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EL ENCANTO DE LO INESPERADO (BENDITA TIERRA PICHINCHA)

January 20, 2020

Recibimos la visita de los padres de Guillermo, uno de los managers, en noviembre, y estas son las reflexiones de Beatriz, su madre, durante los días que estuvieron con nosotros. ¡Esperamos que os gusten y os animen a venir!

La nieve cubre generosa los montes de la sierra norte de Madrid. Me baña la luz dorada del otoño, y se suma a mi deseo viajero de búsqueda para añadir un poco más de savia a mis venas. Me pongo los auriculares y escucho Mother Nature y ese estribillo delicioso de McCartney, tu tu tuturu tu ru tu…

Me espera la selva impenetrable de Mindo sin que yo imagine que vaya a conquistarme como lo hace. Además del abrazo de mi hijo junto a una cabaña perdida, la espléndida morpho, engañosa como un pájaro azul y negro, me hace llorar en cuanto pongo los pies en esa selva, pies sometidos a unas botas nuevas color musgo compradas en Decathlon. Se me agolpan las sensaciones y no sé si voy a ser capaz de ordenarlas, si en mi deseo de expresarme no perderán emoción los momentos. No hay luz eléctrica y apenas puedo escribir por las noches, así que me dedico a respirar mientras escucho los sonidos de los habitantes de la reserva, de aquellos a los que les gusta expresarse entonces. La oscuridad y las emociones vividas durante el día potencian enormemente ese instante. A partir de las seis desaparece la luz y con ella un montón de criaturas diurnas.

Nos separa de la civilización un puente colgante de una inestabilidad encantadora, tanto, que sólo puede cruzarlo una persona al mismo tiempo. Cuando lo cruzamos ya anochecido, me detengo en el centro, golosa, avariciosa, y miro alrededor y huelo el agua que corre bajo mis pies. Y se me llenan los ojos de eso, de agua, al descubrir el titileo de las luciérnagas macho en su búsqueda incansable y darme cuenta de que formo parte de ese mundo en el que todo encaja sin estridencias.

A veces por la noche llueve y como chocolate artesano con un poco de café. Son pedazos delgados e irregulares que consiguen no hacerme olvidar el proceso artesanal desde el grano de cacao, desde la raíz hundida en la tierra fértil de la costa más cercana.

Me alimentan los matices de verde que la selva de Mindo ofrece, mezclados con los dorados, naranjas y ocres de un otoño ya avanzado. Cimbrean las copas de algunos arbustos cercanos a la cabaña y aparece entre ellos una mula torda cargada con dos bombonas de butano plateadas. Al animal lo conduce Simón, que habla el español cadencioso de por aquí, y que a mí me emociona comprender aunque a veces no parezca la misma lengua. La mula todavía está mojada. Ella no puede cruzar el puente y debe atravesar por el agua hasta alcanzar un sendero semioculto que Guillermo y Ayla tienen que despejar con el machete a menudo. Simón y su mula dejan en el aire una música de agua y sol y a mí me envuelve la fuerza de esa vida tan pura. Me invade una duda difícil de evadir: la belleza soberbia del lugar me hace pensar que alguien ha montado este escenario para hacérmelo creer. Allá donde mire es así: el saltamontes verde y amarillo, el escarabajo azul eléctrico, la mariposa que simula ser una hoja, la que tiene dos ojos de búho estampados en sus alas (para quien el aroma del plátano y la papaya maduros son irresistibles, y que le hace desenrollar golosa la trompa frente a mí), las treinta especies diferentes de colibríes en un radio de un par de kilómetros, que surgen bajo los arbustos cercanos a la casa zumbando como abejorros de colores disparatados… Sé que cuando regrese y recuerde estas cosas, el alma se me llenará de color y de gozo, y que recordaré al colibrí negrito (que es el primero que vi) y que el sol irisaba dotándolo de una belleza tan sorprendente como inconcebible.

Miro al cielo sin pensar y los veo. Vuelan alto los zopilotes en ese mismo instante y siento que la vida es hermosa entre buitres y colibríes, disparatada, contradictoria, pero hermosa.

Mindo me ha acercado a mi esencia a través de la simplificación de la vida cotidiana, volver a vivir con los astros como antaño, comprar sólo lo necesario, prestar atención a lo que la tierra ofrece, detenerse en lo pequeño, alimentarse de la luz, de la paleta de colores del follaje, de las libreas de los insectos y de las aves. Es una belleza que alimenta, que engrandece al planeta y a aquellos que luchan por su protección. Hermosa, linda, bella tierra pichincha, yo te agradezco.

