Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hummingbirds of Ecuador

I had not been back in Ecuador for about twenty years.  Quito has a brand new airport that eliminated the anxieties of landing in the old one, where the landing approach was between the mountains, so close that it appeared that at anytime the tips of the wings were going to be torn away.  The drive along the mountain roads was then dangerous;  expecting that at the next curve there would be no road.  The highways now  are now first class (at least the ones I traveled on). Overall I observed great improvement. And the currency is the “mighty dollar”; no fuss with money exchanges.


  Photographing hummingbirds is easy; you visit various lodges in the mountain that specialize in this endeavor.  One select lodging is at different altitudes, since the vertical differences give one the opportunity of photographing different species.  Below is an Andean  Emerald followed by a Sparkling Violetear.


 Hummingbird photography has become very sophisticated but I only used one flash and sat near the feeders waiting for the flying jewels to fly by… easy to capture them since they are so fast.  Others use multiple flashes and enclosures to control the backgrounds.  And most likely when you see a hummingbird libating from a flower, it was a set-up where sugar water is added to attract them.  Yes, some of my images were done that way but when birds are flying it is a different story; these are mostly pure luck to capture since they are so fast.  The two images below have a great flaw that most observers will not notice.  First, a banana flower and when hanging from the plant, it points down; here it is pointing up and was filled with sugar water.  In the third image below, the flower was cut from the plant and held on a pedestal - also baited with sugar water.  Giving away secrets of the trade.  Below is a Fawn-breasted Brilliant  followed by a Booted Racket-Tail with a wasp (the hummers stay away from flowers with wasps).  Then the later image is again with a Purple-bibbed Whitetip and a Booted Racked Tail visiting a flower.




 The next images were not set-up; they were captured in a normal environment but no doubt were attracted to the area by the activities of the other hummingbirds.  These are not concerned with the presence of people and would at times land on your camera gear; I have red strap camera connectors and they will come and sit on them; these birds are definitely attracted to bright red and yellow flowers.  This  way the plants ensure that their flowers will be pollinated.  Hummers do not only feed on honey but on small flying insects and maneuvering while chasing them, perform aerobatics that would make the Blue Angels jealous. Below we have a lazy one, a Purple-bibbed Whitetip does not want to fly to get his sweets followed by the Violet-tailed Sylph, probably the nicest looking one I saw.


 Hummingbirds are very territorial and will claim ownership of a feeder and guard it by chasing the others away when they attempt to feed.  This results in lengthy battles and I witnessed at times them using their bills like thrusting swords to the body and at times locking bills.  But in the end, one is chased away. Those fighting are Booted Racket-Tails followed by the image of a Buff-tailed Coronet.



 Below are the Sword-billed hummingbird and the Long-tailed Sylph (in the background out of focus) who were visiting the same feeder. The Sword-billed did not stick the bill in the feeder but used the tongue to lap the liquid as a dog would drink.


 There are other birds that will fly by such as the Toucan Barbet that has caught a moth.  They don’t eat the wings so they beat the insect against a branch until the wings are dislodged.  In one of the lodges they had a feeder with fruits that attracted red squirrels closely observed by Crimson-rumped Toucanet; they seem not to mind each other.  And to complete this blog - a gorgeous bird, the Rufous Motmot.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New York 2016

This city has undergone a revival in the last 20 years. On my yearly visits, I always find something old and new. Not all that looks old is; for example, St John the Divine Cathedral that looks like a medieval European one, started construction in 1892 and is said that it will take 700 years to complete.  It claims to be the biggest cathedral in the world but others claim that it is among the 5 biggest. It is in the Gothic style and Episcopalian denomination. But I would say of eclectic practice due to the various offices that take place such as days for the blessing of the animals, bicycles, solstice rituals and Halloween celebrations and more.



It has Apocalyptic pillars depicting the destruction of New York City and figurines expressing the corruption of finances, gluttony and more; these I found interesting and was surprised to find them in a church. One of the carvings in the front of the church represents George Washington; I did not know that he was elevated to sainthood, but wait, you also find Lincoln, Einstein, Gandhi and others here too.


Next to the cathedral is a park with the Peace Fountain representing the battle between God and Evil.  Created in bronze in 1985; includes a muscular Archangel Michael defeating the devil, surrendered by giraffes representing peacefulness.  At the bottom of the statue the devil is hanging between crab claws. Traditionally of religion, all visitors are warned of all the “shall not” practices forbidden in the park, otherwise the devil will devour the transgressors. 




The Cathedral is in a typical NYC neighborhood where the mundane shares the space with the celestial. Have you ever seen a truck with a see-thru window?  And I saw rats in the park; maybe they learned to read.



I previously covered the elevated abandoned railroad tracks in the West Side that were recycled and now called the High Line in a previous blog. Now it is the Hunter’s Point area, also an old railroad related area where the gantries were used to load and unload railroad cars from the river barges, undergoing a similar transformation, the  Queen’s Gantry Plaza Estate Park.



