Madagascar —– Part 2 — November 20, 21 and 22

The spiny forest produced the top bird of the day, (November 20), maybe of the trip, a Subdesert Mesite, one of the species comprising my 3rd new family recorded in Madagascar.



This Running Coua was another highlight of the Spiny Forest.



A shallow water area, the Ifaty wetlands, held numbers of plovers, sandpipers, herons and egrets.  Efforts to find the Endemic Humblot’s Heron were unsuccessful.  Madagascar Bee-eaters were common.



Here we also saw the endemic Madagascar Plover.



Cisticolas, including Jerys were regular during the day.

On November 21 we drove by another wetland on our way to the La Table dry bush area.

Verreaux’s Couas showed well at La Table.



La Table also produced stunning views of a pair of Red-shouldered Vangas, a bird found only in a small area of southwest Madagascar.


[Side note:  Our guide told us that a Red-shouldered Vanga was the last bird seen by Phoebe Snetzinger.  In about 1980 at the age of 50, Phoebe, a resident of the Illinois/St. Louis area, was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer.  She decided then to make use of her remaining days by becoming a serious birder.  Her cancer went into remission several times in the next 20 years, and in the meantime she became the top birder in the (mostly male birders) world, documenting her sightings of over 8,000 of the then recognized 8,500 species.   In 1999, twenty years almost to the day prior to our visit to La Table, Phoebe was killed there when the van in which she was riding overturned soon after finding the Red-shouldered Vanga.]


At La Table we also saw our first of a number of Crested Drongos.



We made a late afternoon stop at the Botanical Garden

There we found a pair of cooperative Red (Green)-capped Couas.



Also at the Botanical Garden was an apparently nesting Madagascar Nightjar.



On the 22nd we made the boat trip to Nosy Ve, a small island off the southwest coast of Madagascar, in the hope of finding Crab Plovers.  Crab Plovers are not restricted to Madagascar, but in my prior travels I had never seen any. This was to be my best chance of adding this single species family to my life list.    Boarding the boat required first an ox cart ride from shore to boat.



The day was perfect for an excursion into the Mozambique Channel, with light clouds, light winds and moderate temperatures.  We were extremely fortunate to find 17 Crab Plovers (my 4th new target family in Madagascar) at the end of our trip, on the sand spit called Nosy Ve.  Nosy Ve is not to be confused with Nosy Be at the far more popular destination for beach lovers on the northwest corner of Madagascar.  Here are a couple of the Crab Plovers, sometimes found on Nosy Ve



Nosy Ve also hosts large numbers of Red-tailed Tropic Birds raising their chicks, and here is one of them.



The return boat trip took us past spectacular cliffs where we finally spotted a rare Humblot’s Heron, silhouetted on a cliff by the sea.

On then to Anakao for lunch and the regular Littoral Rock Thrush.  Near the café we were lucky to find at close range a pair of cute little Gray-Brown Mouse Lemurs in full daylight.



Part 3 of my Madagascar blog will cover November 23, 24 and 25, including the long drives from Tulear to Zombitse and back, the wonderful Ring-tailed Lemur experience at Isalo National Park, and an unexpected visit to a small Mahafaly village along the way back to Tulear.


Madagascar — Part 1 — November 18-19, 2019


4th largest island, after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo

250 miles east of southern Africa, across the Mozambique Channel

Broke away from Gondwana 150,000,000 years ago

First humans arrived 2000 years ago. Closer to Africa, nevertheless the first arrivals        were Indonesian

Population about 25,000,000, 18 tribes, mixes of Indonesian and African

“Tribe” is an accepted term, and inter-tribal violence continues in rural areas

Over 50% cannot read or write

Life expectancy is about 60

Average daily income:  $2.00

Gained independence from France in 1960, after 65 years of French control

Over 50% are ancestor worshipers; 20% Protestant, 20% Catholic, 7% Muslim

Agriculture (cattle, rice, etc.) and fishing dominate; mining coming on

Politics is volatile, but so far elections have been mostly respected.

Governmental corruption is spoken of as a way of life.  We experienced none.


Barbara and I and daughter, Nora and son-in-law, Dave, hired Tropical Birding to guide us on a tour of Madagascar between November 17 and December 2, 2019.  Two of the principals of Tropical Birding, Ken Behrens and Keith Barnes authored a book entitled “Wildlife of Madagascar”, published in 2016.  It proved to be a valuable resource.  The book covers many of Madagascar’s mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, invertebrates and distinctive plants, focusing on those that visitors are most likely to encounter.

The mammals include Lemurs, (we saw 13 species) Carnivores, (none seen) Bats, (1 species seen) Tenrecs, (1 species seen) Rodents (1 species seen) and Marine Mammals (none seen)

The following is quoted from the Behrens and Barnes “Wildlife of Madagascar”:

“A brief introduction to Madagascar.  Madagascar is so different from the rest of the world that it is sometimes called ‘The Eighth Continent’.  Not only does it have the high level of endemism (species not found elsewhere) that is typical of an island, but it also boasts remarkable diversity, which for some groups approaches that more typical of a whole continent.  Madagascar is the land of lemurs, a radiation of our own primate order that evolved into exhilarating diversity on this island.  These endearing creatures are the ambassadors for Malagasy nature; many people who have no idea where this island is located immediately recognize the Ring-tailed Lemur.  Madagascar is also a land of fabulous birds, ancient reptile lineages, and six of the world’s nine species of baobabs.  All naturalists find Madagascar fascinating as a treasure-trove of biodiversity and a ‘laboratory of evolution’, much like the Galapagos but on a grander scale.  And for travelling naturalists, Madagascar is a ‘must-visit’ place.  Although Madagascar has long been known for birds and mammals, its reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants are just as unique.”

We arrived in Antananarivo, (“Tana”) Madagascar on Air France from Paris at 11:35 p.m. on November 17, 2019.  (We had traveled from Iowa to Paris the day before and stayed overnight near the Charles De Gaulle airport.)  We were joined at the Tana airport by our Tropical Birding guide, Emma, and a driver.  It was very late but after a short, bumpy and dark drive, we were received at our Hotel, Au Bois Vert, and comfortably accommodated for what remained of the night.

November 18:  After a late breakfast we birded around the pleasant garden and grounds of the Hotel Bois Vert.  The Red Fodies were plentiful, along with 8 other common Madagascar city dwelling birds, most endemic to Madagascar.



The find of the morning, however, was a handsome specimen of Oustalet’s Chameleon, just a few feet from our front doors.



The afternoon was occupied by a short trip to Lake Alarobia in the heart of Tana’s industrial area.  This Lake is home to the endemic and threatened Meller’s Duck (2 shown below with a White-faced Whistling Duck).



A Madagascar Pond Heron with its bright blue bill was displaying across the water.



