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3rd Bird of Christmas: Turquoise-browed Motmot

28 Dec

If you are a new reader to this blog series, I’m sharing a bird species that I’ve seen in Costa Rica for each of the 12 days of Christmas (the days starting December 26 and ending Jan. 6, Epiphany). Please see the first day’s entry for more background.

Just after I learned the trogon’s call, I quickly became enamored of the nasal croak of the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Although it is hard to play favorites with birds, this one ranks right up there and will always remain very close to my heart, partly because of its fabulous color scheme, and partly because it reminds me not to be so concerned with time. The motmot wags its tail in a pendulous motion, both to warn predators they’ve been seen and, in the male, as a sexual display. Despite this pendulum effect and its metaphorical connection to clocks, whenever I am in the motmot’s presence, I completely forget myself and am fully in the moment.

Known in Costa Rica as Momoto Cejiceleste, Pajaro Reloj (clock bird) or colloquially, the Bobo, Eumomota superciliosa is actually the national bird of both Nicaragua and El Salvador, which brings up a fact that has always dismayed me. Not to slight any avian species in the least, but of all the exotic and amazing birds that are endemic or indigenous to Costa Rica, it’s always struck me as anticlimactic that the Costa Rican national bird is…. the Clay-colored Robin!

On solitary hikes in Costa Rica, I liked nothing more than to listen for the dry monotone “wonk” of the motmot, locate it and attempt to entice it into a photo shoot. Finding it isn’t usually too much of a challenge, as it has a habit of perching on a branch in the open, or on a wire or fence, and basically showing off. Once when I took two visitors, Priscilla and Brian from New York City, for a hike in Curú Wildlife Refuge, I was able not only to find it for them, but when I made reference to its famous pendulum-like tail, the subject actually changed positions on its perch to face away from us and began to switch its tail as if on cue. The photo shown above this paragraph was taken at that moment by Brian Hoffman. Most of the photos in this entry I took early on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2010, on a high ridge near the village of Panica, where I was privileged to spend the weekend alone at the home of dear friends Juan Carlos and Yorleny.

Although it is often said that motmots pluck the barbs off their tail to create the racketed shape, this is not true; the barbs are weakly attached and fall off due to abrasion with substrates and with routine preening. Folklore has it that other birds plucked the feathers off of the motmot’s tail because they were jealous of its beauty. Those who follow The Colbert Report may recall that on February 1, 2007, the Turquoise-browed Motmot was named by Stephen Colbert as the fifth most poetic bird. I couldn’t agree more.

Listen to the motmot’s call.

More great pictures of the motmot.

Photos for this entry are by Frances Figart, except where noted.


Yoga retreat at New Years on an island in Nicaragua, anyone?

24 Nov

Nicaragua, the next big ecotourism destination

In recent years, as social stability and economic growth have come to Central America, travelers with a taste for the cutting edge are discovering that Nicaragua is one of the undiscovered treasures of the Western Hemisphere. Visitors to this country will find that tours, accommodations, food, activities and transportation are affordably priced. And perhaps an even more important distinction, locals are truly authentic and welcoming. The interactive traveler who likes to be the first to discover a new destination and actively engage with the locals, knowing that their visit to the country is giving back directly to the community, will love Nicaragua. And it is only a two- to three-hour flight from Miami (American), Atlanta (Delta) and Houston (Continental) into the capital city of Managua, and no visas are required.

Nicaragua’s newest eco-resort, Jicaro Island Ecolodge is managed by the award-winning Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality and was created to capture the country’s true essence.

Set on a private island, the eco-luxury lodge opened in January 2010 and is located just a short boat ride from the colonial town of Granada, Nicaragua’s top tourist town. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Matthew Falkiner, the lodge offers nine two-level and very private casitas, hand crafted using indigenous wood. There is a floating yoga platform (shown above), gorgeous lounge areas and pool. Meals are created using seasonal, local ingredients, and highlight Nicaraguan recipes and flavors. Jicaro Island offers spectacular views of the Mombacho Volcano across Lake Nicaragua and over 100 different species of birds have been sighted since opening.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge is also quickly gaining a reputation for its yoga and wellness retreats, of which four are scheduled for the very near future in partnership with Big World Small Planet. I recently had the opportunity to interview the leader for the first of these, Peter Sterios, the founder of Manduka, a company providing high-quality yoga mats and other accessories, who will be offering Gravity & Grace: Resistance As Your Inner Teacher December 29, 2010-January 4, 2011.

