Skip to content

Learning at Las Tangaras

July 13, 2019

When we applied to be managers at Las Tangaras we had to logically describe our previous work and research experience. In other words, like any other job, we had to say what we knew and why we were qualified to run a place like Las Tangaras. However confident we were, we had no idea how much we would learn in only three months. At Las Tangaras not only do you learn a lot, but you learn fast. And so, with our tenure coming to an end, here are just a few of the innumerable things we’ve learned:

You learn that the weather in Mindo is delightfully comfortable year-round, rarely dropping below 60 ºF or going above 80 ºF.

You learn that the rainy season is, well, rainy. It rains every single day in the afternoon. You’ve been warned.

You learn about “Ecuadorian time” and that the very concept of time is different here. 20 minutes will likely be an hour or two and “two days from now” really means “sometime in the next week”.

You learn that over 350 bird species have been seen at Las Tangaras. And you obsess about seeing them all.

 

You learn that Andean Cock-of-the-Rock males congregate in a specific location twice a day every day (a lek). And you learn that they are LOUD.

You learn to recognize the Chocó Toucan and the Yellow-throated Toucan by their calls. The Chocó toucan has a croaky call, giving a series of croaking “grrrack…grrrack….grrrack….grrrack”  calls. In contrast, the Yellow-throated Toucan yelps, a far-carrying “keyeeer, te-deo, te-deo” that sounds quite different. Easy, right?

You learn that different hummingbird species have very distinct behaviors and even individual personalities. Purple-throated woodstars are tiny, chubby, and adorable, while Brown violetears are aggressive, mean bullies that you want to shoo away. It’s very hard not to anthropomorphize them.

 

You learn how to do night hikes and find very cool nocturnal animals. They key is to walk slowly and look for the reflective eye-shine of insects, reptiles, and amphibians.

 

You learn that a sharp machetes is sharp and will cut through a whole lot easily, including your rubber boot and the water system hose.

You learn how to fix a gravity-only water system after you accidentally cut the rubber hose with your machete. Oops.

You learn how to cook and store food without electricity.

You learn how to make delicious Ecuadorian dishes like tigrillo and platanos fritos.

 

You learn how to harvest bananas! Did you know you cut the whole tree down?

You learn that getting birds to come eat the bananas you set out every day for them is pretty hard, but that bats and butterflies will find them immediately.

 

You learn that getting 8-9 hours of sleep with a rushing river as background noise feels amazing.

Finally, you learn that there’s no real way to list all the things you’ve learned in only three months and that an experience at Las Tangaras–be it one night or 90 nights–is one you’ll never forget.

 

For more amazing pictures, follow us on Instagram!

Advertisements

Visiting Las Tangaras

June 9, 2019

This month we received a special visitor…our dad! Fortunately for us, he volunteered to write a post about his experience at Reserva Las Tangaras from the perspective of a guest. After all, we’ve been here over two months and have a certain bias we cannot shake. So, want to know what it’s like to spend 3 days at the reserve? Read Eduardo’s experience below…

After a two-hour drive from Quito I arrived in Mindo.  Finding the main plaza was hardly a challenge in this remarkably small and cute little town.  My sons have told me “we will meet you in the plaza”, and immediately we did; a slow drive around was enough to spot them having lunch at one of the local restaurants.  I joined them for lunch eager to head to my final destination, Reserva Las Tangaras.

They suggested (more like they decided) to take a taxi to cover the 5km, uphill, from town to the trailhead leading to the reserve.  It did not take me long to appreciate their wise decision.  If this is your first day in the mountain, after an international trip spanning 12 hours, you may want to catch a ride and save your energy for the 2km walk from the road to the reserve.  An easy, downhill, pleasant stride, a wonderful warming-up to the nature wonders of the area.

After crossing the river over the recently renovated hanging bridge, we arrived at the lodge.  I was shown to my “quarters”, a comfortable mattress on the floor of an open area with absolutely fantastic views of the forest, the river and the birds.  I could tell right away that I had ahead some very relaxing days.

