“Shh.” Manuel, Nicaragua’s own Dr. Doolittle, motions up and ahead of us on the forest trail.
I hear what I think are vehicles on the highway, then I realize we’re too far away for any traffic sounds to penetrate the dense sub-tropical forest we’re exploring.
Nicaragua’s Semi-Tropical Forest
A few steps further along and high up in the forest canopy we see a family of howlers scurrying from branch to branch, away from the trail we humans are traveling far below.
“See the baby?” Manuel whispers.
I can just make out a little furry body on top of a larger howler scampering away from our intrusion.
What a treat to catch a glimpse of the whole family.
We’ve arrived at the Chocoyero, a nature reserve and home to the “chocoyo”, a small, iridescent green parrot (English: Half-Moon Conure) where it thrives in this protected environment.
(Others aren’t so fortunate. One of Paulette’s many projects, funded by Mariposa’s students, is caring for injured chocoyos and other birds and animals, and, when possible, releasing them back into the wild when fully recuperated. Photo at left is a recuperating chocoyo at the Mariposa.)
Our destination is where the chocoyos return “home” in the late afternoons to cliff side dwellings after foraging for food all day. It’s like a parakeet condo association; holes dug into the side of the hill by the chocoyos as overnight accommodations, each one used only by a specific individual or family. No street names or numbers required.
Watch Where you Walk
We come to the base of the trees where the howlers had been and turn up a steep path. We’ve been warned not to touch a certain plant – it makes stinging nettles feel like kitten’s fur – but it’s difficult when you’re working your way through thick foliage in a sub-tropical forest. I end up with a red itchy welt on my arm.
We must also avoid reaching for any plants or flowers on the sides of the trail. All kinds of nasty little and not-so-little things live there, like a type of whipping snake that can slice your arm if you’re stupid enough not to pay attention to the warnings.
Manuel helps us up the mountainside – he knows each spot where there is a secure foothold so he hauls us up one by one before taking off again to the next area.
Partway up and he motions for us to be quiet.
I’m just below him, facing the cliff, and he’s pointing behind me. Bergman (a local Nicaraguan who’s co-director at the Mariposa) is next to him, sitting down and looking towards the trees, a big grin on his face. Chris is just behind and below me, also facing the cliff.
I grab a vine for support and slowly turn around.
A large howler monkey is perched in a tree across from us, watching our every move. If it were flat ground he’d be only steps away.
The dominant male – making sure we keep going in the opposite direction, away from his family.
Chris and I both try to take some photos, perched precariously on the almost vertical side of this hill. The howler doesn’t move, doesn’t make any noise.
Just watches us.
As we climb a few more steps, we turn carefully and watch him watching us. Soon we’ll be at eye level. He doesn’t move until we edge ourselves to the top and start our descent to the foot of a small waterfall.
The Conures (Chocoyos)
We wait a few minutes, I collect a few chocoyo feathers scattered on the muddy ground, then Manuel motions us away from the side of the cliff.
We hear a rustling, whooshing sound and hundreds of chocoyos suddenly swoop down from the forest and crisscross one another as they each look for and dart into their own dwelling.
I catch a glimpse of one mixed-up little guy who flies into another chocoyo’s home only to scurry – or be pushed – out and over a few places to where he’s supposed to be.
Then – just as suddenly as it began, it’s over – hundreds of little birds all tucked in for the night.
We push back through the vegetation, back up and down the paths that led us here, past aerial vines and massive buttress tree roots.
It’s quieter now. The howlers have also retired for the evening.
I’m sad to leave the forest behind.