Llegamos a la reserva después de un día largo, y agradezco con el alma la ducha bien caliente que nos damos al amparo de los sonidos de los animales nocturnos y el fragor del Río Nambillo. El único árbol cuyo nombre conozco de los que crecen ahí fuera es la cecropia, cuya sola hoja puede guarecer a tres o cuatro personas de la lluvia. Me emociona ese colchón, ese envoltorio tranquilizador de árboles de nombres desconocidos y que, sin embargo me resultan tan cercanos, un complemento indispensable de mi ser.

Al amanecer los colibríes esperan su alimento y se nos acercan a las manos sin temor. Llegamos a contar unas 15 especies diferentes de las 30 que habitan aquí. A menudo se me quedan cortas las palabras que me ayudan a expresar lo vivido. Y el momento de los colibríes es uno de ellos. De repente, aquí, en mitad de la selva, me quedo muda ante tanta belleza, y sin deseo de escribir. Sólo vivo. Cada noche hay que retirar los bebederos para que no se enmohezcan, ahuyentando primero a los murciélagos bandidos ansiosos de endulzar su cena. La verdad es que imponen, son enormes, y me da risa como les gritamos sin mucha convicción para que se larguen. Ayla grita más que nadie y eso me sorprende porque habitualmente es una mujer suave y comedida. Sin embargo no se coarta y exclama que el buffet se ha terminado, palmoteando y agitando las manos.

Estas impresiones tan fuertes que recibo, ¿serán porque no esperaba nada? No quise prepararme ni saber, para no imaginarme, para no prejuiciar.

Toca levantarse con el sol y lo disfruto mucho. Siento que nazco con el día y eso hace que me recorra una energía plena. Hoy vamos a visitar el lek del gallito de roca. Para eso hay que ascender mucho en poco tiempo y alcanzar la cumbre antes de las seis. El comportamiento es siempre el mismo. Hay una hembra de librea insulsa a la que siete u ocho machos pretenden conquistar con su plumaje rojo carmesí. Al acercarnos el reclamo es ensordecedor y enseguida los distinguimos entre el follaje tan verde, como si fueran adornos navideños dignos de La Quinta Avenida. La explosión apasionada dura apenas treinta minutos. Luego el griterío se desvanece hasta el día siguiente. En ese punto estamos a tiro de piedra del bosque primigenio donde la selva es más cerrada y exuberante, donde ningún ser humano ha osado intervenir. Tengo pena de no saber qué especies de árboles me rodean. Hay muchas epífitas, proliferan las bromelias… pero estoy tan concentrada aprendiendo aves nuevas que no puedo detenerme en el mundo vegetal. El bosque nublado parece una enorme floristería en la que todo encaja. Y este bosque virgen me transmite la esencia de lo puro, que se acompasa con el latido del corazón caliente de esta tierra. Siento que por lo menos en este pedazo de mundo todo está en su sitio. Debe tener algún tipo de aura protectora que impide que ningún ser humano venga y la fastidie (por no decir la joda). Me siento privilegiada por pisar este suelo, así que me arrodillo y lo beso cuando nadie me ve.

Llega el momento de partir y pese a la poderosa expectativa de visitar las Islas Galápagos, siento que ha prendido en mí la semilla inesperada, (por lo inesperado del viaje, quizás) de esta selva que ha resultado ser un auténtico hogar. Doy las gracias al espíritu tangara pichincha que aquí habita. Bendito sea.

Por Beatriz López Blanco.

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THE CHARM OF THE UNEXPECTED (BLESSED PICHINCHA LAND)

January 20, 2020

We received the visit of Guillermo’s parents in November, and these are some of the thoughts and feelings of Beatriz, his mother, during the days they spent with us. ¡Hope you like them and encourage you to come!

The snow covers generously the hills of the northern Sierra of Madrid. I am bathed by the golden light of autumn, which joins my search travelling desire in order to add a little more sap to my veins. I put on my headphones and listen to Mother Nature and that delicious McCartney chorus doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…

The impenetrable forest of Mindo awaits me without my imagining that it will win my heart as it is going to. Besides my son’s hug next to a lost cabin, the splendid morpho, deceptive as a black and blue bird, makes me cry as soon as I set foot in that jungle, feet subjected to a pair of new moss-coloured boots bought in Decathlon. I am overwhelmed with sensations and I do not know if I will be able to sort them out, or if in my desire to express myself, the moments will lose sentiment. There is no electric light and I can hardly write at night, so I dedicate myself to breathing while listening to the sounds of the inhabitants of the reserve, of those who like to express themselves then. The darkness and the emotions experienced during the day greatly enhance that moment. After six o’clock the light disappears and with it a lot of diurnal creatures.

