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Our Customers: The Hummingbirds at Reserva las Tangaras

February 12, 2021

Hello again everyone! Katie and Nick here, welcoming you to our third Reserva las Tangaras (RLT) blog post. We hope that you pour a cup of something delicious and enjoy this month’s entry!

Many of you faithful RLT blog readers will know, as managers of the reserve we not only care for the property, engage with locals and tourists who visit us, but we also conduct a variety of long-term avian based research projects. One of the most popular of these research projects is a daily hummingbird survey. A photo of a female White-whiskered Hermit (Phaethornis hispidus) visiting one of the RLT feeders is below.

A female White-whiskered Hermit (Phaethornis hispidus) at the feeder. Key diagnostic features of this hermit are its black eye mask with a white-whisker and a copper eyebrow, a long slightly downcurved bill, a white vent, and a white tip to its tail. The behavior of this species at the feeders is also a key diagnostic feature, in that it is always in flight, almost never landing a feeder or settling on a nearby branch.

Every day since January 2014 (that’s over 7 years of data at this point!), the managers of RLT have conducted a one-hour long survey of the hummingbirds who visit our feeders. There must be three feeders out during the survey and each feeder must be filled with the exact same sugar solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. If you think this seems silly, that hummingbirds will drink sugar water no matter the solution…tell that to Alaine Camfield, in his 2003 paper “Quality of Food Source Affects Female Visitation and Display Rates of Male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds”. This paper is available in the below references if you are interested, but evidently the 25% sugar solution MATTERS to the hummingbirds. So anyway, data collected includes hummingbird species, number of individuals, the number of individuals of each gender within sexually dimorphic (meaning, species where the male and female can be identified based upon their plumage, size, or other outward characteristics) species, and anything else that may be of note. Other observations that may be noteworthy include behaviors observed (ex. mating, aggression between birds, preening, etc.), if a bird has an identification band on its leg (as seen in the photo below of a female, Green-crowned Brilliant), or if a bird has a key identifying characteristic (ex. Missing a leg, broken wing, abnormal growth, etc.). As you can imagine, this has produced quite the dataset over the years with a plethora of information.

A female, Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) at the feeder. Notice the small silver band around her right leg. Key diagnostic features of this brilliant are her small white eye-mark, a long straight thick black bill, and overall glittering green coloration, with a faint white stripe down the middle of her belly.

But, we keep asking ourselves the same question day after day…why? Why are we doing this survey? What is the point? What is the collection of this data telling us? Why is it important that we do this? We’ve been here for three months collecting this data Every. Single. Day. And for what purpose? So, we did a little research and decided to look into it a bit further…

Firstly, why are we doing this survey? What is the point?

Well, at its most basic level. We are conducting these daily surveys to obtain a population estimate of the hummingbirds which visit feeders in this area. By noting all the various species, counting the number of individuals, and monitoring banded individuals; we are collecting information on the general hummingbird population local to this area (a neo-tropical, montane cloud-forest with a study area at an altitude of 1350m in secondary forest, boarding riparian and primary forest) during all times of day across the wet and dry seasons (there are technically only two seasons here, not four as in temperate environments). Also, as we are a nature reserve since 2005, our study can be replicated in an unprotected area for better comparison as to the importance of nature preservation and its positive effects on the overall health of the ecosystem, but specifically on hummingbirds. This means that due to observed trends over time, we have a fact-based estimate of what species we will see in this environment during any time of year. This can be important information for presentation to government or political officials in the argument against deforestation, planned destruction of natural habitat, or the excessive growth of “eco-tourism” operations near or in protected areas. For example, don’t clear that 2 hectares of primary forest to build an “eco-lodge” because there is a high local population of the rare, Purple-bibbed Whitetip (Urosticte ruficrissa), which thrives in montane forest undergrowth and may be lost if its habitat is destroyed. Do we have proof of how exactly this habitat loss affects hummingbirds? You bet we do! Check out Hadley et al. 2018 (full citation available below in references) for “Forest fragmentation and loss reduce richness, availability, and specialization in tropical hummingbird communities”. Below is a photo of the Purple-bibbed Whitetip male, as they happen to be one of the more prevalent species to visit our feeders, despite their rare status in Ecuador and globally. They could be one of the more vulnerable species to anthropogenic impacts such as deforestation and habitat loss.

A Purple-bibbed Whitetip (Urosticte ruficrissa), male at the feeder. Key diagnostic features are its small size (8-9am), the white eye mark, a large white “dot” at the tip of the tail, and of course its flashy purple bib. This individual is not banded.

Secondly, what is this data telling us?

Well, when we sit down and truly look at the data…it can tell us a lot! One thing we have learned according to observations over the last 7 years is that we see a lot of mating behavior between February – May, resulting in lots of juvenile or sub-adult hummingbirds being seen at the feeders in July – October. Mating behavior can be described as active male on male aggression, interspecies aggression, or mating attempts made at the feeder (female sitting on feeder and male approaching from behind), or actual copulations seen (rare!). Juvenile or sub-adult hummingbirds are identified due to their plumage, which may still contain all or most of their post-hatching down feathers. They can also be identified due to their overall body size, bill length, tail length, or wing development.

One interesting study published in a 2018 edition of Plos ONE, highlighted the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to characterize hummingbird visitations at feeders to help elucidate behaviors, clarify population dynamics, and define community structure. Essentially, asking very similar questions related to hummingbird species richness and behavior to our own here at RLT, but in an urban setting…pretty much the opposite of our own. Read more on this in the open journal article Bandivadekar et al. 2018.

