Won’t you come and bird with me?

Jatun Sacha Biological Station guest cabin

Waaaay back in 2002, when I was still in university, I had the fabulous opportunity to visit Ecuador. It was a field course that would count as one credit toward my degree. It happened to be Field Entomology, and although by that time I had already established my primary interest in birds, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the tropics – someplace I had longed to visit. My extremely generous parents covered most of the cost of the trip as part of my university expenses (thanks Mom and Dad!) and off I went for two fantastic weeks. Almost as soon as I was back in Canada I began plotting my return to this amazing ecosystem. Unfortunately, being freelance doesn’t earn one much money, Dan and I just squeak by most months, and so I’ve never had the free cash available to go.

Rainforest canopy view from ridgetop

A couple of days ago I and a number of other prominent nature bloggers were contacted with a rare chance for a trip to Manu, Peru. Gunnar Engblom, of Kolibri Expeditions Birding Tours and A birding blog by Gunnar Engblom, managed to convince his company to invite bloggers on one of their new tours all-expenses paid as a form of promotion for both the company and the particular tour. I can’t tell you how flattered and honoured I was to be chosen alongside the ranks of some very exceptional nature bloggers! From the moment I read the email I was hooked by the idea.

Flora at the Jatun Sacha parking lot

The catch? The blogger who goes agrees to blog about the trip before, during, and after the trip. I can guarantee I would have no difficulty doing that. My biggest concern would beĀ  whether I’d have enough space on my camera cards to contain all of the photos I would take! On my trip to Ecuador I took 200 photos. That would be a drop in the bucket these days. My photos from Ecuador are very low-quality – it was my very first digital camera, back in the days when digital was still something of a novelty, and was a measly 1.3 megapixels. I would love to have the opportunity to replace them with better photos.

Huge tree at Jatun Sacha - not sure what the sign says

Also, the trip needs a minimum enrollment to run. This is the main reason for this post. Yes, I’m selfishly asking my readers if they’d pay for a fabulously amazing birding tour of Peru that they’ll never regret doing so that I can take advantage of this opportunity to go for free. Hey, at least I’m honest about it! :)

The dates are currently flexible with one trip running per month from now till Dec 2010, although it’s first-come first-served and particular months may fill up as other bloggers sign up. My preference would probably be for one of the winter months, Nov-Mar, but I suspect they’ll be the first to be snapped up, since who could imagine a better way to beat the winter blahs than visiting a tropical rainforest and watching colourful birds. My other choice would be a May departure in celebration of my 30th birthday that month. Edit: Gotta be quick! Dec/Jan/Feb 2010 are already snapped up, as are Oct 2009 and Oct 2010.

The trip will be 8 days/7 nights. The tour itinerary is posted here. Cost per individual is $1680. This cost would include all lodging, meals, birding guides (a fabulous resource when traveling to the tropics), local transportation, and in-country flights to and from Lima. Perhaps best of all, they take care of all the booking and arrangements for you – all you have to do is show up and enjoy yourself! The cost would not include airfare to Lima from your hometown, personal expenses, souvenirs, extra bottled water/snacks, etc. If you are a blogger you would get a further $100 off (so $1580 total) in exchange for blogging about/promoting the trip in at least one post. Of the amount you pay, $100 goes directly to improving the local infrastructure for ecotourism (promoting conservation of habitat and biodiversity). Also, if you book an additional trip with Kolibri of 5 days or more, you get a further $100 off of this trip.

Heliconia along Jatun Sacha trail

Sound tempting? C’mon, you know it does… just think how much fun you would have tromping through the rainforest with me, looking at Purple Honeycreepers, Paradise Tanagers, Band-tailed Manakins, Curl-crested Aracaris, Emperor Tamarins and Giant Otters, a macaw lick, ocelets, tapirs, toucans, parrots, barbets, tanagers, antpittas, and hundreds of other species of birds and mammals and insects and plants you can only imagine. :) I know I don’t have quite the same star power as someone like Kenn Kaufman would on a tour he goes on (let’s be honest: I have none at all) but I’m still a really nice person, and you’d have a great time. Ooo, how’s this for a gimmick – I’ll give you a free signed copy of our moth field guide when it comes out if you sign up! :)

To try to whet your appetite, here are a few additional photos from my trip to Ecuador…

Rain every day at noon, like clockwork - didn't dampen our enthusiasm

Fabulous buttressed roots

An actual cacao pod! The locals harvested these and dried a batch while we were there. The beverege of choice there was hot cocoa.

A heliconia in the Jatun Sacha parking lot

The view from Jatun Sacha's canopy tower. That iron railing is only a foot high. We remained secured by safety harness and carabiner at all times.

Traveling by river boat to a nearby wildlife rescue operation.

White-throated Toucan at wildlife rescue centre

Lowland (I think) Tapir at wildlife rescue centre

Heliconia in Jatun Sacha parking lot

Blue-and-gold Macaw at wildlife rescue centre

Free-roaming semi-tame coatimundi at wildlife rescue centre

Lodge at SierrAzul Cloud Forest Reserve, with beautiful gardens (hosting many hummingbirds) and really nice, comfortable accomodations

SierrAzul crew bringing in our luggage by pack donkey

Bromiliads growing on tree trunks - they were everywhere!

Unknown flowers in cloud forest at SierrAzul