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part 3 of the great bolivian parrot tour: i am the seed-eater king

2011-04-27 - 7:09 a.m.

Wednesday, April 13, Trinidad, Beni, Bolivia

Peachfront's Note: This is part 3 of the amazing parrot tour of Bolivia. You can start with Part 1 or continue on to part 2 to get caught up on my astounding adventures.

Most of the blockades only last for a day, so we planned again to make an early start. To my surprise, there was no one around in the bar or breakfast room. Birders are, as a class, a very prompt people, and so far my guide had always been either on time or a few minutes early. I tried not to worry, but it was a TAD worrisome, you must admit. Meanwhile, I had some coffee and hung out, which became more awkward when the hotel staff tried to serve me breakfast. I just can't eat all these meals that South Americans eat, four a day, plus snacks. Getting a break from eating was actually a bit of a relief, and just coffee was all I wanted. But it took some effort to get the point across that, seriously, I simply wasn't hungry.

At some point the driver showed up. He didn't speak English, but I could tell that he was mystified too. In a game of charades, he asked me for S's cell phone number but I didn't actually have it. Not holding a cell phone myself, I'd never thought to ask for it. He then asked at the hotel desk, but the clerk was afraid to phone S. before 8 A.M. Yikes. That's half the day gone (only a slight exaggeration) to a birder. As we were standing around wringing our hands and wondering what to do, S. finally came in.

"I had to talk to my brother," he said, a grim expression on his face.

He did not mean that he was allowing garrulous family members to interfere with his job. He meant that the blockade was still on. So, when he went to buy his guide license, the clerk at the office tried to give him an argument about working. Since S. hasn't worked all year -- I'm his first job, remember? -- and no teacher or doctor in the history of the human race has ever taken to the streets to raise the pay of folks in the tourism industry -- he wasn't much impressed by his "brother's" appeal. But he still had to go through the motions of hearing the guy out, before his license was finally approved.

We still weren't able to go on any long trips out of Trinidad, but S. knew of a piece of cerrado grassland, where the sheer number of species proved to be almost mind-croggling. We got 51 species, and we're not talking tails disappearing into the fields, either. We're talking about great, close-up looks. In addition to a chance to enjoy more of the Bolivian species I'd already met, here I added three new life birds, the Great Pampa Finch, White Monjita, and the Great-Billed Seed-Finch -- the last of the three also being a new lifer for S. Apparently, he'd been looking for it for quite awhile, but it seemed rather easy to me, since it's the first time I'm in the habitat, and it was pretty close, much like any of a number of other seedeaters. The individual we saw was a nicely marked male. S. assured me that I seemed to have a lucky charm for attracting the seed-eaters. Now there's a superpower that you'll never see in the movies.

actually ANY fish might be somewhat cranky in this situation but moments later the red-bellied piranha was indeed snapping indignantly at the bit of bone

On the non-bird front, we had a nice view of a Spectacled Caiman sitting in the sun. Later, as we drove past a river where many guys were fishing, some dude caught a Red-Bellied Piranha and put it quickly in a two liter Coke bottle with some river water, so that we could inspect it up-close and personal. Again, not hustling for a tip. He just genuinely thought the silly tourist would enjoy seeing a Piranha. It was really nifty to see how colorful (and how toothy) they are in the light.

No rain today. In fact, despite yesterday's rain, I never had to open my dollar store rain poncho. I couldn't know it yet, but I would not need ANY rain jacket for this particular trip. And I only used one rain jacket on the last trip. So I'm way ahead of the odds on getting rained on in Bolivia, even though both of my trips skirted different ends of the rainy season. Of course, with no rain, it was starting to get quite hot, so around mid-day, we headed back for lunch and a siesta.

I continue to be amazed at how much South Americans eat. But it's probably because I'm now a middle-aged female, and I'm being guided by younger males, and I just forgot how much people eat when they're under 40. I felt bad about picking at my food, because I didn't want them to think I didn't like it, but it was just much too much. Well-flavored, but too much. I ordered chicken soup, and they brought out all sorts of stuff on the side in addition to a large piece of chicken being already in the soup. Whew. Very generous...but much too much.

It was time for a siesta. I usually bring a number of cheap paperbacks to read along the way on my various trips. You can leave them as you finish them, adding to the hotel library or giving them away to some traveler at the airport, and your load gets lighter as you go along. I often buy them for 25 cents or just trade for them, but this time I had taken some older books that were losing pages from my own shelves. Why not enjoy them one last time before they become unreadable? So it was that I was re-reading No One Gets Out of Here Alive, the Jim Morrison hagiography,* and I got this earworm caught in my brain: I am the Lizard King, I can do anything. Say that a few times in your head, and you'll feel a little silly.

Since my guide had pronounced me lucky with seed-eaters, I decided to change the chant to something a little more positive:

I am the Seed-Eater King
I can do anything

Sure, it's just as goofy, but it isn't "taking yourself too seriously" goofy.

When I was a teen-ager, I had heard that Morrison was a child-molester, but now I realized that his girlfriends were probably old enough -- they just acted like children. And so did he. People in the past were so immature. It irritated me that he used his supposed godlike powers to stay drunk, be an ass, and kill himself. C'mon. What I could have done with what he had just handed to him on a plate. Ho well. Some people can get dealt pocket Aces and still eff it up.

Armed with my new chant, I descended the stairs into a new world. The blockade was gone, and all the world loved me. The desk clerk wanted her picture made with me. Since we only had a half-day to bird the road to Loreto, the guy at the toll booth didn't charge the driver the toll when the driver pointed to me and explained that we were just going a short way to look at some birds. A rancher stopped his truck and told us to come on down and bird his ranch. Everything was just like...well, it was just like magic. That doesn't mean that I can recommend my special chant to everyone. It probably wouldn't work the same for you. But I am the Seed-Eater king and I can do anything and modest too.

