Friday, February 26, 2010

Return to Ecuador

From beneath Winter's Lovely White Cloak, Kim writes: Okay, so practically the entire staff at BSBO is in Ecuador right now on a birding trip with our friends at Tropical Birding. Since I've been to Ecuador twice, I volunteered to stay here and mind the office so that our Board would approve the trip for the rest of the gang. I felt really good about my decision. The people at BSBO are among the finest individuals I have ever met anywhere in the world. They work incredibly hard for little or no pay, and they absolutely deserve this fabulous experience.

But...Today I'm kind of bummed. The Tropical Birding guides have been posting some of the birds they've been seeing, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a tiny part of me (okay, so it's a moderately large part) that's wishing I was there too. I thought it would help me feel better to take all of you along with me on a trip back in time to our visit to Ecuador in February 2006.

Caution...the trip I am about to relate to you was our honeymoon.
This post may contain mushy, lovee-dovee, who-ha, huggee, kissee, stuff.

You have been warned! ; )

Okay, first things first:
My favorite food of the trip!

I know, right! ewww... It's hard to believe that something that looks this repulsive could taste so, slurpy, sticky, messy good! It helps to know that Passion Fruit starts with the gorgeous, Passion Flower.

Okay, now let's travel to the east slope of the Andes mountains to visit,
Cabanas San Isidro.

The enchanted trail to Cabanas San Isidro

The cottages were simple and beautiful.
But, in spite of the "nature" of our trip, we didn't spend much
time indoors; not with all the birds to see!

Like this handsome male Collared Inca

Next it was on to the Guango Lodge.

Guanga isn't far from San Isidro, in fact, its run by the same family. But there's enough of a change in elevation between the two lodges to result in a different cast of avian characters. That was just one of the many remarkably fascinating things about Ecuador: a slight change in elevation results in a significant change in the flora and fauna.

And, what does Guango have to offer besides a lovely setting, great food, and Torrent Ducks in the stream below the lodge? THIS...

After several heart pounding, eye-peeling, hand wringing, Kenn squeezing, praying to the gods of bizarre birds, minutes... the highly coveted and totally wicked-cool SWORD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD shook up the the scene and all the birders gathered at the Guango feeders. I literally had to sit down when I finally saw this bird for the first time. It's like your brain can't wrap itself around the fact that super-stretched bill should belong to this tiny bird. It's nuts!

Well, actually it's flowers.
This flower to be exact...

The Sword-billed's bill shape makes more sense when you see this, doesn't it?!
This is the Datura flower, we encountered it in many locations during our trip. We found it at a range of elevations as well. Here's a closer look at this massively tubular botanical show-off.

Kinda makes you wish you had a 5 inch bill to jam up in there and
suck up all the goodies, doesn't it?! I'll bet it tastes like Tang.

Okay, let's leave Guango and head west back over the Papayacta Pass. We'll drive miles and miles on narrow twisting mountain roads, and eventually cross into the west slope of the Andes--where every inch of the terrain reminds you of what eyeballs were invented for--and arrive at the location where all my BSBO peeps are hanging out right now!

The stairway to heaven.

I'm convinced that Robert Plant must have visited Tandayapa Bird Lodge and the experience was so powerful that it gave birth to the famous Zeppelin tune.
This is where the BSBO staff is staying. They're probably sitting on the patio right now while swarms of hummingbirds entertain them.
Hummingbirds are definitely the stars of the show at Tandayapa.

Check this out! If you can ignore the irritating click of the camera's video action, listen to the sound generated by the sheer numbers of hummers...


The handsome, dashing, newlywed, Kenn Kaufman, on the patio at the Tandayapa Bird Lodge.

Cloud Forest + Tandayapa Patio + Hummingbird Feeders...
Mind = Blown!

This is the supremely adorable Booted Racket-tail. Funny story... During our stay at Tandayapa this very high-strung, totally bird-crazed woman who had obviously rarely ever traveled, kept calling the Booted Racket-tails, "Racketed Bootlegs." hahaha... This went on for several days before anyone had the heart to correct her. Much fun was made (I'm sure) at her expense when she wasn't around. pssst...It was me. I still call them Racketed Bootlegs sometimes. I'm such a dork! : )

Another of my Tandayapa favorites,
the breath-taking, Violet-tailed Sylph.

