Come to Salinas Grandes, Nicaragua, for the Wild Life

Please excuse the minor error in the title – I meant to write “Wildlife” as in birds, bugs and beasts – but it probably caught your attention. I promise to write about that other subject soon.

This essay is being composed by a long-retired Canadian who has spent considerable time over the past eight years on the beautiful sand beach at Salinas Grandes on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua – so please be prepared for a total layman’s view of the nature of things.

Having spent the bulk of my considerable days communing with the natural wonders and the ravenous pests in the Canadian countryside I was fully prepared to confront an even greater menace during the perpetual Nicaraguan summer. As you will soon see my fears were completely unfounded.

I am not a naturalist and cannot claim to have any expertise in that area. However, I can generally separate the inhabitants of the countryside into the broad general categories of bugs, birds and beasts. So let me tell you of some of the cast members that mother nature has entertained us with over the past few years on the beach in Nicaragua.

On an average day on our beach you will see and hear more birds than you will experience during several months in North America. This will include at least one hundred huge brown pelicans, another hundred shorebirds ranging from the tiniest miniature sand pipers to various types of gulls, and a squadron of large frigate birds engaged in perpetual, high-altitude dog-fights with the gulls and other combatants. While the various varieties of sea-birds all have assigned roles in Mother Nature’s perpetual drama the real workers are the diligent members of the clean-up crew of vulture janitors that keep the beach scrupulously free of the corpses and remains of any and all of nature’s casualties. “It’s a dirty job but some bird has to do it”- and they do it well. They also participate in a unique game with the local dogs. This game is especially unique because the stakes are high – but there is never a winner. The rules are simple – the dog lies sprawled motionless on the sand while a team of two to four vultures stations itself around the dog at a distance of some thirty paces. Then the game begins. It’s a waiting game. The dog looks dead – but is it? The wily vultures have learned from experience to –“let lying dogs sleep” (a truthful dog would really be dead) and the wily dog senses that a nice lunch of fresh-caught vulture is worth the wait. So the game continues until one side loses interest or something interrupts the standoff.

In addition to the many seabirds you will also be astounded by the wide range and great quantity of land-based birds. We have doves endlessly cooing their melodious little tune until you wish they would learn a few more notes. There are many tiny colorful birds scavenging in the grass in competition with the chickens. It seems as if most properties have a few hens, some tiny chicks and a rooster or two. On our property the small chicken flock – apparently owned by an unidentified neighbor – coexists with four dogs and scavenges ceaselessly for insect pests and seeds while requiring nothing in return except the occasional sip of water from the foot bath at our guest house. The senior rooster in our flock is in charge of making sure that everyone knows that it is dawn – somewhere else. This foul fowl spends his nights in the lower branches of a large tree behind our house. He takes his job very seriously by starting his wake up call at 4:00 AM each day. In Nicaragua dawn only lasts a few minutes. The sun pops up at about 6:00 am and the world goes from darkness to full daylight almost immediately – so I presume the rooster does not want to miss it.

More on the subject of land-based birds:

The most impressive flock that I have ever seen is comprised of a type of large blackbird. I do not have a name for the species but they are large and very black with, I assume, the males being blacker and larger than the females with longish tails. A huge flock of these birds spends each night in two giant trees near our guest house. They arrive each evening at about 5:45 in many small squadrons until, by sundown at 6:00 PM, the trees are filled to capacity with many hundreds of black birds each squawking to be heard over the bird bedlam. This deafening din continues unabated until total darkness sets in about 6:45 and then, as if a switch was triggered the din stops completely. It resumes at sunrise and continues at full volume for twenty minutes until the birds all depart for their daily bird jobs. It seems apparent that the total population of this species on this barrier island gathers nightly at our house. It may be that no one else will tolerate them or perhaps they simply appreciate the free bar that we provide in the form of the water-filled foot washing bath at the guest house. The foot bath is often filled to capacity with the birds.

P1010718In all our many days at the beach we have never seen any form of canine aggression or interspecies hostility. When we are there we become “owners” of four dogs all of whom are related – but bear no physical resemblance to one another. The oldest and largest is Coronel, the leader of the pack, next in line is Rambo the sergeant, then there is Pantera the rookie and finally Shella the matriarch and mother of each of the others. This little doggy platoon assembles at our door each morning and evening with the members all standing side by side at attention waiting for their rations. It is a scene of perfect doggie decorum – that is until the dog food is dispensed, one portion to each dog – at which point all appearance of decorum is lost and it’s every dog for himself. In about ten seconds every morsel is gone – but the dogs have not uttered a single hostile sound or shown any other sign of hostility. I am sure that such a situation involving a pack of hungry North American dogs would result in a lot of noise and a few good nips. During the day these dogs accompany us for walks on the beach, playing doggie tag with each other. They guard the property. Should a few of the local horses or cattle wander through the front gate a little game begins. The visiting team know the rules – they are allowed to venture only a few meters inside the gate, at which point they must stand and wait for the home team of dogs to assemble. The team of dogs – then appears and leisurely lopes the length of the property toward the invaders while barking a few mandatory “trash talk” utterances. At this point the game is on – but is quickly called a draw for the umpteenth consecutive time as the opposing team walks in a dignified manner back out through the gate and down the road.

One of the more common and most trouble free creatures that one will encounter on the beach is the little gecko a harmless lizard. These little guys are quite harmless as far as I know and can be a source of amusement. One such incident occurred a few years ago while our friend Bill was napping in a rocking chair in our rancho. A few of the local geckos were in the habit of lurking on the underside of the thatched roof looking for insect snacks and occasionally skydiving to the furniture below without parachutes. On this particular occasion a sky diving gecko evidently mistook Bill’s fluffy white mustache for an ideal landing site. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Come experience this wonderful wildlife for yourself. Contact Rick Hilborn to arrange a tour of our new model beachfront home in beautiful Salinas Grande, Nicaragua.