This Malagasy Kingfisher was lovely in its dark blue coat.  (photo by Dave)



Our second night at Bois Vert included a delicious dinner and a restful sleep (except for the music emanating late into the morning from a nearby Saturday night revelry) after which we flew to Tulear in southwest Madagascar, for a few days of birding and lemuring in or near the Spiny Forest.

Here with the expert help of Fosa and his crew, we encountered my first species of a new bird family in Madagascar, a Long-tailed Ground-Roller.



Other notable finds were Madagascar Turtle-Doves, Namaqua Doves, Madagascar Coucals, Madagascar Cuckoo, Madagascar Nightjar, some shorebirds, Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Madagascar Hoopoe, and my second new family member (from the Malagasy Warbler Family), a Thamnornis.  Also, Madagascar Bulbuls, Magpie-Robins, and Wagtails.  The colonial nesting Sakalava Weavers were actively engaged in nesting at the entrance to Fosa’s private reserve.



And our first Vanga, this Chabert Vanga at the top of an Octopus Tree.



On our night walk, here we also found our first lemurs:  a Gray-brown Mouse Lemur from the numerous Mouse Lemur Family:



One of the highlights of our night walk was this cute, but prickly, Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec:



We also found this Torotoroka Scops-Owl.



No report of a visit to the Spiny Forest would be complete without mention and pictures of the famous Baobab Trees and Octopus Trees.



The town of Tulear  was an attraction in and of itself, partly because of the numerous rickshaws crowding the already pedestrian crowded streets, and the local folks who use them for transportation when walking becomes too tiring.  Fortunately, the terrain of the city is very flat.  The rickshaws vastly outnumbered other modes of transportation and we were told that many of the young men operators were from the southernmost area of Madagascar and that they come to Tulear in the tourist season to make a little money before returning to their homes.  (photo by Dave)



Part 2 of my Blog will report more of our tour of Ifaty, as well as La Table and our boat trip to Nosy Ve (November 20, 21 and 22).


Eastern Brazil’s Atlantic Forest Birding and Rio de Janeiro – September 2019

I have been on a mission to see at least one species (currently 10,721 species are listed in Clements Birds of the World) in each of the bird families (currently 248 families listed in Clements).  I am at 87.5% (217) of the families.  A few months ago I went to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where I added 6 families.  After that trip I had 3 unseen families that can be found in the western hemisphere: they are (1) Sharpbill, the (then) only species in the family Oxyruncidae, best found in eastern Brazil; (2) Sapayoa, the only species in the family Sapayoadae,  disjunctly found in various central and northern South American jungle areas;  and (3) Cuban Warblers (with 2 species) in the Teretristidae family, found only in Cuba.

About a year ago Adam and I went to Ecuador, where one of my main targets was the Sapayoa (# 2 above).  Unfortunately, terrorist activities along the Columbia border made it too dangerous to enter the area where the Sapayoa could be found, so it was eliminated from our itinerary.

Focusing my search now on the Sharpbill, from September 16 through 18 of this year we went to the eastern rain forest of Brazil.  After arrangements were in place, but before we went, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology published its annual update of the Clements List of Birds of the World, and the Sharpbill suddenly acquired 5 siblings, all transferred from the Flycatcher (Tyrannidae) family.  Three of those flycatchers I have seen.   DNA analysis showed that they are more closely related to the Sharpbill.  And so, in blissful ignorance, I had Sharpbill added to my family list.   But, arrangements were in place and we wanted to see eastern Brazil and Rio, so we went anyway.

We arrived in Rio on the morning of the 16th where we were met by the Serra Dos Tucanos Birding Tours driver and transported to Itororo Lodge.  Along the way we picked up Andy Foster, the sole proprietor of Serra dos Tucanos, and the bird guide I had selected for the trip.  Andy, in addition to conducting birding tours throughout Brazil, coordinates the birding for folks who stay at the Itororo Lodge, which is located a few miles outside Nova Friburgo in the Serra do Mar Mountains.

Neither Adam nor I have good photographic equipment or skills, but Andy does, and so I made a deal with him that he should feel free to indulge his passion for wildlife photography and take as many pictures as he wished on our outings, if he would allow me to use some of them in this blog.  Below are most of the pictures he selected from the many more that he took.

Although booked as a 2-day tour, it turned into more, including the remainder of the day of arrival and the morning of the day of departure.  We saw about 140 species, of which 68  were new on my life list.

Hummingbirds were plentiful, with 9 species represented.  We saw 6 endemics (Scale-throated Hermits, Sombre Hummingbirds, Black Jacobins, Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, White-throated Hummingbirds and Brazilian Rubies) most of them in large numbers at the feeders around the Lodge.  Other Hummingbirds seen on the trip were Planalto Hermits, White-vented Violet-ear and Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds. Here are two of the endemics:

Violet-capped Woodnymph



White-throated Hummingbird



Tanager species outnumbered the Hummingbirds, with 15 species.  Among the endemic species well seen at the Lodge were Ruby-crowned, Azure Shouldered, Golden-chevroned, Brassy-breasted, and Gilt-edged Tanagers.

Brassy-breasted Tanager



Golden-chevroned Tanager



We also saw Magpie, Chestnut-headed, Black-goggled, Sayaca, Fawn-breasted, Green-headed, Burnished-buff, and Rufous-headed Tanagers, and additional Tanager species,  Blue Dacnis and Green Honecreepers.

Four Parrot species made appearances:  Blue-winged Macaws, White-eyed Parakeets, Maroon-bellied Parakeets and Plain Parakeets.  Bare-throated Bellbirds frustrated Adam with their frequent calls, and infrequent sightings, until, finally, one showed well.

Bare-throated Bellbird



The lovely little Manakins (Blue, Pin-tailed and White-bearded) were a delight, venturing very close as we quietly walked the forest trails.

Blue Manakin



Pin-tailed Manakin



The Sharpbill was a challenge to see, but with the Andy’s skill and Adam’s sharp eyes, we were finally able to find one perched in view long enough for a good scope view, and a picture.  Mission accomplished.




The second priority for me was to see at least one of the two eastern Brazil Gnateaters.  We were fortunate to find both, Rufous and Black-cheeked.

Black-cheeked Gnateater



The Ovenbird family provided a great number of species, at least 20.  Less colorful (brown is prominent) than the Tanagers and some others, they proved a challenge to my spotting skills in the typically forested domain they inhabit.  Here are a couple of the typical family members from the forest:

Streaked Xenops



White-collared Foliage Gleaner



On day 2 we explored more open country with agriculture operations, often cattle ranching, in the valleys.  There we found a couple more of the Ovenbird family, Firewood Gatherers, (I just like the name), and Band-tailed Horneros, pictured below.

