Day 7, October 18, 2006 Oct 12—24, 2006
Posted by Peter English
Although today did not involve birding off of the ship, it was a wonderful day of stories, lectures, and general relaxation that everyone enjoyed. The stories started with Steve Hilty's talk, "Stories of Travel and Research in Colombia." This was a rare opportunity to hear the inside stories on what it took to do all the field research that culminated in the publication of The Birds of Colombia, as well as the changes that have taken place in Colombia since then. Birding has recently soared in popularity in Colombia, and Steve has agreed to work with the Colombians to update his book in Spanish; together they have set up a charitable fund to finance the production of new plates and get the project moving. Given the current political situation in Colombia, VENT has no plans to offer tours there.
The second talk was by Robert Ridgely, and was entitled "Fundacion Jocotoco's Contribution to Bird Conservation in Ecuador, and hopefully, Beyond." Bob told us the exciting story of the discovery of the Jocotoco Antpitta, and how the issues surrounding the conservation status of this bird led to the development of the foundation. Bob explained the successes of the many Jocotoco preserves in Ecuador and the possibility of replicating this model of conservation in other countries in South America.
The third talk of the day, given by Mike Braun, was entitled "The Avian Tree of Life." Mike has been a research scientist at the Smithsonian for many years, and is one of the primary researchers focusing on defining bird family relationships by analyzing DNA sequences. Mike gave a rigorous introduction into the methodologies that the "Early Bird" project is using, and gave us some early results from their research. Among the preliminary findings are (a) swifts and hummingbirds are related to nightjars and apparently developed diurnal habits from nocturnal ones, (b) New World vultures are not related to storks, and © the ratites and tinamous did not descend from a single terrestrial ancestor, but rather the loss of flight evolved several times.
Mike Braun later gave us an introduction to the history and ecology of Guyana. It was first settled by the Dutch who set up a colony here. In the 1600s it became a British colony and then finally gained independence in 1967. For about 20 years after independence, Guyana was ruled by an isolationist dictator. Because of this isolationist government, the country was virtually frozen in time until the late 1980s. Since then it has opened, but involvement in the outer world has progressed slowly. The country has a population of less than one million people, mostly within 10 miles of the coast in the alluvial floodplain. Only two paved roads cross the country, and most transportation is by either boat or bush plane. VENT plans to offer our first Guyana tour in 2007.
Birding from the upper deck of the Clipper Adventurer — Photo: Peter English
In the late afternoon we dropped anchor in the Essequibo River and were able to go on the top deck and watch parrots flying to their roosts. We are all very excited about our first day of birding Guyana tomorrow.