La Selva Lodge September 2016 Continued

The accompanying photo shows one of my views from the crow's nest on the third floor of La Selva Lodge. The trees in the foreground were the prime landing site for a variety of birds. The orange area in the bottom right corner were small fruit that attracted oropendola, tanagers and many other species. I could not have asked for a better vantage point. The views were unobstructed, the distance was perfect for the 840mm focal length reach of my lens, and I was at almost the same level as the birds I was photographing. What I came to notice during that week was that the photos included many different backgrounds, whether it was the fruit, the leaves, the leaf-less tree behind with the different color tones of the lake, and all the backgrounds were aesthetically perfect!

In this place I spent many hours over the course of a week, photographing tanagers, Dacnis, honeycreepers, a giant Violaceus Jay, a spectacular Black-capped Donacobius. There were many small birds, the Lesser Kiskadee, the Tropical Kingbird and even the House Wren. These later birds appear drab and ordinary when seen in the drawings of bird books, but when I saw them enlarged in my viewing screen, they looked anything but ordinary. The colors were vivid and the details crystal clear. Such wonderful images are due to the amazing technology that has been incorporated into today's finest cameras and lenses. The result allows us to see just how beautiful and perfect-in-design are all these avian maestros.

I have only seen my photos from this trip on the LCD screen of my camera. Computer damage and many demands on my time have delayed processing of the photos. I hope that when the photos are seen large on the computer screen that they are as good as they appeared to be on the small camera screen. We know that this is often not the case, that the enlargement will expose hidden defects. I am guessing that in a month's time the truth   will start to come out and the photos one by one will be posted on Flickr, Instagram, Facebook and more.

In this post, I have talked about the bird photography since that is my new passion. But I am not forgetting about the great number of insects and other creatures that were photographed. I would speculate that there will be some new, unclassified species of treehoppers that will be seen for the first time, and I am guessing that the photos of the rainbow boa will be out of this world. Please stay tuned and thanks for your interest!

La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge September 2016

From Sani Lodge we traveled by motor-launch about one hour upriver before arriving at La Selva. This lodge was very familiar to me as I had been here on two previous occasions during which time we had had incredible success in finding and photographing very rare exotic insects and other creatures. Of course, I was hoping that we would continue to have such good fortune on this trip. However, global climate change manifested itself and unseasonable torrential rains were frequent. Cristian had a difficult time finding insects due to the damp conditions but he persisted like the trooper he is and he always managed to find something, not in the abundance of previous years but enough to keep us occupied.

I was not concerned about the fewer number of insects we had to photograph because at Sani Lodge I had discovered the joy of bird photography and I was quite content to continue this pursuit. After waiting 100 years (almost) to be able to buy a Canon 600mm lens, I was the definition of a happy camper and I was eager to practice as much as I could. I set off to observe the bird life and to locate the best vantage points for taking photos. At first, I tried out the lodge's second floor views of the trees that were at the edge of the lagoon. They were filled with a matured, small yellow fruit that were attracting some colorful, tiny birds but that fruit was consumed in two days and the birds went elsewhere.

I received a tip about a possibly good location which was on the third floor of the lodge. This was accessed by a spiral staircase which led to a small circular space that provided 360 degree views of the lagoon, the lodge dwellings, and best of all a large number and variety of trees. The floor space was limited and barely contained the feet of my tripod when it was open but I could function well within the space and I had at my disposal fantastic bird-spotting areas on all sides. I followed a routine in which I would wake up at 5:30 and be ready to photograph at 6 and then I would return at 4:30 in the afternoon. Alone in my crow's nest above Lake Garzacocha, my eyes developed more and more bird-spotting capacity and I waited, made endless camera adjustments, focused, and clicked away. A week passed in this way.


Sani Lodge II

The rains came and there was no mistaking that we were in the Amazon rainforest! It was harder than usual for Cristian to find exotic insects but he persisted and we invented various strategies to improve our chances. Fortunately, it did not rain 24 hours in a day. Besides taking photos of insects and various small creatures in the morning, I undertook a new routine which was to take photos of birds early in the morning and also later in the afternoon. This was my first time attempting bird photography and since I was in an ideal location I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn rapidly and not miss this special opportunity. I learned the importance of a good vantage point from which to take the photos. The lodge area did have such a spot. This was a level area, good for tripod stability, that had unobstructed views of bird landing areas which also were of an optimal distance for my 840mm focal length. In this spot I had the added advantage of being able to rotate my camera/lens 180 degrees and capture the Chestnut Jacamars that came and went from their hunting perch on a bare branch.