We are separated from civilization by a hanging bridge of enchanting instability, so much so that only one person can cross it at a time. When we cross it in the nightfall, I stop in the middle, greedy, avaricious, and I look around and smell the water running under my feet. And my eyes fill up with that, with water, as I discover the twinkling of the male fireflies in their tireless search and I realize that I am part of that world in which everything fits together without stridency.

Sometimes at night it rains, and I eat artisan chocolate with a little coffee. They are thin and irregular pieces that manage not to make me forget the artisan process from the cocoa bean, from the sunken root in the fertile land of the nearest coast.

I am fed by the green shades offered by the Mindo Forest, mixed with the golden, orange and ochre shades of late autumn. The canopies of some bushes near the cabin quiver, and a dappled mule loaded with two silver butane bottles appears among them. The animal is ridden by Simón, who speaks the rhythmical Spanish of the area, which I am excited to understand, even though it sometimes does not seem to be the same language. The mule is still wet. She cannot cross the bridge and has to go through the water until she reaches a half-hidden path that Guillermo and Ayla have to clear often with the machete. Simón and his mule leave a music of water and sun in the air and I am enveloped by the strength of that pure life. I am overcome by a doubt that is difficult to avoid: the superb beauty of the place makes me think that someone has set up this stage to make me believe it. Everywhere I look it is like this: the green and yellow grasshopper, the electric blue beetle, the butterfly that pretends to be a leaf, the one with two owl’s eyes stamped on its wings (for whom the aroma of ripe banana and papaya is irresistible, and which makes her sweetly unwind her trunk in front of me), the thirty different species of hummingbirds within a couple of kilometers, which emerge under the bushes near the house buzzing like crazy coloured bumblebees… I know that when I return and remember these things, my soul will be filled with colour and joy, and that I will remember the little black hummingbird (which is the first one I saw) and that the sun was shining on it, endowing it with a beauty as surprising as inconceivable.

I look at the sky without thinking and I see them. The vultures are flying high at that very moment and I feel that life is beautiful between vultures and hummingbirds, ludicrous, contradictory, but beautiful.

Mindo has brought me closer to my essence through the simplification of everyday life, to live again with the stars as in the past, to buy only what is necessary, to pay attention to what the land has to offer, to stop at the small things, to feed on the light, on the colour palette of the foliage, of insects and of birds. It is a beauty that feeds, that enlarges the planet and those who fight for its protection. Lovely, beautiful, splendid Pichincha land, I thank you.

We arrive at the reserve after a long day, and I thank with my all my soul for the hot shower we take under the shelter of the sounds of the nocturnal animals and the thunder of the Nambillo River. The only tree growing out there whose name I know is the cecropia, whose single leaf can shelter three or four people from the rain. I am moved by that cushion, that reassuring wrap of trees with unknown names which, nevertheless, seem so close to me, an indispensable complement to my being.

At dawn hummingbirds wait for their food and come to us without fear. We counted about 15 different species out of the 30 that live here. I am often short of words to help me express what I have experienced. And the hummingbirds’ moment is one of them. Suddenly, here, in the middle of the forest, I am speechless admiring so much beauty, and with no desire to write. I just live. Every night we have to remove the feeders so that they do not get moldy, first chasing away the bandit bats eager to sweeten their dinner. The truth is that they instill, they are enormous, and it makes me laugh how we shout at them without much conviction to make them leave. Ayla screams more than anyone else and that surprises me because she is usually a soft and restrained woman. However, she does not hold back and exclaims that the buffet is over, clapping and waving her hands.

These strong impressions I get, are they because I did not expect anything? I did not want to prepare myself or know, so as not to imagine, so as not to prejudge.

It is time to get up with the sun and I enjoy it very much. I feel that I am born with the day and that makes my energy run full steam. Today we are going to visit the lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. To do this, you have to climb a lot in a short time and reach the summit before six o’clock. The behaviour is always the same. There is a female with a dull plumage that seven or eight males try to conquer with their crimson red plumage. As we approach, the bird call is deafening and we immediately distinguish them among the green foliage, as if they were Christmas decorations worthy of Fifth Avenue. The passionate explosion lasts only thirty minutes. Then, the shouting fades away until the next day. At that point we are very close to the primeval forest where the jungle is more closed and exuberant, where no human being has dared to intervene. I am sorry that I do not know what species of trees surround me. There are many epiphytes, bromeliads proliferate… But I am so concentrated on learning new birds that I cannot stop at the plant world.

