Friday, September 21, 2007

From Lake Erie to the Amazon

Friday, September 21, 2007
Birding the Marblehead Lighthouse park. Great birds. Fine company. Crappy light.

Saturday morning September 8, I was helping to lead a bunch of bird watchers on a fall warbler walk at the Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie's south shore. This was one of many field trips scheduled as part of the Ohio Ornithological Society's Fall Warbler Symposium, held at Lakeside, Ohio.

On our morning bird walk there were many familiar faces among the birders and lots and lots of migrants--plenty to look at, but overcast skies and an oncoming cold front rendered the light poor from every angle. There's no such thing as a bad day birding, and the 30 or so bird watchers on the walk kept things fun and interesting as we ID'd dozens of "baypoll" warblers.

Twenty-four hours later I was on a plane headed south, bound, like so many of our migrant birds, to the tropics. My destination was Peru in northwestern South America.

Peru is home to 1,800+ bird species--that's close to the most bird species of any country in the world. Peru also boasts something like 120 endemic species--birds found ONLY in Peru and nowhere else. I wondered about how many new birds I'd see. Looking through my various South American field guides I noticed birds I was completely unfamiliar with: bare eyes, cinclodes, hornero. And there were others that I'd only dreamed of seeing: Andean cock-of-the-rock, paradise tanager, harpy eagle.

This trip was sponsored by PromPeru, a department of the Peruvian government that oversees promotion of tourism and Peruvian culture and history. PromPeru's goal is to increase ecotourism to Peru with the hope that it will not only mean revenue for the country but will also encourage the people and government to increase conservation and habitat preservation efforts.

Like other Latin American countries, Peru has had its share of problems in the past--problems that gave the country a reputation as being potentially unsafe for foreign travelers. The allure of Peru's diverse flora and fauna seems a likely place to begin to build up the flow of tourists. And so Peru's first Birding Fair and a series of three birding routes were created. Among my fellow invitees were other bird magazine editors from the US and UK, tour company planners, and ecotour wholesalers. We were divided into three groups, each group going to a different part of Peru for a week of birding. My group was to fly from Lima to Iquitos then cruise along the Amazon River tributaries on a riverboat.

Sunset on the Amazon River.

But first I had to get to Peru.

My Columbus to Houston flight on Continental was canceled. Engine trouble. I got a voucher over to Delta via Atlanta to Lima. Flight delayed. Got to Atlanta and made it to the gate. I was about to collapse into the corner of the gate area (the weekend's intensity combining with the stress of modern-day air travel) when I heard my name called out in a British accent. It was Simon Thompson (no relation) of Ventures Birding Tours. He was on the same flight to Peru and part of the PromPeru tour as well. Simon has been to Peru at least 17 times as a tour leader and tourist, so on the flight to Lima I peppered him with questions about Peru's birds and scanned the field guide trying gamely to capture some general info for later use in the field..

We finally landed in Lima just before midnight. We got our luggage and headed out of the airport into the cool, misty night air of Lima. This, the capital city of Peru, is kept cool and damp by the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling Humboldt Current. We met the PromPeru folks, headed across the street to our hotel where a welcome drink awaited us: a pisco sour, made from pisco (a Peruvian brandy), sugar syrup, bitters, and frothy egg white. YUM! The hotel bar was full of birders--many familiar faces among them--Steve Howell legendary tropical birder and field guide author, Chris Harbard from BirdWatch magazine, and others who would soon be my good pals. Peru was really fun so far.

Then the bad news. It was, by this time, about 1:20 am. I was running on fumes, having been up since the equivalent of 4 am.

Omar from PromPeru: "¡Amigos! Those of you going on the Amazon trip, we will meet you here for breakfast at 3:30 so we can get your flight to Iquitos! Buenas noches!"

Bill from Ohio: "That's 3:30 pm, right?"
Omar: "No my friend. In the morning. En dos horas."
Bill: "It's a good day to die."

The next morning, after a relaxing, thoroughly refreshing hour of sleep, we hit the air and flew northeast to Iquitos. This is my first view of snow-capped Peruvian mountains.

And soon the Amazon's snaky brown form appeared below us. What wonders awaited?

We'd soon find out.


On September 22, 2007 at 3:32 PM KatDoc said...

Whoof! I'm tired already. Can't wait for the next installment.


On September 22, 2007 at 8:51 PM zeladoniac said...

Glad you're back safe and sound- can't wait to see what you saw. Thrill us some more, BT3!

On September 22, 2007 at 10:48 PM Rondeau Ric said...

5 years ago we considered Costa Rica or the Amazon.
The "romantic kerosene lighting" was too much for Anne so we went to Costa Rica.
I'm looking forward to hearing what we missed.

Glad you're home safe, sound and exhausted.


On September 23, 2007 at 3:39 PM Trixie said...

Did the pisco sour help?

Lovely sunset, too.

On September 24, 2007 at 6:26 AM Jayne said...

Waiting with bated breath.... :c)

On September 24, 2007 at 11:29 AM Mary said...

Running on empty! Your first 24 hours exhausted me. But, wow, what a sunset!

I have a feeling we are all in for a real treat once BOTB got some sleep.