The Zen of Birding

Birding as a Religion or Philosophy

Zen of Birdwatching

Recently, as I was birding in SE Peru, in a break I checked my Twitter stream and saw Dawn Fine’s post referring to the CBS coverage of the Great Birding Texas Classic.

I thought it was kind of cool to see a birding special on US national television. What impact would that not make? So I Digged the CBS website, I tweeted it and I put it on my Facebook and imagined that I had contributed to a viral post that would spread across the Universe to introduce birding to a much wider public. A week 10 days later I am still the only one who Digged the CBS post.

What went wrong? Maybe it was the comment ” Welcome to Dorky Town”? Or the fact that the birders were imitating birds. Birdchick makes a good argument in her plea to birders:  Birders, for the love of Pete, when a news camera is on you: DO NOT IMITATE BIRD CALLS.

Jannet Zinn writes on my Facebook wall. “Oh god, another report that perpetuates the stereotype as birder as dorks. Where do they find these people? None of the birders I know are remotely like that.”

I came to think of it, and recently discussed this with Rick Wright who was visiting us from Vancouver. Why is it that everytime mainstream media covers and depicts birding, it always deals with the competetive side of birding?  Rick pointed out that (in his opinion an awful story) The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
(aff link) was to be put to the white screen later this year or early next year. While it will introduce a wider public to birding, one wonders if it will benefit birding per se. Steve Martin in all honor probably makes it worth seeing, but Jack Black will inevitably screw up this film. He is not funny, just silly! And that will be the end of coolness of birding. Birding will forever be just dorky.

Why don’t mainstream get it? Why can’t they see what I see? Why not make a one hour CBS TV special about the Zen of birding? Birding as a religion or a philosophy. The closeness to nature, the contemplation of being one with nature, the ability to put a name to every living thing you see, the envy of flying ability, etc…
Wouldn’t that be more mainstream and less dorky?….I wonder!!!

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I grew up on Elvis. Mom was an Elvis fan. I learnt to sing with Elvis and I knew almost every song. Today he would have turned 75! A special tribute on my blog to a personal hero.

Three top Elvis songs.

Heartbreak Hotel

Jailhouse Rock

Tiger Man

Elvis impersonators

There are way too many and most are crap. But a few stand out. How about these?

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Funny videos

My wife just sent me these. I must share with you. Sorry for the non-birding content.

Model on the catwalk. Smile, turn around and oops!

The world’s worst actor. Yes a soccer player!


If you’re going to fall, do it with style!


A cat with poor eyesight!




Feel the force!


brazil vs argentina


Catch-as-catch-can Football!


Isn´t this a british show?


You don’t work out in jeans!


Now this is pretty stupid!

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In a marathon everyone is a winner.

100 meters to the finish now. I made it. 3:59.16.

100 meters to the finish now. I made it. 3:59.16.

I have had a long rest this week, both from running and blogging. I’ve done some birding and I spent a lot of time with the family.
I had started on a blogpost describing the race and meant to finish it earlier. One week later I am concluding this post. Hope not to bore you with yet another running blog. I will be birding this coming week, so I promise my next post will have some birds in it. Deal?

The morning before the Marathon

Before the race I posted a blogpost on the physiology of a Marathon, where I summarized Dr Paul Noakes notes on the subject. With my five and a half weeks of training, it was really quite unlikely that I would be able to store enough glycogen in the muscles to last me the whole race. The long runs are the key of marathon training. It teaches the body both to store more glycogen in the muscles as well as burning fat. “Lore about Running” had some interesting conclusions. The energy you consume during the race such as sport drinks and energy gels, can not be used by the muscles in the legs, only supply energy to the brain. However, when fat is used as energy by the muscles this is in the form of free fatty acids in the blood stream. Consequently, if the levels of free fatty acids can be increased in the blood stream, then the glycogen stores in the muscles would be saved for later. Noakes mentioned two ways of increasing the free fatty acids. Caffeine and/or a greasy meal before the marathon! The later must be as much a surprise to you as it was to me. Fat for breakfast? Noakes recommends a fat meal to be ingested 3-5 hours before the race. If you think of it, it makes sense. In the old days, people working on the farms, what would they have to breakfast? Granola, skim-milk and lean fiber rich bread? No, they’d have bacon and eggs fried in large amounts of grease, and this would give them the necessary energy for hard labour.