Another lesson which is easy to learn, is how the overall populations of each species seem to be fairing over time. For example, according to the data over the past 7 years a few species have consistently had the largest number of individuals coming to the feeders, 1) the Green-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica), followed by 2) the Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae), and the 3) White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga ellivora); so, we can assume that those species have a healthy local population. Some species have shown extreme variability in their numbers coming to the feeder, sometimes having very high numbers (healthy local population) and sometimes having very low numbers (unhealthy local population), such as: the Fawn-breasted Brilliant (Heliodoxa rubinoides), the White-tailed Hillstar (Urochroa bougueri), the Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae), and the Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni). These are species that scientists could ask several questions over. Why are they rare during some months and abundant during others? Why during some survey days are they present in high numbers, but on other survey days they are not observed at all? What environmental factors are changing their population density at the feeders? Is it an anthropogenic (human-induced) factor changing their population density at the feeders? Then there are those rare beauties, which are always a rare sight no matter the time of day or the season, such as: the Green-fronted Lancebill (Doryfera ludovicae), the Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti), and the Little Woodstar (Chaetocercus bombus). Does this mean that their populations are locally unhealthy? Or are they perhaps a rare or vulnerable species nationwide or even globally? One scientifically acceptable method that RLT uses in answering some of the above questions regarding hummingbird population health, is that of banding and recording recaptured individuals. By hall-trapping (a method of low-stress, hummingbird capture) birds and collecting basic data on them (weight, age, plumage, brood-patch presence, or absence, etc.), then fitting them with a small identification leg band, we can then continue data collection on that individual over time through recapture and data collection techniques. We can learn how long the individual bird lives, if and when they reach sexual maturity, during which season they develop the most fatty tissue, if they are migratory or year-round settlers, if they produce young, etc. Only results from a long-term data set with recapture capability can teach us these lessons. Studies with results like this can be seen across a variety of hummingbird species, one such example being in Calder et al. 1983 highlighting the Broad-tailed Hummingbird (a U.S.A based species) listed below in the references. You can also read a bit more about this in RLT’s Field Reports from the last 5 years of Bird Banding Expeditions organized by Life Net Nature (LNN): https://lifenetnature.org/

A Fawn-breasted Brilliant (Heliodoxa rubinoides) male at the feeder. Key diagnostic features are its small white eye mark, a metallic green head and back with a tawny belly, and of course its flashy copper-colored bib. This individual is not banded.

Thirdly, why is it important that we do this? Why does it matter if we do or do not conduct these daily surveys?

Well, it matters for several reasons. One being that a healthy population of hummingbirds in this area determines a healthy density of native and endemic flora. We all know that bees are important pollinators, but did you know that hummingbirds are as well? They are proven to be a key vector in direct pollen transfer, with native and endemic hummingbirds preferring (thanks to evolution!) native and endemic species of plants. The more we know and understand our key hummingbird characters, the more likely we are to know and understand the important flora of this area as well. This is something that may seem fairly obvious, but most of us grow up learning about the bees…not necessarily the birds. If this interests you (as it did me), check out these open and free journal articles on the subject, all referenced below: Feinsinger et al. 1986, Jimenez et al. 2012, and Ornelas et al. 2004.

Another important reason for conducting these surveys, is that there is still SO much we still do not know about some of these species from a basic life ecology level. In a paper from Rodriques et al. 2013, they publish the demographic parameters of a previously undescribed hummingbird species in southeastern Brazil. Simply by observing the same species monthly for 2 years, scientists were able to collect and publish data regarding this hummingbird’s population dynamics, survival rates, sex ratios, mating displays, migratory patterns, and recommended conservation efforts. Here at RLT, with managers onsite 365 days per year, a focused study on each individual species could give us an accurate depiction of each species ecology, also known as a biographical sketch. For example, below is a photo of one of RLT’s most historically common hummingbirds, the Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae). Managers have been recording high numbers of individuals from this species at our feeders since their inception in 2014, that means we have over 7 years of population data, behavior assessments, site fidelity, and banding data (which is technically in a separate database, but we have it and could supplement our surveys with it!). We have ALL of this knowledge at our fingertips, however there are NO publications (that I could find anyway) which draw out a biographical sketch of this species. What if this is a keystone species of hummingbirds in the neotropical region? We should have its ecology listed out and available for conservationists to use if need be in the protection of environmentally sensitive areas. There are some excellent opportunities here for students looking into higher education, just saying 😉

An Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae) at the feeder. Key diagnostic features are its small postocular white spot, a uniform snowy white belly from under its bill to vent, and, of course, its flashy emerald green crown to tail tip. This individual is not banded.

Well, I hope we didn’t bore you with TOO much science talk during this blog…but that you did come away with some new information regarding our “customers”. Also, just for your information the reason we call the hummingbirds at the feeders “customers” is because tourism in Ecuador is still relatively low, so we are only being visited by the occasional hiker…however, we KNOW that we can depend on these hummingbirds showing up Every. Single. Day. within seconds of our appearing outside with the feeders, hence they are our biggest customers, at the moment.

If you want to come visit us at Reserva las Tangaras and learn more about our “customers” or assist with one of our daily hummingbird surveys, call or WhatsApp us to schedule your visit: +593 96-982-4972 or +593 99-058-7084

We hope that you enjoyed this blog post and that we see you at RLT soon!

Best, Katie & Nick

A White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga ellivora) female approaching one of the feeders. Key diagnostic features are its grey face patch, a short, thick, slightly downcurved bill, and the black and white scalloping pattern on her throat and vent.

Bandivadekar, R.R., Pandit, P.S., Sollmann, R., Thomas, M. J., Logan, S. M., Brown, J. C., et al. (2018) Use of RFID technology to characterize feeder visitations and contact network of hummingbirds in urban habitats. PLoS ONE, 13(12): e0208057. www.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0208057[c1] 

Calder, W. A. III, Waser, N. M., Hiebert, S. M., Inouye, D. W., and Miller, S. (1983) Site-Fidelity, Longevity, and Population Dynamics of Broad-Tailed Hummingbirds: A Ten Year Study. Oecologia[c2] , 56 (2/3): 359-364. www.jstor.org/stable/4216906[c3] 

Camfield, A. F. (2003) Quality of Food Source Affects Female Visitation and Display Rates of Male Broad-Tailed Hummingbirds. The Condor[c4] , 105(3): 603-606. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1370686[c5] 

Feinsinger, P., Murray, G. K., Kinsman, S., and Busby, W. H. (1986) Floral Neighborhood and Pollination Success in Four Hummingbird-pollinated Cloud Forest Plant Species. Ecology, 67(2): 449-464

Hadley, A. S., Frey, S., Robinson, D. W., and Betts, M. G. (2018) Forest fragmentation and loss reduce richness, availability, and specialization in tropical hummingbird communities. Biotropica 50(1): 74-83 www.doi.org/10.1111/btp.12487[c6] 

Jimenez, L., Negrete-Yankelevich, S., and Maćıas-Ordónez, R. (2012) Spatial association between floral resources and hummingbird activity in a Mexican tropical montane cloud forest. Journal of Tropical Ecology (2012) 28: 497-506. www.doi.org/10.1017/S0266467412000508[c7] 

Ornelas, F. J., Jiménez, L., González, C., and Hernández, A. (2004) Reproductive ecology of Distylous palicourea padifolia (rubiaceae) in a Tropical Montane Cloud Forest: Hummingbirds’ Effectiveness as Pollen Vectors. American Journal of Botany 91(7): 1052–1060.

