Monday, December 13, 2010

A Ridgetop in Ecuador

A new highway running northwest of Quito carries us to the Mindo region, where long forested ridges drop toward the distant coast. We are entering Pacific-slope cloudforest––verdant, lush, cool, draped with orchids, sheltering brilliant hummingbirds and giant earthworms.

Cloudforest atop the ridge at Bellavista
(Photos by Narca)

Here we are roughing it, staying at the Bellavista researchers' quarters, a mile or two from the more famous lodge frequented by birders. Defunct electrical wiring testifies that the place once held grander ambitions; now candles provide the light. Still, the shower compound boasts hot water, bedding is cozy (after that first icy plunge beneath the blankets), and the simple accommodations are comfortable enough. The price is great: $18 a night, bring your own food.

Bellavista researchers' bunks

A dining room nestled in forest

Each day here we rise before dawn, grab a quick bite by candlelight, and set out into the forest in search of its treasures. Butterflies still slumber along the roadside––easy to photograph, if we are sharp-eyed enough to spot them.

A still-sluggish Actinote butterfly

A Crested Quetzal frequents a moss-laden tree near the station. 

Crested Quetzal (Pen and ink by Narca)

The real bounty lies in intercepting a big flock of mixed bird species, and we manage to do that several times during our stay here. Curious Plate-billed Mountain Toucans study us from their lofty perches.

Plate-billed Mountain Toucan

Among the stranger-seeming tropical nightbirds are the potoos, camouflaged to resemble tree stumps. One is nesting along a trail between Bellavista lodge and the research station.

Common Potoo at Bellavista

High on the must-see list is the Giant Earthworm, and one morning after a rainy night, luck smiles on us. This one may have had a run-in with its nemesis, the Barred Hawk, for it is oddly truncated. But it did survive the attack.

Noel's wildest dream comes true.