‘Meet the Energizer Birder’
I just flew back from Ecuador, and boy are my arms tired.
Well, maybe not my arms, but the rest of me is pretty darned tuckered out. Because, speaking of flying, we’ve just returned from another of our wacky birding trips.
I have written about these trips many times before, of course. About how you get up really early, tramp around jungles in sweltering wet weather, eat strange foods (durian, anyone?) and feel darned lucky at the end of the day if you can manage to stay awake long enough for your hair to dry before your pillow can mold it into strange overnight shapes.
This trip was to Southeastern Ecuador: fly to Quito, another flying hop to Loja, then the eight of us bumped and bounced in a van for hours in search of the elusive — and very rare — orange-throated tanager. Wayne took photos of this tanager, but I can’t show you one. It takes him ages to get the photos off his camera (if ever), so instead you can click here to see what one looks like.
We had the same guide that took us on our trip to Sacha Lodge and the Galapagos last summer. (See “Galapagone” for some of that story.) His name is Willy Perez, but on this trip we got to calling him simply The Energizer Birder. Seriously, this guy is so cranked up and “on” all the time. His pursuit of the birds, punctuated by his excited cries of “People people people!” kept us going morning, noon and night. (Yes, night. After a loooong day traipsing around hill, dale and trail, we would go out after owls and nightjars. No rest for the bird-weary!)
Willy is from Ecuador, is married to a Brit, and, it would seem, learned English from a German. (He speaks excellent English — with a decidedly teutonic bent. His pronunciation of “hummingbird” is impossible for me to replicate here.) But it is Willy’s boundless energy — and relentless dogged pursuit of his feathery quarry — that make him truly special. We eight participants soon learned that “Let’s keep going just 15 more minutes” translated to “We’re not stopping till we get this bird.”
As I mentioned, there were eight of us on this tour, not twelve like the last one. But my analogy — the one that compares birding to jury duty, which you can read about in “Jury Duty, Only with Feathers” — still holds. You know, random people who spend every second of every day together, bond, then leave and never see each other again.
This was a pretty compatible group, though almost everyone had a Food Thing. There was a guy who didn’t eat red meat. A woman who couldn’t have gluten. Another woman who couldn’t eat eggs. Another who nixed refined sugar. And my favorite: a man who couldn’t eat potatoes. Who knew there were people who couldn’t eat potatoes?
And (also rather like jury duty), there was one, well, annoying person. Not deal-breakingly annoying, but the kind of person who, when not able to find the bird in his bins (birder lingo for “binoculars”) would get all querulous. Him: “Which palm frond? There are many palm fronds! Which one?! (splutter splutter)” Me: “Okay. See that lavender flower? The palm frond right behind it. The bird’s there.” (Silence.) Which meant that he found it.
He also was the kind of person who did this. Matt, after we spent a whole morning freezing at 14,500 feet, and had bumped our way for two hours back down the mountain: “Did anyone, by any chance, see a glove up there? I think I dropped one of mine.” Him: “Oh, I saw a glove. I didn’t know who it belonged to, so I left it lying there.” Oh.
But enough already. Enough with the Annoying Person, and enough with this post. I promise to pry some pretty bird photos out of Wayne — and his camera — before too much time elapses. In the meantime, here’s hoping your energy level stays birder-high. I’ll leave you with this parting shot. Not of a bird, but of a very friendly cat. I try not to think about his relationship with birds.
New York City. February 2023