I quickly became addicted to the photography of birds. Thanks to the amazing amplifying power of the Canon 600mm lens which also produces very sharp images, I realized that I had never really seen, in all the glorious details, a bird before. My eyes were opened and I could appreciate the wonderful tropical birds that paraded before my eyes. The lodge is situated at the end of Challuacocha Lake. From my ideal vantage point, there were many areas of the shore that came within the acceptable range of my equipment, and the show began: a magnificent Cocoi Heron, maybe 1.25 meters in height; a Striated Heron stealthily moving through the brush on the shore; and the icing on the cake, a Rufescent Tiger-Heron with beautiful tiger stripes. This later heron took on the form of a horizontal spear before launching itself toward a fish at the edge of the lake.

Sani Lodge has one of the best observation towers in Amazonia. The platform stands at 38 meters above the forest floor, the tree is a very old Ceiba, the metal access tower is well-made and secure, and there are many unobstructed views. I set up my equipment thinking that I would surely see a number of birds. We did see a White-throated Toucan but at a distance of about 200 meters away, the image won't be great. What may be within range, at about 100 meters, was a family group of nine red howler monkeys. The young ones were jumping around, hanging upside down and were fearless even at a height of 30 meters off the ground. I suppose that their agile and very strong tails accounts for their fearlessness. 

These images and experiences are something that probably I will never forget, the images of the wonder of life itself. It was a privilege for me to stay in this selvatic paradise with the Kichwa people. I give thanks for my good fortune!


Into the Ecuadorian Amazon

Sani Lodge is one of the last lodges on the Napo River as this river flows east toward Peru. It is about three hours by motorized launch from Puerto Francisco de Orellana also known as El Coca. This small city is located in the Amazon rainforest at the confluence of the Coca River and the larger Napo River. The Napo joins the Amazon in northern Peru not far from the city of Iquitos.

After three hours on the Napo we reached the Sani Lodge dock, then another 20 minutes walk to an inland docking site where we boarded canoes that would take us to the lodge. The canoes follow a body of water that is neither a river or a stream but more like a canal the width and depth of which depend on the height of the Napo. Trees of many species filled the sky above the canal and all that I could see was an infinite sea of trees, branches and diverse vegetation. And then I heard the chorus of so many different birds singing and I knew that I was in the right place!


Sani Access CanalSani Access Canal

Sani Lodge and La Selva Amazon Ecolodge

Well, I am still alive. I have survived the Amazon one more time.

I am sorry to say that the effects of climate change have reached the Ecuadorian Amazon in 2016. In the month of September, which is a characteristically dry month with perhaps the occurrence of rain one day every two weeks, this September there was rain, heavy torrential rain, two out of every three days. In one day, the rain drove up the Napo River three meters, inundating the forests and many river-front houses. The forest was very wet and very dark and not a hospitable environment for the exotic insects that we look for. In 2014, my assistant Cristian, who is an outstanding insect hunter, had great success finding treehoppers and other insects along the banks of the Napo River gaining access to the best insect vegetation by means of disembarking from a canoe onto patches of sandy beach. But on this trip, the swollen river had swallowed up these beaches, engulfed the desired vegetation and left very little land on which one could walk. Needless to say, this state of affaires was discouraging.

But we never give up. Avoiding the cold and mud-filled primary forest, making use of the occasional day without rain, and finding walking space near the big river, Cristian persevered in his night and daytime searches and, true to form, and faced with the most unfavorable circumstances, he always managed to find the most remarkable creatures, not in the abundance that we encountered in 2014 but enough to keep us busy. Cristian does not like to strikeout and for that and other reasons he never does.

 On this trip I came with an ace up my sleeve, a secret weapon that I was eager to try out. Arriving at the forest which surrounds Sani Lodge, I was met by a very encouraging sign. It seemed that I was in a concert hall and the musicians were a vast variety of beautifully singing birds. What good fortune! Now all that I needed were good vantage points so that I could see some of these birds clearly and at a reasonable distance. I had come armed with a Canon 600mm/f4 lens and a 1.4x extender which I had never used before. Would I be able to get the hang of the new camera-lens combination in short order so that I could take some decent photos or would I just be bumbling around for the next three weeks? “To do well or not to do well, that was the question.”

 Well, I still don’t have the answer to that question. Living in a third world country, Colombia, that has an antiquated energy system, shortly after my return, a power surge that eluded my protective devices zapped my computer. I am waiting for a replacement part to arrive from the States. Please stay tuned and have patience! I also have to learn a new software program, Lightroom, as my new camera, a Canon EOS 5DS R, requires a program other than the soon-to-be-defunct Aperture.

I am confident that the wait will be worth it. From what I could see on the LCD screen, there will be some fantastic insects and perhaps the best photo ever taken of a boa arco iris, a rainbow boa or Epicrates cenchria. The blue-green-purple iridescent sheen is from another world! 

 A continuation of this blog will follow shortly.

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