While preparing for a recent trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest in Ecuador, one of the most bird species-rich areas of the world, with over 450 species of birds, I stumbled across a book by David M. White and Susan M. Guyette entitled Zen Birding which reminded me of my experiences with macaws in Peru. It reads:
Zen birding is a journey to greater awareness through watching birds. At the heart of this new perception is a shift from objectifying birds to considering birds as aware beings with whom we share planet Earth. How does a passion for nature turn into compassion? When you shift to conscious birding, you invite a change to a sense of serenity and connection.
The authors reflect on how their experiences birding in North America have led to moments of enlightenment, introspection and peace. As a newcomer to birding, this approach to the hobby was much more appealing to me than the idea of trying to build a comprehensive list of species seen or obsessively tracking down the hardest ones to find. However, the book only focuses on North America. So, I decided to use some of my space here on the Vaya Adventures travel blog to share some reflections on my amateur experiences with Zen birding in South America, the continent with the largest concentration of bird species in the world.
My first remarkable experience with birding in South America came while on our Machu Picchu and Amazon Itinerary. Waking before dawn at the Posada Amazonas jungle lodge, our guide Luis led us down a narrow footpath slicing through the Tambopata National Reserve. After a 20 minute hike we arrived to the blind, a thatched hut with small windows designed to allow us to view birds without the birds viewing us. Through the open windows we stared out at a muddy river bank and a dense wall of Amazon jungle. Sitting very still, and not making any sounds, I waited alertly with my new companions from the jungle lodge; a Chinese-Australian family, an Englishman of Indian descent and Luis, and our local guide from the Ese’eja tribe. There we sat, six souls from disparate corners of the world, silently staring at the jungle wall. And we saw… nothing.
The spot we were visiting was a parrot clay lick, a place where, in the morning, flocks of tropical parrots typically come to feed on the clay to absorb the sodium-rich soil, essential to their digestive systems. But it seemed as though on this particular morning, at this particular clay lick, no parrots had a taste for clay.
And then, just before we’d given up hope, in swooped two gorgeous Red-and-green Macaws, their magnificent red heads, white faces and beaks, and green and blue feathers shining in the early morning sun. They squawked loudly announcing their arrival, and were soon joined by several more, until we were watching a small flock of these tremendous birds go about their morning routine.
It was a beautiful experience, and having observed the morning routine of macaws in Peru now helps bring some peace to my morning routine. Whether the morning finds me dodging traffic in Santiago or shivering in Chicago, I can find some peace and warmth in the thought that at the very same moment, in the Tambopata National Reserve, something like this is happening:(Photo from Tambopata Research Center)