We leave Mindo Loma at 10:02. I know this because Tom strives to keep his schedule tight and on time. The morning was more of the same, hummingbirds and more hummingbirds. I interrupted the routine with a few flower and fern photos. A Trogon, a relatively large and brightly colored bird, was spotted briefly. One member of our group got a quick shot but it looked to be a quarter mile away. All that I saw was his rear end disappearing into the jungle.
We take a short detour to a butterfly garden, admission $5. Here we see dozens of species of butterflies and all relatively easy to photograph. I am happy to spot the unique Clearwing butterfly, having seen only photos of it on the Internet. Here too is the Owl Eye butterfly with its distinctive and relatively large, black and yellow wing spot.
It’s a short drive to Bellavista, our third lodge, and we arrive just before eleven o’clock. If ever there was a dwelling in the clouds, this is it. The van travelled a one lane, rough and rocky road along a ridgeline with drop-offs so deep you couldn’t see the bottom. Mist and clouds moved in ghostly patterns across tree covered valleys and jagged mountain peaks. Our room here is a pleasant surprise, made entirely of bamboo, including the floor. I even have a bedside lamp for reading, my first since leaving Quito. But, let’s talk about the bathroom for a moment. As usual, each person is allotted one towel and one towel only. We are now at peace with this custom but here we have a new wrinkle. A tiny sign on the wall reads: Please do not put the toilet paper in the toilet.” Does anything seem horribly wrong with that statement? The instructions continue: Place all paper in waste can beside toilet. EWWWEHHH. Yuck! Is there no sanitation department in Ecuador? Can you say disease and plague? Okay, maybe not plague but can we agree on odor to make your eyes water. Does smell travel through and penetrate bamboo walls? Yes, it does.
Our first meal at Bellavista is lunch. Fish, rice, pumpkin soup, and broccoli on top of a tomato slice. Pumpkin cake for desert. The day is dark, overcast, with occasional light showers. A three o’clock rain has become routine. There are the usual multiple hummingbird feeders but here, the rule is NO FLASH. We don’t know why. With no light to speak of, and very quick birds, photography without flash is less than ideal, much less.
After a night of steady rain, the morning dawned with blue sky, fluffy clouds, and multiple layers of mist in the mountains. Colin and three other adventurers in our group sign up with a guide to take them deep into the forest in search of a magnificent bird called the Andean Cock-of-The-Rock. It’s bulbous red head make it a prime target for birders and photographers alike. Our foursome returned with some great shots and proclaimed the fee and the hike were well worth it despite the early departure time, five a.m.
My day didn’t begin until 6:30 when I peered out my bamboo window to see photographers scurrying around like ants, looking for targets of opportunity. Having previously captured several species of hummingbirds, my goal today was the Trogan. There are several varieties of Trogan so don’t ask which one I eventually got, but with the first sighting, my heartbeat jumped up several notches. With bird photography, one of the bigger challenges is to get the bird without twigs and leaves between you and the subject and in the Ecuadorian rain forest, there are very few clear fields of view. This was the case with the Trogan. Great bird but the brush sucked. When the bird eventually flew off, I went on to other species. There was a Wood Creeper, at least three times larger than the Brown Creeper I sometimes see in my backyard, that posed ever so nicely on a moss covered tree truck. Another cute little guy, the Cinnamon Flycatcher, cooperated for several minutes by sitting on a clean branch and just outside my room to boot.
The lodge has a myriad of trails. I chose one of only medium difficulty and set out to immerse myself in the lush tropical forest of ferns, elephant ear plants, and so much green you begin to think there are no other colors in Ecuador. As with other trails I’ve tried so far, this too was slick and somewhat muddy, but thankfully lacked the abrupt changes in elevation of the others. It was on a mountainside, with green going straight up on one side and green going straight down on the other. Sweeping vistas were hard to find. It was the classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. At one point , the silence was interrupted by the rustle of great wings. I looked up to see two parrots departing a tree directly above me. To my chagrin, I was unable to get a photo or appreciate their beauty.
Meals continue to be surprising. Breakfast was a type of granola, a mixture I have never seen in my life, and topped with not milk, but a thin yogurt. As always, a side dish of fruit, usually a banana, cantaloupe, and some unknown green thing. Lunch today was barbeque something, two small potatoes, and a salad. All this preceded by soup. Dessert reminds of some sort of cream pie or cake but nothing like I am used to. As of yet, I have made a happy plate at every meal, turning nothing away. I did read the Ecuadorians sometimes eat Guina pig, but to date, I’ve seen nothing that resembled the rodent. I never did find out what the barbeque was made from though.
It was during lunch that I reached up to adjust one of my hearing aids and found it missing. Now we’re talking a couple thousand bucks here. A major calamity. My feeling was that the most likely place to look for it was on the trail I had walked that morning. What with constantly switching shoulders while carrying the tripod and the overhanging limbs, I could easily have knocked it out of place.
Backtracking my trail was unlikely to be productive, the many rocks and twigs easily covering a little old hearing aid so I started with my room. And there it was, halfway between the bed and the bathroom, on the floor. How I avoided stepping on it is unknown.
The three o’clock rain arrived thirty minutes late and I used the time to peruse a huge photo book on the birds of Ecuador that I found in the dining area. I believe one could spend a lifetime here and never see them all. Amazing, amazing variety of species.
Tomorrow we leave sharply at 8 a.m. for another lodge and more adventures in bird photography. My chronic back pain is still with me but so far, not debilitating.