El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Monday, May 7, 2012

Eastern Ecuador's ecological diversity means marvelous creatures at every turn

By Ellen Creager

Detroit Free Press Travel

Imagine palm trees 10 stories high. Imagine lakes with paiche fish that are 6 feet long. Imagine rivers with stingrays, caimans, catfish, neon tetras and electric eels.

The lake where La Selva Amazon Ecolodge is located, Lake Garzacocha, looks deceptively like a small lake back in Michigan -- but with spider monkeys leaping in the trees, piranhas swimming under the brown silty water and rare birds perching on limbs.

If you go for a walk in the morning, you may see one of the rarest predators in the jungle, a crested eagle (it was the first time our guide had seen one in 11 years). In the woods, you spot fungus that native people use to cure ear infections. You see poison dart frogs, giant millipedes and flitting blue Morpho butterflies, not exactly common sights back home.

And the insects! I saw few mosquitoes, but if you go for a walk at night by flashlight, you can spot tarantulas as big as salad plates and walking sticks as big as your hand. They are not frightening. They are elegant and awe-inspiring.

Someone asked me how this compares to Costa Rica, which many Americans have visited. The Ecuadorian Amazon is magnitudes more diverse.

A bird called the hoatzin, my favorite, looks like a crazy pheasant -- multicolored, big, shiny, preening, exaggerated. It lives only in South America.

From a tower and with powerful binoculars, you see the forest's feathered bonanza -- nearly 600 bird species have been seen within just a few acres here. I spotted tanagers and toucans, but also South America's own orange-winged parrot, blue dacnis and ivory-billed aracari.

Monkeys are everywhere -- capuchin, spider, squirrel, black-mantled tamarin. The red howlers are more distant, high in the trees, grunting across the miles.

Right outside my hut are black birds with yellow-tipped wings called crested oropendola; their "oh-rop!" call sounds so human you feel like calling a reply.

After a few days here, you realize that everything hides in the Amazon. Either it wants to hide to catch something or it wants to hide so it doesn't get caught.

There is hyper-diversity here, so the top predators -- jaguars, ocelot, eagles, anaconda -- are spread far and wide, making it rare to see any of them.

I count myself lucky to have seen ocelot and tapir tracks and a crested eagle.

The monkeys, of course, saw or sensed the crested eagle before we did. One minute they were chattering and swinging and foraging loudly in the forest. The next, they were dropping straight down from the tall trees all around us -- parachuting, it's called -- practically falling to the ground. Then silence.

No comments:

Post a Comment