Band-tailed Hornero



The Flycatcher family was strongly represented, with over 20 species identified, some in the forest and some in the open habitat of Day 2.  Most of the Flycatcher species were not new to me, but here is one that was:

Streamer-tailed Tyrant



Here are several more pictures of a few of the birds we saw:


White-breasted Antshrike



Surucura Trogon



Gray-eyed Greenlet



Savannah Hawk



Spot-billed Toucanet



Itororo Lodge, a couple of hours drive north of Rio, offers cool, mountain weather, comfortable lodging, privacy, colorful birds galore both for viewing and for photographing, intimacy (12 guest maximum), good food and beverage service and gracious hosts (Reiner and Bettina).  Their father, one of the leading Orchid scientists of Brazil, conceived the lodge and its surroundings to grow and study Orchids on site.  To top it off, the Lodge partners with able and convivial professional bird guide Andy Foster (dba Serra dos Tucanos Birding Tours) who offers private bird guide services coordinated with the Lodge.  For birders, the combination is hard to beat.  For others, it is also hard to find such a quiet and comfortable lodge in natural surroundings.  Our 3 day stay (September 16-18) was great and we highly recommend both Itororo and Serra dos Tucanos.

Prior to the trip Andy had recommended we engage Eugenio Souza as our guide for a couple of days of sightseeing in Rio de Janeiro.  Eugenio was otherwise engaged on a tour out of the city, but he arranged to have Paulo Giffoni substitute for him.  Paulo met us at our Hotel Atlantis Copacabana at 7:30 a.m. on the 20th, the morning after our return to Rio.  We quickly embarked on a remarkable tour, beginning with a tram ride up to a close encounter with the great statue of Christ the Redeemer, and a view from there to Sugarloaf Mountain.



A visit to the Santa Theresa area concluded with a walk down the 215 steps of the Escadoria Selaron.



Jorge Selaron was a nonconformist artist whose world-wide tile collection decorates the (for us) descent. Many of the tiles were painted by Selaron, all depicting the same pregnant African woman, a choice never explained by Selaron.  Tiles for the stairs were donated from over 60 countries around the world.  Selaron, born in 1947, was found dead on the steps about 20 years ago, again with no explanation.

The Cathedral of Saint Sebastian looks drab from the outside, like a huge copy of the Mayan ruins at Chichinitza,



but space, beauty, grand heights and glass grace the interior.



Mass was in process at the time of our tour, with extremely loud music and not many worshipers.  [The little wooden confessional seemed de minimus (barely room for 2) and out of place].

More impressive, at least for me, was the Benedictine church on Montserrat, completed in 1641, with its Baroque interior.

Paulo’s expressed appreciation of the Gregorian Chant by the monks of the monastery, customary on Sunday mornings, made me wish that I could have heard it.  Gregorian Chant is one of the music genres to which I have a sentimental attachment, dating from my college choir days at the Jesuit church at Creighton University in Omaha.

We visited the Sambadrome, a 570 meter long parade area completed in 1983 to accommodate the largest Carnival celebration in the world, repeated each year before lent.  Not much was going on, but there were a few folks with costumes, presumably typical of the Carnival, and offering a photographic opportunity, which we failed to realize.  They claim over 2,000,000 people come for Carnival, which lasts a week.  Paulo’s line:  People come to Sao Paulo for business; they come to Rio for fun.

The second day dawned wet and cloudy, foreclosing our planned visit to the obscured Sugarloaf.  We improvised with drives through the city, along the beaches, in the parks, around (not in) the favelas (mountain-side neighborhoods, each of up to 100,000 people living in self-constructed, densely packed and now stacked up to 5 floors to accommodate the multiple generations, on unowned land).  Some favelas are controlled by drug lords; and some by militia, who thrive on protection (from drug lords) money extorted from residents.

We enjoyed a great Brazilian barbecue of a very large hunk of beef at Paulo’s favorite neighborhood café and then toured the Botanical gardens.  I was worn out and soaked in sweat by the time we finished the garden tour, and ready to get to the airport for our late flight home.







Ver Meer Woods – Pella, Iowa – May 6, 2019

On May 6, 2019 my son-in-law and I assisted a member of the Ver Meer family in an inventory of the species at Ver Meer Woods, on the banks of the South Skunk River near Pella, Iowa.  Here is a list of the birds we saw that morning.

First and most spectacular were the nesting colonies of Great Blue Herons in the great old Sycamores on the property.  We saw about 100 nests and even more Herons, and in many of the nests could be heard young chirping.  Hatched eggshells littered the ground.  This may be the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in the State of Iowa.  What a sight and sound it was.  And what a Natural Treasure it is!!



Other species seen at the Woodland during the morning were:  Turkey Vultures, Crows, Red-tailed Hawk, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Turkeys, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatchers, Barred Owl (heard only), Least Flycatchers, Empidonax species, Wood Thrushes, Swainson’s Thrushes, Veery, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Mourning Doves, House Wrens, Yellow-throated Vireos (heard only), Blue-headed Vireo, Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Catbirds, Common Grackles, Bluejays, White-breasted Nuthatches, Baltimore Orioles, Robins, Eastern Towhees, Red Headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpecker (heard only), Goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and the following bonanza of 7 Warbler species:  Redstarts, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbirds, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black and White Warblers, and the bird of the day, a beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler.  Total Species at the Woodlands: 45

Others seen near the Woods were Pheasants (at least 5), Great Tailed Grackles (3), Meadowlark species, Barn Swallows, and Red-winged Blackbirds, bringing the number at or near the Woods to 50 species.  The Ver Meer Family deserves great credit for placing this unique place under a conservation easement to assure the preservation of its treasures far into the future.

Other sightings of special interest were a lovely Coyote, a very large Woodchuck, a Garter Snake and Spring flowers covering the forest floor in profusion:  among others,  Spring Beauty, Rue Anemone, Violets, Buttercups, Jack-in-the Pulpit, with a few Jacks present in their pulpits, May Apples (but no apples yet), Wild Ginger, and Dutchman’s Britches (of course), but not in flower.

Dominican Republic Birding, with a stop in Puerto Rico — March, 2019

From March 2 through March 9, 2019 I participated in the Wings Birding Tour of The Dominican Republic.  The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the Greater Antilles island of Hispaniola, and Haiti occupies the western half of Hispaniola.  The Dominican Republic achieved independence from Haiti in 1844.  Each country has about 10,000,000 inhabitants.  At the end of the Dominican Republic tour, I flew the short distance east to Puerto Rico for a couple more days of birding.

The tour leader in the Dominican Republic was Evan Obercian (from Maine) and the local guide was Miguel Landestoy.  I was one of 8 participants.  The others were 2 women from Australia, and 5 men, respectively from Ontario, Oregon, California, Utah and Kansas.  Our guides were excellent.  In the Dominican Republic they dealt cooly with bad roads, unreliable suppliers of vehicles, and a breakdown of one of our 4-wheel drive vehicles in a remote mountain preserve.   But we did not miss a beat notwithstanding our temporary setbacks.  In Puerto Rico my guide, Julio Salgado, introduced me and his one other customer, John, to fish tacos for more of which I want to go back. The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was not terribly apparent, but Julio and his family went without electricity for 7 months, ultimately buying a generator to end the nightmare.  One practical result for me was that the loss of many, perhaps most, of the rare Puerto Rican Parrots has resulted in closing the preserves where they could formerly be seen.  I hope they can recover.