DSC_1155

I am writing this when I am about to leave.  During these 4 days we did some pleasant, yet challenging, walks along the trails; the best one started before dawn, heading up along the Bosques trail to the Cock of the Rock lek.  The opportunity to observe the lek and the males singing and displaying makes the visit worth it.  But it wasn’t just that.  I take home, and to be with me for the rest of my life, so many wonderful moments: having breakfast in the porch while observing up to 12 (yes, 12!) different hummingbird species a yard away, waking up to the first rays of light, laying on the mattress, watching the sky and listening to the river, enjoying some delicious candle-lit meals prepared by Matías and Facundo (disclaimer: my sons), going on a night walk to find a glassfrog, and not having internet or wifi (yes, try it, what if you realize it feels amazing?).

In conclusion, if you want to truly experience what it feels to be in a remote area, only surrounded by nature, it does not get any better than spending sometime in the reserve.  I hope you will visit!

Eduardo Fernandez-Duque

Global Big Day

May 17, 2019

Millions of people around the world like to spend their time birdwatching and identifying birds as they enjoy nature. As a result, many different birding activities have arisen, including one for even the most competitive of people: The Big Day. A Big Day consists of identifying as many bird species as possible, either by sound or sight, in the span of 24 hours. One of the most famous Big Days is the World Series of Birding, a 24-hour birdwatching marathon that pins groups of avid birders against each other in New Jersey, USA. These Big Days also have the added benefit of helping the scientific community and, in turn, the birds! By recording the birds that are seen (usually in a website like eBird) people can help biologists get a better idea of bird diversity and population changes. So, being competitive and aspiring biologists, we decided to join the Global Big Day on May 4th.

We started our day by waking up at 5:30am and heading up the Barbudos Trail exactly at 6:00am. Our goal was to bird the higher elevation trails of the reserve—Bosque & Tucanes—in hopes of finding some trogons, toucans, pigeons, etc. At 6:00am, there was very little light in the forest and visibility is limited, so we spent the first half hour identifying species almost exclusively by sound. And so, our first few identifications, by call only, were:

  • Brown Violetear (#1)
  • Andean Solitaire (#2)
  • Red-headed Barbet (#3)
  • Choco Toucan (#4)

Up on the Bosque trail the quiet of the early morning quickly became a cacophony of Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (#7), as over 15 males displayed loudly and colorfully at their usual lek. Despite the busy show, we were able to spot a Crimson-rumped toucanet (#10), Chestnut-capped Brushfinch (#11), and a couple of Crested Guans (#19). We left the Bosque trail happy to have identified over 20 species but bummed to have missed out on the Masked Trogon and Pale-mandibled Aracari.

Next, we headed back to the lodge for a quick breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee, which we ate while counting the 12 regular species of hummingbirds that come to our feeders. To our surprise, we were visited by a Buff-tailed Coronet (#41), who has claimed a patch of flowers in front of the lodge ever since.

At 9:00am, as we head out on the entrance trail towards town, we had already identified over 40 species. Not a bad start, but we were missing many of the species we see every day!

Our entrance trail is one of our favorite trails, a beautiful winding path through the forest that connects the reserve to the famous via a las cascadas (the road to Mindo). We typically see dozens of species on the trail, most often in large mixed flocks. However, on this day, this Big Day, we could not find a single mixed flock! We had walked nearly half the trail without one, growing increasingly frustrated at what seemed to be an empty forest. But finally, as we neared the road, our perseverance paid off as we found ourselves in the middle of a huge mixed flock of over 20 species, some of which included:

  • Club-winged Manakin (#45)
  • Ornate Flycatcher (#46)
  • Tricolored Brushfinch (#47)
  • Flame-faced Tanager (#48)
  • Rufous-throated Tanager (#49)
  • Blue-necked Tanager (#50)
  • …and so many more!