Now let's head for...The AMAZON!

Deep within the Amazon rain forest , the Sacha Lodge requires a long day's journey to get to, including a ride in a small plane from Quito to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, locally known as Coca, an "exciting" ride through the narrow and very busy streets of Coca, and a two-hour boat ride down the Nappo River.
Once you arrive, it takes all of about 4 seconds to know the effort it took to get there was worth it. ---WOW!

Just one of the featured attractions at Sacha is the Canopy Walk
From the Sacha website: A new and much anticipated addition to Sacha's activities is our 940-foot (275-meter) long canopy walkway. At approximately 94 feet (30 meters) above the ground, imagine exploring the rain forest up in the treetops! This sturdy walkway is fixed to the ground by three metal towers for stability, and offers an unbelievable opportunity to spot dozens of animals and epiphytes seldom seen from the ground. Thousands of colorful birds await to be spotted, and with some luck you might even follow along with troops of monkeys as they forage through the forest canopy. Taking a leisurely walk above the trees on this incredible structure, to emerge even higher on the top of the towers surrounded by an endless sea of rain forest, is an experience not to be missed, and as far as we know found nowhere else in the world.

And, here it is. Amazing, yes! But YIKES!

Kenn braves the stomach-churning heights of the Canopy Walk.

It looks scary, and it is! But, check out the view...


The biodiversity at Sacha is overwhelming.
On our first day we saw:

Lots of Squirrel Monkeys

This HUGE and crazy-weird caterpillar

One of my trip faves... This white frog. That is to say, it started out white! But, as I got closer to photograph it, it very slowly turned a dark salmon pink. Even our seasoned guide, Oscar, was trippin out over this thing.

First white...

And then pink...COOL!

This Three-toed Sloth was WAY out there, but I couldn't resist taking this really bad photo.

We heard what I consider to be one of the world's most beautiful bird songs.
I never did get a decent photo, but I did capture the magical song of the Musician Wren:

And finally...

During this trip, I was blessed with, perhaps, the single-most extraordinary bird-related experience of my life: a trip to visit Refugio Paz de las Aves, or Refuge of the Birds' Peace.

Angel Paz with Kenn

Angel Paz has become legendary for his ability to "speak" to the most elusive of forest dwelling skulkers, the antpittas. I could never begin to describe the religious experience of this place, and I never imagined that anyone else could, either. When we got back from our honeymoon, Kenn wanted to write about our experience with Angel in his column for Bird Watcher's Digest. Kenn is my all-time favorite nature writer, but I was hesitant. I honestly feared that no one, not even my Kenn, could capture and convey the magnitude of this experience.
---I was wrong.

When I read the column, I was transported. I trembled at the moment when the first Andean Cock-of-the Rock, indeed, ROCKED the forest with its insanely piercing call. I held my breath as the first Giant Antpitta emerged from the vegetation to snatch up Angel's wormy offering. I gasped at the site of this once mysterious bird, revealed. I wept at the remarkable gentleness of this simple man and his love for his mountain and his birds.
...and I fell in love with my husband all over again.

---read The Antpitta Whisperer
After the Spark, July/August 2006
Bird Watcher's Digest

Manuel, the Giant Antipitta makes his appearance:

If you love birds and nature and you have the desire to travel, then I hope that someday you will be able to experience Ecuador. The plethora of biodiversity will leave you feeling blessed and breathless. I can't wait to hear the tales from the BSBO'ers when they return!


  1. WOW!
    I am speechless...Ecuador, indeed, does leave a lasting impression on you. One of these days we will make it back!
    So many memories are coming bakc, thanks Kimmay!

  2. Amazing photos, sounds like a wonderful spot to go, maybe someday


  3. Spectacular, perfect place to celebrate getting married!!

    Great post; sorry you aren't in Ecuador with your crew. :-(

    By the way: do you think it will ever stop snowing? :)