Rodrigues, L., Ibanez Martins, F., and Rodrigues, M. (2013) Survival of a mountaintop hummingbird, the Hyacinth Visorbearer (Augastes scutatus), in southeastern Brazil. Ornithologica[c8] , 48 (2)


Finca “Reserva las Tangaras”

January 16, 2021

We arrived at the reserve with the promise of an “orchard” but what we found was 20 moss covered and undeveloped lime trees; 10 stands of overgrown and undermaintained bananas; along with a few avocado and coffee plants that seemed to have seen better days. Furthermore, the jungle was encroaching on the orchard, testing the borders with vines, saplings, and decayed treefall. We know the previous managers tried to produce something viable and we are not knocking their efforts, the pandemic and lack of oversite were the main reasons why the orchard was in need of some maintenance. Left as is, the orchard would produce nothing more than bitter disappointment.

Our orchard, in its post lockdown state

As aspiring homesteaders, avid guerilla gardeners and all-around veggie-heads, we placed “creating a finca (farm)” high on the list of projects we hoped to achieve while we are managers here at Reserva Las Tangaras. This job would not come easy and, with even the shortest seed to harvest time taking around three months, would yield little “fruits of our labor”. However, when looked at life from the perspective that the rewards are not in the results but rather in the process, creating a functioning farm from nothing is just as sweet as the first harvest that we will probably never get to enjoy. We hope that future managers and their guests benefit from our efforts and that they too enjoy working to sustain the little finca that we have brought back to life.

The first shoot of a planted carrot top

Finca Las Tangaras has its roots in three goals: that it provides abundance in harvest and variety; that it is a free as possible to set up and perpetuate; and that it requires little effort or inputs to maintain. Let us start with the economical goal first: we wanted the farm to be established and run for as little extra cost to the reserve or to ourselves. In the most basic terms, you need four parts to grow a plant: light, water, a nutrient rich medium and the plant itself. Mother nature provides the first three of those four inputs, in varying levels of abundance, but all for free. Historically, in the months of December through to May (the duration of our tenure here) we are expecting 5 to 8 feet of rain. Yes, you read correctly, that is so much free water falling right out of the sky. The landscape here not only provides part of the nutrient rich medium, which is the molasses-colored soil found all around us, but also gentle slopes which can be channeled to increase or decrease water to certain areas of the finca. The rain does not last forever as summer months see little rainfall, so planning is needed to retain as much of the infrequent summer rains as possible. The last of mother nature’s gift is light, provided by that glowing dot of plasma we call our sun. Judging by the high amount of rainfall we expect while we are here, we also expect low hours of sunlight. This means that plants will not grow as much as they would in summer months when the sunlit hours are longer, but that does not stop them from becoming established during the rainy season. The last part of the economic equation is the plants themselves. We chose to source them from kitchen scraps of food that we would buy to feed ourselves such as garlic, onions, peppers, cilantro, basil, and scallions or try to get cuttings of cassava and sugar cane, for example, cheaply from local farmers. So far, we have spent a grand total of $0.00 on the farm, other than buying food to feed ourselves, but have 10 varieties of plants growing.

A row of garlic shoots, planted from single garlic cloves, at the beginning of January 2021

It is our hope that those 10 varieties grow to 30 and that there are enough of those 30 varieties to go around. Abundance not only comes in what you can produce but that you produce enough that you can eat some of it fresh, preserve some of it and still have enough to be able to produce seeds or replant. The man-made economy has a truly evil way of copyrighting and trademarking everything, including the seeds of most of the produce that we eat. What we are doing here may be illegal in some jurisdictions, as people should be rebuying seeds from giant corporations such as Mansato but, we feel that what is illegal is not always immoral. Possessing the ability to replant your own food means that you possess a perpetual state of abundance and control the seed to harvest to seed cycle without the need to fatten some corporation’s already bludgeoning pockets over some ridiculous law.

Parsley, scallions, garlic, carrots and onions growing in our herb box

Our time here is short, and most grow cycles are long, with a schedule of maintenance that needs to occur to keep the finca up and running. We do not expect all managers to have a green thumb (or even keep the farm running at all) but we hope that they will see the value of spending time growing their own food, rather than having to walk a total of 4 hours to town and back, half of which would be walking loaded with a backpack of food. For this reason, we have written a guide to planting, maintaining, and harvesting each of the different varieties of produce that we currently have and will have available in the finca. The guide should provide managers with even the highest plant mortality rate to keep them “in the green” if followed correctly. Additionally, the design of the finca itself provides low maintenance systems so that future managers can almost sit back and watch the food grow itself. Take for example our compost system. We go through roughly 1 to 2 lbs of food scraps every 2 or 3 days. Instead of going into the garbage, we throw these scraps into one of four compost pits, filled in on a cycle to reduce smells and increase compost production. These pits will not only generate nutrient rich compost (the starter for many a plant to come) but also act as water sinks to provide a pool for banana, cassava, and papaya plants to tap into when rains are low.

Two compost pits, which require food scraps, brown leaves, sun and time to produce rich compost in a few months

Our principles are based on Permaculture and experimentation. Watch what lessons the plants and the forest teach that day. Trust us, there will be many failed banana plants before the first successful one comes bearing fruit. Permaculture courses are freely available in most cities and online, so we implore you to start growing your own food at home and stop paying the companies who produce the insecticides, pesticides, hormones, and genetically modified foods that are bad for our planet, for our health, and detrimental to the livelihoods of our farmers. Also, follow us on Instagram @reserva_las_tangaras_mindo and Facebook @ Reserva las Tangaras for periodic updates on how our finca is growing, all of the delicious produce we manage to harvest, and the creative ways we put it to use.

First harvest from one of our newly maintained banana plants

Coming to live in the Jungle, or more specifically…to a neo-tropical montane cloud forest

January 2, 2021

On Christmas Day, as we were calling loved ones, a friend asked us to “describe the mountain in front of us” and it made me realize that unless someone has been here, it is impossible to know what to expect upon arrival. A “mountain” can be so many different things. Dependent on who you are and what places you have experienced in your lifetime, determines what image is conjured up in your mind when you hear that word. You can Google Earth the location, you can read the Reserve’s Managers Blogs, you can research photos and videos of the Mindo, Ecuador area but, until you have arrived here at Reserva Las Tangaras, you cannot know what it is like to be surrounded by this kind of nature.

