Friday, January 24, 2020
Soul Adventure Dives Into the Rain Forest
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A red-billed tropicbird takes flight.
 
Monday, December 23, 2019
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

It was hard not to miss the red-billed tropicbird, a large majestic seabird that Mary Austin Crofts often saw flying over ocean waters diving for squid.

She never saw it walking on land while she lived in Panama—it can’t stand upright because its short legs are set too far back. So, when it did make land to lay just one large egg a year, she watched it use its long wings to push itself forward on its belly.

Crofts thinks others should feel their heart quicken as they catch sight of these majestic birds. So, she’s  launched Sun Valley Soul Adventures to take Sun Valley-area residents and others to the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, where they may see an array of colorful birds, including the stub-tailed spadebill and golden-collared manakin, as well as such critters as the dwarf brown-throated three-toed sloth, white-faced capuchin monkeys and iguanas.

 
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Dolphins can be seen at Dolphin Bay.
 

 She will offer a power point presentation showing some of the highlights that tour-goers can expect at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, in the Bullion Room at the Community Campus in Hailey.

The tour, in March will be held on the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, which is located at the northwestern end of Panama, a few kilometers away from Costa Rica. There are several coral atolls and islets there with cream-colored beaches surrounded by palm trees, a barrier reef amidst emerald-green waters, mangroves and tropical forests inhabited by lush flora and fauna.

Each island has its own personality and natural beauty. Top attractions include a national park and botanical garden, Red Frog Beach and the Nivida Bat Cave.

“It’s a soul, birding and wellness retreat meant to renew the soul, introduce people to new ecosystems and show them the miracles of the natural world,” Crofts said. “I have long had such a deep love for the natural world, and I find the time I spend in nature helps my soul. I want to take people to some of these beautiful places that’ I’ve been in.”

 
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A three-toed sloth and its baby are among the attractions.
 

Crofts built the 22-mile bike path and the Harriman Trail while director of Blaine County Recreation District. More recently, she served as director of The Chamber-Hailey and the Wood River Valley.

While spending several years in Bocas del Toro Archipelago, she edited a tourist magazine, which took her through all the islands off the Panamanian coast.

“Del Toro is so beautiful and, having lived there, I have lots of contacts,” she said. “There are nine major islands there with hundreds of smaller islands.  I know where to go—where the most spectacular coral reefs are. I know I never went to the outer islands until I lived there—and they’re amazing places.”

The canopy features a collage of rain forest hardwood, fruit trees, mangroves, ferns, orchids and cycads—seed plants. Hundred-foot canopy towers—former cable towers modified with stairs and a platform at top--offering spectacular views.

“It’s a great place to hang out. Above the canopy you can see the trees flowering and fruiting—and that’s where the birds are,” said Crofts.

 Del Toro is geologically gifted with an incredible variety of ecosystems, habitats and extreme species diversity.

Bird watching in Panama--an area the size of South Carolina--features more than a thousand recorded bird species. That’s more than the United States and Canada combined. You can see 150 species from just one single location, Crofts said. Florida, by contrast, sports just 200 species of birds in the entire state.

Crofts has planned the trip during March which, along with September, gets the least rain of any time of the year. Temperatures then range from 74 to 82 degrees.

“They get 120 inches of rain a year there—so much that you can prune a plant and poke it in the ground and it will grow,” she said. “It’s beautiful place when it rains—the rainbows are magical. The rain never bothered us. But, during this time, you’re not even likely to get one rainstorm a day.”

The itinerary includes a visit to Dolphin Bay, known for its incredibly calm water and opportunities to see dolphins. Also, Starfish Beach, a remote sandy beach with lots of starfish, and Bird Island where visitors may see the red-billed tropicbird.

The sojourn includes a stay at an eco-lodge situated on bluffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Crofts plans to start the day with meditation outside before filling it up with snorkeling, kayaking, deep-sea diving and walks taking in the birds and other wildlife. There’ll also be a visit to the indigenous villages, where villagers—many of whom work as landscapers--speak both English and their native tongue.

“We’ll be focusing on the beauty of the place and the natural world. And we’ll talking about the interdependence of birds here with other parts of the world. They depend on healthy ecosystems in the  United States, for instance, as part of their migration.”

Some of the birds tourgoers may see include the Montezuma Oropendola, a red-bodied bird with an orange bill and spots on its head. It weaves pendulous nests out of vines and banana fibers. When finished, the nests can be six feet long and look like balls hanging in stockings. The male of course, supervises while the female spends up to 11 days making the nest. And, if he doesn’t like what he sees, he rips it apart and makes her start over.

Anywhere between 30 and 150 nests given the males’ housekeeping seal of approval can be spotted hanging from one tree.

There also are a lot of parrots, including the colorful blue-headed and red-crowned Amazon parrot, with their verdant green bodies, honeycreepers, small bright blue birds in the tanager family that feed on nectar with long curved bills. And there are scads of humming birds, including the volcano hummingbird, the fiery-throated hummingbird and the snowy breasted hummingbird.

There’s even a hummingbird moth that looks like a flying lobster.

Plants, said Austin, include the brilliant red-flowered heliconia that resembles a lobster claw. It only allows certain hummingbirds to pollinate it. That appears advantageous in that the approved species  tend to carry pollen from longer distances, reducing the chance of inbreeding and resulting in healthier offspring.

In addition to the beautiful flowers, there are all kinds of fruits, including bananas and pineapples. There’s also a beach minutes from the lodge that ‘s 12 miles long for those who want to spend more time hiking.

The lodge, which attracts a lot of visitors interested in conservation because of the biodiversity, is a little rustic, a little off the grid.

“But that’s no biggie,” said Crofts. “We invite our guests to put the cellphone down, relax and refresh. I’ll think they’ll be amazed. Given the variety of experiences, along with the beauty and fragrance, they won’t have time to thinking about things like cellphones.”

To learn more visit www.sunvalleysouladventures.com. Or, email maryacrofts@gmail.com or call 208-721-2827.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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