In the past couple of years my main objective in birding has been to see at least one species of as many of the 250 bird families as is practical for me.  Prior to the Dominican Republic trip I had seen at least one species in 212 of the 250 families.  My goal was to add 5 families in the Dominican Republic, which I did.  Three of those families exist only on Hispaniola: Palmchats, Hispaniolan Tanagers, and Chat-Tanagers; the other 2 families, found there and elsewhere in the Caribbean, are the Todies and Spindalises.

After leaving The Dominican Republic I birded in Puerto Rico with Julio and there I found my 6th new family for the trip, Puerto Rican Tanager, as well as another Spindalis (Puerto Rican Spindalis), and another Tody (Puerto Rican Tody).    Todies are beautifully colored, tiny birds, found only in the Caribbean area, with 2 species in The Dominican Republic where I saw several of each of its 2 species, and added a third in Puerto Rico.

The Palmchat is the only species in its family, quite plain, and found only on Hispaniola, where they are numerous and easily viewed.

Palmchats and Todies have been families for years.  The other 4 families I sought were recently created, by splitting them, primarily out of the large Tanager family, and assigning them, based on newly available DNA analysis, to much smaller family groups:  (1) Spindalis with 4 species in the Caribbean, 1 of them being on Hispaniola and 1 in Puerto Rico (both of which I saw); (2) Hispaniolan Tanagers with 4 species (2 from the Tanager family and 2 from the Warbler family), all found only on Hispaniola,  with 1 mostly in Haiti, which I did not see ; (3) Chat-Tanagers with 2 species only on Hispaniola (I saw the Western species only); and (4) Puerto Rican Tanager, 1 specie, found only in Puerto Rico.  The net result of my birding in The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was the addition of 6 families to my life list, increasing the total from 212 to 218.  Only Madagascar holds more potential new families for me (7), so this was an unmitigated success.  Madagascar lies ahead.

At the species level I was able to add 44 new species in The Dominican Republic and 16 in Puerto Rico, to bring my World Life List to 3,704 species.  Only about 7,000 more to go.  But at the family level, I may get to the 90% level if all goes well in Madagascar.

I apologize for the absence of pictures with this blog.  My faithful photographer, Barbara, did not accompany me on this trip, and the leaders in both areas were not photographers, so you have to go to the internet to see any of the birds mentioned.

Brazil’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge Birding – 2018

In 2015 Barbara and I went to Brazil to visit old friends in Brasilia followed by a Field Guides sponsored birding trip to Garden of the Amazon north of Cuiaba, and to the Pantanal, south of Cuiaba, both in the state of Mato Grosso.  My report on that trip can be found in this Blog, in 2 segments, published in September and October, 2015.

In August, 2018 I went back to Brazil for a shorter birding outing with Rockjumper Bird Tours at the famous Cristalino Lodge, in the southern part of the Amazon Rain Forest, in and very close to the northern border of the state of Mato Grosso.  My primary target bird for this trip was the Dark-winged Trumpeter, one of three species in the Trumpeter (Psophiadae) family, a family I had never seen and which can be found only in the Amazonia area of South America.

At Cristalino I joined a group of 6 other birders who had participated in 2 earlier segments of this Rockjumper trip, one to the Pantanal and one to Iguaszu Falls.  They welcomed me warmly to their group and the week with them and with our Rockjumper leader, Rob Williams, could not have been more enjoyable. [Side note:  the bartender at Cristalino makes a good Tanqueray and Tonic].

Cristalino Lodge is located on the banks of the dark water, Cristalino River.  I was surprised at the paucity of bothersome insects, such as mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, flies, etc.  I had come prepared with malaria pills, treated long shirts and pants, and plenty of insecticide, but I am pretty sure none of it would have been necessary, at least at this time of year, just before the wet season sets in.  I was told that mosquitoes, in particular, do not habituate well to dark water rivers because of the tannins contained in them.  True or not, their absence was a welcome surprise.  Also surprising was the nonchalance of the swimmers (most of the tour participants) who cooled off in the river every day.  I did not, maybe because I could not quite get past the thought of the possibility that the Caiman (siblings to the alligators, but just a cousin to the crocodiles) that we had seen along the river bank not far away, might wander into the swimming area.

The Lodge is very nice, the accommodations spacious and clean, the fans keep them comfortably cool, and the food, served buffet style at the central lodge, was exceptional.  A crew of hired guides works for the Lodge and I was pleased at the efforts Rob made to connect me with one of them for one day of dedicated, though unsuccessful, search for the Trumpeter, while the others took a trip down river on the boat.  In the category of small world, my lodge supplied guide is a native of Burlington, Iowa.

At Cristalino one can, and we did, walk the jungle trails, climb to the tops of canopy towers, hike to a secret “garden” and a rocky outcrop, sit quietly by a hide as the day darkened, and, my favorite, sit back in a comfortable boat for a birding trip on the dark water river.

It was in the evening while sitting quietly by a hide as birds came to bathe in the tiny water hole, that this Giant Anteater walked close to us, apparently oblivious of its human observers.



And it was during the course of our daily river trips that we saw Lowland Tapirs 



And on our final trip leaving Cristalino, a trio of Giant Otters, fishing casually along the shore and then launching themselves onto a fallen tree trunk over the water, to digest and warm up in the sun.



But wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be a birding trip?  Yes, indeed, and the birds were plentiful, but in the Amazon the animal life is spectacular also.  In addition to the mammals pictured above, during the course of the week we saw or heard Tufted Capuchin monkeys, Red-handed Howler Monkeys, White-cheeked Spider Monkeys,



Capybaras, Spotted Pacas, Azara’s Agoutis, Brazilian Porcupine, Proboscis Bats, Greater Sac-winged Bats, Fishing Bats (Greater Bulldogs), Geoffroy’s Side-necked Turtles, Spectacled, Dwarf (Curvier’s) and Black Caiman, Running Lizards and a Tree Boa.

So now to the birds:  We had 5 full days of birding with no Trumpeter.  On the last day we had a very short morning available for a concentrated effort by all to find some Trumpeters.  With time running out on my effort to add this family to my life list, Rob suddenly asked for complete silence as he cupped his ear to the distant sound of—what–?  Trumpeters in the jungle undergrowth.  The first sign we had had all week.  With luck he might call them near the trail.  And luck we had.  Soon, one, two, three, four, five Trumpeters showed up on the trail (behind us), and put on a 3-4 minute show for us all.

