The second day of my trip to Ecuador back in September found me at Mindo Loma (www.mindolomacloudforest.com), about two hours northwest of Quito. I was the only person there, so I was treated particularly well. And dozens of hummingbirds constantly darted back and forth among the many nectar feeders.
I took advantage of these ideal conditions because the lodge manager told me a new group was arriving the next day. The following day at noon, a small bus pulled into the lodge's parking area, and 10 people emerged. All carried impressive cameras and lenses, but I saw no binoculars. I deduced that this was a photo tour.
The leader entered the lodge as I enjoyed lunch, and we exchanged pleasantries. He was a big, burly guy named Tom, from Montana. He said his group included people from Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Tom looked familiar and suddenly the gears in my mind began to click. My brain raced back to the early 1980s when I taught at Oklahoma State. "Are you Tom Ulrich?" I asked. "Yes," he said.
Tom is one of the world's great wildlife photographers (www.tomulrichphotos.com). I explained that we had met in Stillwater more than 25 years ago when he visited to give one of his slide programs. We're also members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and we've met at its meetings a few times as well. So we compared notes and reminisced a bit. Small world.
Tom told me of the Mirador Hotel in nearby Los Bancos where his group had just spent two days photographing hummingbirds and other feeder birds. The town sits high on an escarpment overlooking the Rio Blanco.
Later that same day I took Tom's advice and discovered that from the hotel restaurant visitors can photograph birds at the feeders or focus on scenic views of the river in the valley below. It was late in the day and activity at the feeders was slow, but a crimson-rumped toucanet enjoyed a banana as it watched me sipping coffee through one of the large viewing windows.
As we talked, one of Tom's group walked by in the background. He carried a camera with a long lens. He was an older man, with a full beard and glasses. Remembering that some of the group were from Oklahoma, again a spark of recognition flashed through my mind.
"Is that guy from Oklahoma?" I asked. Tom nodded yes. "Is his name John?" Again Tom nodded yes. "Is his name John Thornton?" "It sure is," Tom said.
John Thornton was a senior member of the zoology faculty when I arrived at OSU in 1980. We both taught courses in general biology, so we interacted regularly. And now 31 years later, we meet 2,500 miles from home. Again it was a chance to catch up and reminisce. Small world.
Curiously, this is not the first time I've had a surprise encounter with someone from my past. Back in 1986, I was leading a group of birders in Vera Cruz, Mexico. I noticed a Volkswagen Beetle in the parking lot with Pennsylvania plates. The next morning I saw the couple loading the car, so I said hello and asked where they were from.
"Boyertown," the woman replied.