el gallinato


I belong to a generation that did not lose telephones. The first ones I remember were known as crank phones (you needed to turn a handle to call the telephonist and tell her (I do not remember men doing this job!) the number you wished to talk to or, more recently, the dialling type. The arrival of the cell phone not only gradually made landlines obsolete but also placed phones, together with car and house keys and reading and sunglasses, among the losable items in our daily lives.

I do not like phones of any kind, and I admit not being very careful with cell phones misplacing mine quite often! Most of the time these are often only mild panics that disappear once the phone rings when called by Mabel and we reunite again.

The day before yesterday we went to Salta town in the morning. Mabel had a dentist appointment and I needed to get my hearing checked. After we completed our respective tasks, we met in town so that, together, we got some good (sugar-free) breakfast cereal. After that we drove to the shopping mall to get a few more things, including our laundry. The last stop was in Vaqueros, about 10km from our farm to get some of the great sausages that our butcher produces.

While waiting for Mabel to return with the susages, I noticed that my phone was not at its usual place in the car. As it has a tendency of falling from its place and hide under the seat I decided to search for it there, convinced that I would find it. When Mabel returned, I was undergoing a mild panic as the phone was not where I expected. A thorough inspection of the car and shopping bags produced no results. The same happened when we call my phone several times. Things were turning for the worse. The obvious conclusion was that I had left it in one of the shops we visited earlier or someone had taken it from my pocket while walking in town!

Before I go on with the story I need to clarify some technicalities. We have no cell phone network at the farm (being rather remote and surrounded by hills that interfere with the signal) but we do have a basic internet service that enables us the use of WhatsApp and Skype for phone calls. It is there where my MacBook resides from where I could look for my lost phone through the web.

Before we headed home, we decided to retrace our earlier movements in town and the shopping mall but we did not make any progress so, we drove to the farm to attempt to locate it from my computer. In its computers, tablets and phones, Apple places an app called “Find My” that is used when things like this happen. So, at the end of the afternoon we arrived at the farm and immediately “operation recovery” started!

After initial toothing problems I managed to get the app to work and found my phone. It was stationary at a shop in Salta town. I could see the shop (by using the street level view), but I failed to contact them by Skype to tell them that they had my phone. So, we decided to go back to Salta to visit the shop first thing in the morning.

After about an hour I looked again at the app´s map and, to my surprise, my phone was wandering through town! Spellbound, I saw it moving slowly for a while but then it gained momentum indicating that whoever had my phone walked for a while and then got either in a car or bus! I followed my cell phone journey for about an hour until it eventually stopped after nightfall. My phone had arrived to its new home! The fact that I knew where my phone was, made me somehow optimistic about recovering it.

The map from the “Find My” app showing both the location of my computer at the farm (top right) and that of my cellphone (bottom left) at night.

An enlarged image of the precise location of my cellphone.

The app indicated that my phone was “locked” and it offered me two options, to place a message so that the person could call me back or to apply the more drastic “erase” command. The latter would vaporize all my information from the phone if someone tried to unlock it. I chose the first option and placed a message, aware that we were not reachable at the farm, but hoping to get an SMS in Mabel´s phone when we were in town the next morning.

The news of the loss spread and friends and relatives recommended that I erase the phone and forget it as it would be impossible to recover it as the Police was unlikely to assist much. I took that into account but decided not to place the order to erase until the following day.

The morning brought a welcome heavy downpour as Salta had been going through a severe drought. However, the rain created an unexpected and serious drawback: the stream that we need to cross to leave the farm swelled and we could not cross it! That meant that we would not check for messages from the phone, increasing the risk, of someone breaking it. In view of this, I decided to place the “erase” command and, as recommended by friends, forget the phone and start planning for a replacement.

The swollen stream at our farm.

The day I lost my phone, and after my hearing exam I was recommended to start using a hearing aid on my right ear and this needed further tests to choose the right gadget. I tried to do this that same day but the place was busy so I could only do this three days later. I booked the appointment in the understanding that they would call me if there was a cancellation and they could see me earlier. While waiting for the stream to allow us to cross it, I decided to place a Skype call to them to see if an earlier appointment was possible.

