Draco Constellation (image by Torsten Bronger)
In the northern sky there is a serpent called Draco, which is Latin for dragon. This astronomical being has been revered and named by many cultures, including the Maya who built temples to pay homage to this god of the skies. Their god was a flying serpent like Draco, and was feathered. Known as Kukulkan in the classic era Maya civilization and Tepeu Q’uq’umatz in the K’iche’ Popol Vuh, you can still see remnants of them as you travel through Mesoamerica and tour the Maya ruins.
Stylized serpent head on stela near structure 7 in Takalik Abaj, at the base of which was found over 600 ceremonial vessels
I am in search of feathered remnants, as are my colleagues as we come to Takalik Abaj on the south coast of Guatemala in November 2013. Here are ruins of the Olmec, the Maya, and the yellow-naped amazon parrot cultures. Our goal is to count the remaining parrots that still exist here and to train the staff of this archeological site in parrot monitoring and conservation. We split up our forces so that we can cover 3 locations for the early morning count. I am assigned the northernmost station, which includes structure 7. This structure aligns with the constellation Draco and is one of the most sacred buildings at Takalik Abaj.
Sunrise while counting birds near structure 7 Takalik Abaj
As the stars fade into sunrise I look to my GPS to know my directions, but it truth, I can also study structure 7 to see it pointing to the north and the sun telling me where east lies. My companions and I are like the priests 1000 years ago worshiping the feathered ones. As we observe them
Studying the heavens and the beings within them at Takalik Abaj structure 7 (staff counting parrots)
and count their numbers, we honor their presence among us. With such intense study, we are the guides to help others be in closer relationship with the parrots, so that they might find a way to dwell among us.
Returning from morning’s count
After the count we gather to interpret the total numbers of parrots as signs of hope and possibility.
The biologist “priests” gather to summarize their findings after the count
We count in total 19 individual yellow-nape amazons. The parrots are indeed here, and in pairs defending their territories.
Pair defending their territory
The staff here at Takalik Abaj show remarkable focus on their mission of studying the parrots and providing a refuge for them. Their efforts will be a monument to those that come so that they too may understand the beauty lost to the past, and the beauty yet to come in a new era where the cultures and well-being of people and parrots intertwine as one.
Flying serpent (yellow-naped amazon) at Takalik Abaj