The outgoing managers, Sophie Collier and Phil Guy (on the left) and us, the incoming managers, Katie and Nick Ebanks on the right.

As I sit here writing this, I am struck by the absolute emerald quality that everything holds. On the days like today, where we are lucky enough to welcome the sun first thing in the morning, the forest seems to be drawn into its light. All the plants are growing and reaching towards the suns warm, enriching rays. Everything sparkles for the first few hours as the dew slowly evaporates from the forest surfaces. Spiders webs, meters long are strung across the lawn like natural tightropes, catching the light for just one second before disappearing into the forest backdrop. The colors here indescribable.

The cascading water fall that acts as a natural line between the reserve land and the neighbor’s property

We fall asleep each night to the frogs and wake up each day to the birds. Each the perfect chorus to lull us to sleep after a long day or to gently welcome us to a new beginning. In the background you can hear the Rio Nambillo as it pushes massive amounts of water along its shores. Today, the sounds of the river are in the backdrop as we have had little rain over the last 24hrs…not the case only 48hrs ago.  Two days ago (Christmas Day) we had about 60mm of rain in a 24hr period and sitting in the lodge you could feel the boulders being moved under the rivers surface. By comparison, today’s river is calm.

The Rio Nambillo brims over after a few days of rain

I can hear a Broad-billed Motmot in the forest to the west of la cabana, it’s familiar “ Gwau, gwua, gwua…” slowly and steadily calling. There are many other smaller birds in the area calling as well, however my novice knowledge of the local avian populations does not allow me to identify them. They seem to always be calling over one another, fighting calmly for space in this active forest to be heard. There are insects as well, always a backdrop of insects rubbing their legs or wings together. They are a constant, faint, backdrop which becomes so normal to life here that you have to stop and close your eyes in order to give them the attention they deserve.

One of the resident Broad-billed Mot-mots sits waiting for its next meal (or digesting the previous one!)

Hummingbirds thrum past you seemingly at random and in a blink of an eye they’re speeding back towards the cover of the forest. Their tiny beating wings so fast, that you feel the small wind produced by them as they inspect you for flowers before realizing their mistake. Some call, while others are only made apparent by the sound and feeling of their fast-fluttering wings.

“Broke Bill”, a Green-crowned woodnymph, looks back at the feeders, looking to see if there is an open space at the dinner table

Daily life here as you can imagine is magical. The work is physically demanding, labor intensive, and ever present. However, the reward for your efforts are unbounding. We have so enjoyed the first month of our stay here, cheers to the next five!

Your new Reserva Las Tangaras Managers, Katie and Nick

A Fridge-less Life : Off grid living in the Ecuadorian rainforest.

November 10, 2020

The magic of Las Tangaras Reserve is partly due to its remoteness. The wildlife is used to being undisturbed by crowds, traffic and bright lights and visitors often remark upon the tranquillity of the area. Of course this peacefulness comes with some challenges: low power and a long way to carry supplies. A frequently asked question is how just we manage living “off-grid”.

The Las Tangaras lodge is all but self-sufficient out of necessity as well as out of kindness towards the environment. This is my first time living in a self-sustaining house and, to me, the technology used to provide utilities is brilliantly simple. The running water is fresh from the Rio Nambillo and the water system is powered entirely by gravity. From the house, the water pipes lead up and into the forest, towards the source of the river, and some of the water flowing down is re-directed to us – no pump required.  Gas bottles for hot water and cooking are carried in by mule or by ourselves. Electricity is provided via a solar panel that powers the LED fairy-lights that illuminate the house. We already knew that the house ran on a small amount of power and when we arrived at the Las Tangaras lodge our suspicions were confirmed. Definitely no fridge.

waterfall rio nambillo ecuador
Our water supply, The Rio Nambillo.

Which is why were surprised to find that, four months later, our eating habits haven’t really been compromised. We are not going grocery shopping every other day and we aren’t living off of tinned food. Most of this is done through meticulous planning. We write a menu each week. Cheese and perishables are eaten early in the week and dried rice, beans and pasta make up most of the meals towards the end of the week. Meat however is off the menu most of the time. Without a fridge, we would rather not risk storing it – especially if we are serving guests! As a result if you are a guest at Las Tangaras the menu will be largely vegetarian and pizza, shakshuka and tigrillo are becoming our specialities. One thing that really helps with meal planning is the managers cookbook. Here previous managers write their recipes for meals/ desserts/ snacks that have ingredients you can buy locally and don’t need refrigerating. We are especially grateful to the managers who wrote in their muffin recipe, we have worked out that we have baked and eaten about 60 muffins between us in the last two months.

So we have heroically overcome the absence of a fridge*. The next challenge is the distance to the Las Tangaras lodge. When we are not carrying groceries, the hike through the forest into the reserve takes about 45 minutes but usually longer because there is always something to see. For instance, when we were last maintaining the trails we saw ten (!) toucans all feeding together and a rainbow forest racer snake sunning itself by the footpath. However, this is a long time to be weighed down by shopping bags so naturally we try to lighten the load. Drinks are heaviest so we make our own soft drink from the orange-lime hybirds by the house (“orange-lime-ade” is delicious but needs a catchier name) and brew our own ginger beer to avoid carrying glass bottles. Another trick is to use the bananas that grow in the reserve garden. When they are green they are great substitutes for plantain and can be used in typical Ecuadorian dishes like tigrillo, bolones or just plain patacones. It is always a race to use them before they start turning yellow but once they are yellow then, well, we have bananas.

parrot banana ecuador bronze-winged
Homegrown bananas – but sometimes the parrots beat you to them!

While all this may sound like a lot of hassle in order to achieve something as basic as eating, it has become second nature and we are actually hoping to retain some of the habits we have learned. It turns out that having no fridge means you end up with a diet that is more economical, healthier and more environmentally friendly. For instance, being forced to only buy what we really need reduces the grocery bill considerably. Not being able to refrigerate food means that ready-meals are off the table and all meals are freshly prepared and as a result taste better, are healthier and cheaper to produce. The mostly vegetarian diet is kinder to the environment and when we do go into town and eat meat or fish we really do appreciate it.