I had said in the blogpost that I wasn’t going to try this without any prior testing, but in the end my curiosity gave in as the confidence in efficient carbohydrate loading diminished. I had fried red bell-peppers in abundant virgin olive oil the night before the race and I got up at 3AM to fry tomatoes and an egg, which I had for breakfast with bread.

Coffee was my choice of caffeine, as I drink it regularly. I was considering using energy drinks as caffeine source, but Noakes said the sugar would make effect of the caffeine delay the release of fatty acids. A fast cup in the morning and then back to bed to try to get some more sleep. I put the alarm on 5:30. I did not sleep much, but the rest was good. Shower, clip toe-nails, baby cream (thanks Luciana) smeared at underwear linings on top of inner thighs, taped the nipples with plasters and surgical tape (any discomfort during the race has two be multiplied with 42 kilometers and 4 hours of discomfort – bleeding nipples are not unusual for the men – ladies are saved by the bra), race-clothes on, new soft socks, sweatband on one hand and another in my carry pouch. A last visit to the toilet produced nothing solid. Not to worry, toilets also available at the start.
The carry pouch also had my blackberry to tweet the messages along the race and two plastic containers with coffee. One coffee was gulped down in the taxi. The day was overcast and around 18 degrees Celsius, which was very good conditions for a marathon. I located the toilets, and remembered I had forgotten to bring toilet paper!
Oh no!

But there was a lady giving out toilet paper, so that was a good sign that the race was going to be well organized. No need to go into details……..but it did not feel as my bowel was completely empty afterwards.

The route and the contour of Lima Marathon

Lima Maratón - click to see a large image.

Lima Maratón - click to see a large image.

Above is the route of the Marathon. Here follows elevation chart.

Lima Marathon Elevation chart. Note the 80m rize from Km 35.

Lima Marathon Elevation chart. Note the 80m rise from Km 35.

There is a brutal rise in the last half of race. Especially a 80 meter ascend the last 7 km.  Lima may look flat at first look, but it is a long slope really. There is 120m elevational difference in the course.  In short a long downhill the first half and a very loooong uphill the second part.

The fatal start. Injury after only 700m

Lima Marathon start

It was crowded but I found a good spot not too far back in the long row. Start went off and it took me about 15-20 seconds to cross the start line. It wasn’t to crowded, some pushing, but nothing serious really. It felt good to start with, but I remembered I had not double knotted my shoes. This got me somewhat concerned. In the immediate reports I was saying that I got hurt at 1.5km, but when I look at the GPS position for the Garmin Forerunner 405 on Google Earth, it turns out I had only run 700m, when I started feeling a tight pain from the inside of my left thigh. I didn’t do a sudden movement or anything, all of a sudden the strained muscle was just there and it impaired the running to a strange limp. A kilometer later I had to stop.

Re-tying my shoes and a bit of stretch, I realize that the pain will not go away and I still had 40Km to run. At this point I didn’t think I could continue. But I thought about the quest to raise money and that it would be too embarrassing not to fulfil the marathon. I went on. At 3K my friend Juan Liziola past me. We were suppose to run together and pep each other, but now I couldn’t keep up the pace. I was running very slowly.

My Marathon on Twitter.

Through the race I tried to send Twitter messages. They were all attached with a pre-recorded plead. “Marathon for Conservation on hashtag #Lima42GE Make pledges on“. I made some typo’s, why the value of this intent was not as good as I had intended…but nevertheless it kept me busy.

To let you know how my marathon looked like via Twitter, here is my twitter stream since I got up last Sunday. Start was set at 7 AM:

  • Having breakfast fried egg, tomato and bellpeppers in olive-oil. Food for a marathoner on M-day? 3h40 min to start. (3:26 AM May 31).
  • Lying in bed for 2h with hardly no sleep. Time to get up. Start of Marathon in 1h20min. (5:43 AM May 31)
  • Marathon in 1h. Got the following in memory to be able to tweet fast: Marathon for Conservation #Lima42GE Make pledges on (06.03 AM May 31).
  • Strained inner thigh in warmup. This will be tough. (07:24 AM May 31). This is 23 minutes into the Marathon.
  • Still running at 4k. 21.45. (07:25 AM May 31) I am not giving up, as I realized I had only lost 1 minute and 45 seconds to my average 5min/km. That was not too bad and a long downhill was ahead of me. The strained muscle was warmed up, so in spite of hindering me somewhat in flexibility, there was no pain any more.
  • 41:45 10K. (07:55 AM May 31) Yes, that was a typo! It should have said 51:45. It meant I had run the last 6K at an average 5.00 min/k. In fact, I was increasingly making faster splits. When hitting 10k, my last split was 4:50.
    At 32K. I am tired. But still trying to keep upright posture and my eyes looking foward
    At 32K. I am tired. But still trying to keep upright posture and my eyes looking forward
  • 20K 1:41:10. (08:

