There are many things synonymous with the Birding Ecotours brand, and the name Eduardo Ormaeche is most certainly one of them! Having been around since soon after the company’s conception almost fifteen years ago, this friendly, extremely talented Peruvian is often himself the highlight of our clients’ many South American tours – forget the birds! John spent some time talking to the head of our South American office to find out a little bit more about what lies behind his beaming smile.
John: Give us a brief history of your childhood and what fueled your passion for birds and birding.
Eduardo: I was born and bred in Lima, Peru, and was fortunate enough to have grown up with my parents and two sisters. However, none of them expressed the same level of enthusiasm and love for birds and wildlife as I did, with the only exception being my father, who, although not an outdoorsy type of guy, often spent hours in the library and introduced me from a young age to nature through a plethora of photographic bird- and wildlife books. He also introduced me to the hobby of looking for ammonites in the desert, and we used to have a lot of fun doing so. I can still vividly remember my first Peruvian lizard sighting when I was only five years old, which was rather ‘cool’ for a little kid! Then I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to attend a great school in the southern outskirts of Lima, surrounded by hills, dunes, and tall exotic eucalyptus trees- the area was, of course, full of birds! I spent hours exploring it in an attempt to see what I could find, while enjoying the introduced Guayaquil squirrels. But unfortunately back in the early 80s the books we had only showed the Old World species and none of our native Peruvian birds, and so identifying birds was almost impossible. My birding then took an unfortunate turn for the worse when the country became unsafe due to terrorist-incited violence and we were not able to travel for quite some time. It was only after my university studies (when I was twenty three) that we were able to travel again. Our first trip was to Tambopata National Park in the Peruvian rainforest, an experience that changed my life completely and essentially set me well on my path to joining the Birding Ecotours family back in 2003.
John: What are some of your favorite countries that you have birded?
Eduardo: I enjoy Brazil very much because you have the chance to explore parts of the great Amazon rainforest, a place that holds a great diversity of species, but also you have the Pantanal and the Cerrado that hold interesting avifauna and large numbers of wildlife, providing you with a great chance to see amazing mammals. I remember describing my first trip to Brazil as if I were a child visiting the world’s largest toyshop on Christmas! Second best must surely be Colombia, which holds the largest amount of bird species of any country in the world. Neotropical families are well represented in the country in addition to some beautiful landscapes. My native country of Peru (especially the Northern Peru route) must surely also rank and is one of my favorite places to bird. In addition to the large number of birds, including some localized, range-restricted, and poorly know endemics, you have breath-taking scenery, the chance to see the cultural heritage of various pre-Hispanic cultures, and taste some of the world’s greatest food!
John: What countries rank the highest on your ‘to bird’ list?
Eduardo: South Africa, Finland, Australia, Madagascar, Borneo, Spain, Romania, and Uganda, to name but a few.
John: Do you have a favorite bird or bird family?
Eduardo: A tough question indeed! I can give you my 10 top favorite birds which I have already seen: 1) Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, 2) Marvellous Spatuletail, 3) Long-whiskered Owlet, 4) Ocellated Tapaculo, 5) Chucao Tapaculo, 6) Harpy Eagle, 7) White-plumed Antbird, 8) Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, 9) Magellanic Plover, and 10) Blue-throated Macaw. My favorite family are owls, but if I could answer this by saying that I love all birds, then I would!
John: Star Wars or Star Trek, and why?
Eduardo: Star Wars! I was born in the 70s, so I grew up with the boom of the movies and the action figures. The minute you then grow older you begin to take note of other interesting underlying themes within the storyline and not only the action scenes. I’m more attracted to the spiritual aspects of the story than I am to the science fiction aspect; the classic battle between good and evil, the force, and the disciplined path the Jedi have to go to reach new levels of knowledge and shape their lives with sacrifice, having to think about others, including all forms of life around them. This is what I like most, and today I have something from my childhood that I can share with my kid!
John: Are you a scope or binoculars type of guy?
Eduardo: I take my binoculars all over and when or wherever I travel. They never leave my side, not even while I have meals, because you never know which birds will pop up and when! When it comes to leading tours I will also carry my scope around with me all the time, making sure to provide our clients with the best views of birds as possible!