The cloudy forest looks like a huge flower shop where everything fits together. And this virgin forest conveys to me the essence of purity, which is matched by the warm heartbeat of this land.

I feel that at least in this piece of world everything is in its due place. It must have some kind of protective aura that prevents any human being from coming and damage it (not to say screw it up). I feel privileged to be on this ground, so I get down on my knees and kiss it when no one is looking.

The time has come to leave and despite the powerful expectation of visiting the Galapagos Islands, I feel that it has been planted in me (due to the unexpected trip, perhaps) the unexpected seed of this jungle that has turned out to be a real home. I thank the tangara pichincha spirit that lives here. Blessed be it.

By Beatriz López Blanco. Translation by Ana María Navarro López.

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Cabirding!

December 22, 2019

 Today we want to share with you a project we started the first day we were alone at the reserve. Guillermo has always been a huge fan of lists (sometimes a little obsessed, actually), so after the previous managers left, he proposed to keep track of the bird species that were seen (not heard) from the cabin, and prepare an observation poster as a challenge for visitors. Three months have already passed – wow! – so we have a nice collection of observations which we wanted to share with you all. Enjoy!

Hoy queremos compartir con vosotros un proyecto que empezamos el primer día que nos quedamos solos en la reserva. Guillermo siempre ha sido un fanático de las listas (en ocasiones un poco obseso, para ser sinceros), así que después de que los managers anteriores se marcharon, propuso llevar un registro de todas las especies de aves que fueran vistas (sin incluir las oídas, que eso es harina de otro costal) desde la cabaña, y preparar un póster de observaciones a modo de reto para los visitantes. Después de ya tres meses, tenemos una buena colección de observaciones que nos gustaría compartir con todos vosotros. ¡Que lo disfrutéis!

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First things first. The total number of species seen from the cabin was 100! Most of them were seen either from the front porch or the back window of the upper storey, which has become a great ally to see quite a few different tanagers. It’s totally worth it waking up early in the morning in order to birdwatch for an hour or so! We’ve even found a nest of Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) and another one of Red-faced Spinetail (Cranioleuca erythrops) which have allowed us to follow their busy lives very closely.

Lo primero es lo primero. El número total de especies vistas desde la cabaña ha sido de ¡100! La mayoría de ellas fueron vistas desde el porche delantero o desde la ventana trasera del piso superior, que ha resultado ser una gran aliada a la hora de ver varios tangaras diferentes. ¡Merece totalmente la pena madrugar un poco para pajarear durante una hora o así! Hemos descubierto incluso un nido de tangara goliplateada (Tangara icterocephala) y otro de curutié carirrojo (Cranioleuca erythrops) que nos han permitido seguir sus vidas atareadas muy de cerca.

In terms of the bird families seen, we’ve recorded a total of 29 different families, of which the hummingbirds (Trochilidae, 21 species), tanagers (Thraupidae, 17 species), flycatchers (Tyrannidae, 10 species) and wood-creepers and allies (Furnariidae, 9 species) appeared to be the ones with the most species seen. However, most of the families included only 1 or 2 species. Of course, the richness of hummingbirds can be explained with the feeders we daily prepare for them, but we feel particularly proud of having the ‘Tangaras’ in second place. No doubt why they come here!

En cuanto a las familias de aves vistas, hemos registrado un total de 29 diferentes, de las cuales los colibríes (Trochilidae, 21 especies), tangaras (Thraupidae, 17 especies), papamoscas (Tyrannidae, 10 especies) y trepadores y afines (Furnariidae, 9 especies) resultaron ser las que han incluido más especies vistas. Sin embargo, la mayoría de las familias incluyeron sólo 1 ó 2 especies. Por supuesto, la riqueza de colibríes puede explicarse por los bebederos que les preparamos diariamente, pero nos sentimos especialmente orgullosos de tener a las ‘Tangaras’ en segundo lugar. ¡No nos cabe duda de por qué vienen aquí!

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Here we show the cumulative of species seen from our arrival on the 16th September to the 15th December. Note especially those days when one of us spent some time birding in the morning in order to add up new species, and also the periods when we had a bunch of people helping around, like our volunteers in November or the Life Net Nature bird banding team in December. It’s nice to have a few pairs of extra eyes sometimes!

