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Tough Luck at Las Tangaras

September 20, 2017

September 2017.  Sadly and shockingly, our reserve managers were robbed at gunpoint at the end of June, 2017, so we closed the reserve, and are still not back to normal operations.  We are hoping it was a freak event, but we aren’t taking any chances. Police are currently investigating the situation.  We hope to reopen with full services for guests in 2018.  Meanwhile, visitation is limited to day visits and camping, with advanced notice.

If you would like to visit and are in Ecuador, please contact our current manager, Pascual Torres, prior to making the wilderness hike into the reserve.  We encourage going as a group, and not alone. Pascual’s cellular is 098-680-1316 (Spanish required).  For reservations for overnight stays or volunteering, please contact Dr. Dusti Becker – dustizuni@yahoo.com. P1000794.jpg

A Rufous Motmot often seen around the guest cabin.

 

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Your New Managers! John & Jaclyn

April 9, 2017

Hola!

We are John Whitefield and Jaclyn Knapp, the new seasonal managers of Reserva Las Tanagaras. We are very grateful to be here in such a gorgeous location bursting with vibrant diversity. We are excited to become acquainted with all the other creatures that live at Reserva Las Tangaras.

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While we have not been here long it has been enough to leave a lasting impression and endow a love of the diversity offered in the New World Tropics. Every morning (unless we are doing ACOR tours and monitoring) we awake to a symphony of voices, singing for love or the morning sun. We attempt to spot where all the voices come from and identify them but we have yet to find them all! All the birds are very quick, sneaky and do not like to stay put for long, adding an extra challenge for us. The pictures below are a good example of how difficult it can be to spot wildlife amongst all the crazy diversity of plants. Try to find the Creature!

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A Golden Tanager (Tangara arthus) hunting for it’s breakfast.

 

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Choco Toucans (Ramphastos brevis) saluting the morning.

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An Ornate Flycatcher (Myiotriccus ornatus) on it’s perch

The reserve offers many gorgeous subjects for photography both male and female, avian and mammalian.

On the right we have a common agouti (Dasyprocta spp.) enjoying some fruit. On the left we have a Plain Brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa) hunting in the moss.

The most common visitors to the reserve can be quite demanding in the mornings, but are soon satisfied once their sustenance has arrived (below).

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A White Whiskered Hermit (Phaethornis yaruqu) approaches on the right, to the chagrin of a Green Crowned Woodnymph (male) (Thalurania fannyi) and Purple Bibbed Whitetip (female) (Urosticte benjamini).

Of course we shan’t forge the main attraction, available every morning and evening for your viewing pleasure!

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Two male Andean Cock of The Rock’s (Rupicola peruvianus) perch and call as they perform for perspective mates at the lekking site. The lek is truly a spectacle of sound and color. Well worth the early rise or late return!

This is a snapshot, pun intended, of our first week as new managers of Las Tangaras. Stay tuned for further updates!

J & J

Desde la cabaña

March 21, 2017
By Luis e Inés  (Reserve Managers Jan- Mar 2017)

 

Estando sentado en el porche de la cabaña no es difícil darse cuenta del privilegiado lugar en el que nos encontramos. Tras recorrer durante 45 minutos el sendero de entrada se llega al puente colgante que da acceso a la Reserva Las Tangaras, al otro lado del río Nambillo. El tramo final de escaleras en subida requiere un último esfuerzo que se ve recompensado al llegar al bonito jardín de la cabaña de madera. Una vez sentados en el porche llega el momento de relajarse y disfrutar del verde paisaje que invade nuestro campo de visión.

El murmullo del río y el canto de los pájaros ayudan a recuperar la serenidad aunque hay que mantener siempre los ojos abiertos. Si eres un apasionado de la naturaleza y los animales existe la posibilidad de observar una gran variedad de especies simplemente estando sentado en el porche.

Los colibríes son visitantes permanentes desde primera hora de la mañana pues acuden puntuales a los bebederos de agua con azúcar que colocamos alrededor del porche. Las especies que pueden avistarse varían según los meses aunque entre las más comunes se encuentran el Brillante Coroniverde (Heliodoxajacula), el Zafiro Coroniverde (Thalurania fannyi) y el Colibrí Punta Blanca Pechipúrpura (Urosticte benjamini). Así mismo, tal y como indica el nombre de la Reserva, también pueden observarse gran cantidad de Tangaras de pequeño tamaño y de todos los colores.