John: Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
Eduardo: I love history, art, movies, music, and drinking tea, and I am an avid collector of star wars toys and figurines. I have also recently developed an interest in meditation and living a healthy lifestyle, but with the amount of dessert I eat on each trip I seem to be failing in that regard, ha ha!
John: If you had one more day left to live, what would you spend it doing?
Eduardo: After I say goodbye to everybody I love I would spend the day with my kid, enjoying his company as much as possible, having fun and sharing laughs with him as we always do. In doing so I would try my best to impart on him as much valuable information and guidance that I could, making sure he understands the many little things I have taught him and which I could pass onto him with confidence that he would implement them going forward. Watching the sunset and seeing his smile – I could think of nothing better!
John: Do you have a favorite book?
Eduardo: Field Guides to birds? Ha, Ha! To be honest, I’m not up to date with modern literature, and I don’t read bestsellers anymore, but I am constantly reading and studying books on birds and other science/biodiversity issues relative to my upcoming trips. I also, however, do enjoy the odd motivational book and biographies of famous personalities. Two of the books that I enjoyed very much back in the days were “Narcissus and Goldmund” by Herman Hesse and “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac.
John: What formal training have you undertaken?
Eduardo: I have completed a degree in Tourism Management and have almost completed a degree in Psychology. I have also obtained the title of Official Tour Guide.
John: The craziest thing you have ever done to see a bird?
Eduardo: Started climbing the steepest of slopes of the Atitlan volcano in Guatemala at 3:00 a.m., where I walked for three hours uphill non-stop to get the legendary Horned Guan! Driving in a jeep for twenty two hours along the most horrible mud road imaginable, covering only 43.5 miles in that time to get the endemic and recently discovered Scarlet-banded Barbet in Peru must surely also rank as one of those ‘crazy’ moments!
John: What do you enjoy most about guiding?
Eduardo: Making clients and friends happy beyond belief by giving them the opportunity to see some very special birds, the responsibility as a whole, the chance to be a crucial factor in the success of their holiday, teaching and showing people things that they may not know, traveling to new places, meeting great people, and making good friends, all while having a chance to increase my bird list!
John: Your life motto and how you apply this to your day-to-day life?
Eduardo: I don’t really have one, but something I like to tell myself when things get difficult is that “no pain, no gain”, a famous quote from the Rocky Balboa movies, which essentially means that no matter how difficult or hard life may get, you have to give it your best!
John: The five birds you want to see the most?
Eduardo: Well, Great Grey Owl, Gyrfalcon, Shoebill, and Philippine Eagle, among many more!
John: Describe yourself in three words?
Eduardo: Discipline, perseverance, passionate (a tad bit eccentric sometimes!)
John: Your best birding experience to date?
Eduardo: Watching Ornate Hawk-Eagle at four meters above my head while it sat watching me, directly staring into my eyes for over fifteen minutes in the Pacific forest of Tumbes in north-west Peru. This was the first record in the area in over a hundred years! I of course also cannot skip my first Burrowing Owl when I was nine years old, which also ranks as probably one of those encounters that changed my life.
John: Do you have a bogey bird and what is it?
Eduardo: Yes, I have two, sadly. Puna Tinamou, which can be found in Peru, is the only species I have not yet see in the state of Lima (where I live, which makes it worse!). It is also difficult and rare in the Andes above Lima at almost 5000 meters above sea level. The second is Rufous-fronted Parakeet in Colombia, which I have sadly dipped on seven times now, even after having visited the right locations.
John: What is the list you work on the most and what is its total?
Eduardo: I keep a world list based on IOC taxonomy, and as of today it stands at 2,807 and is comprised solely of South and Central America species.
John: What excites you most about Birding Ecotours?
Eduardo: The opportunity that Chris gave me to be a part of this brilliant family; the sense of blind faith that he had in me over a decade ago still leaves me speechless today. The incredible opportunities I have had just seem to carry on, with being able to meet incredible people as I travel, accumulate invaluable experience and amazing stories to accompany it, and of course growing my skills as a guide on almost a daily basis. I am excited about the prospect of continuing with the above and visiting new destinations in my ongoing pursuit to further my knowledge and skills. Working for Birding Ecotours isn’t a job, it’s an adventure!
John: What advice would you give to a budding young birder?
Eduardo: If you really love it be dedicated, disciplined, and authentic. Do not try to compete against others but rather compete against yourself, and the rest will come on its own.