Monday, 6 September 2010
The cloud forest lies before me, like a woman reclining in a steamy bath, filled with foaming water. All curves and hollows, hills and valleys. The mist collects in the valleys, like the foam enveloping the woman, moulding itself to her shape. The water gently laps against her body, constantly shifting and changing, never still, just as the mist ebbs and flows against the hillsides, swirling in amongst the branches, rising up into the canopy, evaporating into the air, condensing on the leaves and branches.
The cloud forests and lowland rainforests of Ecuador. Full of life, full of movement, full of sounds never heard before. You may not get to see all the life contained within these mystical forests, but you will certainly get to hear much of it. The toucans call to each other from the tops of the trees, while the Inca jays click and rasp back and forth, these harsh sounds interspersed with clear, bell like notes that puncture the heavy, humid air. A noisy group of oropendolas invade first one tree and then another, constantly chattering, their song a liquid harmony, like fresh water bubbling up in a small, refreshing spring, starting on its journey down a mountain creek on its way to bigger, faster streams to eventually join that mighty river, the Amazon.
Now, since there is no way that I can write about all the wonderful creatures that we have seen in the forests on this trip to Ecuador, I have decided to give you some of the highlights (and perhaps lowlights) of the fascinating fauna of Ecuador. I have picked five categories and awarded winners in each. So, here we go:
1). Most Beautiful. This was probably the hardest category (along with cutest), because nearly all animals are beautiful in some way. But since we have spent rather a lot of our time looking at birds (some might label us with the term “bird nerds”), I decided to go with a bird. And the winner is.............. the Inca jay. This gorgeous creature is a social bird, always chattering away with other nearby jays. They are also very intelligent (as far as birds go), one of the few known species that make use of tools, using sticks to probe into crevices and holes to retrieve insects to eat.
2). The Ugliest. OK, so I realise that I just said that all animals are beautiful in some way, but I am struggling to find the beauty in this one – the golden silk orb weaver. These skin-crawling, stomach-lurching, sweat-inducing giants are everywhere, building huge webs that I swear are big enough to capture some poor, unwary biologist. Actually, that is what is beautiful about these spiders, their webs. If you look at them with the light hitting them in just the right way, the silken threads of their webs look like finely spun gold. In fact, I believe that their silk has been used to craft one of the most intricate, delicate and fabulous piece of cloth ever made. It was made from the silk of over a million spiders and is now on display at the American Museum of Natural history. Oh, and I thought that I should just mention that the females generally eat the males after mating. Talk about dangerous sex .........