Binocular Diplomacy

Andean Condor, Ecuador's National Bird (Wikipedia Creative Commons photo)(Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Emilio de Prado)

The newest issue of the American Citizen Services newsletter out of the American Embassy in Quito, Ecuador is available. The lead article was a bit of a surprise. It highlights Ambassador Heather Hodges personal hobby — birding.

Ecuador is, of course, one of the best birding locations in the world with about 1,600 different species recorded there. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the mountains and the friendliness of all the people I met when I spent a week birding there.

Many people know and truly appreciate that birding is an excellent way to learn about a place, its landscape, infrastructure, ecology, and its people. Ambassador Hodges combines both work and pleasure when she goes birding and that is clearly her intent.

The Ambassador’s birding knowledge and her growing
interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation have
made her welcome in Ecuador’s active environment and conservation circles. In late 2010, she brought together federal and municipal government officials, non-governmental organizations and private foundations to jointly work to secure land for a new national wildlife reserve that will help protect watersheds and rare bird species, including Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor


Birding the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX

In January, my partner and I were on a birding vacation traveling between South Padre Island and McAllen/Bensen State Park, Tx. The first three days we enjoyed the beautiful, warm type of days we had planned on. After that, a dramatic cold front rolled in with temperatures in the low 40’s F (4.5 C) and winds gusting 20-30 mph (32-48 kph).

Nevertheless, the birding was good and we added a respectable number and selection of birds to our life lists — including, but not limited to:

    black-vented oriole (at the trailer park near Benson SP)
    neotropical parula (Estero Llano Grande SP)
    white-tailed kite & white-tailed hawk (Laguna Atascosa NWP)
    crimson-collared grosbeak (Pharr, Tx)
    vermillion flycatcher (McAllen, Tx)
    greater peewee (McAllen, Tx)
    common pauraque (in broad daylight and only 3 feet away! Estero Llano Grande SP)

and several others including, for me a long-sought southwest native, the roadrunner! (Don’t laugh, I’ve looked for these in Arizona, Nevada, and California to no avail. At Laguna Atascosa we watched a pair of them for ten minutes).

It was not the sunny, winter get-away that we had hoped for but it was very rewarding. I’ve posted some pictures in my Facebook photo album.

Presentation to the Humboldt Society

My partner Michael and I will be presenting a travelogue of our January 2011 trip to Brownsville and McAllen, Texas.

Details are at the Humbolt Society website.

A Tavelogue Presentation by Michael and Michael

Treat yourself to a vacation in Southeastern Texas –vicariously– by joining Michael LoFurno and Michael Thompson as they present photos from their January 2011 birding trip to Brownsville, Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley. A lush sub-tropical paradise? Well, not exactly, but the birding is indeed exceptional. The Brownsville-McAllen Texas area is a Mecca for birders hoping to add that stray Mexican specimen to their US bird list. It is a perennial meeting place for migrants and vagrants and an indispensable stop for birders doing a Big Year. This presentation is chock full of bird photos so, please, join us


Empty Bay – Space Coast, Ghost Coast?

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast and visited the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL. I had a great time. The area was even more interesting than I had expected, and my expectations were more developed than those a kid might have on a family outing to the Space Coast today. The names Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach were spoken in my house 5 days a week for 5 years. They came through the TV soaked in the comedy and magic of I Dream of Jeannie. In addition, the glamor of the place was also enhanced by the very real successes of the folks who lived there during my childhood. I was privileged to watch Neil Armstrong and the others walking on the moon through live TV broadcasts.

So, I had an idea of what Cocoa Beach would look like. It doesn’t look like that of course. It actually looks like a smaller, tamer version of Myrtle Beach, SC, but since I grew up vacationing at Myrtle Beach I adjusted to that very quickly. The images of my childhood, though, paled in comparison to my adult interests that were fully engaged by the close-up tour I took at the Kennedy Space Center and the excellent time I had birding the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I was as happy to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay from no less than 10 feet away as I was to walk around the enormous carcass of a Saturn V rocket lying on its side. [Flickr photos]

This reminiscing was sparked by an article I read this morning on Tampa Bay’s titled: “Economically, Space Coast better off than when Apollo program ended.” The reference is to the unemployment the area is expected to suffer with the ending of the Shuttle Program this year and into early 2011. The overall impact on Brevard Co. will not be as great as it was when Apollo ended, although it will come on top of an already depressed economy in general. Real Estate prices might drop even further.

After I read the article the thought struck me — man, it would be a good time to get a beach house in Brevard Co. or even just take a birding vacation there in 2011 for Spring Migration. Eventually, there will another boom when the next manned-space flight program cranks ups, whether that will be aiming at the moon, at Mars, or at the asteroids in between, and prices and crowds will grow again.

Birthday at Roatan and Belize’s Barrier Reef

Three years ago I learned of a Caribbean island called Roatan by following news about hurricane Felix. That was 2007 and the entry was called: Discovery by Hurricane. That brief post is one of the most visited on this blog, probably because of folks searching for Roatan as a cruise destination. Well, I’ll be actually visiting Roatan myself in a couple of weeks. My partner is taking me on a Caribbean cruise for my birthday this month.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, but I know that I love being on boats and the open water. The cruise is with Norwegian Cruise Lines and runs from Miami to Isla Roatan, Belize City, Coasta Maya, Mexico, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. In addition to the cruise he booked two snorkeling excurisions one in Belize and one in the Bahamas.

It’s hard to say what I’m looking forward to the most — being out in the Caribbean on a ship or snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef. As I mentioned in my 2007 blog entry, that reef is the world’s second largest. Since I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef once, this will be an excellent experience to add to that.

I’ve been studying a field guide for Belize since I learned we would be going. If my photos turn out well I’ll post them to my Flickr account where I have currently pictures from our Jan. 2009 trip to Ecuador.

I’m also looking forward to birding while in the Caribbean. From the map of our route it looks like we will be passing near the Cuban coast on the way out from Miami and back. There might be some good pelagic birding opportunities and I’m considering taking our birding scope and tripod to see shearwaters, petrels, tropic- and frigatebirds, etc.

This trip is an excellent present and a great, although belated, follow-up to that blog post from 2007.

Tandayapa, Ecuador Photos

Cloud forest

Originally uploaded by Michlt

I’ve added an additional set of  Ecuador photos to my 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.

Arriving at Warp Speed – Invisibility

The ‘communicator‘ from the tv show Star Trek is a reality now, i.e. the cell phone. That I can grasp. What I find incredible is that another technology, one I figured might never be a reality, has now materialized as well: the invisibility cloak. The AP released a story on Aug. 11 about Berkeley scientists’ successfully cloaking a three-dimensional object: Scientists closer to developing invisibility cloak. So what’s next? Transporters? Man, that would be cool! No more waiting in airport security lines and worrying about delays or lost luggage. I predict that if air fares continue to climb and if all the new a la carte fees are taken into account it will soon be economically feasible to develop and build transporters. Maybe by 2010 I can have myself beamed over to Beijing to check out all those really cool buildings they’ve created for the Olympics.