Alisdair Hunter of Ottawa captured the moment.  With his permission, I include here his photographs of our Dark-winged Trumpeters.

b-trumpeter-dark-winged-1 b-trumpeter-dark-winged-10


You can also Google “Dark-winged Trumpeter” at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, “Multimedia/Neotropical Birds on Line” where you can see many images of this most interesting bird, and also hear the unusual calls and moans of these noisy characters, made as they cover great swaths of territory in the jungle undergrowth.

So with the Trumpeter family added to my list, I now have 215 of the current Clement’s List of 250 Avian families.  More families are being created every year due to DNA sequencing and the resulting reclassification that is in process.  When the Clements World List was last published as a hard bound volume in 2007, which was about when I started keeping track of families, there were 203 of them.  From 203 families in 2007 to 250 in 2018 is a rapid expansion.  As for my species count, at Cristalino it increased by a modest 54 to a total of 3,708.

Following are some of the more interesting birds we saw at or near Cristalino. All of the following photos are by Alasdair Hunter, one of the participants in the tour, and are included here with his permission:

Curl-crested Aracari



Bare-faced Currassow (female)



Red-throated Piping Guan



Ornate Hawk-eagle



Agami Heron






Blue and Yellow Macaws



Point-tailed Palmcreeper



Crimson-bellied Parakeets






Blue-necked Tanager



White-throated Toucan



Capuchin Monkey




My next international trip will be to the Dominican Republic in March, 2019.  Within this relatively small country it is possible for me to add 5 families, a personal gold mine, as the number of new families available to me, especially in the western hemisphere, dwindle.  The 5 new (to me) Dominican Republic families are:  Tody (2 species, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Tody),  Palmchat (Dulus Dominicus), Hispaniolan Spindalis, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, and Chat-Tanager (2 species, Eastern and Western). Assuming 100% success, which seems likely based on prior tour reports, that will leave only 4 families unseen (by me) in the western hemisphere: Sapayoa, missed due to safety concerns in my recent trip to Ecuador; Sharpbill, reliable only in southeast Brazil, Cuban Warblers, (2 species), and Puerto Rican Tanager.  Whether or not I will try for any of them remains to be determined.

Ecuador Northwest Birding – 2018

We arrived in Quito (elevation 9,350 feet) on August 8th, a day before our tour was to begin. This gave us an opportunity, although short, to explore Quito on the 9th.  On the morning of the 9th we taxied from the Hotel Quito to the Teleferiqo Gondola, for a cool (literally and figuratively) ride up the lower slopes of the still active Pichincha Volcano (peak elevation, 15,696 feet, last eruption 2002).   The City of Quito was built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the site of an old Inca city, and the city and its environs wraps around the eastern slopes of Pichincha.  With its current 1.6 million inhabitants, in a narrow valley, the city spreads out for miles.  We enjoyed the downward view to the city and its buildings and the upward view to Pichincha from the top of the gondola, and a bit further, as we took a short upward hike in the wind, so I was doubly winded.

Another taxi ride took us down to Old Town, where we found the enclosed market and sampled the very inexpensive lunch offerings available at the little stands in the market.  From there we took a hike up to the extremely ornate Compania de Jesus Jesuit Church.  Once again I abandoned discretion, and climbed the rickety scaffolding to the interior top of the church for an inside view of the great old church, and from its ramparts, a view west to the gigantic statue of the Winged Virgin.



One more taxi ride took us to the Square, with its multitudes, many offers of shoeshines, excellent Gelato, and in general, a relaxing walk about the square and some of the surrounding architectural attractions. In anticipation of a strenuous week of birding beginning at 5:00 a.m. on the morrow, we took an early exit from the city to return to the hotel and a pleasant dinner with some good Chilean wine.

I have previously posted a short blog relating only to some of the Hummingbirds seen and photographed by our guide, Andres Vasquez. For context, here is a summary of our complete itinerary:  August 10, Quito to Yanacocha, where we hiked for the morning; then on to our Tandayapa Lodge for the next 3 nights; August 11, birding the upper Tandayapa Valley (7,200-5000 elevation);   August 12, birding Mashpi Amagusa area and Milpe;  August 13, at the wonderful Paz de Las Aves, for the Cock of the Rock lek and the Pittas, among others, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; August 14, Mashpi Shungo Reserve, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; long drive to Guango on the eastern slope, night at Guango Lodge; 15 August, back toward Quito via Papallacta and Antisana; to our hotel near the airport in Puembo, with time, arranged by Andres on the spur of the moment, for a side visit to Puembo Birding Garden nicely hosted by Mercedes.

Andres authorized me to include the following photos taken by him during our tour.

A great look at a low overhead Andean Condor at Antisano:



A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta:



A Flame-faced Tanager:



A Lemon-rumped Tanager:



A Many-striped Canastero, at about 14,000 feet on a cold, cloudy, wet and windy day, with a few snow patches along the way-yes, at the Equator:



An Orange-breasted Fruiteater:



A target bird, new family, Rufous-crowned Gnatpitta:



A Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager:



A Tawny Antpitta:



A target bird, new family, Toucan Barbet at Amarosa:



A White-bearded Manakin:



A White-throated Quail-dove at Amarosa:



Along the way, Adam and I tried to snap a few pictures on our cell phones, and here are a few of our best efforts, first mine:

Adam at TeleferiQo 



Crimson-rumped Toucanet



Black-backed Wood Quail   



Adam and I at Refugio Paz de las Aves



An Agouti 



Cocoa tree, with cocoa bean pods (and we sampled the product, chocolate bars).



And here are some of Adam’s shots:

The two of us:



Here is a long view of a Black and Chestnut Eagle, which Adam was the first to spot as we relaxed at a beautiful overlook.  Andres was quite excited to find this rarity, and as we soaked in the view of one, a second flew in.



Quail Dove at Amagua:



A toucanet:



At the Cock of the Rock lek:



Golden headed Quetzel:






Snow on the mountain at the Equator:



The two birder dudes:


My new families for this trip were the Toucan-Barbet, the Chestnut-crowned Gnatpitta (now in the Gnateater family), and the new split from the big Tanager (Thraupidae) family, the Mitrospingidae family, consisting of just 3 former tanagers.  The one I saw was the Dusky-faced Tanager.  My fourth Ecuadorean family target, the Sapayoa, will have to await another trip, perhaps to a safer destination. In the meantime, Adam returned home and I went to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Brazil, primarily to see another new family for me, a Trumpeter.






Ecuador Hummingbirds – August 2018

Son-in-law Adam and I signed on with Tropical Birding for a private birding tour of northern Ecuador.  We engaged in extended email correspondence trying to come up with an itinerary that would include a Cock-of-the Rock lek and 4 bird families I had never seen:  Toucan Barbet, Gnateater, Sapayoa and the Mitrospingidae tanager family recently split from the greater Tanager family, Thraupidae.  Several weeks before the planned tour, Tropical Birding informed us that there had been terrorist activities in the far northern area along the Columbia border, where we would have expected to find Sapayoa.  That area was deleted from our itinerary.

