amazon kingfisherThe best time for birding is early in the morning. We rose well before the sun and everyone stumbled down to breakfast. Stomachs full, slowly beginning to wake up we hopped in canoes and headed down the lagoon. The shorelines were littered with birds, anticipation building as we neared the boat landing.

A short hike through the jungle brought us to the base of a massive Kapok tree. The tree rose high above the canopy and was straddled by a 90 foot metal staircase, which we promptly climbed. A massive platform sat atop the tree, yielding breathtaking views of endless rainforest. With no mountains in sight, only a few clouds could be seen on the horizon.

Binoculars in hand we quickly spotted a Great Potoo resting just above our heads; tanagers chasing each other through the tree top; macaws and toucans soaring above the canopy it was hard to know where to look.

All of the sudden our Quichua guide, Javier, noticed something in the distance and ushered over our American guide Rudy. Rudy called over Ignacio and Bill, who were overcome with excitement as they gazed upon one of the most exciting birds in the bird world. In the distance we could see a white speck, with closer examination we made out a massive bird of prey. With talons the size of a human hand, with a crown of gray-white feathers surrounding its head, it sat still as a statue giving everyone an opportunity to admire it. The harpy eagle was the main focus of our group for half an hour as it remained perched for us to observe the illusive creature, and after about an hour it had disappeared into the mist. 

Photo: Amazon kingfisher at Sani Lodge.

~ Virginia Tech students Matt Lacey and Caman Skelton
Follow the Adventure!  You are invited to follow the VT Ecuador students as they report back from South America during their 3-week journey, May 16-June 7.  They will be blogging @VTResearch and posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #VTEcuador.