In 2004 in Guatemala I had heard the distinctive double rap of the pale-billed, but no birds showed themselves. This year we were spending a lot more time in likely habitat, and several times our Guatemalan birding guides would point out the double-rap. My hopes were rising with each aural encounter.
Late on the afternoon of March 4, our first day at Tikal, we were looking across a large ravine toward Temple 5, scanning its shape for signs of an orange-breasted falcon nest, when three large birds flew across a clearing and into some gangly, tall trees. "Pale-billed woodpeckers!" Julie shouted and we all scrambled to gain better viewing angles. The light was low due to an oncoming thunderstorm, but occasional rays of sun forced their way through the darkening sky, illuminating the scene for us. I'll never forget the gleaming white bill and blindingly bright red crest on the first bird I located with my scope.
The three birds seemed to be associated with each other (perhaps a family group?) as they foraged and loafed. For the next 15 minutes we enjoyed leisurely looks at one or more of them and I did my best to capture their souls with my digiscoping set up.
To be standing there, in Tikal, with an ancient temple, old growth forest, and one of the most impressive and evocative birds in all of the Americas in one binocular field was nothing short of incredible. Julie and I kept saying "They look so much like ivorybills!"
I shot and shot, getting mostly blurry images of moving birds, with perfectly in-focus branches and vegetation. The shooting conditions were tough. Even so, I could not help but think how great it would be to encounter an ivorybill (or three) in the same fashion, under similar conditions. Perhaps one day....
Check out the belly stripes and the bird's regal eye.
I must tip my cap to Clay Taylor of Swarovski Optik, North America for his helpful and sage guidance as I re-entered the digiscoping realm. My experience in Guatemala would have been so much less enjoyable if I had not been geared-up for digiscoping. Thanks Clay! You can check out some of Clay's own digiscoped images here.
And we also owe a debt of gratitude to Marco Centeno and Hector Castaneda for traveling to Tikal with us, and sharing their vast birding and nature knowledge. Gracias por los aves y las bromas, amigos!