It’s the sound of whirring wings that you notice first. In front of the wooden observation shelter are pagoda-shaped ‘feeding stations’, filled with sugar water. Hundreds of jewel-feathered hummingbirds zoom off and onto the ledges to sip at this sweet treat. Mashpi rainforest bio-reserve has over 20 different species of these delightful birds and eco-expert guide Nestor reckoned we saw at least 14 different ones in the two hours we were there.
The hummingbird is so called because of the ‘humming sound created by their beating wings which flap at high frequencies audible to humans. They hover in mid-air at rapid wing flapping rates, typically around 50 times per second, [but possibly as high as 200 times per second, allowing them also to fly at speeds exceeding 15 m/s (54 km/ 34 mph),backwards or upside down.’ (Wikipedia)
Fellow travellers and avid photographers Julie Falconer and Tom Warburton had a bet as to who could get the best shot of one of these tiny flying gems hovering at the feeder and spent most of their time focusing, zooming, changing lenses and shooting off what was probably over a 1000 photos each. And yes, they got some superb shots, as good as any in National Geographic magazine!
I also attempted to capture the birds on camera but with neither the skill nor a decent lens I didn’t do so nearly so well. But mainly I just enjoyed sitting watching them flitter to and fro with seemingly endless energy and whir. Amongst the smallest of birds in the world, (mostly between 3″-5″ their bills and tongues have evolved to feed in a variety of nectar-bearing flowers with a preference for red, orange and pink. Apparently they have to drink more than their own (admittedly tiny) weight in nectar every day, so are no doubt very grateful for the fast-food feeding stations that Mashpi provides.
With their shimmering wings fluttering at a rate of knots they look like rainbow-hued fairies or lustrous angels, scraps of heaven on earth. A couple of my favourites were a long-tailed hummingbird and one with plumage in iridescent blues and purples. Another looked like a miniature woodpecker and one was so small it just seemed a blur of wings.
In this poem, DH Lawrence uses a perfect phrase to describe a hummingbird: ‘this little bit chipped off in brilliance’.
I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.
DH Lawrence (from Birds, Beasts and Flowers 1923)
I stayed for 3 days at wonderful Mashpi Lodge, set slap bang in the middle of 3,200 acres of Ecuadorian cloudforest. This unique glass-walled structure fits into its verdant surroundings in an unobtrusive yet space-age kind of way.
‘The Lodge, built with the latest techniques in sustainable building and employing hydroelectric power in the near future, is designed to blend beautifully with its surroundings. It features contemporary, minimalist decor, mixing warm earth tones, notes of bright colour, clean lines and striking angles and vistas: a luxury cocoon amid the cloudforest with the natural world just beyond, ideal for contemplation and relaxation.’ This is not the usual hyperbole you read on a website but almost an understatement. Mashpi Lodge provides the ideal base from which to experience a very special environment in comfort and style.
Mashpi Lodge is the brainchild of eco-entrepreneur Roque Sevilla. I was fortunate enough to meet Senor Sevilla at Casa Gangotena in Quito, where he talked about his passion for the natural world and saving this unique part of the Ecuadorian rainforest. You can read an interview with Roque Sevilla here. Many thanks to all the wonderful team at Mashpi Lodge, South American Lan Airlines and Metropolitan Touring (with whom I also visited the Galapagos Islands) for enabling me to see the heavenly hummingbirds at Mashpi.