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Friday, September 12, 2008

Ghost of the Poc

Of course, the one bird we didn't see on Lake Atitlan is the now extinct Poc, or Giant Grebe. The last of these large flightless water birds were seen in 1989. The reeds around the lake where they once lived are strangely quiet--a few Green Herons and Great-tailed Grackles were mostly all we saw there. An empty lake, reminding us to walk gently on the planet.


Rick Wright said...

Did you see any pied-bills at all? The whole pbgb/poc story is one of the strangest and saddest extinction tales of the 20th century.

birdchaser said...

Nope, no grebes at all.

But dozens of guys out in the reeds fishing for crabs and what's left of the fish. In the market we saw baskets and baskets of tiny half inch fish for sale. Apparently there are thousands of coots on the lake in the winter, and they still hunt them by driving them into the reeds where they can be smacked and grabbed.

Anonymous said...

I am no biologist, but I have been living at Lake Atitlan for twenty five years and have come to question whether the pato poc ever existed.

The lake is the result of an enormous volcanic explosion 85,000 years ago plus the formation tens of thousands of years later of two volcanos, Atitlan and San Pedro, that make up the lakes southern shore. There was no lake before those volcanoes existed.

My question is has there been enough time to for a unique species to develop? Doesn't it take hundreds of thousands of years?

I would add that the small salted fish you see in the markets are brought up from the Pacific coast as they have been for centuries. They are not from the lake.

The lake is very deep and the shore drops sharply leaving little habitat for fish or birds, but what habitat there is, is thriving.

There are even stories (you may know than I about this) that the Quetzal bird is to be found here once again. Flocks of parrots are common. The locals tell me there never used to be parrots here.

Lake Atitlan is not as well managed as say Lake Tahoe, but by no means is it an ecological disaster. With all due respect, this is not an empty lake.

Tityra said...

Hi! Pato Poc indeed existed. Read the book, Mama Poc (if I recall correctly), by Anne La Bastille--it documents the extinction process and her attempts to save the species. Also, if you go to the Guatemalan Museum of Natural History, they have mounted specimens there. It went extinct only in 1976, I believe--so this bird is not some mystery.

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