After a wonderful day on the Kansas prairie, and a fine wander in the woods of the University of Kansas field station — in successful quest of a sinking Kentucky Warbler — John and I were wandering back into the college town of Lawrence, when I happened to notice a large tern flying over a farm pond. We stopped, and it turned out to be a Caspian Tern — its beak blood red, it dove into the water. That brought a smile to our faces, but then even more special, was a glorious sight — a flock of Hudsonian Godwits in spot-on perfect spring plumage at the pond edge, lit by the last rays of a splendid sunset. Bob had only seen this species on rare occasions in fall plumage on the Atlantic coast, seeing it in its full glory of golden tones, brown, and brick red, sent a thrill up our birder spines. It was like a luscious cherry on top of a full banana sundae of a birding day.— Biologist Robert Holt on a day’s birding with friend and colleague sir john Lawton
Birding is a magical experience: going out into the wild, waiting, and finally getting to see a bird you have only heard about or seen in a picture. For bird lovers, that is one of the most exciting experiences in life. Maybe it is the evasive nature of birds, or their enviable ability to fly that fascinates humans so much, but the practice of watching them and superstitions surrounding such sightings go far back in history.
A traditional British nursery rhyme says on the sighting of magpies: one for sorrow, two for joy. It suggests that seeing a single magpie bird augurs sorrow, but seeing more than one brings good luck. To counter the misfortune of seeing just one, the person is encouraged to salute to a bird or to spit. An avid believer is Paul McCartney: “to me, it’s double joy or triple joy. I’m very inspired on a spring morning if I see a crowd of eight,” he told Stuff, a New Zealand-based media website.
A little bird told me
You too can receive inspiration (and perhaps good luck): TiME is hosting a trip that will allow you to experience the joy of birdwatching. TiME for Birding for Conservation is planned for February 2024. TiME’s founder and CEO, Uri Shanas, TiME board member and ecologist emeritus Clive Jones, and biologist Robert Holt (who wrote the opening quote about an experience he and Lawton shared) will all participate in a birdwatching trip to Ecuador, visiting the most recent habitat TiME saved, the Chocó Forest, as well as the Tapichalaca Reserve, which is a candidate for your vote this year, and the Chakana Reserve. This trip will be led by Jonathan Meyrav of Flyways Birding & Nature, a TiME supporter and expert birder, together with an expert local guide, and can be joined by anyone of you by making a significant contribution to TiME.
The trip will not only allow you, together with world-renowned ecologists and biologists, to observe the land you saved and report back to us from the field, but it will also raise substantial funds for our cause and generate publicity, increasing awareness about this wonderful community. The trip will take TiME scientists and birders on a journey across three reserves, representing three different ecosystem types, taking participants from a tropical forest to a humid cloud forest and then to a frozen alpine pasture. All three are being conserved by Fundación Jocotoco, named after the Jocotoco Antpitta. This beautiful species was deemed Endangered by the IUCN Red List, after being discovered in 1997 by ornithologist Dr. Robert Ridgley. It is found only in specific areas in Ecuador and Peru, and TiME’s purchase of the Chocó Forest has guaranteed the survival of this species, named after its distinct cal
Why should the TiME community be excited about this trip? Other than the funding and publicity it will generate, the trip will fall into the category of tourism for ecological purposes — in a good way. Let me elaborate.
“Ecotourism,” or tourism focused on nature and conservation, originated in the 1980s. The idea was simple enough: tourists would pay to see untouched nature, avoid any sort of damage, and thus fund conservation and aid local communities. Since then the concept has faced a lot of criticism, including the charge that this type of tourism preserves the economic and social power dynamics between high- and low-income regions of the world. Furthermore, some tourism organizations have been accused of misrepresenting their tours as sustainable; in other words, “greenwashing:” the exploitation of ecological pretense to push unnecessary consumerism.