Aquí os mostramos una curva de acumulación temporal de la cantidad de especies vistas desde la cabaña desde el 16 de septiembre hasta el 15 de diciembre. Destacan especialmente los días en los que uno de los dos estuvo un tiempo pajareando por la mañana para añadir especies nuevas, y también los períodos en los que tuvimos a otras personas echando una mano, como los voluntarios que tuvimos en noviembre o el equipo de anillamiento de aves de Life Net Nature en diciembre. ¡A veces puede ser muy útil tener algunos pares de ojos extra!

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Among the most interesting species we can highlight some migratory birds such as Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) or Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis). Some ‘rarities’ and shy species at the reserve that have been seen from the cabin include Little Woodstar (Chaetocercus bombus), Scarlet-rumped Cacique (Cacicus uropygialis), Golden-headed Quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps), Swallow Tanager (Tersina viridis), Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus), Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti) or Metallic-green Tanager (Tangara labradorides). The last species recorded has been a funny Club-winged Manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus) which decided to do some display around the cabin, presumably looking for some females!

Entre las especies más interesantes podemos destacar algunas aves migratorias como el zorzalito de Swainson (Catharus ustulatus), piranga roja (Piranga rubra), busardo aliancho (Buteo platypterus), pibí boreal (Contopus cooperi) o reinita canadiense (Cardellina canadensis). Algunas ‘rarezas’ o especies difíciles de ver en la reserva que han sido avistadas desde el lodge incluyen el colibrí abejorro (Chaetocercus bombus), cacique lomiescarlata (Cacicus uropygialis), quetzal cabecidorado (Pharomachrus auriceps), tangara golondrina (Tersina viridis), picolezna menudo (Xenops minutus), colibrí hada occidental (Heliothryx barroti) o tangara verdinegro (Tangara labradorides). La última especie registrada fue un saltarín alitorcido (Machaeropterus deliciosus) que decidió exhibirse alrededor de la cabaña, ¡suponemos que en busca de hembras despistadas!

First impressions from Las Tangaras!

November 10, 2019

Hola a todos!

Somos Guillermo y Ayla, two adventurous biologists from Spain who were seeking wild challenges after finishing their Master’s degree in biodiversity conservation. What a better place to go than Reserva Las Tangaras! When Alex and Georgia, the previous managers, took us along the entrance road, we really got the feeling that we were entering a different world; the midst flew from the Mindo mountains covering the valley of the Nambillo river like a giant tongue from a dormant dragon. After some hiking, it was exciting following the way that Alex’s finger was pointing at to discover a palm tree under which a silver roof was hiding. We would call that cosy cabin home for the next few months.

Somos Guillermo y Ayla, dos biólogos aventureros españoles que, tras acabar un máster en conservación de la biodiversidad, tenían ganas de un desafío vital en toda regla. ¡Qué mejor lugar que la Reserva Las Tangaras! Mientras Alex y Georgia, los managers anteriores, nos llevaban por la carretera de entrada a la reserva, ambos tuvimos la sensación de estar entrando en un nuevo mundo; la niebla bajaba de las montañas de Mindo cubriendo el valle del río Nambillo como una lengua gigante de algún dragón dormido. Después de un poco de senderismo, resultó excitante dirigir la vista hacia donde apuntaba el dedo de Alex para descubrir una palmera en la ladera de enfrente bajo la cual se escondía un tejado plateado. Durante los próximos meses llamaríamos “casa” a esa acogedora cabaña de madera enmedio del bosque.

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We were really busy for the first few days. We hosted several visitors, we had to fix the water system (apparently, it always happens to begginers!), we got the highest amount of rain since… who knows! (we even hesitated if it still was the dry season), and we did a lot of cabin maintenance. Phew! From time to time we caught the glimpse of a Crested Guan, a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan or a Squirrel Cuckoo, but we barely had some time to explore all of the trails at the reserve. Eventually, we realized we had to do something with that and decided to dedicate time just for birding, as guiding tourists around is part of our duties here. That’s when we discovered that it’s impossible to decide which tanager is prettier, that woodcreepers and tyrants are freaking hard to identify, and that what we thought was some kind of raptor calling was a neighbour toucan trying to cheat on us!

