Tandayapa, Ecuador Photos

Cloud forest

Originally uploaded by Michlt

I’ve added an additional set of  Ecuador photos to my Flickr.com account. These are selected photos taken while we were staying at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. While there we birded on the old Nono-Mindo road and we spent the better part of a day at Angel Paz’ family farm. Their main crop is blackberries, but they also raise cattle and grow corn and ‘tree tomatoes’ (tomate de árbol). They supplement their farming income with eco-tourism dollars. The big draw is an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and three different antpittas (giant, yellow-breasted, and moustached) which Angel, by means of extreme patience, has persuaded to overcome their renowned timidity…. for wages — he pays with clean and carefully cut up earthworms.

Cabañas San Isidro and Guango Lodge

Our recent trip to Ecuador was booked through Carmen Bustamante of Cabañas San Isidro. Carmen was exceptional and the lodges that her family runs were outstanding (esp. the food!). We booked a private tour, and Carmen arranged the driver, the hotel in Quito and three nature lodges (two belonging to her family and one not), and she made a great choice for our birding guide, Narby Lopez. We highly recommend Carmen and Cabañas San Isidro if you are booking a tour to the Andes of Ecuador. Guango Lodge

First Ecuadorean Photos Posted

Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador
I just posted the first set of my Ecuadorean photos to my Flickr account. Click on this photo to go to them. These are my Quito pics.

Michael, Stephen, and I flew from Philadelphia to Miami and then on to Quito. During the last days of our trip we toured Quito and visited a cultural museum on Reina Virginia Street, the Quito Botanical Garden, the home of the Alexander von Humboldt Association of Ecuador, the Old City, and an Artisan Market.

The rest of my pictures are from the rainforest lodges where we birded on the western and eastern slopes of the Andes for 11 days.

Just Back from Ecuador

Michael, our best friend Stephen and I returned to Philadelphia last night after 2 weeks in Ecuador. I’ll write more about it soon and will also post photos to my Flickr and Picasa albums, but I want to start by highlighting a recent entry in Mary’s Travels blog on Eucadorean driving habits: Driving Ecuador. I don’t know Mary and it is just a coincidence that we were in Quito at the same time; however, I am adding her to my blogroll because I like her style and enjoy well-written travel accounts. Her notes on traffic rules in Ecuador are right on. I would describe it as a national pastime, a competitive game that combines Leap Frog and Russian Roulette. Luckily, we had a driver, Miguel, who did a great job of keeping to a reasonable speed for the conditions and exhibiting slightly less suicidal tendencies than everyone else on the road. Since we spent most of our time on the slopes and in the high Andes I would add a few more things to Mary’s list:

  • Conceptually, a sharp curve is the same as a straight away.
  • Dense fog is the same as sunshine, and dry roads are no different from wet ones.
  • It is customary to drive as close to the edge of the road as possible, esp. if there is a 1,000 ft. drop off and the road looks like it has already begun to wash away.
  • Fences are decorations only and horses, donkeys, and cows are free to roam the main roads at will.
  • Road construction crews don’t use caution signs but they might, just might, cut a tree branch and put it in the road to let you know that the road ahead is a single lane. Of course, that does not mean that you have to slow down. It does mean that you then have as much right to drive in the left lane as the opposing traffic does.
  • If someone passes you on a steep, curvey, cloud enshrouded road, you are obligated to catch up to them and pass them back.
  • And, as Mary pointed out, if you want to pass someone, and the guy behind you wants to pass, it is customary for you to both attempt it at the same time. The faster car wins.

Nevertheless, we did survive two weeks in the Andes. Stephen popped valiums, Michael pretended to sleep, and I played games on my phone and only looked at the road when absolutely necessary.

Will Phoenix Rise again?

The Phoneix Mars lander has slipped into hibernation – a dangerous hibernation that it is not expected to awake from. One of the last Twitter posts from the landers was:

 @PhotoMomT Alex, it’s very unlikely I’ll wake up next spring (see: http://is.gd/6tkx) but if I do I’ll call home. Good luck w/ your project

A surrogate Twitter post reads:

[From Phoenix mission ops: Phoenix is no
longer communicating with Earth. We’ll continue to listen, but it’s
likely its mission has ended.]

