Kathy and I enjoy watching birds, and we feed them year-round. Along with bird watching, I’ve become addicted to bird photography, which, also, I pursue year-round. In view of this strong attraction to birds, one might consider us to be “birders”. But Kathy and I have never thought of ourselves as such. Birders are another thing again. Those who categorize themselves as birders take the business of bird watching very seriously, which includes the keeping of a life list, travel for the purpose 0f adding new birds (“lifers”) to their lists, Christmas Bird Counts, banding birds, donating to bird conservation organizations and a few do a “Big Year”, as depicted in the movie “The Big Year” (a quest to see as many birds as possible in a year’s time). Kathy and I, on the other hand, have remained considerably more casual about our bird watching. How, then, did it come about that we plunked down $3000 each to join a Road Scholar birding trip to Ecuador?
Our only other trip to South America took place in 2015, when we signed up with a DYI expedition to run the Rio Marañon, in Peru. That almost 400 mile trip ended in the north of Peru, at a city (Bagua) that is a way point on the highly-regarded Northern Peru Birding Route. We could not overlook this opportunity, and arranged beforehand to visit some of the venues along the eastern portion of that route – the Rio Utcubamba drainage, Moyobamba and Tarapoto. And, yes, we did get to see and photograph what is undoubtedly the most famous bird of the route – the Marvelous Spatuletail Hummingbird – along with many other hummingbirds, flycatchers, tanagers, oropendolas etc. etc. This exceptional birdwatching experience left us wanting more, and that, as my subsequent research indicated, could be Ecuador.
Our Road Scholar trip met in the Ecuadorian capitol of Quito, where we were housed for two nights at the Sheraton. The Sheraton is a first-class accommodation (as was every other accommodation in our itinerary). There, the most lavish breakfast buffet I’ve ever sampled included ceviche and chocolate croissants, which, for me, formed the basis of the two breakfasts we enjoyed there. Yum!
Day #1, AM
Our first outing was a birding visit to a municipal park – Guapulo Park.
Our group of 8 consisted of ourselves and: Ginger and Charles Loeffler, from Junction, TX; Michael Duffy, of Arlington, VA, who accompanied his friend, Lee Yoder, of Penny Farms, FL; Karen Mickel, of Springfield, OH and Jim Emenegger, of Lakeport, CA. A word about Lee – he is 87 years old, a former Olympian and was in the top 100 in the country for birds seen last year! He is also a big kidder, and we enjoyed considerable banter together. The group immediately cohered, without a cross word ever being uttered. And, as might be guessed, it was an group of older people, with everyone but myself and Kathy retired.
I was the only one in the group that put bird photography ahead of “ticking off” (Lee’s term) new species of birds, although a number of the others carried compact superzoom cameras similar to my Coolpix P900. All the photos seen in this series of posts were taken with the P900, which zooms to 83X (2000mm equivalent!).
I had never before encountered a professional birding guide, and Edwin’s expertise blew me away. First of all, he was fluent in English. Next, he knew every bird that we encountered, and could recognize them by their songs and calls. He carried a spotting scope mounted on a tripod, and employed a green laser pointer to show us the birds’ locations in the usually dense foliage. He also carried a compact speaker system for the purpose of playing bird call recordings. Once he had heard a particular bird, he used the device in the hope of bringing that bird to us. Beyond that, he had a remarkable ability to spot birds everywhere. Then there was the ritual of our daily bird count. Road Scholar had created a booklet entitled “Ecuador Birding Checklist”, which included every one of the 1603 birds known to exist in Ecuador, with a column for each day. We would, every evening, sit down together with our checklists open, ready to receive the day’s sightings from Edwin. Edwin kept no notes of those sightings. Rather, he would scan the list and recall from memory the birds seen. As an example, he recalled the 39 new species and 49 species total seen on Day #9. All of this may be business as usual for a guided birding trip, but it was new for Kathy and me.
Finally, I should mention our driver Moses (Moises) – a very pleasant man with a smile always on his face. He was helpful in every way, in spite of the fact that he did not speak English.
Day #1, PM
We did the “cultural tour” in the afternoon. Included were 3 churches – the Basilica, San Francisco and La Colonia. We did not enter the first, were allowed to photograph the interior of the second and entered, but did not photograph, the last.
The Basilica is adorned with, amongst many other fanciful embellishments, sculptures of Ecuadorian wildlife.
We then walked to the end of the block, to the Plaza Grande.
The demonstration seen here concerns the current rash of disappearances of persons of all ages and both sexes. I asked Edwin who he and others believe is responsible for the disappearances, thinking he would say the government. But he said that the federal government was not thought to be directly responsible, but, rather, appeared not to be investigating the disappearances. He believed that people were being abducted and killed by criminal enterprises for the purpose of removing and selling their organs (i.e. kidneys and corneas) on the world market!
Our one day and two nights in Quito were intended to provide some acclimatization to high altitude. Quito is located in a central Andean valley at 9500′ altitude. Early tomorrow morning we would drive west out of Quito, to follow the Mindo Ecoroute. After being replaced by a modern highway, this one lane dirt road is now a favorite of birders en route to the cloud forests that surround the town of Mindo. The first stop on the way would be at the Yanacocha Reserve, situated at 10,500′ altitude on the slopes of Volcano Pichincha. What kind of birds might we find there? How about an Antpitta?
Here is the link to the second post of this series:
and you can take a look at the series of posts on our Peru trip by searching the blog for “peru”.