On this day, a lovely bolivian lady wanted her picture made with the hilarious tourist in complete birder's field costume, & I realized I was shorter...

The most unexpected sighting on the road to Loreto was a Margay. I am not talking about a glimpse from the van. I'm talking about, we're down there on the road, and the little wild cat comes right out, crossing right there, boldly looking us in the eye, as if daring us to react.

And, of course, we added a fresh batch of life birds, of which I will pick Black-Capped Donacobius, as the most dapper...but don't tell the Blue-Crowned Conure, tee hee.

Some cute sightings from around the day:

  • My first Jabirus on the nest -- as the trip went on, I would see many pairs of Jabirus building and protecting huge stick nests, but you always treasure your first
  • Peach-Front Conures and Blue-and-Yellow Macaws continued to go two by two, like Noah's Ark...their pair bonds were remarkable
  • A nice Wood Stork kettle rising over the cerrado
  • My first Rufous Cacholote building a stick nest -- again, it was the right season, and we'd be seeing others
  • Inspiring flight of an adult White-Tailed Hawk -- it circled nicely to give us perfect views against the blue sky
  • A humor encounter whereupon our pair of Black-Capped Donacobius got hassled by some Velvet-Fronted Grackles who were in a gang looking for trouble. Once they routed the Donacobius, they thought they would chase off a Rufous-Tailed Jacamar that was lurking in the shadows, but the Jacamar was not so easy to chase as a Donacobius and he simply refused to acknowledge their pesky existence. The Grackles weren't especially large, but neither is a Jacamar, and I was privately amazed that he was able to snub them so effectively, only having to move a foot or two once or twice on his branch when they got too ridiculous.
  • When we saw the Wing-Barred Seed-Eater just sitting out cool as cucumber on a wire after lunch, the guide at first took it for a more common Seed-Eater and then just shook his head. "You are lucky for the Seed-eaters," he said, yet again. See? Told ya.

    The List:

    Lifers will be in bold. Hey, another day, another 11 lifers...!

    1. Greater Rhea
    2. Southern Screamer
    3. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck
    4. Neotropic Cormorant
    5. Anhinga
    6. Rufuscent Tiger-Heron
    7. Black-Crowned Night-Heron
    8. Striated Heron
    9. Cattle Egret
    10. Cocoi Heron
    11. Great Egret
    12. Whistling Heron
    13. Capped Heron
    14. Snowy Egret
    15. Bare-Faced Ibis
    16. Buff-Necked Ibis
    17. Maguiri Stork
    18. Jabiru
    19. Wood Stork
    20. Limpkin
    21. Turkey Vulture
    22. Black Vulture
    23. Snail Kite
    24. Plumbeous Kite
    25. Great Black-Hawk
    26. Savanna Hawk
    27. Black-COllared Hawk
    28. Roadside Hawk
    29. White-Tailed Hawk
    30. Southern Crested Caracara
    31. American Kestrel
    32. Wattled Jacana
    33. Southern Lapwing
    34. Collared Plover
    35. Picazuro Pigeon
    36. Rock Dove
    37. Ruddy Ground-Dove
    38. Picui Ground-Dove
    39. Gray-Fronted Dove
    40. Blue-and-Yellow Macaw
    41. Golden-Collared Macaw
    42. Chestnut-Fronted Macaw
    43. Blue-Crowned Parakeet
    44. Dusky-Headed Parakeet
    45. Peach-Fronted Parakeet
    46. Blue-Winged Parrotlet
    47. Cobalt-Winged Parakeet
    48. Smooth-Billed Ani
    49. Guira Cuckoo
    50. Ringed Kingfisher
    51. Rufous-Tailed Jacamar
    52. Toco Toucan
    53. White Woodpecker
    54. Campo Flicker
    55. Crimson-Crested WOodpecker
    56. Strong-Billed Woodcreeper
    57. Rufous Hornero
    58. Rufous Cacholote
    59. Chestnut-Backed Antshrike
    60. Vermilion Flycatcher
    61. White Monjita
    62. Black-Backed Water-Tyrant
    63. Cattle Tyrant
    64. Great Kiskadee
    65. Tropical Kingbird
    66. Black-Crowned Tityra
    67. Purplish Jay
    68. Brown-Chested Martin
    69. Barn Swallow
    70. Black-Capped Donacobius
    71. Chalk-Browed Mockingbird
    72. Sayaca Tanager
    73. Palm Tanager
    74. Saffron Finch
    75. Great Pampa Finch
    76. Wing-Barred Seedeater
    77. Double-Collared Seedeater
    78. White-Bellied Seedeater
    79. Lesser or Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch
    80. Great-Billed Seed-Finch, male
    81. Dull-Colored Grassquit
    82. Red-Crested Cardinal
    83. Red-Capped Cardinal
    84. Yellow-Billed Cardinal
    85. Grayish Saltator
    86. Crested Oropendula
    87. Yellow-Rumped Cacique
    88. Troupial
    89. Velvet-Fronted Grackle
    90. Chopi Blackbird
    91. Bay-Winged Cowbird
    92. Giant Cowbird
    93. Shiny Cowbird

    You have just read Part 3 of the great Bolivian parrot tours, but wait, there's more. Continue to Part 4, the rise of the Blue-Throated Macaw.

    * Seriously, the introduction said something along the lines of, I believe that Jim Morrison was a god

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