    46 AM May 31)I was very pleased with this 20K time, I had shaved off another 35 seconds towards 5min/km average.  Could I have kept it up, I would have been able to be very close to 3:30H. Alas, I should soon discover that my glycogen stores were finished.  Between 15-23K I finished the coffee I had brought with me.

  • Can’t keep up the speed. Had to stop for a dump. Stiff. 6min pace now. (09:04 AM May 31). This happened at 22.5K . The coffee probably helped for the urge to set off, but it would have likely happened anyway. The only reasonable way to have avoided it, was to have had breakfast at 2 AM. Remind me to search for a marathon in the afternoon next time. I am not made to run in the mornings. I am not a morning person!

  • Still running but slowly. (09:19 AM May 31st). The uphill had started at 25Km.
  • 27K 2:24:07 15K to go.  (09.28 AM May 31st).
  • Man, I’m tired. (09.42 AM May 31st). Almost 28K and uphill.
  • 30K 2:42:05 (09:45 AM May 31st). Focusing on keeping head up and look ahead.
  • 32K 2:34.Mis-typed the tweet again. It should say 32K 2:54. 10km to go. (09:57 AM May 31st). First 3Km slight downhill, and then uphill to the end.
  • Finished. YES. 3:59 according to my watch.

Apart from the two stops I did for obvious reasons, I never stopped running. A big mistake many runners do in the end of the race is that they loose the posture and start hunching forward. This is a very ineffective way to run. As can be seen from the photo, my running style is not pretty. I don’t lift my knees much. But this shuffle is also very energy conservative.

Next Marathon challenge.

I hope to be able to keep on training to run New York Marathon on Nov 1. I have 21 weeks to get in shape. I also have 21 weeks to think of excuses, if I don’t make sub 3:30 in that race. I should be able to do it if I can keep up the pace. The only way to get prepared is to put down the kilometers. I have chosen to follow a program that gradually increase mileage from around 50km/week to about 90km per week. There are four cycles to follow. Endurance, lactate threshold training, race-training and taper prior to the marathon. During the first 9 weeks, I shall concentrate in building strength increasing mileage, doing core-training and strengthen hams and quadriceps with weights. Then follows 5 weeks of getting the body accustomed to maintaining higher speed through intervals or speed sessions. The race-training follows with four weeks with some specific training at Marathon speed and some shorter races. The last 3 weeks before the Marathon is less intense and with less mileage, so that the body recovers fully before the marathon to reap the benefits of the hard training on race day. With this proper training it shall be interesting to see how much I would lower my overall time. I need 3:30 to qualify for Boston Marathon in late April 2010.

After the Marathon

If you wonder how you feel after a marathon. Check this video. It says it all. You can spot a Marathon hero from a mile away.


If you liked this here are some related posts.

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Boston Marathon here I come

Boston Marathon 2008. Photo: Paul Keleher

Boston Marathon 2008. Photo: Paul Keleher

In this blogpost I shall not speak a of birds at all. So if you are a birder, with absolutely no interest in the physiology of a marathon race, leave now and come back next week, when I shall be blogging about birds again. If you have done your homework (that is reading my previous blogposts), you’d know I am about to run a Marathon on Sunday to raise money for conservation of cloud forests near Satipo in Central Peru. If you have not been so diligent, check out that post and make your pledge to support me and the forests near Satipo. Most of the information in this book is in one way or another derived from the brilliant science based Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, MD. Dr. Noakes presents a scientific approach to running and explains the physiological processes in the muscles, blood stream and respiratory system. Not only that, it treats psychology, training, training, injuries, running for women etc. It is a bible of over 900 pages! Other books on running have borrowed much of explaining physiology from this book. Highly recommended!

A bit of history

As you probably know, the distance between Marathon and Athens in Greece is approximately 25 miles and Greek legend lies as the base to what today is known as Marathon.

