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February 28, 2011 / stephanie

Ecuador Adventures 8: Christmas Count on the Coast

Gray-hooded Gull

My final day in Ecuador I headed back to the coastal town of Valdivia to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Count is a very organized ordeal, with groups all across the USA getting together and counting as many birds they can find during a 24-hour period the week before Christmas. The groups all have designated “circles” to bird in so that they don’t overlap with other groups. All the data is collected in one database and goes toward conservation research. To find out more, you can check out the Audubon Website.

So, I had known that the Christmas count took place in the USA and participated in a few counts before, but I had never known that they also did a few counts in the tropics as well. I wish I could do the count in South America every year! A typical count in Wisconsin involves warm winter boots, struggling to adjust binoculars while wearing mittens, and hoping against hope that you might just see a Bald Eagle or a White-winged Crossbill to break up the monotony of chickadees and House Finches. Typically, there aren’t a whole lot of species to be seen. Things are a little different though when you’re in a tropical paradise, a wondrous hotspot for bird diversity. For my count in Ecuador, I jotted down about 47 species for the group, which included several new “life birds” for me. 174 total species were seen between all our groups in the Loma Alta area.

My bird counting group consisted of about a dozen Ecuadorian college students led by their teaching assistant, Evelyng. I was the only non-native there, but at least most of the students spoke English and communication wasn’t a problem. Pointing at a bird and pointing at a picture in a field guide is one thing that can be universally understood, but it’s another thing when you’re trying to pick out a specific bird that’s hard to see (look just left of the riverbed, about one meter up in the brush, behind that heron that’s just on the bank). I was impressed how fluent the students were in English and it definitely made me want to improve my Spanish skills!

Pictures from the count:

Checking out the dry scrub forest during the Christmas Count with college students from Guayaquil

Scarlet-backed Woodpecker

Magnificent Frigatebirds looking for handouts from fishermen

Gray-headed Gull, Common Terns and Elegant Tern

Semipalmated Plovers and Sanderling

So that wrapped up my trip to the Loma Alta region of Ecuador! It was a fantastic time and I hope some day I will be able to go back. Thank yous go to Dusti Becker, Mauricio Torres, Pascual Torres, Jessica Medina, Alicia Torres and Eve Astudillo, and thanks to the other volunteers: Larry, Matt & Will. Thanks for making this such a unique and memorable experience.

If you’re ever interested in a future trip with the fabulous Life Net crew or if you just want to see more bird photos, you can now follow them on facebook!

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