Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast: an endangered hummingbird hot spot

A female Lucifer Hummingbird, one of Ash Canyon B&B's star attractions

Hummingbird enthusiasts and other bird lovers around the world have been following the complex and contentious controversy over access to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast in southeastern Arizona.

Resentments that had apparently been festering for years erupted after the Cochise County Planning & Zoning Commission granted owner Mary Jo Ballator a special-use permit to formalize the day-visitation portion of her operation. Owners of several neighboring properties responded by filing an appeal to have the permit revoked.

Yesterday, the county commissioners held a hearing to consider this issue. The neighbors were allowed to air their objections, including irrelevant complaints about trespass by hunters and hikers and transparently self-serving claims that 1) feeding is harmful to birds(!), 2) the Plain-capped Starthroat that summered with Mary Jo in 2002 and 2003 was a random, one-time thing(!!), and 3) Lucifer Hummingbirds can be seen in many locations(!!!).

I wasn’t the only member of the audience flabbergasted when one complainant took the stand with a copy of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds in hand, sticky notes marking passages he hoped would support these claims. When my turn came to testify, I spent most of my precious three minutes refuting disinformation and defending my book’s integrity instead of praising Mary Jo’s exemplary hospitality to both birds and people.

Despite expert testimony and passionate testimonials from many members of the birding community (including over 350 letters of support), the issues of traffic, noise, privacy, trespassing, and easement interpretations remained, and the commissioners voted 2-1 to revoke the permit. There’s still hope that a compromise can be worked out to allow Mary Jo to continue welcoming visitors while reducing their impact on neighbors. Otherwise, the easement issue may end up being decided in court.

For the time being, Mary Jo will continue to welcome her friends in the birding community on a limited basis. She now has only 6 parking spaces and can no longer accommodate RVs or buses. With this change in operations comes a reduction in income, so Mary Jo needs our support more than ever. If you’re lucky enough to visit her yard this spring or summer, please make a generous contribution to the feeder fund.

Though I doubt she’ll ever see this post, I’d like to thank (again) Bisbee’s representative on the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, Vice-Chair Ann English, for casting the sole vote in support of Mary Jo and against the appeal.

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A lily-trotter by any other name

A Northern Jaçana in Belize

Pedantry loves company, so I was glad to see Julie Zickefoose setting the record straight on how to pronounce “jacana.” In the world of bird-naming mistakes, this one seems relatively minor, but it’s a headache for those of us lucky enough to travel in the Neotropics.

At issue is something that’s missing from the “c” in most renderings of the name: a cedilla, which in the Portuguese transcription of the bird’s Tupi name (jaçanã) indicates that the letter is pronounced as “s,” not “k.” When Linnaeus transcribed the name into Latin, he should have changed the “ç” to an “s.” He didn’t. Neither did anyone who came after him, so now we’ve got English speakers pronouncing it as “jah-KAH-nah,”  “juh-CAN-uh,” or “juh-KAY-nuh,” Spanish speakers and bilinguals pronouncing it as “ha-KAH-nah,” and rare pedants such as Julie and me sticking to our guns with variants on “zhah-suh-NAH.”

Having to explain yourself every time you use the original pronunciation is the pits, so I resolved for last month’s Belize tour that I would finally give up trying to pronounce it correctly. It would be “ja-KAH-nah” for my group, “ha-KAH-nah” for Spanish-speaking acquaintances.

It didn’t work out that way. The Brazilian pronunciation kept slipping out, and I sounded like a complete idiot trying to change it in mid-word to the Anglicized or Spanglicized versions (“Look, there’s another Zha… Ha… Jah…”). It’s not like Northern Jaçanas are rare in Belize, either. They’re thick around slow-moving fresh water, especially as the dry season shrinks the lagoons. After a couple of days around Crooked Tree Sanctuary, I was dying to get into the forested uplands just to get away from having to pronounce that name. No luck there, either. A living room-sized puddle along the road out of our upland lodge had a resident juvenile, so we saw at least one almost every day for the first week of the trip.

There’s an alternative that I wish would catch on: lily-trotter. Sure, it’s a little silly, but it’s in use in Africa (where a Tupi word seems out of place), every English speaker will know instantly how to pronounce it, and it fits so nicely with all the other hyphenated bird names in the tropics.

Northern Lily-trotter. On my next Belize trip, that’s what I’m calling them. No more “Zha… Ha… Jah….” Seriously.