The Pepsi Cola sign dating from 1936 was rescued from the company’s bottling facility that was demolished in the same area.  After restoration it was located here in 2009 and measures 120 x 60 feet,I a nice addition to the area. The building under construction is going to be a library when completed.  


A few blocks away from the waterfront, the area is being gentrified and old dilapidated homes and buildings renovated, and yes, I added graffiti to my collection. It was stitched from several photos taken with an iPhone.



Further away from the city, I visited Philipsburg Manor, an XVIII century farm with a watermill located near Tarrytown, where Washington Irving wrote the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.  The statue of the soldier is a World War I memorial with a plaque honoring 8 soldiers that died in the war and another with a list of 196 that served in that war.




Kykuit was built by John D. Rockefeller near Mount Pleasant overlooking the Hudson River.  It is now a National Historic landmark, and Nelson Rockefeller, the former governor of New York was the last of the family to live there. Inside is it not much different than a British Manor House, to which modern enhancements added by Nelson that added and underground gallery containing works of arts by mostly XXth century artists.


The estate has large gardens with a golf course, stables for horses that evolved into garages where a collection of horse carriage and gasoline vehicles owned by the family are now on display, and other utility buildings.  The gardens have gazebos, a grotto, covered walkways, garden sculptures and water fountains. Rockefeller family members still live in the estate but it is open for public tours. The last image is a concrete step to allow for an easy mounting of the horses; I saw these devices for the first time in London.





Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Jesuit Missions and Estancias in Argentina.

During 1609-1818, the Guarani Missions emerged as a result of the arrivals of Jesuit missionaries.  These missions were based on a utopian religious culture that created economic power that challenged the establishment; it resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuit Order from the Spanish and Portuguese Empires in 1767.  The conversion of the Guarani Indians to Catholicism by the Jesuits provided the manpower that created the wealth for the construction of the missions now in ruins.  These missions were also known as reductions, were self-sufficient and were governed by Indian chiefs controlled by the Jesuits. The missions were like self-governed enclaves with their own native militias quite independent from the colonial empires.  Although the Indians were not treated as slaves, they were strictly regimented in their daily chores divided between labor and religious duties. The reductions started in Paraguay but were eventually expanded to Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Below the coats of arms of the Jesuit Order.


San Ignacio Midi was originally located in Brazil but moved to Argentina due to attacks from arriving Portuguese settlers in 1669.  The ruins are one of the best preserved and built in what is called the Guarani Baroque. Structures were built of a red limestone common to the area and easy to work.  The Mini name was to differentiate it from a larger mission; San Ignacio Guazu.




At its peak around the 1730’s, it had a population of about 4,000 and the major products were cattle, cotton, yerba mate and corn. The mission was eventually destroyed by the early 1800’s and received no attention until declared a national monument in 1943. Below are a few of the several gates to the ruined church complex, not much different in design than those seen in Baroque churches in Central America.




It continues to be maintained as a tourist site suffering from benign neglect. This and other remnants of the work of the Jesuit Order have impressed me; they were as the Marines of the Catholic Church. The Order left their footprints on all 6 continents.  The order was founded by Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier in search of wealth and fame who converted to Catholicism when recovering from a cannonball injury.  He changed from war conquests to religious colonization by founding and becoming the Superior Father General of the Society of Jesus in 1540.  The Society was founded for those who wanted to serve as a “soldier of God”. The Spanish, French, Portuguese empires have gone but the Society still flourishes with the present Pope being the first Jesuit one.



The Estancias Jesuiticas have a different history because they were not originated by the Jesuits converting Guarani Indians in the area bordering Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia but in the central area of Argentina in the province of Cordoba. In a previous blog I addressed the Jesuit Complex in the city of Cordoba that was the central point of governance for the missions and estancias in most of South America until the Order was expelled in 1769. There are 6 estancias of which I visited 5 discussed below.  All could be visited via a tourist route called “El Camino de las Estancias Jesuiticas” could be done in about 3 days departing from Cordoba.  Although in a basic pattern, they differ in style and size.

Estancia Caroya:  It was the first established in 1616 and whose profits were used to support the Colegio National de Monserrat, in Cordoba - now the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba. The school was run by strict rules and daily itineraries and the students went out only for classes and vacations that were spent at the estancia.  I don’t have to imagine the styles; I suffered a similar environment in my childhood. The estancia finally ended in government hands in 1854 and in 1878, it was renamed “Hotel de Inmigrantes” and used to host Italian immigrants; these colonizers founded the town Colonia Caroya which currently is famous because of the salami of which there currently about 20 producers who use old secret recipes.  Below is the main entrance to the complex and view of the internal yard. As most others, it has a central yard surrendered by arched porticos with a typical well. One of the outer walls was just plain devoid of decorations, making it look more like a factory.
  




