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Bird Thou Never Wert
Robert Cantwell
February 13, 1978
So sang the poet, and indeed the horned guan, an exotic denizen of Central American mountains, is so rarely seen as to seem almost fabulous. A saga of a quest for a bird whose mating call is like a "moo"
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February 13, 1978

Bird Thou Never Wert

So sang the poet, and indeed the horned guan, an exotic denizen of Central American mountains, is so rarely seen as to seem almost fabulous. A saga of a quest for a bird whose mating call is like a "moo"

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As he was telling us this, John Rowlett and three other exhausted bird watchers came into camp.

"We saw it!" John yelled. "We saw the guan!"

"Where?" Victor asked.

"About an hour away—too far to get there," he added hastily, because Victor appeared ready to take off. "We went up and birded along the ridge and went on as far as we could go. Before coming back down off the ridge we just sat down. Then we heard it, but we couldn't track it down. Really sneaky. But it looked like a perfect habitat...and there it was! It was thrashing around on a tree. It actually made a little foray out. It flew. It flew up higher in the tree and just hunched there. You could see the white band across the tail and the red horn...."

"How high up?"

"About 60 feet. Way up there. We saw it at 3:30, and it blasted off at 4:10. Rod Thompson tried to get some movies, but it was too dark in there. Then on the way back we saw two more. They were up in a tree over the creek, about 30 feet up. Where is my tequila?"

"We saw quetzals, too," said Minturn Wright.

"Everybody has to get up at five," Victor Emanuel said. "Everybody is going to hunt for the guan."

The last day. Complications about the mule train coming up to get the camp gear delayed the early start. It was 10 a.m. before Victor joined a small group heading for the ridge. "It is too late for guans to be calling." Victor said. "I don't expect to see any."

As he reported later, in a kind of formal address to the entire party, "It wasn't very productive birding." He located some mountain-gems and a slate-throated redstart for the bird watchers, but his thoughts kept returning to the cloud forest. What could be done to preserve this area? And what was its real value? What could be done, in terms of personnel and funds and international support, to keep its natural state from being destroyed?

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