Barbara and I had spent a day with a guide in the Tandayapa area near Quito when we stopped there on our way to a cruise in the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, so I had seen a number of the birds of the area.  Nevertheless, this trip produced a grand total of 158 new life birds for me, out of a total of about 320 species. Our guide, Andres, and Adam, saw and heard quite a few more than that, but with my aging eyes, I am unable to distinguish some of the birds, especially those that dwell high up in the trees, or in dark, brushy areas, so the trip actually yielded significantly more than the 320 that I was able to claim.

As the trip began, I told Andres that I would welcome his photography as the trip went along, as neither I nor Adam are adept at, nor particularly interested in, photography.  The condition attached to that invitation to take a lot of pictures, was that he would send me his better photos and allow me to use them in this blog.  He readily agreed, and the first installment of those pictures “The Hummingbirds of northern Ecuador”, follow.

The Tropical Birding list of potential sightings for the entire trip contains 65 different Hummingbird species.  That figure is startlingly large, but the mountains of Ecuador are the Mecca of the Hummingbird family.  Compare that to our 1 specie, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the only specie commonly seen anywhere east of the Rockies in North America.  Of the 65 potential Hummingbirds, I was able to see and identify 42.  Of the 42, 15 were new life birds for me.  The 7 that Andres chose to send to me for inclusion in this blog are:


Buff-tailed Coronet


Collared Inca


Long-tailed Sylph


Purple-throated Woodstar


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird


Sword-billed Hummingbird



Punta Arenas Birding – February 2018

I spent 12 days birding in central and northern Chile in December, 2015. That trip was reported on my blog,, and the reports can be found under the March 1916 locator index on the blog.  In central Chile I used the guide services of Albatross Birding and Nature Tours and for northern Chile I engaged Far South Expeditions.  My guide in northern Chile was Rodrigo Tapia.  He invited me to return some day to see southern Chile.  The closing line of my prior report was: “I would go back again, perhaps next time to see southern Chile and its natural wonders.” And so I did.

In the past several years I have focused more on seeing as many of the bird families as is reasonably possible (approximately 250 of them), and less on the number of species (approximately 10,000 of them).  In South America there are 6 or 7 families of which I have seen none of the species (noting that several of these families are monotypical, i.e., have only one species).  One of these families is the Magellanic Plover, the sole member of its family.  It used to be considered a member of the large plover family (Charadriidae), but behavioural and genetic studies led to the conclusion that it is not related to the plovers, but is in  it own family, Pluvianellidae.  They are found only in southern South America, and most reliably in southern Chile.  Late last year I contacted Far South Expeditions, which is headquartered in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, and signed up for two of their one-day tours out of Punta Arenas.  I was happy to learn that Rodrigo still works for them, that he now lives in Punta Arenas, and that he would be my guide.

On my first trip to Chile I was able in the 12 days I was there to identify about 215 species, of which 108 were new life birds for me.  In preparation for my trip to southern Chile, I prepared a list of new birds that my Chile Field Guide showed as being possible to find in far southern Chile.  It was quite short, because of my prior success in Chile and in southern Argentina.  My targets for this trip was as follows:

  • Magellanic Plover  (Number 1 Objective)
  • Magellanic Diving Petrel
  • Rufous-chested Dotterl
  • Tawny-throated Dotterl
  • Short-billed Miner
  • Austral Canastero
  • Chocolate-vented Tyrant
  • Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant
  • Patagonian Yellow Finch
  • Patagonian Mockingbird
  • Least Sandsnipe
  • Rufous-legged Owl
  • Common Miner
  • Band-tailed Earth Creeper
  • Great Shrike Tyrant (a total of 15 potential new species)

When I showed the list to Rodrigo, he said we would not see Magellanic Diving Petrel (generally seen only from ocean-going vessels, which we were not taking), and indicated that it was doubtful we would find Short-billed Miner, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, or Great Shrike Tyrant because they were not to be found in the area we would be covering, at least not at this time of year.  He held out hope for the  remaining 10.

But I get ahead of myself.  Before connecting with Rodrigo (on day 3 in Punta Arenas), we enjoyed a relaxing day and a half exploring the town on foot and indulging in the really good food and wine available in a number of local restaurants.

We arrived in Punta Arenas about noon on the 20th, took a cab from the airport and checked into our hotel, the Rey Don Felipe, just a little up-hill from, and a short walk to, the main drag.  This was our residence for the next 4 nights.  We used the rest of the day to walk about the city center (population about 125,000).  The waterfront shows the wear of the centuries.



The town is on the west coast of the Strait of Magellan.  The Strait (if you were Magellan in 1520) is accessed from the Atlantic, meanders westerly for a ways, then widens and bends to the south, before narrowing again and angling northwest to the Pacific.  The Strait lies to the north of the famous Beagle Channel, used by Darwin to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific on his centuries’ later expeditions along the west coast of South America.

Around Punta Arenas, sheep ranching is a big deal, and has been for a long time.  For our first dinner in Punta Arenas we chose Parillo Los Ganaderos which features a ranch-like décor and atmosphere, and specializes in the local favorite, spit-roasted lamb (cordero al ruedo), cooked over a big fire in the dining room.  Vegans and vegetarians would probably not appreciate the ambiance therein, but we went “whole lamb”, (to paraphrase our Iowa expression, “going whole hog”), and ordered the three courses of cuts of lamb from the spit: ribs, shoulder and shank.  It was a lot of lamb, but I now know why it is a local favorite.



On day 2 (the 21st) we walked to the Municipal Cemetery.



The monuments and the names and dates are always fascinating.  The cosmopolitan history of the area is signified by the names on the monuments: many Croatian, German, Italian, Spanish, and others.  (The main street of the town is O’Higgins Avenue, in honor of the part Irish founder of the Chilean Navy, and his name appears everywhere in Chile.)  We found our way to the north end of the cemetery, where stands a statue to commemorate the Unknown Indian.  As in many places, the original inhabitants were exterminated, but they are memorialized in strange ways.  The last survivor of the Selk’nam tribe is buried here. Good luck attends those who rub the left knee of the statue raised by his conquerors (or those who followed them) to the Last Selk’nam, and, as you can see, a lot of rubbing must occur.



From the cemetery we walked to the Salesian Museum.  The Salesians, an  Italian Catholic missionary order, arrived in Punta Arenas in the 19th century.  With what I assume to be good intentions, they evangelized and relocated many of the indigenous survivors of the European onslaught, only to see them die of diseases for which they had little or no immunity.  The museum they compiled is fascinating.  One can easily spend several hours moving from floor to floor of this small and succinctly organized museum housing an extraordinary collection of historical artifacts and exhibits.  Well worth a visit; especially for those of us who customarily feel overwhelmed and worn out in museums.