Our next stop was Mindo, where we hoped—expected really—to see some “town birds” that are hard to see on the reserve. To our surprise and delight, we spotted an additional 22 species in town, including a Bronze-winged Parrot (#67), a Masked Water-Tyrant (#70), and a couple of Gray-breasted Martins (#74). The highlight, however, was undoubtedly the Hook-billed Kite (#75) that posed perfectly for a picture.

DSC_0454

Hook-billed Kite

After a quick lunch, we hurried back to Las Tangaras to look for some of the species that had eluded us thus far. Undeterred by the daily afternoon rain (it is the rainy season, after all), we headed towards the river where we saw a Torrent Tyrannulets (#96), a couple of Fawn-breasted Tanagers (#97), and several White-collated Swifts (#98). We also got lucky and spotted a couple of Torrent Ducks (#103)¸which we could not help but admire as they deftly swam upstream against the strong current.

Every Big Day has that one common species that for some reason refuses to show up all day. For us, that was the Smoke-colored Peewee. We had been seeing this bird in the same tree every day for a month, and yet today, when we needed it most, it was nowhere to be seen. It was 6:00pm and getting dark, as we sat patiently in our “Pewee spot” waiting for species #104. Finally, when we could hardly see anything and were getting up to call it a day, the Smoke-colored Peewee (#104) flies in, lands in its usual spot, and brings an end to our Big Day.

That night, we excitedly counted and recalled what we had seen, checking off each species with glee. We were even able to identify 3 additional species whose calls we had heard but could not identify without comparing them to recordings. These last-minute identifications brought our grand total to 108 species, surpassing completely our goal of 90 that we had set the day before.

From celebrating seeing a Turkey Vulture to rolling our eyes at the ridiculous number of Yellow-throated Bush-tanagers, we had an amazing and fun day! We invite anyone (regardless of their skill level!) to discover the joys of a Big Day and help biologists worldwide.

Full list of birds seen on May 4th, 2019 (Global Big Day):

  1. Torrent Duck
  2. Crested Guan
  3. Dark-backed Wood-Quail
  4. Rock Pigeon
  5. Plumbeous Pigeon
  6. White-tipped Dove
  7. Smooth-billed Ani
  8. Squirrel Cuckoo
  9. White-collared Swift
  10. White-necked Jacobin
  11. White-whiskered Hermit
  12. Tawny-bellied Hermit
  13. White-throated Wedgebill
  14. Brown Violetear
  15. Purple-crowned Fairy
  16. Brown Inca
  17. Buff-tailed Coronet
  18. Booted Racket-tail
  19. Purple-bibbed Whitetip
  20. Fawn-breasted Brilliant
  21. Green-crowned Brilliant
  22. Empress Brilliant
  23. Purple-throated Woodstar
  24. Crowned Woodnymph
  25. Andean Emerald
  26. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  27. Black Vulture
  28. Turkey Vulture
  29. Hook-billed Kite
  30. Swallow-tailed Kite
  31. Red-headed Barbet
  32. Crimson-rumped Toucanet
  33. Yellow-throated Toucan
  34. Choco Toucan
  35. Smoky-brown Woodpecker
  36. Golden-olive Woodpecker
  37. Red-billed Parrot
  38. Bronze-winged Parrot
  39. Russet Antshrike
  40. Rufous-breasted Antthrush
  41. Montane Woodcreeper
  42. Pale-legged Hornero
  43. Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner
  44. Red-faced Spinetail
  45. Slaty Spinetail
  46. Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  47. Torrent Tyrannulet
  48. Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant
  49. Choco Tyrannulet
  50. Ornate Flycatcher
  51. Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
  52. Common Tody-Flycatcher
  53. Smoke-colored Pewee
  54. Black Phoebe
  55. Masked Water-Tyrant
  56. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  57. Social Flycatcher
  58. Golden-crowned Flycatcher
  59. Tropical Kingbird
  60. Andean Cock-of-the-rock
  61. Club-winged Manakin
  62. Cinnamon Becard
  63. Lesser Greenlet
  64. Blue-and-white Swallow
  65. Southern Rough-winged Swallow
  66. Gray-breasted Martin
  67. Scaly-breasted Wren
  68. House Wren
  69. Bay Wren
  70. Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
  71. Andean Solitaire
  72. Thick-billed Euphonia
  73. Orange-bellied Euphonia
  74. Yellow-throated Chlorospingus
  75. Dusky Chlorospingus
  76. Orange-billed Sparrow
  77. Chestnut-capped Brushfinch
  78. Rufous-collared Sparrow
  79. Tricolored Brushfinch
  80. Shiny Cowbird
  81. Giant Cowbird
  82. Scrub Blackbird
  83. Tropical Parula
  84. Blackburnian Warbler
  85. Three-striped Warbler
  86. Slate-throated Redstart
  87. White-shouldered Tanager
  88. Flame-rumped Tanager
  89. Fawn-breasted Tanager
  90. Blue-gray Tanager
  91. Palm Tanager
  92. Rufous-throated Tanager
  93. Golden-naped Tanager
  94. Blue-necked Tanager
  95. Beryl-spangled Tanager
  96. Bay-headed Tanager
  97. Flame-faced Tanager
  98. Golden Tanager
  99. Silver-throated Tanager
  100. Purple Honeycreeper
  101. Saffron Finch
  102. Blue-black Grassquit
  103. Variable Seedeater
  104. Yellow-bellied Seedeater
  105. Bananaquit
  106. Buff-throated Saltator
  107. Black-winged Saltator
  108. Barred Becard

