November 20, 2020
BIRDING IS MORE THAN JUST BIRDS
By Paul Greenfield
Observing birds does something to the human psyche. It fosters a profound connection between our spiritual selves and the natural world that surrounds us; it brings peace of mind, calm; and at the same time, it lifts us up. I guess you could even say that it evokes all possible emotions—it can be invigorating, enthralling, frustrating, joyous, hilarious, and yes, even boring…and the list can definitely go on. Birding surely manifests itself in distinct ways for each of us, from that casual moment of enjoyment or delight to an anticipated routine, or a passionate quest, along with everything in between. And all this on the ‘me’ level.
But over the years, I have come to understand, and witness with my own eyes, that birding is far more than that (as wonderful as watching birds is); it goes much deeper. Bird-watching is a powerful and important tool of inspiration and purpose, not only for ourselves, but also for a broad range of people and rural communities all across the world. Think of it—our birding ‘journeys’ change hearts and minds everywhere we go; they open doors; and they help to inspire the creation of sustainable development and alternative land management models in many remote areas and regions where local communities all too often have little hope of getting ahead. These trips we all share help generate income—and pride—for those who are the true custodians of the ecosystems, habitats, and the birds that we so dearly appreciate.
Since the 2001 publication of The Birds of Ecuador (Ridgely and Greenfield, Cornell University Press), and much to our surprise I suppose, we began to notice a growing interest in birds throughout this South American country, not only within the (perhaps more expected) ‘students’ of biology, or a handful of nature-lovers, but within the rural communities in the most unexpected, distant, and ‘under-developed’ corners of the nation, and even within the government; imagine, Ecuador’s president at the time bragged about the country’s mega-diverse bird species during his State of the Union address! And what has pleased and impressed us most is how this national and campesino birding community continues to expand and become more and more inclusive. In the recent Global Big Day events, aside from Ecuador faring so well—the 3rd highest world counts—the number of local and regional participants of all ages has blown us away! But it goes even beyond that. Many rural residents throughout the country have launched their own family businesses based on birds and birding and have been able to transform their lives and livelihoods, the lives of their children and of their communities. This is impressive stuff! Many of these micro-entrepreneurs have created those very exceptional projects that make our birding experiences all that more special. Many of them have actually revolutionized the birding experiences that we all savor! And all thanks to those feathered creatures that mean so much to us!
So, reflect on this: those VENT trips that we share are really powerful, life-changing experiences for all of us birders and nature-lovers, along with everyone with whom we come into contact. We are doing important work.
Here are just a few of Ecuador’s local rural residents who have benefited from birds, have become true ambassadors for change in their communities, and who continue to make our birding experiences all the more memorable:
Rolando García manages a fairly large tract of land for birders and a small property right off the main highway near the town of Mindo, where he has created a lovely birding garden that boasts exceptional looks at 12 or so hummingbird species, nine species of tanagers, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Toucan and Red-headed barbets, Ecuadorian Thrush, Sickle-winged Guan, and the list goes on.
Doris Adelaida and her husband Sergio have created an exceptional birding experience at their Amagusa-Mashpi Reserve in the northwest sector of Pichincha province, about an hour or so west of Mindo. Their feeders, trails, and general area are a must-see! Among the many Chocó Bioregional endemic specialties found there, Black Solitaire, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, and Glistening-green, Rufous-throated, and Moss-backed tanagers are just some of the most anticipated. Lyre-tailed Nightjar and the enigmatic and difficult to see Banded Ground-Cuckoo are also encountered from time to time…and not to forget their spectacular hummingbird feeders!
Surely the most renowned of our local stars are Angel Paz and his brother Rodrigo. Angel’s story is impressive, and his achievements are inspiring. From a local farmer and hotshot hunter, he converted himself into the world-famous Antpitta Whisperer—able to entice up to five antpitta species into the open, while offering opportunities to observe dozens of Chocó Bioregional endemics as well. The Angel Paz experience should not be missed, and we feature him on our Ecuador: Avian Jewels of the Northwest Andes tour.
Birding is more than just birds.
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