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CLOSED 2-16th DECEMBER

November 30, 2019

Our lodge and some of our trails will be closed from the 2nd to the 16th December due to the annual banding expedition of Life Net Nature. Sorry for the inconvenience and come visit us afterwards! 

Las Tangaras

First impressions from Las Tangaras!

November 10, 2019

Hola a todos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Always something new…

October 4, 2019

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

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There were many beautiful species of day-flying moth

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These unidentified grasshoppers were stunning

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We couldn’t even begin to identify the flora!

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The forest is full of a huge diversity of flowers

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Western Basilisk were common along the river

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Green Sipo – our only encounter with this stunning snake

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

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

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Collared Inca

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Violet-tailed Sylph

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

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

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Living without mains electricity meant lots of candlelit evenings

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

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

Alex and Georgia

Bird Banding in the rainforest!

August 31, 2019

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

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Watching a Chocó Toucan

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

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Wedge-billed Hummingbird (female)

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Rufous Motmot

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Olive Finch

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

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Colombian Screech-Owl

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Barred Forest Falcon

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Beryl-spangled Tanager

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White-throated Quail-Dove

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Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

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

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Golden-winged Manakin

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Hoary Puffleg

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

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A typical scene of the 2 week expedition…

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

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A birthday celebration thrown by our wonderful Ecuadorian staff!

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

A Birder’s Paradise!

August 3, 2019

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

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

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

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We didn’t know leaves came this big

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

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Brown Violetears make up the bulk of our dawn chorus

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Dawn breaking from the lodge

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

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Red-headed Barbet

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Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner

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Choco Toucan

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

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Our female Purple-throated Woodstar

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

 

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!

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.

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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