 

To see our latest sightings, check out our eBird Hotspot!

 

 

 

 

Orchid Hunters

April 24, 2019

Local orchid hunter and bird expert, Rudy Gelis, and local herpetologist, Eric Osterman, and I went out for a hike into Reserva Las Tangaras. We trekked slowly through the forest to get to the reserve, listening to the birds enjoy the last rays of morning sunshine and searching for the local monkey troop as they paraded through the canopy. The purpose of our hike was to hunt down and photograph orchids to contribute to the extensive database that Rudy has been contributing to for the past year.

Ecuador alone contains 4,032 described orchid species, and 1,710 of those species are endemic to the country. These statistics help note the high diversity within this family and the rapid hybridization rates. Due to the epiphytic nature of orchids, deforestation jeopardizes their survival; 98% of the endemic species of orchids are threatened.

As an introduction to orchid anatomy, we’ll cover the most interesting and visible parts of an orchid. First, the sepals are located further back on the flower – analogous with the green structures beneath a rose but are much more predominant in the case of orchids. The petals follow and consist of two normal petals and one lip petal, the part that serves as a pollinator landing strip. In the center of the flower is the column, where all the magic happens. There are two types of root structure amongst orchids, the first hug the host tree and the second has roots that grow upwards and outwards posing as a baseball glove waiting to catch falling organic material.  For orchids to take root, a mycorrhizae fungal relationship needs to take place. This fungus attaches itself to uptake water and nutrients from decaying wood and other nearby organic material.

Continuing our walk, as we reached the footbridge leading to the reserve, Rudy spotted a pair of beautiful, creamy colored orchids, Trigonidium riopalenquense, dangling above the rushing Rio Nambillo in a flowering Sietecueros tree (Tibouchina lepidota). Continuing alongside the river, we encountered a delicate Stellis spp. with purple sepals and petals arranged along a beautiful flower stalk.

Following the Barbudos trail, we discovered an orchid heaven among the intersection of four of our trails. This point is located on a ridge which, as we learned from Rudy, creates a microclimate perfect for orchids. The ridge structure enables emerging clouds to shed moisture as they climb the mountains, and the angle of sunlight can filtrate easier through canopy vegetation to feed epiphytes.  In this spot, we discovered Scaphosepalum beluosum, a dramatic yellow and pink-spotted flower with basket roots. This is a species of orchids that continue to flower throughout the year regardless of seasonality. Our next encounter was a Pleurothallis conicostigma, a delicate translucent-yellow flower that looked like two Russian dolls. The Pleurothallis genus is identifiable by the flowers growing out from within the leaf base, rather than creating a long stalk for flowers.  Following that, we discovered a bundle of Onicidium hapalotyle. An orchid that sends out a long and large flower peduncle arranged with bright yellow sepals and petals.  The last orchid that we saw, Platystele spp., had flowers that were smaller than the metal tip of a pen. The genus Platystele, is famous for possessing microscopic flowers – most people while looking at a tree, would not even see this tiny plant.