Los primeros días estuvimos muy ocupados. Recibimos a varios huéspedes, tuvimos que arreglar el sistema de agua (aparentemente, una prueba de iniciación para todos los managers), recibimos la mayor cantidad de lluvia en la historia (llegamos incluso a dudar de que esta fuera la estación seca) e hicimos mucho trabajo de mantenimiento en la cabaña. ¡Buf! De vez en cuando veíamos un destello de pava cojolita, tucán pechigualdo o cuco ardilla, pero apenas teníamos tiempo para explorar todos los senderos de la reserva. Finalmente, nos dimos cuenta de que teníamos que hacer algo para solucionarlo y dedicar tiempo exclusivamente a pajarear, puesto que una de nuestras tareas consiste en ofrecer tours guiados a los turistas. Fue ahí cuando descubrimos que es imposible decidir qué tangara es más espectacular, que los trepadores y los tiranos son bien difíciles de identificar, y que lo que pensábamos que era algún tipo de rapaz chillando, ¡era un tucán vecino intentando engañarnos!

Of course, we had the chance to become very familiar with our front porch hummingbirds. What a noisy, fighter lot! It was (and still is) delightful to have breakfast in the early morning while watching them drink happily, chasing each other or resting in the blossoming branches around the porch. However, after this time we’re able to distinguish their personalities, so we know that there’s one male Green-crowned Brilliant that often defends a feeder without even bothering to drink, that nothing can stop a male Violet-tailed Sylph from drinking from a certain feeder, or that when you can’t find a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, there’s probably one flying over some purple flowers.

Por supuesto, tuvimos la oportunidad de familiarizarnos con nuestros colibríes del porche delantero. ¡Menudo grupo ruidoso y peleón! Fue (y aún lo es) delicioso desayunar por la mañana temprano mientras les veíamos beber felices, perseguirse o descansar en las ramas floridas alrededor del porche. Sin embargo, después de un tiempo ya somos capaces de distinguir sus personalidades. Por ejemplo, sabemos que a un macho de brillante coroniverde le gusta defender un bebedero aunque no se molesta siquiera en ir él a beber, que no hay nada que se interponga entre un silfo celeste macho y un bebedero en particular, o que cuando no detectas a ningún amazilia tzacatl, probablemente haya uno sobrevolando las flores violetas del arbusto de enfrente.

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Apart from the bird world, one of the top moments of the month was getting a new stove for the reserve, as well as materials for the back porch. The adventure began going to town with a couple locals and ordering the materials in the same language as ours, but which sometimes is so different we forget that. After that we had to load a big pile of stuff on top of a pickup which was clearly too small for everything, and to end up, we faced the challenge of crossing a heavy stove over the Nambillo river across a hanging bridge. Can you figure it out?

Aves aparte, uno de los momentos estrella del mes fue conseguir un nuevo horno para la reserva, además de varios materiales para el porche trasero. La aventura comenzó yendo a un pueblo cercano con un par de locales y encargando los materiales en nuestro mismo idioma, que a veces parece tan distinto que se nos olvida que es el mismo. Después tuvimos que cargar una pila enorme de cosas sobre una pickup que era claramente demasiado pequeña para llevarlo todo, y para terminar nos enfrentamos al desafío de cruzar un horno pesadísimo sobre el río Nambillo a través de un puente colgante. ¿Os lo podéis imaginar?

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Always something new…

October 4, 2019

Not quite sure how this has happened already, but our time managing Las Tangaras has come to an end…time flies in the rainforest! As we reflected on our past few months of looking after the reserve, we both had the same revelation – every single day, we have each noticed something new. Perhaps it was a cool new butterfly that hadn’t made an appearance before, or a plant that had suddenly flowered and was then unrecognisable – it was clear that no two days are the same at Reserva Las Tangaras.

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There were many beautiful species of day-flying moth

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These unidentified grasshoppers were stunning

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We couldn’t even begin to identify the flora!

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The forest is full of a huge diversity of flowers

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Western Basilisk were common along the river

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Green Sipo – our only encounter with this stunning snake

For instance – we were walking the Bosque trail early September, high in the primary forest at around 11am, something we had done many times before without really seeing much. Then suddenly, a group of 6 White-faced Capuchin monkeys come crashing through the trees above us! These elusive animals are a threatened species and seeing them well is very rare, so we were absolutely spoilt when this group decided to stick around and forage, effortlessly leaping around in the canopy whilst keeping an ever-watchful eye on those weird, tall monkey-things gawking at them from below. Surprise encounters like this ensured that no matter how well you think you know a trail, something unexpected will always come along and prove you wrong!

