I know, you already know so much about our trip. We camped. We looked for birds. We strolled, ducked, and snaked our way through some trails. But we carried the camera while doing so, and I have so many pics I’d like to share. Can’t help it! Below are some of our favorite nature and scenery photos from our trip, complete with some probably-needed explanations and commentary.
“Did you see them?” I asked Jordan dutifully, asking out of a sense of obligation to my former self. He had been watching some ants when a group of eight to ten wild, bright green parrots flew overhead, letting out their cries.
“You mean the parrots? I heard them, but didn’t look.” He shrugged. “We’ll see some more.”
It was true. We would see more. Probably a couple hundred more. Still, it was hard to imagine that only 30 days earlier, we stood together at “our” backdoor squealing* with delight at the sight of five parrots in a tree. I couldn’t believe we were seeing parrots in the wild. In my life, their presence had previously been limited to pet stores, movies, and the homes of great aunts. It was so exciting to see them flying from tree to tree and listen to them squawk. I had to hold back my Awk! Wit’s ends.
But that was a month ago. Since then, I’d seen countless numbers of parrots. They were at almost every stop during our trip. They fly over in groups of five, ten, twenty, once even in a group of at least forty. I’ve seen them closely. I spent time watching them exchange places in their marvelous parrot nests. And somehow, it seemed like no big deal and a very big deal at the same time.
Parrots (even talking parrots!*) are only a small part of story. The biologists that we went with on this trip identified over 200 species (there are supposedly 500 known bird species in the Chaco). Again, we saw many, but between our nascent bird watching skills and our pitiful pair of binoculars, Jordan and I only actually correctly identified 21 of the birds we saw. Ha.
We laughed about this around the campfire one night. They asked Jordan and I what we’d seen. We mentioned the parrots (two types), urracas (a beautiful, yet common bird…this is the equivalent of going bird watching with one of the top ornithologists in the US and tell him or her that you saw a blue jay), and a white-browed blackbird (the one we’d all seen together). What I appreciated about this night is that our fellow travelers told us bird watching doesn’t haven’t to be about lists and strict identification for us. It’s about the experience. We, as amateur birdwatchers, had the luxury of choosing to watch the bird that strikes our fancy, really watch what it’s doing, and have fun. They, on the other hand, might have to stalk a bird of less interesting plumage in order to distinguish it from a very similar species.
This didn’t mean that I stopped thumbing my way through the bird guides. But it did mean I beat myself up a little less about being able to find the right bird in the book. I let myself giggle when I saw those chuñas flop those gangling legs all over the place when running (without bothering to look to see if they had red or black legs). I let myself making Fruit Loop references when we spotted those toucans (this was not so much Chaco…it was during our detour in the wrong direction). I let myself watch that bright yellow bird (whatever it was) without worrying about the call of another. I let myself point like an amateur when I got excited instead of slowly pulling up my powerful binoculars like an academic. And it was more fun this way.
Seeing these birds was a really neat experience, but I was surprised at how much I liked even seeing their nests. The hanging nests seemed to be everywhere, just holding on by one branch. That drooping, hanging black mess in the photos below? Yep, another type of nest.
Note about the photos: Our bird photos do the birds absolutely no justice. We have a laughable zoom on our nice camera, and that Canon Powershot you bought five years ago would probably be better for taking bird photos. There’s also the issue of flight and motion. If I happened to be close enough to a bird and then raised my camera, it would certainly fly away from me. And flight is fast.
Trees and Shrubs
Some of the trees and shrubs that we saw were ones that we’d become familiar with during our first Chaco excursion, but many were new. My new favorite Chaco tree is the one known as palo borracho, or drunken stick. It’s pictured in the first two photos below. “Cotton” hangs from its branches, and the trunks bulge out with their beer bellies. Sometimes the tree trunk has only one bulge, sometimes more. We drove past a double-bulge (not a real term, folks) palo borracho at one point. It so resembled the bum of a pear-shaped woman that someone had painted a bikini bottom on it. I think I choked on my gaseoso upon seeing it. Too funny.
Cacti and Agave Family and other Fun Plants
The trees were great, but this Midwest girl still gets really excited about cacti and plants from the agave family. Beyond that, we also found some papaya growing and a strange yellow fruit called horned melon (or cucumis metuliferus). One of the people with us had grown up going on orchid-finding hikes with her family, so she had pointed one out to us. Later, I found one on my own (in the last picture of this section). Would have loved to take it and pack it to Canada with me.
Animals, Ants, Insects, etc.
No, we saw no jaguars or pumas. Sorry to disappoint. We did still have plenty of animal sightings, though. And something–we don’t know what–ate our tomatoes one night. As far as larger animals go, we saw a South American wolverine (grison), two foxes, two deer (small), a monkey, the backside of a capybara, and finally a cayman. Well, okay, I didn’t see the cayman. I was in the car deleting GPS points or avoiding bugs at that point. I console myself with the fact that I’ve already seen one of those in the wild before. We also saw a dead anteater. I’ve been told that we should feel thankful that it was dead. Run away if you see one that’s alive.
There were also many unique crawlers. You already know I saw a tarantula and a coral snake, but I didn’t mention the bees, termites (interesting to see their hills), or ants. I don’t mention any of these in the way you might expect. To me, they weren’t bad. The ticks, flies, and mosquitoes I could do without, but the rest were fine.
We always have tons of fun watching ants. It’s a daily routine during our time here. Ant behavior is very interesting to me (though I certainly won’t make it a career). This trip was a treat in that regard. There seemed to be so many variations of ant hills. For example, picture two below is one big ant hill. You can also see the trumpet bell-shaped ant hotels below. Along one road, Jordan and I noticed a gathering of thousands of ants. We stopped to watch and then walked ahead to find out that not everyone had seen the ants before it was too late. It’s the first time I could literally use the expression “ants in his pants.”
The bees and wasps seemed to be all over the place, but generally, if you didn’t kill any, wouldn’t bother us. Thankfully. Because the hives were perched on tree after tree. It’s hard to believe there is a bee shortage after visiting here.
I loved seeing the lizards. Usually, these guys were pretty small, but we did see a few that measured over two feet long, maybe three feet if you’re counting the tail. The lizard tracks in the sand were pretty funny–a big, long, indirect line across the sand flanked with little scaled footprints on either side. The biologist leading the group told us that these can move up to 40kph. After seeing some of them go, I believe it.
The locusts/grasshoppers were the biggest I’ve seen in my life. These were generally found near the ranching/farming areas. They measured around 5 inches and at first glance, you’d thing that was a bird flying in the sky.
And finally, butterflies and moths. They seemed to come in groups of one hundred. There are two photos of them below. That’s not snow, but butterflies. As for the moths, our tent was attacked one night. We never really understood why but there were probably one to two hundred moths surrounding it. The grand daddy measured at least four inches across and looked like the eyes of an owl. The camera was inside the tent…
Camping and Scenery
A lot of our time was spent wandering around looking for birds and nature walking, it’s true. But there were also a lot of really great moments that resulted from doing nothing in particular. Seeing the countryside and the scenery was probably about as fun as anything else that we did. (Except for making bad jokes in Spanglish about our omnipresent block of Chaqueño cheese around the campfire!) So fun taking photos here.
Bolivia is so photogenic.
*Okay, I squealed in delight. Jordan probably didn’t.