As our time as the managers of Las Tangaras draws to a close it has made us reflect on the lessons we have learned here. One is how little we really need some of the things that we normally take for granted as essential. By the time we leave, we will have lived for 5 months without a washing machine, without a fridge and without a real bed and somehow it is just not a problem. I initially assumed that having no fridge would mean extreme dietary restrictions for us. In fact a fridge-less life has forced us to re-think how we go about eating and our stay at Las Tangaras has been a far more creative and interesting experience for it. 

*The absence of a freezer was also heroically overcome by simply eating ice cream within seconds of purchase.

A Day at the Reserve

October 13, 2020

Three months have passed in what seems like the blink of an eye. We arrived at Reserva Las Tangaras in the middle of July, full of enthusiasm and expectation and still a little relieved to have made it here at all given the ongoing pandemic which, as I type, seems to have the whole of Europe gripped in a second wave of rising cases.

Here in Ecuador things seem to be getting better due I’m sure in no small part to the way the countries population have adhered to the government’s containment and prevention measures. Only now are we starting to see a few unmasked people walking the streets as the government updates it’s advice, but every business be it a shop, restaurant or bank still insist on masks being worn and hands being sanitised upon entry. Everybody is treated equally, and I think the population accept that measures such as these, coupled with social distancing and limits on the number of people gathering in one place have helped reduce the spread of infection.

As the Covid-19 situation improves here we are hopeful that international tourists will soon start to return to the area. Mindo is relatively isolated yet easily reached from the capital, Quito. The town and surrounding area has so much to offer the inquisitive traveller – it’s possible to ride a cable car to take in some of the amazing views, visit waterfalls and ride the river rapids in a rubber ring. Food and cultural experiences are plentiful and of course you can come and stay at the reserve or just visit for a day and let the peace and tranquillity of nature surround you.

Ideally placed on the edge of the Mindo-Nambillo protected forest, the 50 hectare reserve is perfect for visitors who want to get in to the heart of the Ecuadorian cloud forest and see some of the amazing fauna and flora that help make Ecuador one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. More than 15 species of hummingbird are virtually guaranteed and in 13 short weeks our patience and I’m sure a small amount of luck has been rewarded with sightings of Puma, Capuchin Monkey, Coati, Agouti, Rainbow Forest Racer snakes, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and too many other animals to list…

We’ve started to settle into a routine here and have a weekly schedule of work that sees us tackle jobs ranging from bridge repairs and trail clearing through to creating marketing material and hosting guests. There are tasks we like and there are tasks we like less but if we had to describe an ideal day this is what it would look like.

The day would start early, we set our alarm for 04:50 as this is the time you have to roll out of bed if you want a front row seat at the sunrise Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek display. It’s a 20-minute hike uphill from the cabin to the lek site and but the headtorch illuminated walk is well worth it. There’s always the chance you’ll catch the eyeshine of a tree dwelling mammal like a kinkajou on the way up but even if you don’t, being on the ridge of the hill as the suns first rays emerge and bring the forests birdlife in to song is reward enough.

As the rising sun pushes back the nights darkness the stars of the show start to arrive. The calls begin off in the distance but before long you can make out the unmistakeable silhouettes of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock males gathering on their favourite perches. Almost immediately the show begins as each male starts his display in order to catch the eye of any visiting female.

It’s quite a sight to behold, the lek can attract in excess of 12 birds and between the calling and the dancing you don’t know which direction to point the binoculars or camera. Often, I find myself taking a step back and just trying to take in the whole spectacle.

When a female arrives, things go up a gear, the noise amplifies and displays become more energetic. Having observed many of these morning spectacles there’s no mistaking the moment a female bird is on the scene, but she doesn’t usually take long to make her choice and as quickly as she arrived, she’s gone and the urgency amongst remaining males subsides.

In total the morning performance can last anywhere between 40 minutes and an hour and a half although the main group has usually dispersed by 07:00.

For me the drop in activity signals the time to return to the cabin. This time in the morning is often the best for bird watching and the 20-minute journey back down the hill can often take an hour or more as there are so many opportunities to observe birds feeding and going about their early morning routines. The forest feels alive with activity from floor to canopy.

Once back at the cabin a hearty breakfast is in order, an additional reward for the early start – on an ideal day it would consist of a stack of fluffy banana pancakes or a couple of slices of still warm French toast, drizzled with some local honey or served with a side of spiced apple compote – all washed down with a strong cup of café pasado.

With breakfast out of the way and a renewed spring in the step it’s time to set-out and collect the camera traps. Often placed in remote and quiet corners of the reserve the camera traps act as an ever vigilant pair of eyes, keeping track of any goings-on day and night. With the traps in hand is back to base to see what activity has been captured. It’s always an exciting moment, placing the SD card in the computer as hope is high for a fleeting glimpse of one of the reserves more elusive inhabitants. Maybe today is the day we finally get that shot of the Puma or the Jaguarundi but to be honest, we’re always happy with whatever turns up!

Now the real work starts and it’s out into the reserve proper with machete and saw in hand to do some trail maintenance.  The forest is a dynamic place and without regular attention the trails would soon be reclaimed, and visitors would not find it so easy to explore. Heavy rains and high winds can easily bring down tree limbs already burdened with the weight of creeping vines or bromeliads. Even for a couple of active stewards like ourselves it’s not possible, or sensible to try and tackle more than one trail a day but a couple of hours of intense grooming with the machete works up a good sweat and is usually enough to get the job done.

By now it’s early afternoon and with so much already achieved and the sun high in the sky it’s time to down tools and head to the river for a revitalising dip in the crisp and clear waters of the Nambillo.

At the reserve we’re lucky enough to have a couple of safe swimming holes that have been created in back eddies of the swift flowing water and a few moments spent washing away the mornings hard work are enough to remind you that lunch is long overdue.

You might think that the reserves’ isolated location and lack of fridge would restrict the menu but it’s quite the opposite. It’s been said that limited options encourage creativity and we have certainly found this to be true. Our repertoire of dishes has increased, and we are using ingredients that we might have previously ignored, especially dried beans and pulses and fruits and vegetables that you would not find on the shelves of a UK supermarket.

After a good lunch it’s time to turn our attention to data collection. We make a daily survey of the hummingbirds that visit the cabins’ 3 feeders and note down information the number of species we observe, the number of individual birds and their gender split. This is always a special moment in the day as it’s a period of intense bird activity and it’s possible to watch up to 23 species flit form feeder to feeder jostling for their position on one of the plastic flowers. Their reward is a sip of diluted sugar mix which we make for them daily.

