Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary: November 22, 2008

I want to stay positive about Rio Silanche, as it represents an important step in the conservation of western lowland forest, but the area is deteriorating quickly. Chainsaws buzz and forests burn to make way for African Palm plantations, one of Ecuador's fastest growing exports. Just so you know, palm oil is an edible oil used in many food and hygiene products, and it should play an important role in the biofuel industry later this century. It doesn't yet receive as much negative press as the soybean, but it's equally destructive to the environment, creating virtual bird and wildlife deserts where it's cultivated.

Now, the relationship between birding and the environment is a complicated one, especially for me. I drove the 200km to Rio Silance alone, burning low-octane gasoline in my over-sized car. I wore petroleum products to product myself from the wet weather, and I used optical and audio equipment that was fabricated in Asia and shipped to the United States. I probably ate a chocolate bar there that also contained palm oil. Birders are as complicit in the destruction of the environment as anyone, so I don't mean to sound too righteous. In fact, I'm sure a few birds like the Rusty-Margined Flycatcher will do fine in the new environment. I'm just reporting about the situation in Rio Silanche, for now.

The sanctuary remains an exhilarating place to bird, where 100m walks through the forest can take an hour and stakeouts in the canopy tower half a day. With all it has to offer though, I've never left feeling satisfied, despite on this visit seeing for the first time such terrific birds as the Cinnamon Woodpecker, Emerald Tanager, and Choco Trogon. At least the caretaker is no longer raising chickens on the property.

Notable birds seen: Pallid Dove, Stripe-Throated Hermit, Choco Trogon, Red-Headed Barbet, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-Cheeked Woodpecker, Streaked Xenops, Wedge-Billed Woodcreeper, Checker-Throated Antwren, Chestnut-Backed Antbird, Olive-Striped Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Black-and-White Becard, Purple-Throated Fruitcrow, Blue Dacnis, Guira Tanager, Rufous-Winged Tanager, Dusky-Faced Tanager, Scarlet-Rumped Cacique.

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