A bird in the hand...

Painting the Exquisite Birds of Zamora, Ecuador

Paradise Tanager
Paradise Tanager

As an environmental artist, the focus of my work is the natural world and the impact of humans upon it. In the many years I have written about endangered fauna, my aim has been to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

In 2015, I’d been painting Ecuador’s animals and birds from Internet images, learning about the country’s biodiversity as I went.  I hadn’t seen any of the creatures myself, though, until last October. A tip from a friend prompted me to get in touch with Copalinga Reserve in Zamora, and the owner, Catherine Vits, agreed to give me two nights’ accommodation in exchange for my paintings — but two days weren’t enough. I stayed an extra day and arranged to return for the month of December.

Grey Tinamou
Grey Tinamou

Copalinga, just a short ride from Zamora, is located in a tranquil reclaimed forest on the edge of Podocarpus National Park. Catherine and Boudewijn Vits, originally from Belgium, have spent the last 18 years protecting and managing their 100 hectares, much deforested for cattle-grazing. This has attracted an abundance of wildlife, including over 300 of the country’s 1600 birds.

Catherine asked me to paint the Grey Tinamou, an ancient bird related to the ostrich, and a vulnerable species. I had never heard of this bird but was able to watch and photograph it up close. Catherine has spent three years patiently cultivating trust through a daily corn-scattering ritual and the Grey Tinamou has become the signature bird of the lodge.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

I discovered that Copalinga lives up to its claim of being a bird lover’s paradise. No less than 15 enchanting species of tanager visit the banana feeders in a flurry of turquoise, indigo, amber, vermilion and gold. Less colourful but equally enthralling were the larger birds: Crested Oropendula, Speckled Chacalaca and Guan, which invariably caused the rainbow to scatter. Looking up into the tall trees, I had several sightings of the Cock-of-the-Rock, regal in his bright orange garb with his mate. A compelling subject for a portrait! My position as volunteer soon morphed into artist-in-residence and I spent long hours at the dining table painting and researching birds. Like everyone who comes there, I became mesmerized by the hummingbirds — thirty of Ecuador’s 120 species of hummingbird (colibrí) have been identified at Copalinga.

Wood Nymph
Wood Nymph

On Christmas morning I received the gift of an especially close encounter with a hummingbird on my cabin deck as the bird flew back and forth between two mosquito screens. Eventually its claws got caught in the screen and, by climbing on a chair, I was able to pluck it off. For a few moments I held this precious creature in my hand, eye to eye, unaware at that time that its tiny heart was beating 250 to 500 times a minute. I opened my hand and it was gone.


To view more of Annie Eagleton’s art and published articles please see http://www.anniemalia.wordpress.com/

For more information on Copalinga, see http://www.copalinga.com/

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