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Colibríes en el bebedero

Además contamos regularmente con la presencia de Momotos Piquianchos (Electron platyrhynchum), también  conocidos como  relojeros debido al movimiento de su larga cola como el péndulo de un reloj de pared cuando se posan. Su gentil y silencioso vuelo capta la atención de cualquiera pues poseen un colorido patrón que hacen de su avistamiento un evento espectacular. Más ruidosos son los Tucanes, las Pavas y los Gallitos de la Peña que dejan oír sus cantos por todo el valle y permiten desvelar su localización en la densa vegetación verde.

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Pareja de Momotos Piquianchos

En cuanto a mamíferos, tenemos otro pequeño vecino que anda siempre merodeando en busca de comida por el jardín. Se trata del Aguti o Guatusa (Dasiprocta puntactata), un pequeño roedor de unos 35cm que tiene por habito esconder los frutos que encuentra para volver a por ellos cuando escasea la comida. Suele olvidar donde entierra su despensa  por lo que contribuye así a la dispersión de semillas en el bosque. Cierto es, que suele hacer el mismo recorrido para encontrar su almuerzo a diario pero es además porque tiene su madriguera cerca de la cabaña. También se pasean por el jardín sin ningún temor el Coatí (Nasuella olivacea) y la Paca (Cuniculus paca) aunque esta última tiene hábitos nocturnos y hay que madrugar para poder descubrirla antes del amanecer. Otro mamífero que escarba en la oscuridad buscando raíces, bulbos e insectos es el armadillo de nueve bandas (Dasypus novemcintus) y deja continuamente el rastro de sus agujeros por el jardín y los laterales de los senderos.

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Coatí paseando por el jardín

Los múltiples senderos con lo que cuenta la Reserva ofrecen caminatas para todos los niveles. Partiendo de la cabaña a unos 1400 metros hasta llegar a los límites del bosque protector Mindo-Nambillo a unos 1800 metros de altitud. Por ellos se puede caminar cerca del río y disfrutar de varias pozas de agua para bañarse con agua cristalina procedente de las siete cascadas que recorren el río Nambillo a su paso por la Reserva. También cerca del agua pueden observarse variedad de aves acuáticas como el Cinclo Gorriblanco (Cinclos leucocephalus) que vuela de roca en roca capturando pequeños gusanos y, el Pato Torrentero (Merganetta armata) que suele posar en las piedras en medio del río. Además, si se tiene suerte, puede observarse la Nutria de río (Lontra longicaudis) pescando y disfrutando de las olas que crea el agua en su encuentro con las grandes rocas del río.

Si comenzamos a subir un poquito en altura podemos ver como la distribución de aves va cambiando ligeramente hasta llegar a los 1500 metros de altitud donde se puede disfrutar de una de las maravillas de Mindo: el LEK o zona de exhibición del Gallito de la peña (Rupicola peruviana). Los machos se reúnen dos veces al día, al amanecer y atardecer, durante todo el año para realizar una serie de sonidos y danzas para llamar así la atención de las hembras.

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Gallo de la peña, macho

Sin duda alguna a lo largo de los senderos de la Reserva se puede disfrutar de cientos de aves diferentes, desde pequeñas Bataras a los increíbles Trogones y Quetzales. Pero incluso sin moverse de la cabaña puede apreciarse la gran diversidad de flora y fauna que caracteriza la región del Chocó en la que nos encontramos.  Una maravilla de la naturaleza a poco mas de una hora a pie de Mindo y a dos horas en Bus de Quito.

Annual Bird Monitoring at Reserva las Tangaras

February 12, 2017

By Dr. Dusti Becker (Co-director Life Net Nature)

In December 2016, Life Net Nature volunteers working at Reserva las Tangaras, completed 1050 net hours of mist netting, four afternoons of Hall trapping of hummingbirds, avian surveys in 3 habitats, and also participated in the Mindo Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

p10008092016 Cloud Forest Birds Monitoring Team at Reserva las Tangaras, Ecuador

Here are a few highlights from the bird-monitoring expedition:

  • 437 birds netted representing 71 species
    • 31% recaptures
    • 69% first time captures
  • 26 hummingbirds sampled by Hall trapping – 10 different species
    • Purple-bibbed Whitetip – surprisingly the most common
  • 112 bird species recorded during the CBC on & near the reserve
  • Pale-vented thrush netted for first time – a new record for the reserve
  • Canada warbler & purple honey-creeper netted for the first time
  • 172 different bird species detected on & near reserve during the project!

P1000647.jpgMike Walker and Galen Dolkas at the “Pasture-Edge” banding station and a Zeladon’s antbird (alias – immaculate antbird) in the hand.  

Given that we were a team of bird-science enthusiasts,  we each evaluated an aspect of the team data and presented findings to each other at the end of the project.

