Birding in the clouds

Well, I may be back in gloomy England, but I think I’ll return to my thoughts about the cloudforest. Sadly, the cloudforest isn’t a forest made of clouds. That would be like a Disney computer game come to life! You could jump from cloud to cloud collecting candy. Or something.

The lodge was at 2000m, and just enough cooler that all that thick humid air coming up from the lowlands tends to form clouds there. So, much of the time, particularly in the afternoons, you’re walking through thick white mist, which is atmospheric but has slightly mixed implications for birdwatching. Obviously bad visibility is a Bad Thing for a birder; birds which would normally be in easy identification range can be reduced to grey blobs, and even when you can see slightly more than that all the colour and contrast tends to be lost. So it can be very frustrating. But there is an upside, which is that many birds seem to be much more approachable in mist. Perhaps because they simply can’t see you, though it always feels more subtle than that. So you sometimes get remarkable close encounters with birds that would normally be difficult to see — I had great views of Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, for example.

And it is, as I say, atmospheric. Your vision being greatly reduced, you find yourself being more sensitised to sounds. Sound is always important to birding, and especially so when you’re in thick vegetation, but in the mist it almost becomes the primary sense. All the twitterings, rustling foliage and wingbeats seem amplified. In a weird way it makes the world seem more three-dimensional.

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