The lander well exceeded its expected life span and continued to operate until the weakening of solar light deprived it of electricity. The search for past life was inconclusive but the discovery of frozen water just under the surface of Mars as well as observing falling snow was a significant step in understanding our sister planet.

See: Mars Phoenix Lander Finishes Successful Work on Red Planet

Someone from the Lander team  has been posting anthropomorphic updates to Twitter.com pretending to be the lander itself. Now, in keeping with the harsh realities of conditions on another planet, that voice has fallen silent.

Nevertheless – three cheers to NASA and the Lander team based in Tuscon, AZ for a highly successful project on humankind’s likeliest future second home – Mars. Congratulations to all and sleep well Phoenix!

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An Environmentally Appropriate Malapropism

[Credit: iStockphoto/Ralph Loesche]

In the fourth grade my best friend at the time, Robert, and I promised each other that someday we would go to Australia together. We were fascinated with the “land down under” and we often sang Rolf Harris’ song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” without knowing what any of it meant. How does one tie down a kangaroo anyway — and why?

Today while browsing Science Daily I came across what looked like it might be the real and more logical line: Fry me Kangaroo Brown, Sport. I thought, wow, that makes sense. For years I had sung tie/down when it should have been fry/brown! After all, I went to Australia a few years ago (without Robert) and I did eat a roo burger while there. Chuckling at having butchered the song lyrics for so many years I looked it up to find — no, I was right in the first place.

“Fry me kangaroo brown” is a great fake malapropism that highlights a serious suggestion. Namely, that cattle farming is very harmful to the environment, everywhere, and switching from beef to roo is actually a sound environmental choice for Australia. It would mean a much more sustainable and native source of meat than cattle or sheep.

There are some draw backs though. Kangaroos are much cuter than cows, esp. the smaller roos like the pademelons I saw every night while there. The kanagroo is a national, iconic symbol for Australia. And, finally, I did not much think the roo burger I had was very good. Guess I could get used to it though. Just, ‘fry me kangaroo brown, sport.’

What’s that in the Loch?

Four hundred years is a long time to be away from home. Things change though and maybe it is time to return. After all, wolves returned to Yellowstone and Condors are trying to come back to California. Why shouldn’t beavers paddle around in the Scottish lochs again? Knapdale Wildlife Refugee is the chosen site for re-locating three or four beaver families from Norway. These groups will serve as the pioneering stock for the Scottish beaver population. The five year trial introduction will be run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. Environment Minister Michael Russell paints a quaint little picture of the beaver and its reintroduction to Scotland:

They are charismatic, resourceful little mammals and I fully expect their reappearance in Knapdale to draw tourists from around the British Isles and even further afield.

He points out that beaver activity creates habitats that support increased diversity of other species. That is true and I am pleased to see this project is underway. I have, however, worked as a forester in areas where beaver populations were healthy and know that their presence is not all sugar and cream for humans. Hopefully, this reintroduction has been planned well enough that the beavers can have the space and resources (trees) they need to do their thing, because that ‘thing’ that they do is both constructive and destructive. What is not mentioned in the article is what will keep the beaver population in check if they really like their new home? Humans don’t wear beaver fur hats any more and castor oil has fallen out of favor in the modern pharmacopia. The non-human predators from the 16th century have probably not faired much better than the Scottish beavers themselves. At any rate, I genuinely laud the project and wish these beavers well. There should be a big party for them. 400 years is really a long time to be away.

Phoenix Landing

Check out the NASA video explaining the landing challenges of the Phoenix Mars Polar Lander which is scheduled to touch down this coming Sunday. Three weeks ago I was at Kennedy Space Center for the very first time and was totally impressed and re-inspired by the US Space program. I’ll be watching for the success of this expedition to find water on the Mars pole.

Seven Times the Size of Manhattan

wilkinsshelf.jpgThe great thaw cannot be denied. Even a meathead president ought to be able to see that. From Greenland to Antarctica glaciers and ice shelves, stable for thousands of years, are breaking up.

Here is an article of yet another ice skirt on the coast of Antarctica that bit the dust: Western Antarctic Ice Chunk Collapses . An edge of the Wilkins Ice Shelf (about the size of Connecticut) fell into the sea like so much shattered glass. That is a lot of ice. It covered an area about seven times the size of Manhattan.