A golden egg
The prevalence of greenwashing does not mean that “green” claims are never valid — only that code words, such as conservation and ecology, should always be questioned and should never act as an excuse for irresponsible consumption. As for ecotourism, it turns out that much of the criticism revolved around trips tha failed to live up to their eco credentials and around sites such as zoos and aquariums.
Fortunately, studies have shown that ecotourism is positively correlated with the increased survival of many endangered species that attract tourists around the world. These include the African Wild Dog, Komodo Dragon, sea mammals, and coral reefs. The financial incentive for conservation is a major factor: one study confirmed that marine turtles are worth almost three times as much alive as dead — as products — as the financial benefits of tourism greatly outweigh the benefits of poaching and trafficking. The study was conducted at 18 major sites, the most significant of which is Tortuguero, Costa Rica. In these places, locals have been convinced to conserve, rather than exploit, the turtles. Tourism has also helped to diversify their income, allowing locals to strengthen their economy without damaging the ecosystem.
Offering responsible tourism and hosting scientific expeditions are two income generators of the reserves you purchased via TiME. Fundación Jocotoco is well-versed in ecotourism, especially birding ecotours. The tour leader, Jonathan Meyrav, manages a well-known private company for sustainable birding tours, leading participants around the world in a conservation-first approach. In fact, fees for his tours include an obligatory donation to TiME!
Two in the bush
TiME for Birding for Conservation will tour three reserves in Ecuador. The first, the tropical Chocó Forest, part of the Chocó-Darién Moist Forests, is at the junction between the Colombian forest and the moist Ecuador forest. It is a primary forest, a mature forest that has reached the final stage in its development after hundreds or thousands of years. Primary forests demonstrate why reforestation cannot fully replace conservation: each step of development in this forest has laid the foundation for the next, creating a delicate network of a tremendous amount of life-forms that depend on one another.
The Chocó forest is as biodiverse as the Amazon, and is home to many endemic bird species, including the Critically Endangered Great Green Macaw, the massive and Endangered Banded Ground-cuckoo, the Vulnerable Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and the charming Sapayoa. Mammals that inhabit the forest include the Vulnerable Spectacled Bear, the only living bear native to South America, as well as the Puma and Brown-headed Spider Monkey, which is among the 25 most endangered primates in the world. The Chocó Forest also houses the second-largest population of amphibians and reptiles in the world after the Amazon.
The second reserve of the trip, the Tapichalaca Reserve, is also a primary forest. As a high-altitude temperate ecosystem, it houses a different biome. Its cloudy conditions and location on the mountain slopes result in lower canopies, which house many species that are very difficult to find elsewhere, ninety percent of which are endangered. It is home to more than half of the world’s Jocotoco Antpitta population. Hundreds of orchid species and three hundred bird species live in the reserve, including the Endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle and Coppery-chested Jacamar. Many species of hummingbirds can be seen here among the trees, including Collared Inca, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and Long-tailed Sylph.
Spread your wings
Trip participants spend their final day on the paramo, or “alpine pastures” — frozen biomes in the tropical zone, found only in the Andes. This land holds sacred meaning to Indigenous groups and have inspired the legend of El Dorado: a city of gold hidden in South America. It was called “the land of the mist” by the conquistadores, the Spanish and Portuguese who were awe-stricken by the majesty and beauty of this land, so different than anything they had seen in Europe. The Chakana Reserve sits on a paramo and is an important roosting site for the Vulnerable Andean Condor, where about 40 of the estimated 150 Andean Condors in Ecuador reside. Home also to the Peregrine Falcon and Andean Fox, the paramo is one of the most unique and impressive ecosystems in the world — a high point on which to end the trip.
TiME for Birding for Conservation is part of a responsible ecotourism movement, one that actively creates positive change by altering the rules on what is and isn’t financially compensated. This birding group will serve as ambassadors for the TiME community in the land we already saved and in lands we wish to save, and contribute significantly to TiME to enable such future land purchases for conservation.
FIND ALL THE INFORMATION ON FEES, ITINERARY, AND REGISTRATION HERE
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