Sunday, April 11, 2010

Elementary my dear Hoatzin

I met Pedro at the Quito airport and we took off the next day on a 9-hour trip (involving a plane, a boat, a pickup truck and another boat) to Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a remote research outpost in the heart of a huge swath of pristine old growth lowland tropical rainforest.

The lack of hunting pressure on local populations of macro-fauna makes it a phenomenal place for seeing big game such as monkeys (we saw 8 species including this Squirrel Monkey…

…And these bite-sized Pygmy Marmosets…

…), curassows (we saw seven individuals in one day) and capybara (the world’s largest rodent).

The reserve’s Laguna was also home to bird that through the shear smelliness of its innards has managed to avoid most sources of predation all-together.

This Hoatzin or ‘stinky turkey’ is the only bird in the world that has a diet consisting entirely of leaves. It is also the only bird that has a prehensile claw on the wrist joint of its wings. Depending on which taxonomist you ask it belongs in an order or at least a family of its own.

A lot of other resident birds proved to be at times difficult to see given the immense height of the canopy (some 160 feet) and the density and darkness of the undergrowth. After six days of rather intensive bird hunting Pedro and I managed to collectively see about 170 of the reserves 550 or so species. Our list included some truly fantastic birds that are impossible to see most anywhere else in the world and would impress even the most cold-hearted bird-hater; see Scarlet Macaw, Salvin’s Currasow, Paradise Tanager and Bartlett’s Tinamou (sitting on a nest). Many-banded Aracari may or may not belong on the same line with the previously mentioned birds, but I got a decent picture of one (yes, he looks much like the Pale-mandibled from last time, but they’re just so photogenic).

If you think my photos are any good, then you’re wrong. You should see the ones Pedro has bagged with his 500 mm howitzer. The image quality comes at a price of course…both in cost and in weight. While he has to worry about lugging around an apparatus roughly 20 times heavier and costlier, I’m not sure if his images are actually 20 times better. There is some subjectivity of course. We’ll get a link to some of his best shots up soon.

We got back to Quito just in time to catch Duke’s nail-biting victory over Butler that earned the school its fourth national title.

There was no time to celebrate (we were exhausted anyway) as we got up the next AM several hours before dawn to make our way to La Hesperia for a 30-hour bird-a-thon. I took Pedro all the way from the highway (1100 meters) up to the summit (2000 meters) to see the Choco-endemic and near-threatened Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (see below) and we saw some 75 other species along the way.

It was really too bad Pedro didn’t have more time to spend down here since he has 1400 or so more birds to see. But he did manage to help me find a couple of new species for the La Hesperia list and adding to those a handful of others found over the weekend while camping at the summit, the official total is now well above 300.

Well I’m sure that’s about as much birds as anyone can handle for one post (it’s Pedro’s fault). Next time around things will be different. I’m leaving this week on trip, destination unknown to renew my visa. I’m thinking Columbia, but possibly Peru. Any suggestions are welcome.

In the meantime I’ve got to decide on what I’ll be doing for the next 1 to 5 years of my life. Please, no suggestions.


Lo said...

BEAUTIFUL bird pics... I'm super jealous about your adventures but hope you have as much fun in Colombia or Peru... and maybe see more birds.

My vote for the future (even though you explicitly asked not to get it)... just roll with it!

BobDad said...

I laughed out loud as soon as I saw the title - well, a second later as I digested it. What a fabulous trip! Pedro must've gone wild. I love the pixture of the - Hoatzin a name? and the squirrel monkey and the etc. And no (further) suggestions on either choice.

Marina said...

catchy title