On our way to the Cemetery we passed the Chocolate House, a unique combination of a coffee house, bakery and chocolate shop. I had read about it in our Fodor’s, and I was determined to sample the wares as we were about to walk by it again at lunch time.  Great idea.  Do not pass up the raspberry cheesecake.



Our days in Punta Arenas were unstructured and naturally we therefore concentrated on fine food.  Another of Fodor’s recommendations for dinner was La Cuisine, as the name implies, a French influenced, small café.  Oh my, the king crab lasagna was like nothing else I have tasted.  Minimal noodle, maximum king crab (a local staple, according to some).



And the dessert was WOW also:  three-flavors of crème brulee.



For those of you who do not know my culinary tastes, perhaps you sense a theme here:  Desserts are Good!  In keeping with Spanish custom, the more expensive cafes (none of them in Punta Arenas are really that expensive) open late and stay open late, and if you lack the foresight to make reservations, it is best to arrive just as it opens, or you may not get a table.  Oh, did I mention the wine?  The locally available Chilean wines are unforgettable. We discovered this jewel on night 3, and went back again on night 4.

Early on day 3  Rodrigo and his driver picked us up at the Hotel and we drove south of Punta Arenas keeping quite close to the Strait of Magellan  and in generally wet areas.  We saw large numbers of Upland Geese.



A pair of the dimorphic Kelp Geese (males white, females barred) were foraging on the banks of the Strait.



Spectacled Ducks  were quite attractive.



A pair of Crested Ducks with Ducklings  battled the waves along the shore.



Thorn-billed Rayaditos responded to Rodrigo’s call.



Also, Patagonian Sierra Finches:



A White-crowned Elaenia displayed the reason for its name:



A small (pod?) of Peale’s Dolphins cruised by not far off shore.



One of the more interesting ducks found in Patagonia are the Flying and the Flightless Steamer Ducks. To the unpracticed eye they look a lot alike.  Here is what I think is one of the Flying Steamer Ducks:



The trip along the Strait was yielding a lot of birds, but nothing that was new to me (no “lifers”).  Consulting with Rodrigo, we decided to cut this part of the trip short and go north of Punta Arenas in search of the Magellanic Plovers.  Originally, this was scheduled for the next day, but we concluded it would be better to increase the chances of finding them, by searching this afternoon, and if we failed we would still have a chance tomorrow.

And so we drove north, right into the face of the driving wind.  Wind is almost constant in this part of Patagonia, and this day was special:  I am not good at guessing wind speed, but conservatively, it was 40 miles per hour, with stronger gusts.  Arriving at the shallow lake where he had seen Magellanic Plovers in the past, we climbed through and over the barbed wire fence and struggled against the wind over the sheep-feces covered landscape bordering the lake.  And we walked and we walked and we walked.  Half-way around the lake, Rodrigo, in the lead, signaled for us to come ahead quickly.  He had located not one, but a pair of our target bird, the MAGELANNIC PLOVER!!! 

The two were foraging along the rocks on the shore of the lake, and seemed oblivious of our presence, as they came closer.  Barbara could not hold herself, much less her camera, steady, so she just pointed it in the general direction and clicked away.  Here are the results:  the targeted Magellanic Plovers:

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Well, they are not the most colorful birds, nor especially charismatic, but to me they were the culmination of our trip.

Success on the first day meant that we could spend a relaxing second day looking for the rest of the birds on my target list.  This required driving even further north of Punta Arenas, and more fence climbing and hiking, although the winds were not nearly as bad.

Today was the big day for Guanacos, the wild camel of Patagonia,

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and Lesser (Darwin’s) Rheas, our Western Hemisphere ostriches.



Although these particular Rheas are Lesser Rheas, the Lesser Rhea population is widely disjunct, with the northern mountain birds separately identified in the Chilean Bird Guide as Puna Rheas, and these southern representatives as Darwin’s Rheas.  Maybe someday they will be split into two species.

Two other species of goose can be found in Patagona, in addition to the Upland and Kelp Geese we had seen the day before.  One is the relatively common Ashy Headed Goose, shown among some Upland Geese below.



Much rarer on the South American mainland is the Ruddy Headed Goose.  Although fairly common in the Falklands, where I saw a number of them several years ago, they are rare and endangered on the mainland, primarily due to over-hunting in Argentina where they migrate, along with a lot of other hunted waterfowl, in the South American winter.  On one of our cross country forays, across boulders and ruts, we finally came across a pair Ruddy-headed Geese across a small lake which contained a lot of other waterfowl.



At the same location another of my target birds, a pair of Least Seedsnipes, flew in along our vehicle, but departed again before their picture could be had.

A gaucho approached us on horseback, and we thought we were being busted for trespassing again, but he just thought (hoped?) we were with the power company and his internet connection was malfunctioning.



During the course of the morning we were able to locate a few more of my targeted, new life birds, including:

Austral Canastero



Tawny-throated Dotterl



Yellow-bridled Finches



Chocolate-vented Tyrant



This Grey Fox was suspicious of our vehicle, and disappeared quickly.



Toward the end of the afternoon we searched along a ferry landing on the Strait, for one of my target life birds, Patagonian Yellow Finches, but this was the only one of my target birds that survived Rodrigo’s initial culling, but that we did not find.  As we were returning to our vehicle, someone told us that there was a blue whale that had beached and died near the ferry landing.  The Blue Whale autopsy was in progress as we walked down the shoreline.



We returned to our Hotel Rey Don Felipe, said goodbye to Rodrigo and our driver, and prepared for our second dinner at the wonderful La Cuisine.  We headed out early the next morning for our flight to Santiago, where we hoped to get on the evening Delta flight to Atlanta.  But, best laid plans go oft awry, and we were bumped in favor of a  paying load of fish.  (Delta refers to this as “pay-load optimization.”) We scrambled a bit, finally bought a round trip ticket (cheaper than  one-way) on Latam, and ended up at Kennedy in New York, a couple of hours later than we would have arrived in Atlanta on Delta.  From there we were able to get Delta to Atlanta and from there back to Des Moines just a few hours later than had our wished for connections all worked out.

Just a post-script.  The people of Chile are very friendly and helpful.  Wherever we went we felt safe and could ask for help and be assured of getting it.  We experienced nothing but kindness throughout our trip.  The country itself is varied (from desert in the north, to glaciers several thousand miles to the south), with good infrastructure everywhere.  The food and wine are excellent.  Consider a trip to this beautiful and welcoming country.

Chile – February 2018 – Part 2 Easter Island

Our trip to Easter Island was serendipitous in many ways:  adding such a highlight to our trip at the last minute, being there at the finale of the annual festival, and finding a knowledgeable guide.

I remember reading about Easter Island in National Geographic when I was in elementary school.  I was captivated by pictures of the moai.  I can’t say that finally being there was a dream come true because it seemed far too remote to even dream about for a girl from Iowa.

