Orchids, Birds, and Such

By Pat Werner

The severe drought of the last two years and extremely hot dry season apparently put back the flowering of several of my orchids.  The first picture is of the Stanhopea ecornuta.  I have only found this orchid twice in 25 years and it is magnificent.  It is considered as primitive Stanhopea because it does not have the so called horns in the flower, hence the local name torito, or bull, as in bull´s horns.  It is extremely fragrant and the flower looks like it is made of wax.  Unfortunately it only lasts a day or two. It is an orchid of lonely mountains where there are no coffee fincas, since coffee fincas have a habit of being cleaned out of epiphytes, like orchids, that are considered to be parasitic, which they are not.

Planting some of the newer strains of coffee that grows in the direct sunlight also tends to make shade trees, where the Stanhopea grows, disappear. It usually flowers in May and it just flowered yesterday  This is a species I found in the mountains passes close by the Honduran border where the Contra War raged and where the Contra infiltrated into northern Nicaragua from their bases in southern Honduras just on the other side of the Cordillera de Dipilto.

 The second orchid presented, with the white flowers with long petals and raggety lip, is the Encyclia cucullata.  It is found above 600 meters in drier áreas, and seems to like the Estelí River valley.    It also usually flowers in May and just flowered yesterday.  The third flower is the small, but striking Isochilus linearus with its magenta flowers.  It also likes cloud forest and is found throughout the Central and Northern mountains.  Close allies are common around Antigua, Guatemala, where they are sometimes offered to tourists.

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For some years I have had the hope that an orchidarium would be established so that  everyone, Nicaraguans, tourists, expats could see the beauty of Nicaraguan orchids.  There are at least 800 species of Nicaraguan orchids, over 800 species of birds, 30 kinds of cheese, and at least 12 types of sausage, all of which must be of interest to someone here in Nicaragua.  For some of the more interesting orchids, you need at least 500 meters in elevation; you can take orchids up in elevation, but taking them down  in elevation usually kills them, as they get dehydrated from heat and simply  wilt and die.

For years I worked at an American  university  in San Marcos, and over the years planted about 30 species around the campus on trees in shady places.  I planted some hot land species like the Laelia rubescens,  several hotland Encyclias, and species from the mountains, the Maxillaria tenufolia, Guarianthe aurentiacaEpidendrum stanfordianum, both species of Catasetum, and two species of Myrmecophila, among others. In 2012 I was given responsabilites that had nothing to do with the university grounds.  There was little interest in doing anything with the orchids, and so they slowly began to disappear.  When I retired in 2014 I could only find two species, the E. standordianum and Catasetum maculatum that I had stuck high in a tree and was  difficult to cut down. The Laelia rubescens I had planted in a clump of trees in the center of the campus  in 1997 was gone.

I relate this because Nicaragua cries out for an orchidarium, somewhere over 500 meters in elevation, with labels, protected plants that cannot be picked,  and something written, with pictures about Nicaragua´s magnificient orchids.

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Nicaragua´s birds also merit study.  Luckily there is at least one, and maybe  more, groups that watch birds.  One of them has a page on Facebook.  With its varying hábitats, the variety of birds  that can be observed is surprising. All you need are a ( good) pair of binoculars or spotting scope, and a good bird book, of which there are several.  Sitting on my patio outside of Diriamba with my bird book and binoculars, I can see 25 or so species in the late afternoon, and hear the bobwhite quail,  oropéndolas and clay breasted robins, here called the tenzontle, with its varied calls.  They always nest in the roof of my patio.

Not so well known is the fact that Nicaragua has among its bird populations various trogons, including the Resplendant Quetzal.  They are one of the not well known attractions of the northern mountains, Kilambé,  and the Cordillera de Dipilto, but are sort of hard to see as there is little developement of this  specialized type of tourism.  Several years ago I spent a week at a mushroom seminar in southern Costa Rica, on  the road to the Paseo de la Muerte on the way to the Panamanian border.

I was impressed with the rainbow trout farms there, and scads of smoked trout available in all the restaurants.  I was also impressed by the way the Ticos had developed bird watching as an organized, and lucrative,  tourism activity.  The same could be done here as the Quetzals here look to me like a bigger race than those in Costa Rica, that seem to me sort of shrimps, and they may be more numerous here than in Costa Rica, and surely more numerous than in Guatemala. Though some laugh about bird watchers, tour operators need to know that birders can be affluent: one pair of Leica  roof prism binoculars can run $3,000.  The spotting scope may run more.   Maybe there is more to Nicaraguan tourism than beaches.