Once the survey is complete the days work is done. Now it’s time to relax with a good book selected from the cabins’ small library and read through to the light fails. Days are regular here, close to the equator. The sun rises at 06:00 and sets at 18:00, give or take 10 minutes and the darkness creeps back as quickly as it was chased away by the sun in the morning.

The LED lights come on and we turn our attention to dinner. This is as exciting an event as lunch and after 3-months we still approach the cooker with a sense of enthusiasm.

The perfect day is topped-off with a well earned glass of homemade ginger beer and a game of cards (which I always win) and it’s not long before bed is calling and thoughts start to drift to what exciting adventures tomorrow will bring…

It’s what you don’t see…

September 14, 2020

The title is a bit misleading as you can actually see a lot of what you don’t see if you’re looking (and listening) carefully…

I’m new to the jungle, not just in terms of this trip but in terms of life experience. I’ve done a ‘Jungle trek’ once from Rio de Janeiro which consisted of a 2 hour jeep ride in to what appeared to be a large expanse of jungle behind the vast city of Rio and then what a brisk hike to a very picturesque waterfall for a bit of splashing around followed by a brisk hike back to the jeep. There was not a lot of time to dwell on the surrounding fauna and flora, but as a group we were lucky enough to come across a large wasp stinging a tarantula to death in order to lay it’s eggs (so we were told by the guide). Other than this brief experience and the vast array of documentaries I’ve watched on TV over the years I built myself a preconceived idea of what jungle life was going to be like!!

How wrong I was. First of all, I’m not living in just any jungle, I’m living in tropical montane cloud forest and secondly, the jungle fauna is not just hanging around waiting to be seen but if you use your eyes and ears, you’re patient and you’re careful where you put your feet, the jungle inhabitants will reveal themselves to you.

Let’s take mud, not a thing one gets terribly excited about, but in a tropical montane cloud forest (in July and August) there’s plenty of it around as rain is common. It didn’t take long to start noticing that amongst my own muddy footprints there were signs of what had passed before me.

It must already be clear that I’m not a biologist, so you’ll understand that coming across sets of muddy animal prints didn’t immediately trigger a process of animal track recognition from a university course that I didn’t do. However, I am a mobile phone user and through the power of technology I managed to take pictures that I hoped would help identify my unseen jungle companions when I got back to the lodge. Even with its small library of reference books, identifying animals from their tracks is not as easy as it sounds but the images I took were enough to narrow the owner down to family and in some cases individual species. What was especially useful was having the camera traps set to confirm that we weren’t seeing Paca, Red Brocket Deer and Agouti.

Animal tracks from around the reserve.

The next clue to the existence of animals we weren’t seeing was also a visual one, they leave behind droppings. What is consumed at one end is in part excreted at the other…

Although we’re not seeing a lot of animal faeces, what we are seeing points to the existence of small carnivores. In the two samples I’ve managed to picture, both have been relatively compact and there is clear evidence of fur.

Not long after arriving at the reserve we were lucky enough to see the rear end of a puma disappearing into the jungle but just the size of this cat rules it out as the owner of the droppings. We have also captured both Tayra and Jaguarundi on our camera traps so either of these could be the owners but there are also reports of Ocelot and Margay on and around the reserve so it’s a possibility either of these cats could be responsible.

Animal droppings.

The last piece of evidence for the existence of unseen jungle companions is sound.

On more than one occasion, and once night has fallen, we have heard strange sounds coming from around the lodge. A torch lit inspection has failed to yield any results, but the loud snuffling suggests a foraging armadillo.

In the early morning, just after sunrise and towards dusk, the air is often filled with the sound of bird song. Spotting birds is easy in the jungle, they’re all around but if you only use your eyes for identification then you’re just scraping the surface of what’s out there. There are some obvious calls, like the Andean-cock-of-the-rock and the Choco toucan but if you listen carefully you might pick out the staccato pipping of an ornate flycatcher or the mocking chuckle of a well-hidden quetzal. There are some really good mobile apps to help with the identification of birds by their call and although in the 8 weeks we’ve been here we’ve spotted over 70 different species we know that we’ve got a long way to go to hear, and hopefully see more of the 300+ species we know inhabit the reserve.

The onset of another tropical shower or the arrival of dusk signals the jungles many species of frog to begin their ritual calling. Pastures rainfrogs, emerald glassfrogs and yellow-groined rainfrogs can be seen and heard easily enough but a keen and experienced eye is needed to spot many of the other species that are hidden in the leaf litter or up in the trees.

At night rarer species like the Mindo rainfrog can be heard calling from up in the trees and on our Tres Tazas trail we have been teased by the sound of the Darwin Wallace poison-frog but have yet to find our first specimen.

The failing light of dusk also gives confidence to the millions of insects that inhabit the jungle. From roots to treetops the sound begins to build as individuals call-out to attract a mate. Crickets and katydids do battle for who can shout the loudest and although you can’t always see them you know you’re not alone…

Reserva Las Tangaras is a home to hundreds of different species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs and fish. It would be impossible to see them all, or even get close to it even with an extended stay but it’s reassuring to know that there are clues left all over the reserve to help you see what you don’t see!

Jungle Nights

August 18, 2020

I woke up during the night a couple of weeks ago to find that a cloud had settled on the lodge. Living in the montane cloud forest, we regularly find ourselves above clouds or even in them depending on the weather conditions. That night, the conditions must have been exactly right to have the cloud at precisely the level of the lodge. The close-to-full moon was lighting up the cloud making it glow and give the lodge an ethereal quality. As if to complete the eerie and magical scene, fireflies flashing red and green were hovering lazily above the mist.

It reminded me how special the jungle is at night. It’s something many people don’t choose to experience or even actively avoid. I imagined the first time I entered the forest at night, that it would be a stressful experience of wandering through creepy, quiet darkness with the vague feeling that you are being watched by something that you cannot see. I was wrong for the most part. First of all, the rainforest at night is LOUD. The chorus of birds heard throughout the day is replaced by an equally enthusiastic chorus of insects and frogs. While indeed the remote forest is dark, the darkness can have its benefits. Since the Las Tangaras reserve is far away from the artificial lights of inhabited areas, there is no light pollution to mask the starlight. If you are walking in Las Tangaras on a clear night, it is well worth turning off your head torch and looking up to see a sky full of more stars than you are likely to have ever seen. As for the feeling of being watched…well you probably are, but this is true in the daytime too and the vast majority of creatures in the forest would much rather slip quietly away from you than risk any confrontation.

