Imagine being over two thousand metres high, in the secluded misty Andean mountains, where species thrive with little human interference.
Daily rainfall soaks the forest, generating mesmerizing waterfalls that spread nutrients throughout the environment. It’s a tropical oasis of delicate blooms, colourful bird chatter, and fascinating exotic foliage.
Cloud forests are peaceful habitats where exceptional tropical flora and fauna exist in cool and moist mountain air. A curious Omnivore (wild Tayra below) peeks out in the forest undergrowth.
I’m mesmerized by the spectacular forest surrounding Bellavista’s Eco Retreat, just two-hours drive northwest of Quito, Ecuador. Here at the earth’s equator, temperatures remain stable and above freezing, year-round, and abundant moisture bathes a vast array of species that propagate and thrive in this mountain habitat.
Every morning, predawn, we start to witness the excitement as birds awaken to feed and court. We hike throughout the day, on adjacent trails near the lodge, up twisting pathways, along ridges, down through dark thickets and past waterfalls, in this magnificent, lush forest. Our indigenous guide Alfredo is well experienced in finding us species to view. He knows the individual bird song calls and nesting locations, plus their unique attributes and behaviours. It’s impressive to learn about the medicinal uses of specific plants, and the lodge’s reading room has a library full of reference books for more details.
After dark forest trekking entertains with unusual adventure. It’s still unpredictable, but now we are observant to what is close-up and nearby. We see nocturnal species like bats, plus frogs and huge bugs resting on leaves, spiders in ornate webs, and hunting snakes, on and around the plants. Wearing a personal headlamp makes for safer walking, easier spying, and individualized viewing. We often get wet, so we dress in reliable rain gear, with waterproof binoculars and camera, plus a walking pole to steady uneven footing. I slide my custom footbeds into the supplied rubber boots, so my feet are comfortable on all our excursions.
It’s a magnificent atmosphere, immersed in a mountain tropical rainforest environment, rich with colourful birds and diverse flora. Forest foliage catches water then dispels it abundantly and quickly via its striated design, tapering to pointed leaf tips. Huge trees, lavishly decorated in green growth, display leaves and mosses in every shape and shade of green imaginable, plus stems and vines which intertwine and intermingle into one another.
I’m fascinated by the huge bromeliads (Epiphyte plants that look like pineapple tops) which grow on host trees far up above the forest floor, with their long stiff leaves that extend to bright coloured tips at the ends. The forest’s tiniest colourful gems are its unusual flowers; small orchids and delicately petaled blooms, with petite thin stamens, deliberately shaped for the long beaks of over thirty-five species of hummingbirds found here within this high-altitude habitat.
Visiting the hidden away Cock-of-the-Rock valley at daybreak is a remarkable experience, as we view the courtship practices of these enchanting neon red birds from a concealed blind. The reality of bird watching is, you wait silently and remain patient; hearing is easy, seeing is a privilege, while getting a photograph is an achievement. I go with optimistic expectations, then respectfully enjoy whatever unfolds, as beholding nature’s intimate encounters brings insight and appreciation of its marvelous intricacies.
The ambience at Bellavista, overlooking magnificent deep valley views in all directions, is a birder and naturalist’s haven. It’s an absolute hub of activity directly outside the ridge top lodge as dozens of hummingbirds flit about waiting their turn at one of the hanging feeders, while other colourful birds sample from the giant fruit perch nearby. Idyllically set within lush forest in the clouds, I’ll always remember the peaceful tranquility here; wild species thriving in harmony and bathed by gentle rejuvenating mountain breezes.
WRITTEN BY: WILDERNESS ENTHUSIAST CYNTHIA PERCIVAL