P1000814.jpgVolunteers with scientific posters they made about avian monitoring at Reserva las Tangaras

From left to right in the above photo: Clarice Clark presented data showing that not surprisingly male club-winged manakins were particularly abundant in pasture-edge nets (near where they lek), but in contrast, on the other side of the river, in thick second growth sites, breeding females and hatch-year birds were more often netted. Galen Dolkas compared species diversity in different years and sites, and Megan Zagorski presented information about the diversity of habitats used by hummingbirds.  Savannah Robinson  reflected on some of the challenges associated with aging tropical birds having found several species that were clearly adult (by brood patch or other indicators), but that lacked fully ossified skulls.  Mike Walker compared average capture rates of commonly netted passerines over the past 4-years of monitoring.

Dr. Dusti Becker compared mist-netting results before and after an illegal road and clearing were made near the monitoring site called “Low Forest”.  As shown in Table 1, compared to the three years before the habitat damage, capture rate, species detected, and indices of diversity all declined in the 2016 sample.

Table 1. Mist netting results at Low Forest banding station (Reserva las Tangaras) before (2013-15) versus after (2016) illegal deforestation for a road and a clearing. 

 MEASURES 2013 2014 2015 2016
Captures/150 nh
41 43 44 36
Species Richness (SR)
19 25 20 16
SR/Captures/150 nh
0.46 0.58 0.45 0.44
D (Simpson’s) 10.42 11.24 10.10 7.04
H (Shannon’s) 2.55 2.86 2.65 2.33

Want a copy of the final field report? or results of the Mindo CBC? Contact Dr. Dusti Becker at dustizuni@yahoo.com and she’ll send you PDFs.

BTW – The next avian monitoring session at Las Tangaras will be July 15-29, 2017.  Want to join this exciting expedition as a cost-share volunteer? Contact Dr. Dusti Becker for application forms and more info – dustizuni@yahoo.com

Bottom line – high avian diversity site, great birding, lots of fun, great way to learn how to mist net and band birds and add to your professional resume and connections!

Here are a few more photos from the 2016 avian monitoring project, and more can be found at the Life Net Nature Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/LifeNetNature/

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Above: “Eye candy”:  Red-headed barbet, green-crowned woodnymph, purple honey-creeper (female), &  flame-faced tanager.

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Above: Our resident broad-billed motmot – often seen near the Reserva las Tangaras research cabin.

p1000815Above: Yellow-throated Toucan (previously chestnut-mandibled toucan) is often seen on forest edges along roads and pastures.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to intrepid Life Net Nature volunteers: Dr. Larry Vereen, Mike Walker, Clarice Clark, Megan Zagorski, Debbie Brown, Savannah Robinson, Galen Dolkas, and Tom Roher for their assistance with and funding for the 2016 annual bird monitoring at Reserva las Tangaras!  Y gracias a nuestro equipo de Ecuador: Pascual Torres, y Mauricio Torres (Research Assistants), and their lovely wives Jessica Medina y Alicia Torres, who prepared our meals and kept the research cabin tidy.

Introducing: Reserva Las Tangaras on Instagram

September 26, 2016

Hello, fans of Las Tangaras!  We, the managers, are trying a new experiment, and we hope you’ll help us with it.

Las Tangaras now has an Instagram account, so that everyone in the Las Tangaras community can share beautiful photos they’ve taken at the reserve.  We, the managers, will post photos that we take while we are living at the reserve.  Follow our account, reserva_las_tangaras_mindo, by clicking here!

You’ll see photos of moments we’ve managed to capture at the reserve, like this one:

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According to this blue morpho butterfly, hummingbird feeders aren’t just for hummingbirds.  Maybe sugar water tastes better upside-down?  #reservalastangaras

Now, here’s where we’d like your help.  We would love to see photos taken by past guests, former managers, bird banders, and anyone else who has visited the reserve.  Do you have an Instagram photo you’ve taken at Las Tangaras?  (We know that some of you do!)  Please add the tag #reservalastangaras to your photo.  We may ask you if we can repost your photo on our page, to share it with the larger Las Tangaras community.   Thank you!

As we get our Instagram page up and running, if you’d like to see other photos of the reserve, visit our Photo Gallery by clicking here!

(By the way, this is the last post from Annie and Skyler.  By the time you read this, our time as managers will have come to an end, and we’ll be traveling on, full of fond memories of this truly special place.)

Always bring a camera to a lek visit!

September 13, 2016

It can be hard to wake up for visit to the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  The sun hasn’t risen and the birds aren’t singing, and your bed can feel so comfortable at 4:45 AM…

But the thing that always gets me out of bed early for a lek visit is the knowledge that I never know quite what I’m going to get. Walking up to the lek, you have to wonder – when will the birds start calling? How many will we see? And will there be banded birds?

