My 10 day trip to Nicaragua got off to nice start with my flight to Managua. I left Atlanta right around sunset and it was completed dark by the time we were flying along the western edge of Florida. We flew just west of Key West and it stood out like a beacon against the surrounding dark of the gulf and just beyond and much less brilliantly lit were the Marquesas Keys.
We then flew directly over Havana, Cuba. At one point Key West, the Marquesas keys and Havana were all visible at the same time. A beautiful sight for sure.
Nicaragua is the largest but most sparsely populated Central American nation and is slightly smaller than the state of New York. It has two big lakes, Nicaragua and Managua, that are connected by the Tipitapa River.
The capital is Managua which has a population of 973,087. The currency is the Cordoba. One Cordoba is equal to 0.036 U.S. dollars.
The Nicaraguan population is basically mestizo, a mixture of white and Amerindian. There are no census data on racial composition, but estimates place the mestizo component at 69% and the white population at 17%; blacks account for 9% and Amerindians for the remaining 5% (Encyclopedia.com 2016).
The main agricultural exports are coffee, cotton, sugar, and bananas. Nontraditional exports are growing and include: honeydew melons, cantaloupe, sesame seed, onions, baby corn, asparagus, artichokes, and cut flowers. Sorghum, cacao, yucca, tobacco, plantains, and various other fruits and vegetables are produced on a smaller scale for the local markets (Encyclopedia.com 2016).
The most bizarre part of the whole trip was when we were on approach in to Managua and from around 5,000 feet there were these massive light bulb covered tress in bright neon colors of yellow, blue, green and red all over the streets of Managua. It was totally unexpected and so very strange that I was seriously wondering if I were seeing things.
As my plane was descending I began wondering how and why a country that is the second poorest in the western hemisphere (behind Haiti) and that has a developing electrical grid, is spending precious resources to keep such structures lit. Nicaragua has spent over $3.3 million building these behemoths and spends over $1.1 million annually to light them. As I was able to see Nicaragua during my trip and saw how very poor many of the people are and how little they have I wondered at this display and what its real purpose is.
Once I got into Managua, cleared customs and was met by one of my tour leaders Connie Volkert and got to the hotel for the night it was after 10 pm.
The next morning we had breakfast and took some time to get to know each other (there were 10 of us in group) before heading off to Montibelli Reserve, a 400 acre private reserve that produces shade-grown coffee in the dry tropical forest. This type of forest is more open than other forests we visited which made birding much easier.
We were originally going to visit Volcan Masaya which is an active volcano that you can drive right up to the crater to view. But due to high activity within the crater, the park was closed. Masaya was referred to by the early Spanish conquerors as “La Boca del Infierno” or “The Mouth of Hell”. It last erupted in 2003.
But, of course, the primary reason I came to Nicaragua was to see the birds! I was not disappointed and had a fantastic time. I will be creating a blog for each day as we did and saw so much each day that each deserve a separate entry.
I understand migration and the routes by which many birds travel to wintering and breeding destinations.I am fascinated by how such tiny birds (the Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs only as much as a dime) can fly so far twice a year. But to actually follow their route and then see them in a place thousands of miles from Wisconsin where they either migrate through or nest really brings a clarity and perspective that reading about migration can never do. Ironically, many of my nemesis species in Wisconsin, such as the Hooded Warbler, made themselves available to me in Nicaragua. Other bird species, such as the Summer Tanager and Painted Bunting which breed in other regions of the United States were also seen.
We had a female painted bunting give us a brief appearance at Montibelli. We did see a male from a distance during a hike up the mountainside.
The striking Rufous-naped Wren
When I first saw the Clay-colored Thrush in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas last December, I was absolutely thrilled. After the first couple of days in Nicaragua, I realized they were as common as Robins in Wisconsin and quickly got used to seeing them. We quickly began referring to it as our “default” bird and all unidentified birds jokingly became Clay-colored Thrushes.
While I did not see the number one bird species I would have liked to see, the Resplendent Quetzal, I did see four of its Trogan relatives. To be fair, it was very unlikely that we would have seen a quetzal as it was not their breeding season and so they had moved off to different areas. I was very pleased to have seen such a beautiful bird as the Black-throated Trogan.
There were more than birds too! Many other types of animals and beautiful flowers, trees and other flora as well.
The deftly camouflaged Gray Cracker Butterfly
The first full day of this trip in Montibelli Reserve was wonderful with many species, both common and uncommon , being seen. Even masters of camouflage could not escape us thanks to our incredible guide who could spot birds such as the Common Potoo with seeming ease.
Stay tuned for day two!