Though it’s just now 6 a.m. on November 14, it is already light when Fernando Aldana comes to the door of my temporary home in Antigua. He greets me with warm enthusiasm and apologizes for his sleeping son, David, in the back seat. We quickly plan our day and then head off to Finca Pillar for some early morning bird watching. Fernando is a biologist and bird guide and has given his day to showing me birds and then helping to conduct a count of the parrots sleeping at the roost site used by the Yellow-naped Amazons in our study area 15 years ago. The goal is to see how the population of parrots has changed over the years.
We walk up a canyon trail, bundled up against the cold weather, and stop to identify the many versions of humming birds and warblers around us. Fernando is a wonderful guide, gracious and welcoming in manner. A real treat is his son David who has a great eye for noticing objects and animals in the environment. He helped us see many wonders, including himself who was bright, engaging, and fun to watch as he explored the trail sides.
After midday we head down from the highlands to meet Colum Muccio and his wife Silvia Ruiz de Muccio. Colum is the director of ARCAS and Silvia is an artist whose projects and breadth of creations is astounding. Over lunch we began to talk of plans for the parrot projects of the south coast and possible grants to fund these projects. We then drove around Escuintla and entered the study area that comprised the three fincas, Caobanal, El Trebol, and Ilusiones. We have permission to enter Ilusiones to count the birds who roost there.
The scene is quite different than when I was here the last time in April 2009. Then the sugar cane was being harvested and loud trucks roared day and night, throwing up dust and fumes to add to the snowing ash of the burning cane fields. This evening it is quiet as the sugar cane still grows tall around the roost trees. We place ourselves in locations so that we can see the birds as they fly in and then sit quietly for over an hour.
I began to worry as it is almost dark and there is only one pair of Yellow-naped Amazons in the tree. Three more pairs fly in for a total of 8 birds. Last year we counted 12. Fifteen years ago we counted 250. Though we have only 2 counts so far, I fear that we know enough – the population has crashed. We will conduct a year’s worth of counts in this area to confirm what the preliminary results show.
I admit to having a heavy heart as we drive away in the dark back into the high lands. Still, I am grateful that I have these biologists and this young man David to witness the loss, and to share in plans of what might yet be done. I asked David if he had hope and he said, yes, because something could still be done. This is great wisdom – to go on working because we can. He also added via email a few days later; “There are few animals left in our big world but we have to remember not to lose the HOPE. We are responsible for the animals but (it) is very hard to make all the job so we should remember that God is there for us and in this time he is very important to help us to conserve parrots like the Yellow naped and other animals.” His father, Fernando answered similarly. He said that his hope came from God , for what humans destroyed, God will restore.
During the count at the roost site a lone parrot sat on top of the tall Ceiba tree acting as a sentinel. Though I was under the sugar cane stalks, I felt as if the bird was looking directly into my soul. She was like a bright light atop the darkly foliaged tree that once held so many of her kind. We, the counters, are the holders of the light of love in the darkness. As Fernando says and I agree, we can save a little bit of it at a time.
Question to all of us:
How might we save even a little bit in the face of such devastation and darkness?
Answer to consider:
By loving a little bit at a time: even if we feel like just one lone parrot on top of a tree when there used to be hundreds. From that beauty and rededicated observation, I believe we must count on ourselves to love ourselves as our neighbors of all species.
Thank you David, Fernando, Colum, and Sylvia for sharing this day and adding hope to our shared work a little bit at a time with every word uttered and parrot counted.