The island is a Chilean territory, but is not just a little off the coast of Chile.  It’s 2,334 miles from Santiago and takes about 5½ hours to fly there.



The island covers 63 square miles.  That’s 3/4 the size of Des Moines, Iowa.  There’s only one real town, Hanga Roa.  Easter Island consists mainly of three extinct volcanoes which have combined to form one island.



In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888.  According to the 2017 Chilean census, the island has 7,750 residents, of whom some 60 percent are descendants of the original Rapa Nui.

The name “Easter Island” was given by the island’s first recorded European visitor, a Dutch explorer who encountered it on Easter Sunday in 1722.  He named it  Paasch-Eyland (18th-century Dutch for “Easter Island”).  The island’s official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means “Easter Island”.

After decades of scientific investigation, the history of Rapa Nui continues to be very controversial.  However, the main oral tradition with respect to the origin of its first inhabitants is supported today by scientific findings in different fields.

Archaeological excavations reveal three distinct cultural phases: the early period (700-850 A.D.), the middle period (1050-1680) and the late period (post-1680).  Between the early and middle periods, evidence has shown that many early statues were deliberately destroyed and rebuilt as larger and heavier moai for which the island is most famous.

During the middle period, ahu,(stone platforms) also contained burial chambers, and the images portrayed by moai are thought to have represented important figures that were deified after death.



The late period of the island’s civilization was characterized by civil wars and general destruction; more statues were toppled, and many obsidian spearpoints have been found dating to that period.  Internal warfare, the dramatic impact of Peruvian slave raids, and the introduction of unknown diseases to the population almost completely exterminated the Rapa Nui people in the second half of the 19th century.

The Rapa Nui sponsor the Tapati, an annual 2-week festival in February, held since 1975.  The festival began as a way of maintaining and promoting the Rapa Nui culture among the islanders, and in particular for generating interest and a sense of identity among the children.  February is now very much high season on the island.

The festival consists of numerous dancing and singing competitions, as well as traditional sporting.  Each year, two young females compete with each other to become the Queen of the Tapati for that year, and all of the above competitions carry points, meaning that the candidate with the most points at the end of the festival is crowned the Queen.



By chance, we arrived the day of the big parade and had dinner on the deck of a restaurant along the parade route.  The parade consisted of several floats



and many local participants in native dress.

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After dinner, we watched the dancers and listened to their music.

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It was quite an introduction to the island.

The next morning our guide picked us up at our hotel.  He is an American who studied anthropology and archeology.  Because of this interest, he went to Easter Island to do research.  As fate would have it, he met a local girl, started a family, and has lived there for 18 years.

The archaeological site of Tahai  is one of the oldest settlements on the island whose earliest remains date back to 700 AD.  The occupation of Tahai by the first settlers was well-planned.  In this place they had easy access to the sea to go fishing and a regular supply of fresh water from underground springs.



Nearby is Ahu Ko Te Riku, the only remaining moai with eyes made from coral.



According to oral tradition, the island was colonized by a group of villagers from a Polynesian island led by Hotu Matu’a, an ancestor of the Rapa Nui people.  The tradition says his landing place was Anakena, a beautiful beach of white coral sand.



Ahu Ature overlooks Anakena beach.



Nearby is Ahu Nao-Nao, one of the best preserved sites.



Te Pito Kura meaning “Navel of the Earth” is a perfectly round sacred stone.  It supposedly emits spiritual power to those who sit on the small rocks and place their hands on it. It is thought to have magnetic qualities.



Here lies the largest moai ever moved to an ahu.  It weighed 80 tons and is no longer standing.  The topknot weighed another 12 tons.



Tongariki is the longest (200 feet) ahu on the island.  It has 15 moai.



and two newer additions the day we were there  ;-)



The moai were toppled during the civil wars and swept inland by a tsunami in 1960.  The setting is beautiful with the Poike volcano,  the oldest on the island, in the background.



We walked among these giants in the quarry Rano Raraku.



A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections.  The quarry at Rano Raraku is where the majority of moais were created on a hillside before being transported to all corners of the island.  This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as partially-finished figures scattered around.



The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately a year to complete.

Many statues at Rano Raraku are buried halfway or more into the ground.

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This is where the misconception of calling the moai statues “Easter Island heads” comes from.   In fact they all have bodies, even though sometimes only a head is sticking out of the ground.

At the end of the path is the only moai with legs, known as Moai Tukuturi, meaning “kneeling moai”.



After the decline of the moai culture, a new cult of bird worship developed on Easter Island.  It was centered on a ceremonial village called Orongo, built on the rim of the crater of the Rano Kau volcano looking out towards the sea.



Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone which is filled with fresh rainwater and nearly covered by reeds which give it an unusual mottled appearance.  The crater measures a mile across.



Houses at Orongo are not the common hare paenga, a house with an elliptical foundation, made with basalt slabs and covered with a thatched roof that resembled an overturned boat,



but are hare oka, made entirely out of flat stones.  Being of this material makes the houses survive the strong winds at the top of the volcano.



Settlements also contain hare moa (“chicken house”), oblong stone structures that housed chickens. The houses at the ceremonial village of Orongo are unique in that they are shaped like hare paenga but are made entirely of flat basalt slabs found inside Rano Kao crater. The entrances to all the houses are very low, and entry requires crawling.



The annual “birdman” competitions took place here in which a representative from each of the tribes fought.



Each year competitors would dive down dangerous cliffs, swim out to the islet called Motu Nui, retrieve a newly laid egg from the manutara bird (sooty tern), swim back with the egg carefully lodged in a special headdress, and climb back up the 656-foot cliff. The first competitor to return with an intact egg was declared winner and his elder, or patron, would earn the privileges of the king for the next 12 months.

There are distinct variations around the island in the frequency of themes among petroglyphs, with a concentration of Birdmen at Orongo.



The wall at Vinapu is perfectly fitted together with irregularly-shaped stones, and has rounded edges, and small triangular stones filling in gaps.  It is by far the most perfectly fit ahu rock wall of Rapa Nui.  The flawless fittings are made with a different engineering philosophy than virtually all other ahus: the stone blocks were constructed and polished for a perfect fit, as opposed to randomly trying to fit naturally shaped rocks. The back wall is still in perfect condition, except for the center.



It started to rain while we were at Aku Akivi, but it was only slightly inconvenient.  The site has seven moai, all of equal shape and size, and is also known as a celestial observatory that was set up around the 16th century.  The site is located inland, rather than along the coast.  The moai are looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.



A particular feature of the seven moai statues is that they exactly face sunset during the spring equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the autumn equinox. Such an astronomically precise feature is seen only at this location on the island.

This report would not be complete without including photos of a few of the many outstanding dinners we enjoyed of seafood and wine.

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And we end this portion of our trip as the sun set outside the patio of our hotel room.

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Don will take back his blog to report on Punta Arenas.