The name marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “Νενικήκαμεν” (Nenikékamen, ‘We have won.’) before collapsing and dying. – From Wikipedia.

For the Olympics in London 1 mile was added with royal permission to make an undisturbed start along the Long Walk avenue leading to Winsdor Castle. To accommodate the Queen (Alexandra, wife of Edward) to get a splendid view of the finish of the marathon 385 yards on the track on the Olympic Stadium at Shepard’s Bush in London was added. The fixed distance of the Marathon 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km) was set from this day, even if there were to be some variations in the next coming Olympics until settled onwards from 1924.

Avoiding the wall. Glucogen loading.

Anyone can run half a marathon, but what is so special about the full distance? You burn close to 3000 kcal during a marathon. Most of the energy used is stored as glycogen in the liver and in the muscles. The glycogen in the liver breaks down simple sugars to feed the brain and the glycogen in the muscles is used by the muscles supplemented by simple sugars and free fatty acids in the blood stream. Normal storage is around 1500 kcal worth of glycogen. But with training and diet it can be raised to over 2000 kcal. Unless, you train for a marathon you will run out of glycogen and the last part of the race the body starts to rely completely on burning fat. Since the fat is more complex in structure it is also not as accessible as an energy source. The result is that you have to slow down and you hit the famous wall.

Fat as fuel.

While you train, and especially after doing long runs that depletes the glycogen stores, your body gets used to replacing the glycogen fast and little by little make you better and better prepares. During the last week before the marathon it is a good idea to slow down intensity in training to fool the body to keep on storing glycogen – just in case. Doing a good job at it, eating carbohydrate rich food (70-80% of the diet), the glycogen deposits can increase to about 2500 kcal. This is the reason why marathoners eat copious amounts of spaghetti prior to the race.

On raceday however consuming a lot of carbohydrates just before the race will increase sugar in the blood stream and immediately set off an insulin release that will lower counter the high sugar content and make it more difficult to metabolize the energy. So any additional energy consumed on raceday ought to be taken around 4 hours before the race. Great! The race on Sunday start at 7 AM. I am really looking forward to a 3AM breakfast! Not!

The funny thing is that actually eating something very fatty an hour or so before the marathon will actually raise free fatty acid levels in the blood stream, which would serve as energy delaying the breakdown of the stored glycogen,which will this way be preserved for later in the race. I am not going to try to eat anything greasy sleazy before this Marathon because I don’t know how I will react, and should have tried this during my training if I had read up on physiology of running.

Another more normal way to increase free fatty acid levels in the blood stream, is taking caffeine. Caffeine is not permitted in large dosis, but normal coffee intake is fine and within the allowed limits. Peak values set in after 1 hour and remains up to 4 hours. It should only be tried if you are used to caffeine. As a keen coffee drinker, I should have no problem. I plan to drink coffee instead of sportdrink half an hour before the race. Best to drink it without sugar since the sugar would delay the effect.

Hydration during the race.

A normal person would lose 1 liter per hour in the race by sweating. In a four hour race he would lose four liters. Fortunately, he does not have to drink 4 liters to compensate, since the breakdown of glycogen to glucose releases as much as 2 liters of water during the same time. With a water-hole every 4 km it means that I should aim to drink 200 ml at each station to get enough if I run at a 6min/km pace. Grab two cups! It is hard to drink in fast speed from plastic cups, so if friends can help out providing liquid in plastic bottles instead that helps. (Volunteers…please speak up!).

What should you drink?

Water and Powerade is supplied. Unfortunately and contrary to belief, taking sugar during the race, will not prevent from depleting the glycogen stores in the leg muscles. The stores are consumed at a steady pace. When they are gone they are gone -and that is when you find the wall. You will have to slow down.
But the sugar does prevent glycogen depletion of the liver. So at least your head shall remain clear and you will not faint if you consume carbohydrates during the race.
There is only so much sugar you will be able to absorb. Some people have trouble absorbing the liquid if it contains too much sugar. To drink sportdrinks during the training makes it easier to absorb during the race. Some people should stick to water and occasional powergels or dilute the sport drink. But don’t wash down your Powergels with Powerade. It will not work. The liquid will not be absorbed and it will cause trouble during the race.