If you’re bringing your camera (and you should bring your camera), you might be thinking about your equipment, or dreaming about that perfect shot.

And you are also wondering – what else will show up to the lek? Theoretically, a regular gathering of the largely fruit-eating Andean Cock-of-the-Rock should lead to a healthy growth of fruit-bearing trees in that part of the forest (thanks to their feces). So, maybe a toucanet will show up, hopping along a branch. Dwarf squirrels and coatis very occasionally make an appearance. Hummingbirds and wrens can also be seen from the hide – but you never know! That’s the exciting thing about lek visits. Sometimes the best way to explore the jungle is to sit quietly in a good hiding place and let the wildlife come to you.

And sometimes, you just get lucky.

The Cocks-of-the-Rock showed up right on time and displayed for about half an hour.

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That’s shorter than average, but no female showed up, so perhaps the males were only displaying half-heartedly. By the late morning, the birds were leaving the lek. I had resigned myself to a subpar experience, and was looking forward to breakfast back at the lodge.

But the trees near the hide started to shake, and the branches began to move in such a way as to indicate something heavy – something climbing – a mammal moving through the trees. From the movement I could tell that it was too big to be a squirrel. Was it a kinkajou? I had seen one down by the river, crossing the bridge and foraging in the trees near the water.

When I finally got a glimpse…

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And that, folks, is why you always bring a camera on a lek visit.

 

My breath caught in my throat. It was a white-fronted capuchin!

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Too excited for an in-focus picture…

Now, white-fronted capuchins are not particularly rare, but they are very uncommon at Reserva Las Tangaras. This may be due to the fact that this forest, like most of the forest around Mindo, was recently farmland, and so only represents secondary growth. Perhaps these monkeys prefer older, more mature jungle. So while this is an exciting sight at our reserve, dedicated mammal-watchers probably wouldn’t be too impressed.

That being said, watching monkeys climb and leap through the trees as they forage is one of the great joys of tropical wildlife watching.

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I stared, hardly believing my luck, as one monkey emerged, then another. Five in total – two juveniles and two adults – one with a baby clinging tightly to her back. It was very clear that at least one of the monkeys knew I was in the hide, from how it looked intently in my direction. Even though I was silent and only moved to take pictures or get better looks, I could tell that it knew someone was there.

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I knew I couldn’t leave until they did, because I didn’t want to disturb them (and because watching them was too much fun). So when they moved off, I packed up and left, walking back to the lodge by the typical route.

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And who did I find on my way?

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I crossed paths with the family of monkeys again, and this time they definitely knew I was there. The juveniles made high, squeaking calls, and the adults hurried to their defense, climbing low in the trees – as low as two meters above my head! – screeching, baring their teeth, and shaking branches at me. Even at three times their size, I’ll admit I was intimidated.

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This monkey is not happy to see me. Bared teeth is not a good sign.

Only by staying perfectly still and crouching low behind a tree could I avoid their notice.

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After the group had passed by, I made my way back down to the lodge, exhilarated. I was happy that I had woken up early that morning – but I was much happier that I had remembered to bring my camera!

7 Tips for Birdwatching in a Tropical Forest

August 22, 2016

When travelers step off the bus in Mindo, one of the first things they see is a bus station covered with posters like this one.

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Brightly colored birds peer down, next to the words “Mindo: Capital Mundial de las Aves.”  Mindo has earned its reputation as the “World Capital of Birds” thanks to stellar performances in the annual Christmas Bird Counts.  Last year, birders in the Mindo area recorded 465 species!  So it’s no wonder that visitors flock to Mindo  for the birds.

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Who could resist the charming face of the red-headed barbet?

 

As we saw in our last blog post, many visitors to Las Tangaras are from temperate areas, mostly in North America and Europe. Many of these travelers expect to see toucans and parrots, but even the experienced birdwatchers among them may not realize that birding in the tropics may be very different from birding at home.

So here are a few tips to make your birding in the tropics easier and more successful. Our first piece of advice is one that all birders will recognize….

1. Get started early. Just as in the temperate zones, dawn in a tropical forest brings a flurry of avian activity.  Territorial birds sing and call to advertise their presence, as   hungry birds search for food.  The dramatic increase in sound and movement is worth waking up early for, especially in the tropics: some tropical species call only at dawn and are silent (or nearly so) for the rest of the day.  Other birds, like the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, give unique displays at dawn.  At the Las Tangaras lodge, the birds will wake you up at 6:00 or so.

