Dropped From 130 Feet

On my first full day off at Tiputini, I decided to climb the canopy tower at sunrise. A set of rickety metal scaffolding ascends to a platform in the fork of a huge ceiba tree which towers over the surrounding jungle, 130 feet above the ground – it’s a great spot for canopy birds and monkeys.

And rain, as it turned out. No sooner had I switched off my headlamp then a downpour ripped out of nowhere. I huddled on my high perch under an umbrella and watched the sodden sunrise (and a Paradise Tanager) for half an hour before giving up. Umbrella in one hand, I grabbed my pack to climb down.

But one zipper wasn’t quite zipped and, as I lifted the backpack to my shoulder, my 100mm image-stabilized lens slipped out at just the wrong moment. I watched in horror as my prized macro lens arced gracefully over the handrail and flipped slowly through space before gravity kicked in. Several heavy heartbeats later, a wet thud echoed up from the forest floor, 130 feet below.

I raced down 118 steps of scaffolding and searched the ground for a few minutes before discovering my camera lens a few inches from one of the tower’s concrete support pads, lens cap about 10 feet away. I expected it to be smashed to smithereens but the lens was incredibly intact for a high-tech meteorite. The glass wasn’t even scratched; it must have landed in a patch of mud or bounced through some leaves on the way down. Amazingly, it survived a fall that probably would have killed me.

The focus and image stabilizer, though, were knocked loose, so, for now, I’ll have to hope it can be fixed when I get home. Oh well. After dropping two different camera bodies in Australian rivers last year, drowning another one in a Costa Rican thunderstorm last winter, and losing my binoculars on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, a lens isn’t such a big deal. But it is expensive…

I spent the rest of the day birding and found some goodies: Blue-and-yellow, Scarlet, and Red-and-green Macaws; a Long-billed Woodcreeper; and a pair of Slender-footed Tyrannulets building a nest. Oh, and I saw my 2,000th life bird this week – a Yellow-billed Nunbird. Makes it all worth it!

6 replies
  1. Patricia Keene
    Patricia Keene says:

    And the adventure begins!! Your calamity with the lens came out much better than one might have expected, Noah. More anecdotes for another book in the making, perhaps?

  2. Diane Strycker
    Diane Strycker says:

    Hi, Noah. Glad to hear about your adventure there. If you have a notion, you might write to Canon and tell them this story about how durable their lens is. Maybe they will give you something for free for the vote of confidence in their lens in a real life story. How are your books coming?

  3. Don Sutherland GA-ME 1991 (Littlebuddy)
    Don Sutherland GA-ME 1991 (Littlebuddy) says:

    Noah, I feel your pain on the lens. Years ago I was standing on the edge of the Rio Grand canyon in New Mexico taking pictures with my regular lens and my brand new 600mm mirror lens temporarily stuck in an open pocket of my vest. A horse fly landed on my bare leg with a vengeance and without thinking I swung around and slapped it which sent my new lens on it’s final voyage for about 10 very long seconds where it was rendered into 1,000 pieces on a rock two or three hundred feet below.

    Have a great time down there, looking forward to another vicarious birding adventure.

  4. Jeanbb
    Jeanbb says:

    Well, looks like the adventure is starting right off the bat! Better the lens than you that flipped out and landed down in the mud!

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