The orchid family is far from being well-understood. Countless new species are being discovered, and with good reason – imagine climbing to the canopies of ancient trees to find a plant the size of a coin! By preserving 50 hectares of ideal habitat for epiphytes, Reserva Las Tangaras can be considered an orchid paradise – and an orchid-hunter paradise.

57987832_2115201948770036_1155851471166636032_n

Trigonidium riopalenquense

58616601_710255649390890_7053864028489121792_n

Stellis spp.

IMG-9197 (1)

Scaphosepalum beluosum

E817719F-9941-406F-B32B-004558D09C65

Pleurothallis conicostigma

58420214_409124703212650_6372259500367282176_n

Onicidium hapalotyle

54521932_1417692488383404_7901192412347760640_n

Platystele spp.

The Buzz on Hummingbirds

March 26, 2019

As some of you may know, one of our favorite books at Reserva Las Tangaras is Neotropical Companion by John Kricher. I, fortunately, picked this book up before my travels to Ecuador and I am constantly intrigued by Kricher’s educational and witty writing. This blog post is dedicated to sharing some of the interesting things that Kricher provides within the text about hummingbird species.

First, hummingbirds have mites. It may be hard to believe that a parasite can inhabit the feathers of a creature with such fast speeds and fighter jet agility, but the mites have discovered a dispersal mechanism to conquer even the fastest hummingbirds. To disperse themselves, the mites jump off the hummingbird they are currently inhabiting, scamper into a flower, and wait for another hummingbird or flowerpiercer to stop by. Once the next bird visits the flower, the mites scamper up the nostrils of the unfortunate creature. Talk about a tickle in the nose!

Some plants have evolved to encourage more cross-pollination from hummingbird species. Various species of Heliconia, two example photos included for reference, produce different levels of nectar within their flowers, in a system called “bonanza-blank.” Some flowers, the “bonanzas,” produce lots of nectar, and other flowers, the ”blanks,” produce a few drops. This process not only conserves energy for the plant, but it also ensures that multiple visits will occur among its flowers. These plants inhabit Reserva Las Tangaras, and often white-whiskered hermits (Phaethornis yaruqui) and tawny-bellied hermits (Phaethornis syrmatophorus) are seen visiting them with their long, curved beaks.

This next concept contains complex themes not destined for the minds of young naturalists. Kricher describes a study that was completed by Jerry Wolf in 1975 that discusses a hummingbird species native to the Caribbean, the purple-throated caribs (Eulampis jugularis). The males of this species are incredibly territorial, and they defend their flowers diligently, even against females of their own species. Females, sometimes hungry and desperate to get nectar, court males to gain access to their flowers. They do this even during times of the year when they cannot be impregnated! The full report and its juicy title can be found at this link: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v077n02/p0140-p0144.pdf.

This is just a taste of some of the themes and topics that John Kricher describes in Neotropical Companion and hopefully, it has encouraged you to pick up a copy. Kricher, an ornithologist by training, is a well-rounded naturalist at heart and sheds light on nearly any subject you would like to learn about. Before visiting us, we recommend that you pick up a copy of this text and read along as you explore.

Currently, at Reserva Las Tangaras, we are watching an average of ten hummingbird species buzz by our feeders daily. We consistently see three other species visiting flowers within the woods and semi-open areas. As we watch, we cannot help but imagine the crazy things that are yet to be discovered — and also the feeling of mites crawling in your nostrils.