This is what you’ll hear when you roll out of bed at 6:15.  And once you’re awake…

2. Take your time. In a tropical forest, you’ll quickly realize that most birds are very tough to spot in the sea of greenery.  Compared to a temperate forest, tropical forests are often denser, with larger leaves and a fuller understory.  Vines and bromeliads further obscure the view.  Finding birds in such a forest requires patience.  Walk slowly—very slowly.  Don’t be ashamed if a one-hour hike takes you two hours. Be ready to raise your binoculars at the slightest glimpse of motion or bright color.  You never know who might be hiding in the leaves…

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Oh hello there.

Brightly colored birds may be easy to spot in a dark forest, but you really should…

3. Realize that not all tropical birds are colorful. It turns out that every birdwatcher’s biggest annoyance, the “little brown birds,” are everywhere, even in the tropics. I spent my first weeks at Las Tangaras peering through the underbrush at small brown and gray birds.  When I’d open Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador, I’d find page after page of images like this…

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Which tiny,  indistinguishable brown bird did I see?

You can choose to ignore the dull birds in favor of the more colorful, but if you really want to boost your bird list, all is not lost.  Extremely similar-looking birds can often be distinguished if you…

4. Pay attention to a bird’s behavior. Every birder knows that a bird’s behavior can provide a clue to its identification.  This advice is even more useful in the tropics, where the incredible diversity of birds causes intense specialization of behavior.  Closely related birds living in the same habitat have to eat slightly different foods in order to co-exist.  So you may see one flycatcher species catch insects by flying out from a perch, while another flycatcher hops up from the ground to snatch a bug from under a leaf.  Pay attention to these behavioral differences to help you identify species.

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The broad-billed motmot rigidly swings its spectacular tail back and forth as it perches, looking much like a clock with a feathery pendulum.

But maybe you don’t care so much about identification; you just want to see birds!  In that case…

5. Hit the hotspots. Although a tropical forest’s sea of green may look uniform and unvaried, it is anything but.  Compared to temperate woods, tropical forests are patchier—in other words, resources are more widely scattered across the landscape.  For example, there might be large distances between individual flowering trees of the same species.  For this reason, birds are also patchily distributed, with some areas containing more birds than others on average.  So you’ll want to try and find these natural bird hotspots. The Las Tangaras managers may be able to point you toward good areas, which may be as simple as a single fruiting or flowering tree.

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These two male orange-bellied euphonias spent several minutes probing these bright orange flowers.

Habitat patchiness also contributes to a tropical bird behavior that you won’t want to miss…

6. Keep an eye out for mixed-species flocks. In tropical forests, there are birds who spend a great majority of their lives in a flock composed of many other species.  These mixed-species flocks travel together, moving between flowering plants and fruiting trees, frantically picking at insects as they go.  Imagine standing in a silent patch of woods, when suddenly, the trees fill with euphonias, woodcreepers, flycatchers, wrens, and barbets.    You’ll only have moments to get a few in your binocular sights before they all disappear! If you encounter a mixed-species flock, you may get to see multiple species of the group that gives our reserve its name: the tanagers.

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Rufous-throated tanagers like this one are common members of mixed-species flocks at Las Tangaras.

But let’s say it’s the end of the day, and you haven’t yet had the pleasure of being surrounded by a mixed-species flock.  Here’s our advice:

7. Spend plenty of time here. If, at the end of your first day at Las Tangaras, you’ve seen fewer birds than you’d like, there’s a very good chance that you’ll encounter just as many entirely new species on your second or even third day.  Why?  Because the wonder of the tropics is in bird diversity, more than bird numbers.  One scientific study found that about as many individual birds can be found in a New Hampshire (USA) woods as a tropical rainforest in Peru, even though Peru has many more species.  This means that each species was present at a lower density in the tropical forest than in a temperate one.  The same may be true at Las Tangaras:  You probably won’t see many more individual birds here in a day than you would at home, but you should see more species, if you have enough time.

So stick around! Spend more than just one day at Las Tangaras.  You could visit our Cock-of-the-Rock lek on your first morning, spend the next dawn birding on our trails, and still have plenty of time to watch birds from the second story of our lodge.  I’ve seen some of my favorite birds without ever having to leave the lodge.

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Thanks to our recent visitors, the Zimmer family, for this lovely shot of a golden-headed quetzal!

What do you think, fellow birdwatchers?  Have I completely missed a crucial tip for tropical birding?  Let me know in the comments!

To learn more about tropical birdwatching, I recommend Birds of Tropical America: A Watcher’s Introduction to Behavior, Breeding, and Diversity by Steven Hilty, which greatly inspired this post.  You can read it for yourself in the Las Tangaras library.