The combination of losing too much water, too hot climate and too fast speed makes overheating a serious risk in Marathon running. Climate and speed are the most important factors. In Lima there should be little risk, since the cold season has set in. Most likely temperature will be slightly below 20ºC (68ºF) and maybe some coastal fog. The race provides free T-shirts in synthetic breathable material. This is good. It is not a good idea to wear a cotton T-shirt. The sweat produced during running is supposed to cool down the body which happens when it evaporates from the body. A sweaty T-shirt could prevent the cooling process.
Overheating forces you to slow down. If the temperature in the air is above 23ºC you will have to run slower.

This is how my day looks like on Saturday-Sunday.

Saturday: 9 PM bedtime!
Sunday: 3 AM. wake-up and immediate breakfast. Probably do peanut butter sandwiches in hope of having some free fatty acids in the blood by the time the race starts. Coffee. Two glasses of water.
3:30-5.00. More rest.
5.50 take taxi to Race start at “Pentagonito” in San Borja. It is close to here – only 5K, but I don’t want to waste energy if I don’t have to.
6.10-6.40 some stretching a bit of warm-up.
6:40 Coffee. Toilet
7 AM Start.
The first part of the race is mainly downhill (110 meter drop from km 4), the second part has to gain 80m back to Pentagonito. I will drink Poweraid throughout. At km 30 I will have some coffee, that I will carry with me.
At control 36.5K I hope to have someone handing me a bottle with 300ml Powerade and will run with the bottle sipping up to 39K. This way I can skip the last control at 40K which is too close to the finish to have any effect on performance. I ran the last 12k of the race course last Sunday as dress rehearsal. I think this will be very important to mentally be able to finish in good form.

Lima Marathon on Twitter.

I shall be tweeting every 10k with hashtag #Lima42K, so you see how I am doing. Follow me on Twitter. If you are in Lima come out on the streets and cheer.

2010 update:  A marathon for Conservation 2010.

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A birder on the run.

Go, Gunnar Go!
Go, Gunnar Go!

If you wonder why I am writing about running on my birding blog, it is because I have made the marathon on May 31 to a fundraiser for Conservation along the Satipo road. If this is new to you, I suggest you check out my previous blogpost on the Marathon for conservation.

Long runs

Last weekend I ran a 32km run, which was the culmination of building kilometers in the short time (only 5 and half weeks in total) I had to prepare for the Marathon. The mileage and long runs prepare the body to endure and to get used to burning fat, when the glycogen stores become depleted. Depleted glycogen stores in the muscles is the physiological condition of the famous “Wall” that sets in around 30-34km for many runners. At this point you just have to slow down. The long runs have been deliberately slow at around 6min/km or more and gradually accustom the body to be able to endure a run that lasts more than 3 hours. Here are the long runs that I have logged prior to today:

  • Apr 26: 22km 2:20H @ 6:21min/km speed.
  • May 3: 26km 2:31H @ 5:48min/km speed. Training with Juan Liziola, who is also running the Marathon
  • May 11: 30km 3:03H @ 6:05min/km speed.
  • May 17: 32km 3:11H @ 5:57min/km speed.

Training for Marathon speed.

During that last long run I threw in 4 intervals of 2 km with 5min/km which is a speed I can maintain for quite long, but probably not a whole marathon. It is also the speed needed to qualify for Boston Marathon for my age group (45-49). The idea was to practice race speed in small portions during a very long run. After that long run I needed two days of rest for my muscles to be again ready for training. On Wednesday I made a 14.5 k marathon speed run at it went very well. I managed to hold the sub 5min/km speed through-out the course. The plan was to also run a marathon speed training session of 10-15km on Friday, but when I set off I noticed my legs were heave and stiff. I turned around at 2km and thus only made 4km. It was clear I needed more rest. Today it was dress-rehearsal. I had decided I should try to do a half marathon at 5min/km speed. Running a marathon is just as much running with your head as with your legs. If you know exactly how the course is laid out, it is easier to motivate yourself during the race.

Lima Marathon May 31, 2009. Click on picture to see larger size.
Click on picture to see larger size.

