Traveling to Discover Friendly Feathers

I have never been a big fan or birding. I have been on trips with Overseas Adventure Travel with those who have brought along birding books and have shared with each other what birds they saw and where. I’ve looked at these interactions with interest, in the Peruvian Amazon and Iceland for instance, both areas rich in wildlife and plenty of birds. I confess I remained unmoved, if not bored.

Then I went to South Africa on a Grand Circle trip now branded by OAT called South Africa, Swaziland, the Garden Route and Cape Town. I took advantage of the limited safari days in that trip, since it’s a mixture of nature and culture, and I added more safari days with a local provider beforehand. But out of all that stood out for me, and which I really took to heart, was one bird I saw and successfully photographed – the Lilac Breasted Roller, the most photographed bird in the world.

This bird is widely found in sub-Saharan Africa, where I have read several different countries claiming it as their national bird – Botswana and Kenya among others. It can also be found in the Arabian Peninsula. It is mostly found in treeless places, alone as I saw it, or in pairs. Its always perched at a vantage point so it can spot insects.

While the lilac breaster roller can be found from Kenya to many parts in northern South Africa as well as the coasts of Namibia and Angola, there is also another species called the lilac throated roller or blue breasted roller. The latter van be found from Eritrea, to Somalia, to Kenya. These beautiful birds really get around!

But while I was thinking about birds, I began to realize that I have been smitten by them before during my travels, and they were always a highlight. One time was in Nicaragua, when I was on my own for nine days prior to joining the OAT tour Route of the Maya. During a private rainforest walk, we encountered the national bird of Nicaragua.

I have certainly been on hikes in Central American rainforests before. What was cool was that we were the only ones there. Howler monkeys greeted us from on high as we entered, parakeets kept us company as we hiked, and a wonderful frog with a green back, an orange face and a blue belly was there to say goodbye as we were leaving. Before leaving however, it was one big bird surprise after another. We hiked to a small waterfall at the end of the path and parakeets were supposed to be there, since their nest is in the rocks. But they had flown away by the time we got there even though seeing them was supposed to be a grand surprise. We had many other wonderful surprises instead. I got up close and personal with the national bird of Nicaragua, which is a beautiful shade of blue, the turquoise -browed motmot. This bird is so popular, its even on the Nicaraguan currency, and neighboring El Salvador claims it as its bird as well. I saw and heard so many birds on that trip, it was unforgettable. When I arrived in San Salvador, so many birds were chirping loudly as I exited the airport, I was stunned. I forget if they were local parakeets or parrots, but the sound was unforgettable.

The grand finale on that hike in Nicaragua however, was the pair of toucans that prevented us from leaving too soon. They appeared to be in the trees kissing.

Also on that trip, was a visit to Macaw Mountain in Honduras. After we left Copan, Honduras and got to Macaw Mountain, we were truly one with the macaws and the toucans, which was fabulous. The entire bird park was one big eco system of what Central America has to offer.

I recently read Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This beautifully written, Nobel prize winning book, uses a parrot as a literary device to kill off a central character in the opening chapters of the book. The protagonist falls off a ladder while trying to catch the parrot flying inside his own home, which sets the stage for the rest of the story. I laughed at the dark humor of it. However, given that the setting was in Colombia, in a Caribbean coastal town that was supposed to be Cartagena, it reminded me much of my encounter with a toucan inside our hotel in Cartagena on the OAT trip Colombia: Colonial Jewels and Coffee Tringle. I had never seen a toucan flying around inside a residence before and had felt grateful to see them outdoors in the wild! But maybe in a place like Colombia, the birds are given free rein. In any event, art definitely imitated life, and so matched my travel experience.

Toucan in Cartegena Hotel

For more memorable travel moments with birds, check out the Overseas Adventure Travel website.  

National Bird of Nicaragua
All photos Jann Segal

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