The 720 different species of birds in Guatemala caused Ludlow Griscom, a Research Curator at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, to make during the past summer a special trip to Central America, from which he has just returned. Although, because of its peculiar variation in fauna, the country has been combed by ornithologists, Griscom was able to secure some very rare specimens.
He explains ornithologists' interest in the country by the fact that in an area smaller than the State of New York, more different species of birds are found than exist in all of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. In this little country, during the course of a journey from east to west, the visitor passes through six different climatic zones, with as many variations in flora and fauna.
Accompanied by Crosby
The journey which Griscom has just completed he made to familiarize himself with the country, and its peculiarities of climate. He was accompanied by Maunsell Schieffelin Crosby, of New York, a well-known amateur ornithologist.
In the course of the last ten years Griscom has devoted himself to the study of the birds of Central America in general. During the last year he has been engaged in a report on the birds of Guatemala on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History.
Landing at Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean, the pair made their way by train through the humid tropic zone of the Atlantic slope, on their way to the capital, Guatemala City. In their journey they were assisted throughout their stay by the officials of the United Fruit Company, who did everything to forward their researches.
In this first zone there is an annual rainfall of 200 inches, and the dense tropical growth harbors the highly colored birds of the tropics. Sixty miles from the coast the scene changed, and they entered a tropical desert, with a completely different group of birds, and cactus and mesquite plants such as the traveller finds in the vicinity of Tuscon, Arizona.
The train then begins a steady rise, and in the space of 30 miles has attained an altitude of thousands of feet, in a country creased by gorges and ravines, where the capital, Guatemala City, is located. A distinctly different fauna inhabits this part of the country.
Changes of Fauna Hinder
The study of species is complicated in this and the succeeding zone, where the highest mountains of Guatemala are located, by reason of the changes in fauna which occur, not only as one ascends or descends a mountain peak through various levels in its 13,000 or 14,000 feet. In this arid subtropical plateau there are peaks which have birds of the tropical desert at their base, of the arid subtropical plateau upon their slopes, and of the temperate regions on their summits. All this complicates the task of a cataloguer. It is necessary to state at what altitude on what mountain peak every bird is taken.
A further complication is found, particularly in the neighborhood of Lake Atitian, a mountain lake surrounded by peaks which tower 2500 feet above it Here live relief species of birds not found in the rest of the country, and Griscom reports a species of "grebe" or "hell diver" found nowhere else in the world. He searched, also, for nine days in order to find a peculiar genus of fly catcher, of which only two other specimens are known to exist in the world's museums. Here, too, he not only found this bird but rediscovered another species of fly catcher, and a pygmy owl. The four towering volcanoes which surround the lake are thought to have prevented the birds from migrating.
In the remainder of the trip to the Pacific, the travellers paaged through two more climatic zones, the humid subtropics and the Pacific lowland tropics, where they studied the remaining variations, caused by these climate differences. Beautiful as they thought the country, the two ornithologists continually, suffered from the changes of altitude.