My last night in Mindo I met Marcelo Arias, an expert birder, who kindly invited me to go for a walk and look at birds with him in the morning. Given that I do not get great sleep on my cama dura (read cold, hard floor), there was little down side of getting up at six.
Marcelo showed up right on time, just as I was snapping a few pictures of my dear friend the rooster who had been crowing on this particular morning since about four. My efforts to explain to this cocks that the sun does not come up until a bit after six were wasted. Apparently, this bird has started daylight savings time a few days early; never mind that no one else in Ecuador does. When I snapped his photo, I learned that there were a couple other birds in the tree with him, so maybe he thought that singing his “song” would get him a little early morning love. My guess is that it had worked before. There is no accounting for taste.
I had been walking around the woods in Mindo at least a couple of times to look at birds and it had been something of a let down, or at least it was not a let up. It seemed pretty much like the other times I have walked around the woods for no good reason. The only really amazing experience I had with birds was Bosque del Apache where there are thousands of birds who every morning get up to fly out to the fields and every evening return to the water where they sleep.
Birding with Marcelo, however, was quite different. Marcelo was able to see birds that were invisible to me. Also, he had a scope, which he was able to point at the invisible birds in seconds, revealing them for the likes of me. All I had to do was put my eye up to the eyepiece and wham! There was a beautiful bird. I think even my mother would have enjoyed going birding with Marcelo. It is probably just as well that my aunt did not go with Marcelo as she might have died in a fit of bird-induced elation.
Joyce likened birding to fishing, in which just hanging out in a boat with a line in the water was really all the pleasure one needed. She would probably be happy sitting in a boat with a line in the water even if she were not drinking beer. For her catching fish, is mere gravy in the fishing experience. If the birding I had done before in Mindo was like fishing, birding with Marcelo was like fishing in chummed waters. Marcelo was constantly stopping, inexplicably pointing his scope toward something, directing me to the eyepiece, and there was some amazing bird. Often, I was completely unable to see the bird that he had scouted with his unaided eye, even after I had viewed it in the scope. It was an amazing experience.
Lucky for you, another cool thing is that I was able to hold up my tiny digital camera up to the scope and snap some photos. Marcelo, who was better at aligning the camera with the scope’s eyepiece, probably took the best ones.
Marcelo’s English is quite good, and he knows the names of several hundred birds. And like a lot of birds, he can tell the males from the females. He told me the name of this one, I a sure.
If you go to Mindo, you really should have Marcelo take you around and see the birds. I think that if I go to any more bird places, I will be likely to seek out a guide with a scope. Playing the game in which someone points at a tree and tries to tell you where to point binoculars is a real drag, at least for a non-birder like me. Unlike for my aunt, for me seeing the birds is the fun part of birding.
Mom said that she would rather just see the birds in the zoo, where she could, you know, actually see them. I think that even for mom, birding with Marcelo would be preferable to seeing the birds in the zoo.
Marcelo’s Leica scope cost about $2400 a couple years ago. Now the same model goes for close to $3000. Paying him $50 for a few hours use with his expert guidance is well worth the price. My only regret is that now I wish that I had hired him on my two previous trips.
Look! There are more pictures of the Mindo birds.
Here is one that Marcelo took with his camera, and in a small world story, as I was showing Marcelo some of my own pictures, he noticed a couple whom I had met in Yellowstone National Park. He had guided them in Mindo a month or so earlier. Sadly, I do not remember their names to track them down to tell them the story.