I talked to the same receptionist I had seen who mentioned that she had called my cellphone several times to offer me an earlier appointment and that, eventually, a very concerned lady replied and informed her that she had found the phone on the street but could not contact its owner! Wisely the lady, called Eva, had left her cellphone number that the receptionist gave me.

From then on, it was all very easy! I called Eva and agreed to meet at a place in town where she returned my phone. I was very lucky!

Clearly, the world would be a great place if we would all be like Eva!

Suicide season

The Rufous-bellied thrush (Turdus rufiventris) is a songbird that occurs in most of eastern and southeast Brazil (where it is the national bird), Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and central and northern Argentina. While in Uruguay they are known as “zorzales”, here in Salta they are called “Zorzales chalchaleros” or just “Chalchaleros”. While the English name for the species describes its distinctive reddish-orange underparts, the vernacular name in Salta reflects its preference for feeding on the fruits of a tree known as Chal-chal.

The Rufous-bellied thrush -very similar to the African Olive thrush (Turdus olivaceus)- occurs in different habitats (forests and urban treed areas) and it is common around rural houses where its song is one of the pleasures of rural living. An omnivorous bird that prefers arthropods and fruit it can eat broken maize during our dry winter season when food becomes scarce. As I mentioned earlier, one of its favourite fruits are produced by the Chal-chal (Allophylus edulis)[1].

We do have Chal-chal trees in the farm but not close to the house. However, about ten years back we planted a row of Hawthorn bushes (Crataegus spp.) to act as a wind-breaker against the predominant eastern winds that often blow in this latitude. This resulted in a rather unexpected high wall of trees that not only help to stop the wind but also yield what I estimate to be several hundred kilogrammes of red berries, towards the end of the summer months.

This plethora of fruits attracts a number of birds that include the large Dusky-legged guans (Penelope obscura), Chachalacas (Ortalis canicollis), Toco toucans (Ramphastos toco), Blue-and-yellow tanager (Rauenia bonariensis) and Sayaca tanager (Thraupis sayaca). Although the latter are rather spectacular, the most common birds that come to feed on the hawthorn are the Rufous-bellied thrushes. We probably have a few dozens of them constantly moving to and from the red berries.

Year after year, the resulting thrush heavy and uncontrolled air traffic causes casualties announced by loud bangs coming from our only large east-facing window in the house (that also faces the row of hawthorn trees about twenty metres away). Usually, about two or three thrushes (no other species do this) either die or get stunned after heating the glass. So far we have accepted this as an unavoidable consequence of the increased number of birds brought about by the abundance of food.

The offending window showing the reflection of the surrounding garden.
A stunned thrush after crashing.
Sometimes the thrushes came at such speed that they broke through the mosquito screen as shown here by the Bolivian guiro (a musical instrument).

This year, however, the suicides (birdicides?) reached alarming levels and yesterday we had four hits (three dead and one recovered), a rather alarming number! Although the first bird that hit during early morning recovered, a second one crashed about an hour later so we decided to do something about it.

I remembered having read somewhere that if you drew lines on the glass with a highlight pen, somehow the birds eyesight would see them from far and avoid the window. I drew the lines and, satisfied with my job I called Mabel to see it. The moment we were close to the window a bird nearly hit Mabel’s head and the loud thud indicated another fatal outcome! The fluorescent lines did not work so, do not try this at home!

So, “encouraged” by Mabel I placed a rather obstrusive zig-zag of flourescent yellow tape that occupied the top of the glass, at the area the sky was reflected. We decided that it was better to interfere with our view rather than nhaving more casualties!

The yellow tapes in place.

So, proud with my work but now tired, I went for my obligatory siesta (a pleasure of these regions!) to recharge my batteries.

When one hour later I woke up, Mabel was very upset as a fourth bird had killed itself!

