotourism to work over the long term, ultimately people will have to learn to like one another, internationally.   It is a question of respecting each other’s values.  A Mayan hunter who has known the forest birds since childhood, has a tradition of self-preservation, and may harbor a long list of valid grievances against what other cultures have transgressed against his people, is not likely to listen to a long debate (lecture) about the “evils of hunting”, no matter how well intended the lecturer.  Respected, he will help you ID the birds you see, but might not know the English names for all.  Give and take on both sides are essential.

You the traveler may have no idea about existing conflicts, economic or cultural, between people you meet on your trip.  Often ancient cultures are “merely tolerated” by the local governments, and although you are seldom prepared adequately for it, you may find yourself walking into a very long-term dispute.  The USA isn’t the only place where people from different cultural perspectives meet and have taken an instant dislike to one another.  When you add the difficulties any tourist may experience with what I will call local annoyances—ants, mosquitoes, snakes, scorpions, humidity, rain, chiggers, etc.—you must be prepared as well as possible to remain patient and friendly when you encounter cultural traits that surprise you or rub you the wrong way.  In short, if you care about conserving the world of birds and ecology, you need to learn to act as a reasonable ambassador.

Skywalk, Wildside Birding Tour of Costa Rica, 2000. At this point we heard and saw a male Quetzal vocalizing.  Recording it was quite a trick.

Skywalk, Monteverde, Costa Rica.
Wildside Birding Tour, 2000.

Birding tours can also go either way.  If you are planning to take your first tropical tour, be sure to ask your guide specifics about places you will stay, names of people — try to get a feel for whether the tour switches hotels and walks every year, or whether your guides are first rate people who leave behind a sense of welcome anticipation for their return.  Talk to previous clients if possible, and get a sense of the balance between “the birding drive” and the desire to be ambassadors for cultural exchange and for positive conservation ethics.
Also, try to get a feeling for the ecotourism support structure implicit in your trip.  Are the local economies in your target destination being supported by your visit, personally and professionally, or is some owner in the first world just getting rich and famous from each trip?  Is the trip focus solely on the “number of added species” for your life list, or is there also a sense of what your birding means to you that is “rubbing off” on some local enthusiasts?  Does the birding style of the trip leaders match your own, or are they too aggressive or self-centered to make you comfortable on a long trip? Do they balance the needs of the trip's beginners well against the demands of the advanced birders?
Our family approach to travel — in addition to our own preferences for a variety of cultural and biological tropical experiences, also had a very specific goal—to make recordings of the sounds of the common birds, specifically for the day when this EnjoyBirds product would go public.  Making quality recordings of nature sounds puts you at odds with just about every aspect of civilized life.  Microphones do NOT reject any aspect of the sound-scape, unlike photographs which exclude all but what is in the frame.  The recordist is always confronting vastly louder sounds, mostly made by the very fellow man of whom he is trying to be respectful.  Patience is the name of the game, here.

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Marty on one of Jamaica's highest passes, near Hollywell Park, attempting to tape record an Orangequit (Euneornis campestris), whose song is almost too high for him to hear.
Recording a Jamaican endemic; Hardwar Gap Café, Hollywell Nat’l Park, St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica