Breaking the Birder Speed Limit

Thursday, February 20

This morning, Daan and I woke up before dawn for a guided birding hike! We had found one other Canadian tourist to join, making the price of a four-hour walk only $20 (still the most expensive activity in Mindo by far.) We ate yogurt and bread we bought last night, equipped ourselves with binoculars and cameras, and followed our guide Danny Jumbo into the gray mist. We walked through town, over the Saguamy River, and up the road towards the waterfalls.

Binoculars and bird shirt, ready to go!

The road to the waterfalls.

The foggy town of Mindo as viewed from the mountainside road.

Danny informed us that Mindo sits at 1200 meters of elevation (lower than Quito but still a high cloud forest) and that last year during the Christmas Bird Count, over 600 species were counted in this small town! That puts my 50 species in Edmonds, Washington to shame.

This one's called a Crimson-Rumped Toucanet.

Can you tell why?

Pale Mandible Arancaris. How did our guide spot them from so far away?!

A yellowish bird... I wish I remember what it was called! It's hard to line up photos with lists sometimes.

A flycatcher, probably Social or Rusty-Margined.

Plain-Brown Woodcreeper.

Tropical Kingbird.

Tropical Gnatcatcher.

Green-Crowned Woodnymph. 

Strong-Billed Woodcreeper. We were watching the hole when he popped out and posed for us!

Shiny Cowbird.

Tropical Kingbirds love telephone wires, just like Eastern Kingbirds back home!

Female White-Necked Jacobin. 

Female Lemon-Rumped Tanager eating bananas from a feeder.

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird.

Blue-Gray Tanager.

Bananaquit. First, I love the name. Second, I love how these little guys steal sugar-water from hummingbird feeders!

Yeah, I don't know what this is.

A dead snake in the road.

Heliconia, the favorite food of hermit hummingbirds.

Heliconia flower.

Strangler fig flower.

We saw or heard 64 species of birds in four hours -- that's 16 birds an hour. Is that breaking some kind of birder speed limit? When the walk ended, my companions were ready to never see a bird again in their lives, but I could have kept it up for another eight days. I think that nine-day dream bird tour is still on the bucket list!

Daan and I bought a few picnic groceries at the mini market and headed straight to our next activity, Las Cascadas, the waterfalls. The little tram car over a gaping jungle valley was a big shock, but we made it to the other side. I felt like a National Geographic videographer in an airplane while I was filming this:

I loved having a fit, energetic hiking partner. We ran up and down the muddy staircases and forded rivers to reach four of the five waterfalls. It’s amazing how little bird life you see when you aren’t looking for it specifically. (And when it’s the middle of the day.)

This ladder had seen better days. (No, we needed climb it.)

I liked the trickling-over-mossy-forest-rocks waterfalls better than the big, showy ones.

That's me.

That one time the waterfall became the path.
We ate our canned tuna, bread, and bananas at the last waterfall. We felt safe and secluded because other hikers probably turned back at the high river we'd crossed barefoot. It was chilly, but we went swimming in our underwear anyway!

Like a jacuzzi with jets. And a broken heater.

Our secret picnic spot.

After the long walk back into town, we were beat, but we weren’t going to let our $4.50 Frog Concert tickets go to waste. We walked past exuberant political demonstrations (the mayoral elections are like the World Cup in Ecuador!) to a little hostel known for its guided night walks. While we waited, I met an American vet on vacation with his wife who showed me his high-end photography equipment and warned me severely never to become a veterinarian, even though he loved his job. We saw lucienagas (lightning bugs), giant fishing spiders, glow-in-the-dark wood from a decomposing bacteria (which I think might actually have been a fungus), and green baby walking stick, and a brown tree cricket with long antennae. I couldn’t take photos because flashes were prohibited.

The nice American couple took pity and agreed to give us a ride back to our hostel in their personally hired SUV. It sure feels different to travel by public bus rather than a chauffeur!