Interview with yoga instructor Peter Sterios

Peter lives and teaches in San Luis Obispo, CA. His classes reflect over three decades of study and practice in the US and India. A writer and former contributing editor for Yoga Journal, he has been featured in their yoga calendars, Beginners Column, Master Class Column and web site. He has taught at numerous yoga conferences, and continues to conduct workshops and teacher trainings throughout North and Central America, Asia, and Europe. He founded Manduka, a leading eco-yoga products company in 1997. His first yoga DVD “Gravity & Grace” was released in 2007 and recently honored by Yoga Journal’s Richard Rosen as “one of the top 15 yoga videos of all time.”

Frances: When you were young, what did you think you would be when you grew up?

Peter: A pilot.

Frances: What early interests, studies and career choices led you toward your current focus?

Peter: I ended up in architecture school because of an intense fascination with LEGOs from about the age of 4. I liked creating things, building things, and ultimately learning how structure works in buildings and then eventually in bodies as a yoga teacher. It was a roundabout journey though from architecture school to India to study yoga. Once yoga entered my life for real, I sought out teachers and places to study to understand the roots of the practice in an effort to simplify the instruction and make it more accessible to beginners. As a result, I’m now a yoga teacher, a writer, an architect, and a yoga product designer for Manduka which I founded in 1997.

Frances: What types of yoga instruction do you focus on most specifically?

Peter: Yoga for those with healing “opportunities” – people who have a health condition that requires their personal involvement to deal with it successfully.

Frances: What is your philosophy of yoga instruction, in a nutshell?

Peter: Get out of the way of the student’s own experience of the practice so they can uncover the “inner teacher” for themselves.

Frances: Explain your use of “resistance” as an “inner teacher.”

Peter: Resistance is a spot or place in the body that communicates to the mind that more attention is required there. Once you learn the language the body uses to send that message, your practice is just listening to what is needed at that spot.

Frances: What can guests expect from working with you in a luxury eco-retreat setting like Jicaro?

Peter: Lots of rest, a little sweat, lots of breathing, lots of laughing, and more rest… oh, did I mention amazing food?

Frances: Do you like to work with people who are advanced in practice or new to yoga, or both?

Peter: I prefer to work with anyone with a desire to learn more about themselves, experienced or beginners. Frankly, there isn’t much difference between the two when it comes to learning about the power of the mind to create your own self healing.

Frances: Why are you excited about coming to Nicaragua for the New Year and this retreat adventure?

Peter: Lots of rest, a little sweat, lots of breathing, lots of laughing, and more rest… oh, did I mention amazing food?

Frances: Ha, nice repetition! As a former contributing editor to Yoga Journal, have you always enjoyed writing and communication?

Peter: Yes, but I enjoy it more after the deadlines, when the articles are finished. The writing process for me is always a test, and I struggle with finding the minimum amount of words to get across what I want to say.

Frances: Well, I think you have succeeded in being both succinct and articulate. Thank you for your time!

Peter: Thanks for getting the word out for this retreat. Adrienne at Big World Small Planet has done an amazing thing creating the setting and the opportunity for all of us to have a little adventure this New Year’s. What better way is there to start 2011!

For detailed retreat information and registration, click here.

More Upcoming Retreats at Jicaro Island

January 8 – 14, 2011. Celebration of Nia & Wine with Mona Melms. Nia is an innovative workout integrating 9 movement forms based on dance arts, martial arts and healing arts, inspiring you to find tremendous joy in moving your body…barefoot…in the tropics!

January 29 – February 4, 2011. Real Wellness with Alycea Ungaro. This highly experiential week integrates a diversity of modalities and practices focusing on Alycea Ungaro’s Six Principles of Wellness while studying and enjoying Pilates, nutrition and the surrounding nature.

February 5-11, 2011. livWHOLE with Jennifer Galardi. Many of us have been operating on automatic; eat, work, gym, sleep, rinse, repeat. Jennifer guides each participant to take a look at wellness as a whole instead of the sum of its many parts.

Photos of Jicaro Island Ecolodge by Martin van Doorn, courtesy of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality and StoryTravelers.