In desperation and after some more thinking, we remembered that we had bought some bird netting to protect our fruits. We placed the netting in front of the window in a way that resisted me throwing the Bolivian guiro that was the closest to a thrush I could find for a test!

The Bolivian guiro itself.

Below I show you the netting and a video showing how we expect it to work.

A lateral view of the netting.

We believe that the deaths will stop now but our discussion has turned now to resove the reason that compels the birds to do this.

A couple of years back we thought that the birds could see a mirror that we have in front of the window and tried to fly through. As the birds continued hitting the glass when we covered the mirror, this idea was abandoned.

However, we are convinced that the birds see the reflection of the sky in the window and try to fly through.

The presence of predators, in particular the Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) make us also believe that it could chase the thrushes and the latter, trying to escape, bump themselves against the window. In favour of this hypothesis is that we have seen the hawk catching thrushes and other smaller birds around us. However, it is unlikely that the hawk would try to kill four birds the same day when one would be sufficient for a few days.

That leaves us with the last hypothesis that had been put forward by Mabel: the ripe fruits of the hawthorn ferment in their crops and their small livers are not able to process the resulting alcohol with the result that they get drunk! The fact that the berries are ripe now and likely to ferment faster, supports this hypothesis. In addition, after “googling” the idea, I found that at least one similar event involving the hawthorn and Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorumhas) happened in the USA [2] and other instances of drunk birds also exist [3][4].

[1] I did not find an English name for this species.

[2] S. D. Fitzgerald, J. M. Sullivan and R. J. Everson (1990). Suspected Ethanol Toxicosis in Two Wild Cedar Waxwings. Avian Diseases 34, pp. 488-490.

[3 See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/10/04/drunk-birds-are-causing-havoc-in-a-minnesota-town-police-say-theyll-sober-up-soon/?noredirect=on or https://time.com/5415378/drunk-birds-minnesota/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071081/


Puma, Puma concolor, are usually quiet and therefore they can live with humans undetected as solitary predators feeding on medium sized and large mammals such as deer and agouti but also on smaller prey such as snakes, hares and rats.

Puma are the most adaptable of all wild cats in the world and inhabit many climates: boreal, tropical, desert and rainforests and they are equally at home in lowlands or mountains. Shy and suspicious of humans they are rarely seen.

Our farm in the Yungas of Salta is home to wild cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundi (Herpailurus yaguarondi) and puma[1]. Luckily, there are still wild areas where these animals can dwell and the agriculture frontier is not yet here so no many incidents with livestock predation occurs.

Although we have never seen a jaguarundi or an ocelot, we have seen a skull of what we believed belongs to the latter.


Ocelot skull.

A few years back the family (while the Bushsnob worked away in Bolivia) bumped on an adult puma that crossed the road in front of them about one km from our farm while driving at night.

As you can imagine, after such a find our farm went up in our estimation, as, at the time the cat was observed, we were not sure about being able to return to Africa.

Aware of our exciting animal neighbours, checking all footprints we see is the norm. Although most of what we see belong to the various domestic dogs that are kept by our neighbours, occasionally we find some that clearly belong to felines, particularly after it rains.

It did rain on the night of 12 to 13 Feb 17 but the morning started sunny so we went for our usual walk to burn a few calories and to get our telephone signal located three km away at a place known as “The Cross” where a wooden cross remembers a past fatal accident.

Returning from the walk I stopped to photograph a butterfly and noted two footprints. They had no sign of nail marks and the larger one was 9 x 7.8 cm (foto). Our first thought was that they could belong to an ocelot. However, when we checked them in our mammal book[2], their size coincided with those of a puma although, as usual, some doubts remain.

Whether they belong to what we suspect or not, it is a great pleasure to be able to walk on a road where you can find such footprints and believe that such animals are around you in the thicket, probably watching your movements!


[1] Moschione, F. N. (2014). Relevamiento de Fauna. Finca El Gallinato, La Caldera, Provincia de Salta. Informe Relevamiento 2013-2014. 55pp.

[2] Emmons, L. H. (1997). Neotropical rainforest mammals: a field guide. 2nd. Edition. 307pp.