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Spiny Stick Insect

Also, rather than stressful I find walking in the forest at night quite relaxing. The air is pleasantly cool and you keep your walking speed extra slow. This is for two reasons. Firstly because walking fast in the jungle at night is a recipe for tripping over a root and falling flat on your face. And the second (and more exciting) reason is that you aren’t going to see anything interesting if you are speeding through the forest not paying attention to your surroundings. My advice is to relax and not rush when walking at night. Use your torch to search for the eyeshine of animals like kinkajou and opossum that may be watching quietly from the trees. Listen carefully for frog calls and then try to locate the caller. The air and plants around you are full of interesting insects from the smallest iridescent beetle to sizeable and amazingly shaped stick insects.  The riverside trails at Las Tangaras are home to plenty of emerald glass frogs that sit on the leaves surrounding the paths and a common potoo has taken a liking to a tree near the cabin.

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Our resident potoo.

 

I hope I’ve made a good case for the night time rainforest being a magical and fascinating place to be! If you happen to be in the area of Mindo I hope you stop by (by night or by day) and enjoy the forest with us.

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Emerald Glass Frog.

We are here and ready for visitors!

August 10, 2020

We are finally here at Las Tangaras! We applied for the position of reserve stewards almost a year ago and getting here to start work has been no easy task. Understandably Ecuador is enforcing strict security measures to control the spread of covid-19. For us this meant arriving into Quito from the UK with negative corona tests, carrying all the paperwork to prove we would be working at Las Tangaras and an address in Quito where we would quarantine.

We spent our quarantine at a guesthouse in Quito called Casa Bellavista. Despite not being able to venture outside we were made to feel very comfortable and welcome. The guesthouse kindly organised food for us and put so much effort into every meal. As a result, we are desperate to try cooking some Ecuadorian dishes ourselves and they will go on the guest menu at Las Tangaras once we are happy with them.

Once our quarantine was completed, we set off for Mindo. The two hour drive is stunning and offers beautiful views of the dry forests of Quito which then give way to cloud forest of Mindo as the altitude decreases. The winding roads of the journey are enough to make even the most hardened traveller feel a bit queasy. As I demonstrated. Twice. Giving me another reason to be thrilled to arrive in Mindo.

Mindo is a pretty tourist town full of small hostels and restaurants with almost every wall covered by murals of the local bird life. There is a huge variety of fruits and vegetables in the towns shops, including fruits we’d never heard of like naranjilla and tree tomato. The famous bird life also starts appearing in the town. Black vultures circle the roads, parrots fly in flocks overhead and hummingbirds feed from flowerpots. Getting to Las Tangaras from Mindo was a short taxi ride and then a hike with our backpacks down the valley to the reserve cabin. We were welcomed to the reserve by our first toucan sighting and quickly spotted one of the famous Andean cock-of-the-rock’s just outside the cabin.

Toucan Reserva Las Tangaras

Our first glimpse of a toucan.

If you love nature, Las Tangaras is the place to be. Just sitting on the veranda, you can watch hummingbirds feeding, hear the Nambillo river rushing past and watch the clouds roll down the valley. Still, we have work to do. Since the reserve hasn’t been manned for a few months all the trails are overgrown and there are kilometres of it to clear. Usually a machete each is enough to allow us to clear the majority of growth but large trees have fallen since the trails were last cleared so we bring a saw and an axe along as well. It’s physically demanding work but we are getting there. On the plus side the fresh air, fresh food and intense daily exercise is toning us up. In other words, we look gorgeous. Actually I look gorgeous. The mosquitos here apparently love Phil so he’s got a more “handsome but possibly contagious” aesthetic.

Other than maintenance and clearing trails, our days are spent focusing on the birdlife. We survey the hummingbirds each day and are getting to grips with recognising individuals in the nearby Andean cock-of-the-rock lek. It is amazing to have a whole nature reserve to ourselves for a while and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors so they can enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest. The trails are now up to scratch so come and visit us!

Philip Guy Sophie Collier Las Tangaras Nature Reserve

Phil and Sophie (us!)

Headline: More covid… sorry

June 8, 2020

Each month that passes, I hope that the next will be covid-free and we can return to discussing the beauty of Ecuador like we used to. But, Ecuador continues to suffer from the silencing grip of this global pandemic. And, although things are finally calming down in Guayaquil (the epicenter of the virus in Ecuador), more and more cases are appearing in the Pichincha province — where Mindo and Las Tangaras are located.

Luckily, Mindo has done an excellent job of remaining isolated from the chaos. With the exception of one food truck per week, no one is allowed to enter the town, and only a select few are allowed to leave if they’ve acquired a “salvoconducto” from the chief of police. Will restrictions lighten up or get worse? Who knows… Certainly not Ecuador’s politicians. Luckily for the entire country, many citizens (especially in Mindo) have taken curfew extremely seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we couldn’t even buy more propane for the cabin. Yikes… Interesting to compare that to the hundreds of Americans that splashed around in the Ozarks and contracted the virus. Is it bad that I kinda hoped they would get it? I sure do wish I was literally any other nationality…

Switching gears to a lighter subject, we have exciting news: the manuscript Bridget described in her last blog post on the avian species composition of Las Tangaras has finally been accepted and will be published in Cotinga, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on tropical ornithology, at a later date. We are ecstatic that years of data collected by Las Tangaras staff and volunteers will finally enter the public sphere. It’s about time!

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Now, let’s both be real here — you probably aren’t going to read the article when it’s published. I get it, you’re busy. So allow me to summarize some of our most exciting results with you here! I’ll start with the numbers. After removing dubious records, we finalized the official Las Tangaras list at a mouth-dropping 356 bird species. In other words, that’s more than 3% of the total bird species in the entire WORLD (I know Bridget used this fact in her last blog post but I’m reusing it because how incredible is that??) in an area of just 100 hectares. Amazing. Of those 356, 19 are endemic to the Chocó biogeographic region, a megadiverse ecosystem that ranges from Colombia down to southern Ecuador.

