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Hoatzin




One of the target birds for the trip to Ecuador was the Hoatzin and my excellent guide, Sandra My, knew where to find them - in the mangroves on a tributary of the Amazon River near Napa Port.


Specialists debate the Hoatzin's taxonomy, but all agree that it is old, very old, and place its origin in the Eocene period - 66 - 39 million year ago. Baby Hoatzins have reptilian-like claws on their shoulders to help them climb trees.


Pedro pushed us slowly along with a pole in a large flat bottomed canoe. I had two cameras - the D500 with 200-500 lens, and a heavier D850 with 500mm F4 on a tripod. I could move about the boat with the first, but could take clearer shots with the second.


After a couple of bends in the river, we first saw a parent Hoatzin sitting on her nest right by the river. She seemed unperturbed by our presence, but it was still difficult to get a clear shot of her because of pesky leaves and branches. Pedro backed up the canoe a couple of times so the images could be as unobstructed as possible.


Hoatzins like to live in groups, and it wasn't long or far until we heard them, and then saw them around another bend in the river. Photographing the adults in the trees was difficult, very difficult: the light kept changing depending on where the bird hopped next throwing camera settings off; there were leaves and branches to contend with; and the birds were at a very difficult angle: about 15 degrees if 0 is straight up, so hand-holding the heavy camera at this angle put a huge strain on this photographer's neck. At one point I found myself lying down on the floor of the canoe to get the shot.

There was a distinct manure like odor to this colony of Hoatzins. I read that the smell serves to keep away most of the land animals who would be their predators. Just judging with only a human nose, I think it would work!

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Susan Rouillier
Bird Photographer and Painter

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