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We had also been seeing regular changes in the hummingbird species present at the feeders over our last month. A female Empress Brilliant FINALLY made an appearance, having not seen one for 3 months whilst a number of males show up daily – reassuring to see that females do indeed exist! Perhaps an even nicer (and much more unexpected) visitor to the feeders was a stunning male Collared Inca, a species only recently added to the reserve list and thought to inhabit much higher elevations than the cabin. Maybe he was lost – but hopefully he’ll start to be a regular visitor! We also started to get daily visits from a very aggressive (yet very impressive) male Violet-tailed Sylph, who seems more interested in picking a fight than using the feeders. These few interesting changes, along with many others, kept us on our toes as we never knew exactly what the daily hummingbird count would bring.

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Collared Inca

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Violet-tailed Sylph

Along with amazing rare mammal encounters and ever-changing hummingbird species diversity, there were plenty of other things constantly evolving at the reserve. Maybe it was a new leak in the water system, or a changing weather pattern, or visitors asking questions that you hadn’t even thought about the answer before, there is always something new at Reserva Las Tangaras. Due to this, we felt like we were also constantly learning and adapting to life at the reserve, as it presented its new challenges along with new species to look at and in Alex’s case, get that perfect photograph!

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Fixing the water system was a tough (if very picturesque) job after some heavy rains shifted the intake

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Living without mains electricity meant lots of candlelit evenings

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Bird ringing (banding) in the rainforest was a clear highlight of our time at RLT

So from us this is farewell, as we return back to Scotland and having seasons again, where autumn (the BEST time of year) will be in full swing. We have left the reserve in the extremely capable hands of Guillermo y Ayla, who we’re sure will soon found out about the unexpected nature of life at RLT!

Alex and Georgia

Bird Banding in the rainforest!

August 31, 2019

Another few weeks have flown by here at Las Tangaras since our last blog, which included having the Life Net Nature August bird banding expedition come to the reserve! As avid banders ourselves, we were more than happy to get stuck in and help to monitor the avian life at the reserve, which happens twice a year during these projects. We and the Ecuadorian staff greeted Kevin (the project leader) and three keen volunteers at the cabin after their journey from Quito, then it was straight into orientation before dinner and our first of many nightly bird lists – better known as La Lista! This consisted of going through the reserve bird list and recording what everyone had managed to see and hear each day. Our highest single day total was an impressive 129 species!

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Watching a Chocó Toucan

Next morning was an early start to do our first of three walking surveys around the reserve, followed by setting up 30 mist nets around the secondary forest and riparian habitats near the cabin – all set for the next couple of mornings of bird banding. We caught an interesting variety of species, from tiny Wedge-billed Hummingbirds to an impressive Rufous Motmot, as well as some rarer birds such as Olive Finch, which are known to be declining here.

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Wedge-billed Hummingbird (female)

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Rufous Motmot

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Olive Finch

After a couple of sessions around the cabin, it was time to do our second walking survey and then hike all the gear (30 nets and 60 poles) up to the primary forest. What a workout! It’s always worth the effort though, as we found out over the next two mornings of 4:15am starts and 30-minute treks up the hill. In the upper forest we caught some AMAZING species! Colombian Screech-Owl was an unexpected find in the net and a species that we hadn’t detected at all on our surveys – a gorgeous bird to say the least. A fierce female Barred Forest Falcon was also amongst the highlights, as well as a beautiful Beryl-spangled Tanager and probably the most unexpected, a White-throated Quail-Dove! These birds are large, round and have very soft feathers, so typically do not catch well in the passerine mist nets, however Pascual (one of the Ecuadorian staff members and banding expert) was there fast enough to get to it! We also caught a new male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, which was colour-banded as a contribution to the ongoing project at the reserve. Overall a great couple of sessions, proving the age-old theory of high effort leading to high reward.

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Colombian Screech-Owl

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Barred Forest Falcon

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Beryl-spangled Tanager

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White-throated Quail-Dove

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Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

After a day off consisting of a hike (birding all the way of course) into Mindo for some well-earned beer and pizza, we all went up at dawn to see the spectacle of the Cock-of-the-Rock lek, and then set up our 30 nets in our final sampling habitat, the recovering pasture across the river. This is usually the busiest place for banding, so we spent three sessions there to get a decent sample of new and recaptured birds. This pasture brought us some weird and wonderful species; a male Golden-winged Manakin was an incredible find in the nets, as it is a rarely seen species on the reserve and they are probably the most adorable yet bizarre birds ever! We got some unusual hummers for the reserve too, including Buff-tailed Coronet (usually a higher elevation species) and the endangered and rarely-seen Hoary Puffleg. Another treat to see up close was a Pale-mandibled Araçari, a banding first for Kevin who has been coming to the reserve for many projects now.

