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biodiversity Introduction

Walking the length of the Amazon

No, I’m not doing it. I have spent a fair amount of time in the Amazon in Ecuador and Peru but hardly ever left the trail. I ventured off the track once in Tambopata, Peru to get excellent looks at a dark morph Crested Eagle being harassed by Casqued Oropendolas (they are apparently fearless because of their natural head protection) and although we only walked 50 meters off the track, we had somewhat of a hard time refinding the trail!

Therefore, I was pretty impressed to read that a guy from Leicester, England and a Peruvian have been making their own trail through the heart of the Amazon for the past two years. I saw this inspirational and adventurous news item about these guys walking the entire length of the Amazon River at the CNN website.

It takes more than two years because we are talking about a 4,000 mile hike! Unlike Forest Gump, Ed Stafford (and his Peruvian hiking partner, “Cho”), didn’t have the luxury of easy-walking roads. No, they had to climb down the rugged eastern slope of the Andes while following the source of the Amazon River, bushwack their way through dense tropical forests, wade through countless swamps, and get sliced by razor grass.

It’s an amazing trip they have undertaken but it’s such a shame that neither of them are birders. I mean these guys have covered, on foot, some of the most birdy, biodiverse terrestrial habitats on the planet. Costa Rica has fantastic birding but diversity is even higher in most of the areas they traversed. If they had done a running survey of all the birds identified along the way, I am sure they would have more than a 1,000 species under their belts. As they tromped through the grassy paramo at high elevations, they probably flushed sierra-finches, seedeaters, canasteros, and cinclodes, would have seen Mountain Caracaras and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles flying around, would have noticed Red-crested Cotingas and colorful mountain-tanagers.

As they slipped their way down through the wet, mossy cloud forests of the eastern Andes, the voices of tapaculos certainly “yelled” at them from the bamboo-choked undergrowth, they were serenaded by the whistles of antpittas, and would have seen fruiting trees and shrubs festooned with glittering tanagers and plump fruiteaters (a type of cotinga).

Further down in the foothills, as the nearby river grew in volume and the air became warmer, they were surely serenaded by the rattles of antbirds, trills and calls of little known flycatchers, ringing songs of wrens, and haunting melodies of tinamous that issued from the shadows of the tall forests.

As they reached the lowland forests, they probably ran into more stinging and biting insects, became even more drenched in sweat, were accompanied by the lazy drone of cicadas, and could hear the ringing notes of toucans that yelped and croaked from the impossibly high canopy. The dawn chorus would have been fantastic (my high count for Tambopata was  130-140 species of birds heard during 2-3 hours in the morning) with trumpeters and forest-falcons starting things off while it was still dark, various woodcreepers chiming in soon after, and then a whole auditory shebang of leaftossers, antbirds, atillas, understory and canopy flycatchers, feathered etc..

If they kept their eyes open to the birds around them, with the wilderness areas they crossed, I wouldn’t be surprised if they they have seen more than one Harpy Eagle; an immense flying thing with banded tail in the canopy (what my first looked like), a massive, winged predator with a freshly killed brocket deer on the ground, or a huge, fearless eagle gripping a branch with scary looking talons.

They probably saw most of the river island specialists, and even though they are non-birders, probably do recall hearing and seeing hundreds of parrots and macaws that make their home in that fantastic sea of rainforest we call Amazonia.

At the CNN site, I was kind of surprised to read comments that criticized them for doing “such a foolhardy thing”. The only people they put in danger were themselves and since they are about to finish their looooong walk through the jungle, it looks like they were prepared in any case. I applaud Ed and Cho for doing this although it’s too bad they aren’t birders!

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