During my training I have run on most of the roads mentioned. I know therefore, that after 1km of downhill, then comes two km of uphill, followed by mostly downhill of total 120m drop for 21km. This means that at the half marathon point the my time should be very good as it has been mainly downhill. Then real challenge begin. The last 18km contains total altitude gain of 100m, with 80m constant uphill during the last 8km. Therefore, I thought it was a good idea to do today’s dress rehearsal of the last 14km of the race. This prepares me well psychologically. I know what to expect. In total I ran 22km today fantastically well at 1:44:31 which makes a 4:58min/km speed. I know that I will loose time during the last part of the race, but I am also aware that I could qualify to Boston Marathon if I only could  maintain that same speed. I am now mentally prepared to run the Marathon next weekend. Hopefully, I can make a very good time to be able to raise more money for conserving the  birds and the forests along the old Satipo road. If you want to help me achieve this, please check out the pledge page.

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What do Great Tits and Peruvian Boobies have in common?

They are both birds on T-shirts from Birdorable! What were you thinking? Well, I just read about Peruvian Boobies t-shirts it in Mel’s blog teach-me-about birdwatching.  I quote: It would be great to have a t-shirt saying “I love Peruvian Boobies for my non-Peruvian fiancee. Birdorable caught the idea and started designing. Check out the nice result.  I always said to my friends it was the Peruvian Boobies that drew me to Peru.

Great Tits can also be found on Birdorable!

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Too much HASH!

All this talk about hashtags got Tim Ryan interested. I had posted on my Facebook the following:

Updated “Twitter for birder – rare bird alerts with hashtags and RSS. UK already have a system up!

Timothy Ryan at 3:40pm March 12
I don’t understand – you live in the land of coca leaves and yet your are always waxing poetic about hash. Do you chew it too? I am a novice at all these things but I really want to try ayahuasca. Will you ever be posting about Ayahuasca or are you loyal to hash?
I like birding with hash tags. It is a lot of fun. But how can you focus the binoculars?
Gunnar Engblom at 7:13pm March 12
Hahaha! Wanna come on a: Come-to-Peru-and-get-high-tour?
There are plenty of those around. We give you Jungle Gringo Shaman Johnny -an expat junkie gone wild – as your special local guide. Johnny has learnt all the ancestral secrets of a top native Shaman during the last 4 years and now has unique knowledge to prepare the “trip” of your life time.

You shall recieve the following high-lights.

  • Your first high is a bonus at no extra charge as you start from Plaza de Armas in Cusco at 3400m (+10000 ft) walking up the steep stairs to your hotel in the idyllic San Blas district 100m above overlooking the square. It is not the thin air that makes you dizzy, it is being close to Heaven.
  • In the evening, three strong Pisco Sours at the Cross Keys pub will get your head spinning .
  • If drinking Coca tea or chewing the leaves does not do it for you, Johnny will take you to Cusco’s back streets where there is no problem obtaining some in powdered form. Peru is proudly one of the worlds largest provider of the stuff. But the Peruvians themselves prefer the meek coca-tea or chewing the leaves. Tradition they say. They don’t get it.
  • Down in the Amazon, you shall strip naked and participate in a mind blowing Ayahuaska ritual getting you hallucinating encounters with your God or your Demons…or maybe both, and we promise you that if this stuff does not make you insane for the rest of your life you will get your money back.
  • Back in Lima you shall be prepared for a San Pedro Cactus ritual. Incredibly, this drug just grows there in the wild. And it is powerful, man! The Nazcans used it when they cracked their skulls to let out the evil spirits. If you get truly wasted, you may try some brain-cracking with Johnny.

Sign up today. Special price for you my friend!

Timothy Ryan at 7:59pm March 12
Fantastic – sign me up!
UPDATE: Some readers did not understand that this was a joke, so I better state a few serious opinions. In fact, I have taken a stand against selling Peru as a country where ethnic drugs are put totally out of context as a tourist attraction. Please see the post on Amarakaeri communal reserve and the project we have commenced to turn four community lodges to prime birdwatching lodges to see what I mean.
What I think that those Peruvians selling the Ayahuaska ritual don’t realize is that there is liability involved, that makes it very risky involving tourists as active participants in the rituals. Ironically, there are loads of “Jungle Gringo Johnnies” in Peru, selling themselves as the real thing! Do you think you could get away with organizing such a ritual in the US where the participants take hallucinogenic drugs? Would it be legal? Why should this be OK in Peru and when it is not OK in the US? Here is a National Geographic article that describes the strong effects and potential dangers of Ayawaska – read between the lines to understand what sort of liability a tour operator that set this up is in for.
Furthermore, Peru is a modern country in most aspects and drugs are generally not accepted. Cocaine is not a problem in Peru. The problem is the consumers elsewhere and that its production in Peru is related to terrorist organizations as the Shining Path and the Mexican drug cartels. Therefore  there is a constant war against cocaine production and its trade. There are severe punishment against those involved in drug trade.
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US Airways bird strike lands on Hudson River

Photo of US Airways successful emergency landing on Hudson River taken by Janis Krum with a cell phone.

