Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Leaving On a Jet Plane, Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again

Inevitably the day had to arrive, but still have to admit to a feeling of reluctance to climb aboard the Air France flight this afternoon. It's not that I have to return, in fact from e-mails received, reference the weather, it must simply be madness that's taking me home. Anyway, I'm psyching myself up for the long haul, and hopefully by 20-00 tomorrow I'll be by a warm fire sharing a cider or 2 with Bowie (Lorne) and Sheila.

For now I'll leave the readership with a few statistics I have to hand, a little about each country and some thoughts on the wildlife I have been privileged to see. I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you who have shown an interest by visiting my Blog, the average on the Stat Counter has been in the region of 60 'hits' per day, and for all your comments and help along the way. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing many of you in the UK (and Estonia), but for those of you who live in any of the other 15 countries where there are now readers, a huge 'thank you' for your company and the welcome you have shown me.

My general opinion of South America, since my first visit many years ago, is of a collection of countries where the people are warm and welcoming and where I have rarely encountered any trouble. For instance, having my backpack stolen in La Paz, Bolivia was more of an inconvenience than a disaster, and ever since I have thought the perpetrator took it more out of genuine need than greed? All, are swamping themselves in mountains of disguarded rubbish and believe the plastic problem will come to a head one day. I wouldn't be at all surprised if much of the flooding in the Buenos Aries and Mendoza areas of late isn't down to blockages of drains due to plastic? Unfortunately, Colombia and Venezuela receive much bad press because of corruption, drugs cartels and revenge attacks, but my impression there was the same as overall. Having said that, I was 'shepherded' throughout much of that part of the trip but during the periods left to my own devices, felt safe and received all the help I needed. I wouldn't hesitate to visit either country solo.

In Columbia we were well directed by 'Birdseekers' based in Devon, and as a result saw the larger proportion of birds than elsewhere. Transport, food and accommodation were of a high standard resulting, I believe, in everyone being satisfied.

Venezuela offers much to the birdwatcher, but as for a tourist destination they have far to go. Without venturing too far into politics, I heard no one utter a supportive word about Senor Chavez who appear to be an international firebrand. Only the people can sort that one out, but while he is keeping the invisible shackles of petrol at $0.50 per tankful around their neck it seems unlikely things will change.

The jewel in the wildlife crown has had to be Ecuador, where my last visit, excluding Galapagos, was a pathetic 2 days. This time I believe it was over 3 weeks, and despite having to find my own way the itinarary provided by Byron Palacios was invaluable. Digressing slightly, I should tell you Byron is a world bird guide and while I don't know his prowess on the ground, if it is anything like his directions for me, he would be well worth a try. The highlights here were Angel Paz and the Pacific Coast. All of the reserves and other wild areas I visited were of the best I have seen, while the coast, for anyone with a 'Hippy' mentality is Paradise.

This was my second visit to the Galapagos Islands, and as I have stated elsewhere on the Blog they are easily accessible. You don't have to be Charles Darwin to know the diversity of wildlife to be found there, while I could gaurantee anyone one of the most unusual places on the Planet.

Peru I have also covered fairly extensively, and while little seems to have changed there it probably has more to offer the tourist than anywhere else on the Sub-continent. We have all seen the images of Machu Pichu, the Nazca Lines, Ballastas Islands etc, etc on TV and in magazines, my recommendation would be to formulate your own plan and don't miss this incredible country under any circumstances.

If I can use the analigy of the Curate's Egg again, this adequately describes Chile. Again not full geared up for the tourist, but does have a great deal to offer, simply it's not all bad! The Lauca National Park has been the highlight during something of a limited stay, but as regular readers will have seen, there is much else here and if your journeying this far, why pass it by.

And last, but most definitely not least Argentina and its wonderful Capital of culture. Much, much to offer from the Iguassu Falls to being a Gaucho for a day or 2, the best bit was saved until last. Costanera Sur, a bit disappointing this time, has been during my 4 visits (9 full days) singularly on of the best bird reserves in the world. Add to that the style, service, culture and the overall welcoming appeal of the people even if you only get to BA you'll have 'cracked it'! Restaurants particularly are the place to be, with well dressed, interested waiting staff, I doubt you'll ever eat better meat (especially beef) and no wonder the French and Italians are showing such great concern, Argentine wine production is outstripping them as we speak.

Trip Stats

Countries - 6 + what I like to think of as an autonomous region, Galapagos. There are 2 (Colombia & Venezuela) to be added to the World List making the total 106.

Cities = 11, Bogota, Caracas, Quito, Guayaquil, Lima, Arequipa, Arica, Valparaiso, Santiago, La Plata and Buenos Aries.

Towns, Rivers, individual Mountains too many to note.

Distance covered front door to front door 20,500 miles (give or take a hundred yards).

Trip Total Species of Birds - 901 I am sure there are those on the list that shouldn't be there, and sure as hell there are omitions (unidentified photos to be added at a later date) but 901 sounds about right.

World Lifers Total - 574 the same applies here and when time allows I intend scrutinising the list much more closely.

Endemics Total - 57 with about half a dozen still in abeyance, ranges yet to be checked.

Mammals 27 with one or two photographs to be looked at, the show stealers being Jaguar and Ocelot.

As far as the Birds are concerned this has been the most mind blowing trip I have ever undertaken and to select a single favourite species would be a daunting task. However, I have selected just a few of almost an album full of photographs as a reminder of some of the best.

If I had to put my hand on my heart and choose a single favourite, Swallow-tailed Gull would have to be it. Although not a 'lifer' or a new bird photographed (if you count stolen property) this magnificent creature does the full bizz for me.

Being privy to the finding of this Dusky Starfrontlet was also considered a massive Avian milestone. Many miles outside of its known range, its global scarcity and given it was virtually unknown until 1990, puts it in a category apart. It ain't a bad looking little thing either, is it?

The personal find of the trip has to be this Glaucous-winged Gull which, if accepted, will become a first for the whole of South America let alone Ecuador where it was found.

I have included these 2 images of Pale-mandibled Aracari to represent the 'eye candy division' and the bizarre. The Toucan / Aracari families are a fantastic group.

and on the subject of fantastic family groups, who could deny the Antpitta's as being one of the best. So secretive and skulking they are rarely seen except when in company of those who can call them out, and Angel Paz was just one of those people. In all I think the total was 7 species.

Giant Antpitta

Moustached Antpitta

Yellow-breasted Antpitta

In addition to these, there was also the Forster's Tern that was co-found by the group in Colombia, which again if accepted will become an addition to the countries Bird List. Unfortunately no photographs were possible.

See some of you soon I hope!

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