Herping Finds

March 17, 2019

On a rare clear night in the cloud forest during the rainy season, our local herpetologist, Eric Osterman, and I decided to go out for a night walk. We estimated that we had anywhere between a few minutes and a few hours before the rain would start again, so we quickly scrambled up the Bosque Trail into the vast primary forest. As Eric informed me, the best time to see amphibians and reptiles in the cloud forest is right after a hard rain, and right before the inevitable next rain showers. While frogs and some reptiles are asleep, they purposefully position themselves on leaves to sense vibrations of potential predators scrambling up the stems of the plants they are situated upon. Raindrops falling onto leaves mimic these vibrations, forcing these species to find new hiding places.
On this particular night, I was on the lookout to see more species of rainfrogs. Rainfrogs are found in southern Central America and northern South America and are especially common in the Andean foothills of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. These frogs are unique because they have incomplete metamorphosis; they grow directly from eggs into adults. The genus that encompasses all rainfrog species, Pristimantis, is believed to be the largest genus of vertebrates with over 400 species identified and counting. Not only are their songs peaceful in the evenings, but each species is so unique that once you find one, you cannot stop looking for more!
Eric and I were in luck! We chose the perfect evening to see four species of Pristimantis. We saw the yellow-groin rainfrog (Pristimantis luteolateralis), Pasture’s rainfrog (Pristimantis achatinus), red-groin rainfrog (Pristimantis verecundus), and my personal favorite, the blue-thighed rainfrog (Pristimantis crucifer). This species is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and we found five individuals along the property, a good sign that the habitat being preserved is conducive to the success of the species. The blue-thighed rainfrog is easily identified by blue marks along the inside of the thighs. At first glance, this frog looks bumpy and rough to the touch, but if it is touched by a potential predator, its skin changes to a smooth texture to facilitate an easy escape. I bore witness to this process, and indeed the frog easily slipped out of my hand!
At the end of February, herpetologists released a paper describing a new species of glassfrog, Nymphargus manduriacu, roughly 40 kilometers north of Reserva Las Tangaras. This species was discovered at population levels so low that it is already characterized as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Nymphargus manduriacu was encountered on an ecological reserve similar to Reserva Las Tangaras and therefore sheds light on the importance of dedicating land to conservation.

 

Link to the publication on Nymphargus manduriacu can be found at: https://peerj.com/articles/6400/?fbclid=IwAR1Dh5T3yILN1SNT073fAdxXw6vyDHJNoc1rbJ9u5d1XvvMRhAUfDvsiUEM.

More information about the IUCN Red List can be found here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/.

More information on Eric Osterman and his great herping skills can be found at: http://www.ecuadorreptileadventures.com/

3 New Species Added to Reserve List

January 28, 2019

We wrapped up 2018 with a thrilling bird monitoring season including finding 125 different bird species on and close to the reserve during the Mindo Christmas Bird Count.  It’s taken a while to get down to blogging (a euphemism for bragging) about it.  The Life Net Nature bird banding volunteer team found 3 new species for the Las Tangaras Checklist: Choco Warbler, White-sided Flowerpiercer, and Black-tailed Trainbearer (the latter two usually at higher elevations).  Go team!

Every avian monitoring session at Reserva Las Tangaras is exciting and unique, and Life Net is now recruiting volunteers for 2019.  Banders highly skilled and knowledgeable about Ecuadorian birds will be hosting 2 teams: August 4-17, 2019 and December 2-15, 2019.  After reviewing information about the volunteer positions at the Texas A&M Wildlife Job Board, you can email Dr. Dusti Becker at dustizuni@yahoo.com to apply.

Here are some photos from the December 2018 bird monitoring effort at Reserva Las Tangaras.  Enjoy!

img_0230

Choco Warbler – newly recorded at Reserva Las Tangaras during mist netting

img_0242

White-sided Flowerpiercer – another new record

img_0344

Most members of the December 2018 Life Net Nature Avian Monitoring Team – Ecuador

img_0304

Broad-billed Motmot – aka. “eye candy”