Photo of US Airways successful emergency landing on Hudson River taken by Janis Krum with a cell phone.

As the news feed reads that birds were the cause of the emergency landing of a US Airways flight taking off from New York’s La Guardia airport on Jan 15, 2009, one wonders how common this sort of accident really is? If it is common, it may lead to raised voices of culling of the bird populations?
According to the CNN report, more than 56000 incidents of birdstrikes have happened since 1998, but there are only 5 large jets that have had serious major accidents since 1975. Luckily, much appointed to the excellent skills of the pilot of the US Airways pilot and heroic evacuation directives by the same pilot, all of the 155 people onboard were unharmed.  It appears as commercial flights are quite safe in this respect, at least for the human passengers, but less so for the colliding birds – or the pets that go in the cargo.
Nate commenting on 10.000 birds blog, suggests the birds of responsible for the strike on today were Canada Geese, and this would make sense. It must be large birds to have severe impact on jets, unless of course the jet runs into a large flock of birds. This informative wiki article, mentions Vultures, ducks, geese, and gulls as the most serious contenders in bird-strikes. These will make serious damage. Modern airplanes are tested against strikes and they can be shut down a broken engine and keep on flying. However, if more that one engine is being hit, an emergency landing may be necessary.

Lima airport- should be safe against bird-strikes

Some years ago in Peru I was involved in an early assessment of air-strike safety at Lima Airport. With a technician from Frankfurt Airport we went around in Lima looking for birds during two days.  It was not only the birds at the airport itself that was important but also within some 10-20 km radius around the airport. In effect we were visiting some great birding sites around Lima. This was one of the first times I visited Ventanilla wetlands. And I also ticked off the some garbage tips, Rimac river and the Rimac and Chillon rivers outlet at sea. It soon became clear that is was Gulls and Black Vultures were the major threats to aircrafts. If you look at the map of Lima, you shall see that Rimac river is very close to the airport. The bridge crossing the Rimac river on the way to the airport is great viewpoint to see accumulated garbage completely devoured by large flocks of Kelp Gulls, Franklin’s Gulls (in season) and menacing Black Vultures.
Luckily once inside the plane you will find that the takeoff always is to the north. Menos mal!
I can assure you that the reason for a northward take off and landing is not only to minimize noise pollution over Lima, but also to minimize the risk of collisions with birds.

Fear of birds in Iquitos. Vultures and airports.

One of the more remarkable sagas regarding birds and airplanes in Peru, has been the incredibly stupid placing of a municipal garbage dump outside Iquitos in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon just next to Iquitos airport. It resulted in huge populations of vultures circling around the airport. Rather than moving the dump, the municipality tried shooting and poisoning the birds, but this only worked until new birds showed up from elsewhere in the jungle. The primitive vulture communications methods in the jungle, beats the speed of internet. Look at the map. Iquitos is completely surrounded by vulture infested jungle. It would never stop, vultures would come and come in never ending streams to where ever there was enough food.

Soon, in spite of the efforts to get rid of the birds, the flight authorities announced that flights to and from Iquitos could only take off or land in the evenings or the extremely early hours of the morning. Flight times became very uncomfortable. I am sure Iquitos lost many tourists due to this fact.

In the end, after years of protesting, the municipality finally gave in and moved the dump. Where?

25 km south of Iquitos, just on the other side of the of the road from the Visitor center of Allpahuaya-MIshana reserve.

WTF were they thinking? Now the dump pollutes the ground water of the reserve and something regarding Iquitos municipality’s garbage management – huele mal – stinks!

The white-sand forest of Allpahuayo-Mishana reserve is home of many species recently described as new to science, including Allpahuayo Antbird, Mishana Tyrannulet, Ancient Antwren and Iquitos Gnatcatcher. The reserve has in little time become one of Peru’s most treasured bird watching destinations. Birding outfitter Kolibri Expeditions run birdwatching tours to Iquitos that include several day visits to the reserve to see the rare species that can be found there.

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