High numbers of species are exciting and everything, but for ornithologists, quality is more than important than quantity. In other words, does Tangaras support species of conservation concern? That’s an excellent question, Henry, and the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, 32 species of conservation concern in Ecuador use Tangaras for breeding, foraging, overwintering and/or dispersal. Such species include the charismatic Long-wattled Umbrellabird, the adorable Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl, the chunky Dark-backed Wood-Quail, and the elusive Slaty Becard.

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A Long-wattled Umbrellabird visiting Las Tangaras. Found and photographed by Zak Pohlen.

As it turns out, Tangaras even supports species unrepresented in the local Mindo area, and often contributes unique species to the annual Christmas Bird Count (fun fact: the Mindo Christmas Bird Count usually records more species than any other count in the entire world!). Such species include the Lanceolated Monklet and White-throated Hawk, and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll be looking at the right place at the right time and see one of these gems next time you’re visiting the reserve!

Unfortunately, not all our results are uplifting. Our long-term dataset allowed us to determine which species have undergone local declines over time, and unfortunately, this seems to be the case for species such as the Russet-backed Oropendola, Crested Quetzal, Powerful Woodpecker, and Toucan Barbet, among others. While these species are still detected sporadically on the reserve, their total abundances have dropped noticeably since the founding of the reserve just after the turn of the century. Figuring out the drivers for their declines is a crucial, yet extremely difficult, task for future research, especially given the list of potential culprits. Is climate change gradually shifting their ranges upwards in elevation? Has local habitat destruction forced them to seek larger patches of undisturbed habitat than Tangaras? Is fruit availability controlling their movements? Who knows, besides that it’s time for some serious science to happen in Latin America.

Bridget and I have been lucky and privileged to pursue our dreams in science. We were lucky to have families that supported us emotionally and financially in our decision-making, and for the opportunity to attend and focus on school throughout our lives. Unfortunately, not every aspiring young scientists shares our luck and privilege. There are students in Latin America and around the world who want to contribute to the growing field of ecology but simply lack the means to do so. In the midst of such dark times, we loved following #BlackBirdersWeek and the Binoculars for Black Birders event and hope similar initiatives can support Latin American scientists in the future. A pair of free binoculars can change someone’s life forever (it certainly did for me), but there are so many other ways we can encourage science in Latin America, like hiring locals for research projects and promoting community-based conservation schemes. Hopefully, in a post-covid world, Tangaras will be a place where Ecuadorian students learn to identify and band birds — and prepare them to combat the 6th extinction.

Sorry, didn’t mean to end on such a dark note. Here’s a picture of us and some pretty flowers:

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Remember to keep quarantining until health officials give us the green light!

A Scientific Tidbit

April 28, 2020

Amidst the global pandemic, the Ecuadorian government has required all nonessential businesses to close causing Life Net Nature to shut down Reserva Las Tangaras to the public.

However, at the heart of Las Tangaras is scientific research. So, while the hospitality services we typically provide are suspended for the time being, we are still hard at work collecting data. As Henry mentioned in the last blog post, we’ve been writing up manuscripts using the large database and information that has been collected since RLT’s beginnings. Henry and I are eager to share our research with everyone and thought informative distractions would be well received.

While RLT is mostly known for having the largest Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek in Mindo, it is also home to a wide variety of species from common Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Ornate Flycatchers to rarer Purple-throated Woodstars and Rose-faced Parrots (pictured in order below).

Birds

Since 2005, dedicated banding expeditions have occurred at RLT resulting in a HUGE data set—as in 7,613 birds have been banded thanks to the efforts of Life Net Nature staff and volunteers. For two budding scientists, this made our hearts go pitter-patter knowing we had such a large comprehensive data set. The first manuscript we wrote was an avian inventory list detailing all of the species detected within RLT.

Begin sidebar I: such information can be used as important tools to monitor species range shifts which is particularly important for areas like the cloud forest that are susceptible to rapid ecological modifications due to climate change. Furthermore, the information collected while banding (i.e. body measurements, age, sex, parasite loads) can be used to glean knowledge about population demographics. It’s super important to gather this information to monitor species of conservation concern, but also just in general!

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Henry carefully extracting a Scaly-throated Woodcreeper.

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After extraction, we use the Birds of Ecuador guide to properly ID all individuals before banding.

End sidebar I.

Combining banding information with monthly bird counts, we were able to establish an abundance ranking for each species. What this means is that we were able to determine how often a given species was seen, heard, or banded on the reserve and whether it was common, fairly common, uncommon, or rare. Through fifteen years of data collection, 363 species of birds have been recorded on RLT property, 21 of which are of immediate conservation concern. For context, there are 1,640 species currently known to occur in mainland Ecuador (excluding species from the Galápagos) meaning 22% of species in Ecuador (and 3.6% of species in the world) occur in our backyard! Incredible!

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We hope this avian inventory list can provided another example of how small, privately owned reserves can be of great conservation help when managed to protect and promote wildlife.

Begin sidebar II: ever wonder what the result of accidentally purchasing $5 of apples looks like? Enjoy this picture of Henry with our surprise bounty.

 

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End sidebar II.

One of the 21 species of conservation concern on RLT is the Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl (CFPO). As Henry previously mentioned, I have been writing about their natural history. Little is known about these owls given their secretive nature and geographic limitation. To put it into perspective, over the fifteen years of banding RLT has netted and banded three individuals… so a tricky study species at best. Luckily, one of those individuals was recaptured allowing us to infer that CFPOs can live up to five years of age. Additionally, this individual had a lizard in its mouth the two times it was captured.

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The fierce little CFPO determined to keep its lizard; photo courtesy of Dr. L. Vereen.

Given that other species of Pygmy-Owls (Glaucidium) are generalist feeders, we presume that reptiles make up a portion of the CFPO’s diet along with other prey items (i.e. small birds and mammals). It is important to note that these observations were made during the dry season. Therefore, it is feasible that they are a result of the seasonal activity of prey, and that CFPO alternate their primary prey based on what’s available (hence the generalist diet spiel). We cannot say for sure, but encourage further in depth studies to assess what makes up the diet of these cuties.

Speaking of further in-depth studies, we have been conducting targeted mist netting of CFPO to try and gather more information about their natural history and morphological traits. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in capturing them, but have consistently heard a response to the callbacks–along with being screamed at twice by a Kinkajou for playing said callbacks.

While we continue our efforts to understand the natural world around us, we sincerely hope everyone remains safe and healthy during this time!