During the Independence Wars (1814-1816) it was converted into a factory for swords, knives, bayonets and other metal artifacts for the Army of the North.  Below is a set of spurs originating at the estancia. The chapel was the most basic of all the estancias visited.





Estancia Jesus Maria:  Was the second Jesuit complex built in 1618 and dedicated to the viniculture which continues to be one of the major products of the area.  After the Order was expelled, it was privately owned until acquired by the government and converted into a museum in 1946. This place was an eye opener for me, since for the first time, the use of African slaves purchased in Buenos Aires is mentioned along with salaried aborigines were used for labor in Argentina.  In each of the steps on the image below, there are signs stating the prices of the slaves, with the young boy of about age 8 being the most expensive. The internal yard is enclosed by three arched 2-storied cloisters and the fourth side by a stone wall.




Another first one for my travels: wooden door hinges.  The details are below and assume at that time iron hardware was not readily available and a substitute used. But the door handle and lock were metallic as well as the nails.  I do not if these are the original doors but they indeed look old.



The barracks (outer arched porch) was where the wine production took place and is connected to the basement where it was aged.  “Lagrimilla” was the first New World wine tasted by Phillip V, the King of Spain (1540’s); it is still available today and considered of high quality.


 The church is laid in the traditional latin cross manner with a large cupola in what is called American Barroque due to the influence of the Indian incorporated features such as the the angels with native faces and ornaments; two of these can be seen in the image of the cupola below.


Estancia Santa Catalina: In my opinion, this is the Queen of all the estancias with a fantastic church and probably the best preserved of all the estancias.  It was built again by the Jesuits and the barrroco church with two towers and the cupola located the crossing of the Latin cross. The date of the church is not known but it is estimated to be around 1726 and incurred various additions through the years. Internally it is the richest of the estancias visited but photos were not allowed since it was recently robbed of some of its paintings.  In the frontal short below, the white gate to the right of the church leads to a small cemetery.  Here lies Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), who is considered the most famous composer who moved to the Spanish Colonies.  A Jesuit, the religious music that he composed in Cordoba was distributed to other estancias as far as Bolivia.  The portico in the brick wall leads to the fields where crops and animals were raised.




The main courtyard is arched with rooms opening into it; the walls are thicker than those seen in the other estancias that lead me to believe that this must have been the richer of them. During the Jesuit regime, the estancia included housing for Indians and slaves who cultivated the fields, cared for the animals as well as trades such as carpentry, textiles and iron works. Several views of the courtyard are below. The holes you see in the walls are to vent and stabilize the masonry covering the walls.



The wooden door below is from one of the rooms in the courtyard followed by one of the exterior windows of the cloistered rooms.  Next is an image of an exterior porched entrance from the west that leads into the courtyard. Note the various coats of arms of the Jesuit Order.




The sun was setting and it was time to leave by the front door of the church; a final look back reveals the jewel of the Estancias of Cordoba.  A point of interest: after the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 the estancia was purchased by the major of Cordoba whose descendants owned it until recently.  They ceded it to the government under certain conditions such as, having the right to use the facility by the more than 100 descendants of the original owner.



Estancia Alta Gracia:  Organized by the Jesuits in 1634; it is the only one today that finds itself in the center of the town of the same name.  As the others, its major sources were animal husbandry, agriculture and trades, all done with indigenous and slave manpower.  It was a major center for the husbandry of mules; these were used for mining silver in Potosi, Bolivia, and then to transport the silver to Buenos Aires for shipping to Spain. In one of my previous blogs I showed photos of the wild mules that now can around the Ruta 40 in northern Argentina. With the collapse of the silver mines, they were abandoned to fend for themselves. Time flies; I was inside the Potosi Mines 22 years ago, but that is another story.


The estancia now houses a museum and the church is in the American barroco style but incorporates unique curved walls that descend from the cupola. Notice that I have no towers but the bells are in the back.




The museum is the largest of the estancias visited and includes items of the XVII-XIX centuries representing the life styles, liturgical figures and implements of labor. Found the roof tiles exhibit explanation as to how they were made very interesting.  These were shaped by putting an elongated rounded strip of clay on top of the leg and molding it to match the curvature of the front of the upper leg. So the tile shape is wider at the section closer to the hip and narrower at the knee end. When the tiles were installed on the roof, they were laid starting at the edge of the roof with the narrow section facing up and others were subsequently laid until the top of the roof was reached.




Also unique to this estancia is that it was the only one with communal indoor latrines.  These were located on the second floor and waste dropped to below ground level. When the archaeologists explored the residues, it yielded a wealth of artifacts, some of value, made of silver and gold, probably accidentally dropped.  Below is a list of the owners of the Estancia; a similar ownership pattern occurred as with the others discussed in the blog.  And finally, the Tower Clock of modern construction next to the Estancia.