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Golden-winged Manakin

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Hoary Puffleg

After all our banding sessions, we just had our final walking survey to do and then it was time for some reflection on our work during the project. The volunteers put together some great presentations using the data we’d collected, and Kevin gave us an interesting overview of our captures and sightings over the two weeks. We ended up banding just over 400 birds, with around 150 recaptures of birds banded on previous projects. During the two weeks we collectively detected 178 species of birds around the reserve and Mindo – a fantastic effort!

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A typical scene of the 2 week expedition…

It’s always a privilege to be able to safely capture and handle such amazing species, whilst contributing to such a worthwhile cause and collecting some great data. Of course, none of it would have been possible without the tireless efforts and enthusiasm from our volunteers, the excellent organisation of basically everything from finances to fieldwork from project leader Kevin, the expertise of the local staff and not forgetting the delicious food made by local cooks, who made sure we were always well fed. We had a brilliant couple of weeks and banded some amazing species with some great company. Thank you all!

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A birthday celebration thrown by our wonderful Ecuadorian staff!

If you would like to come on one of these fantastic banding expeditions, there is one coming up from the 2nd – 15th December 2019 which still has a few spaces available – contact Dr. Dusti Becker – dustizuni@yahoo.com – for details and application form from Life Net Nature.

A Birder’s Paradise!

August 3, 2019

We have been managing the reserve for over a month now – high time we introduced ourselves! We are Alex and Georgia, a couple from Scotland, both graduates in biology and lovers of wildlife, particularly birds, and therefore in paradise at Reserva Las Tangaras! Our first month has gone by in a whirlwind, with the steep learning curve that comes with managing this amazing place and being thrown into rainforest life on the other side of the world.

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A little more colourful than the birds we’re used to catching at home!

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Always scanning… but we’ve seen Torrent Ducks, Sunbitterns and a Ringed Kingfisher from that spot!

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We didn’t know leaves came this big

At home, we are used to life on the Scottish coast, with its unpredictable (but usually cold…) weather, views across the sea, and all the home comforts of electricity, WiFi and the luxury of travel by car. It’s safe to say that life at Las Tangaras is a little different! The constantly pleasant temperature, predictable daily weather pattern, and distance from ‘civilisation’ have made for a stark and refreshing change. Our alarm clock is now a chorus of Brown Violetears and Wattled Guans, and waking up to that sound after 10 hours of sleep, in total darkness and with only the sound of rainfrogs and the rushing river, is an amazing feeling.

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Brown Violetears make up the bulk of our dawn chorus

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Dawn breaking from the lodge

As keen birders back home, where we’re used to being absolutely familiar with every bird that flits across in front of us, or sings from the trees, being tossed into the rainforest was quite a shock! The diversity and density of species here is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and the initial feeling of not knowing a single species that we were listening to was daunting. However, you quickly become familiar with what you regularly see and hear, and we’ve now racked up well over 160 species of bird since arriving, in just the small area of the reserve and the road to Mindo. In the forest, many of the birds are just as likely to come to you as you are to find them yourself, so birding from the porch over meals can be highly productive as flocks move through. From the gaudy Tanagers and Barbets that flit through the treetops gorging on fruit, to the more subdued but equally characterful Foliage-gleaners and Woodcreepers that methodically work the lower branches and trunks, searching out caterpillars and insects, or if you’re lucky, a roving group of Toucans calling from the treetops, there is always something to see while you eat your breakfast!

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Red-headed Barbet

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Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner

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Choco Toucan

We couldn’t talk about the birds without mentioning the hummingbirds of course. The feeders outside the lodge that we dutifully fill each morning attract a huge variety of these amazing birds, and their chases and squabbles over sugar make for endless entertainment. As Matias and Facundo said in their previous blog post, it is impossible not to anthropomorphise them. Our current favourite is a newcomer – a female Purple-throated Woodstar that has appeared here in the last week, joining the two males already visiting.  She’s the smallest at the feeders, at only around 6cm long and weighing as little as 3 grams, it’s hard to convey just how tiny she is. Despite her tiny stature, she takes no nonsense from the Brown Violetears that try to bully her away, and doggedly returns again and again, flying in like a chubby feathered bumblebee, until she gets a chance to dip her bill in and take a drink.

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Our female Purple-throated Woodstar

At the moment, we’re making the final preparations for the arrival of our bird banding team, who will stay for 2 weeks and gather some fantastic data on the species using the various habitats across the reserve. We’ll be back with another blog after the expedition has finished, hopefully having banded plenty of amazing birds!