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Sometimes we see things (Part III and IV)

July 5, 2012

Part III

White-Necked Jacobin eggs rest inside a perfect nest. This is most likely made of only plant fiber and spider web–quite a feat to achieve perfection in the midst of the spring rains!

After more than two solid months at the reserve, heading into Mindo for provisions and computer time becomes just another activity that you do without much thought.  You usually sweat through Yanez

The female White-Necked Jacobin rests on her eggs before they’ve hatched.

Pasture and enjoy the views once you’re up on top.  You relish in reaching the shade and occasional cooling breeze of the forested part of the entry trail.  You check on signs and make sure they are still readable for the guests who might be happening to hike in.  You may clear a downed tree or two with your ever-present machete.  You might even add in a little excitement by looking for Crimson-Rumped Toucanets, Crested Guans, or the ever-evasive Golden-Headed Quetzal.

Just like every other trip, this was how our hike to Mindo began on May 28.  The one change to our town itinerary for this day included a stop by the bus station to pick up o

Two sleeping baby White-Necked Jacobins rest quietly in the nest while their mother is out looking for food.

ur friend Donovan from Los Angeles and his traveling companion, Marne.  Knowing that we had friends who were coming to the reserve for a couple of days gave Luke and I some excitement and we walked to town this day with a little extra pep in our step.

Luke, being 4 inches taller than me and a power hiker, was, as always, hiking ahead of me on the entry trail out.  And, like always, we were birding and enjoying the silence of the forest before we headed into town for the day.  As a Biologist with a very practical emotional side, Luke doesn’t get too excited about much.  But, on this day, as we rounded the last stretch of cool, moist forest before the road to Mindo, he froze in front of a large Elephant-Ear plant stretching 3 and a half feet above the ground.  His mouth dropped agape and eyes twinkled as if he was a five year old standing in front of the tree on Christmas morning.  He said nothing.  He just pointed… right at the leaf.

Being that my legs are not as long as his, I had a bit of catching up to do in order to get to the mesmerizing leaf, but I was certain I was about to see another of the little bright green frogs we can occasionally catch resting on these leaves.  I did think to myself “why is he so excited about another frog?”  That was until my eyes caught site of the perfect little yellow volcano resting on the top of this leaf.

Having never seen one of these little yellow volcanoes before, I wasn’t sure what to expect upon approaching it and peering inside.  To my amazement, resting inside, were two little white eggs.  Hummingbird eggs.  To be more specific, White-Necked Jacobin eggs.  And they were tiny and perfect and the nest was perfect too.  This was yet another moment where nature really surprised me.  This female Jacobin had created her little nest out of some kind of plant fiber and spider webs and it seemed quite durable and impressively without lumps.

Now with their eyes open and mouths begging, the babies begin to resemble their mother. It’s quite incredible that their initial feathers match their nest so well.

As our time at Reserva Las Tangaras passed, we got to watch the eggs hatch (somehow we were lucky enough to hike to Mindo on hatch day).  We watched them as little featherless wigglers with big eyes lying silently in the nest, and then even got to see them grow into fuzzy yellow babies (matching surprisingly well with their nest, natural selection at its best?) with mouths open, begging for food.  Unfortunately, we had to leave Ecuador before the baby Jacobins fledged.  But we passed the task off to the next managers to watch them and take lots of pictures as they grow!

This was by far one of our highlights of life in the cloud forest.  It’s not every day you get to see something as incredible as baby hummingbirds!  And it’s even more amazing when you get to see them again and again, despite being at waist-level on an open hiking trail and hatching just days before a week of heavy and cold rains.  This mother Jacobin was a fine example of good parenting and it was wonderful to get to learn about the life cycle of hummingbirds by actually seeing them up close.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *             *            *             *             *             *

Part IV

Luke demonstrates the proper way to hold a bird while taking morphometrics as National Geo students look on (and take photographs).

Who would have thought that one of the final things we get to see while at Las Tangaras is a group of American high school kids??

As representatives of Las Tangaras, we had the privilege of hosting students with National Geographic Student Expeditions for three days in the middle of June.  As a group, they were looking for experiences with scientists doing scientific research in the Mindo area and visited us to learn about the work of mist netting.

Luke, with years of mist netting experience, taught the students (high school sophomores, juniors and seniors) about biological morphometrics, proper mist netting techniques, the purpose of collecting data on birds, and encouraged them to pursue studies in science.  As an educator, I worked as a facilitator with the groups and demonstrated proper data recording.

National Geographic Student Expeditions students are all smiles while helping repair our entry trail at the cab

We had a really great time with the students and their adult leaders on their days of mist netting, catching everything from Gray-Breasted Woodwrens to Orange-Billed Sparrows to Spotted Barbtails and even a Broad-Billed Motmot!  But, we had even more fun with them on their final day of visiting us, as they volunteered to help us clean up the campground, repaint trail signs, and dig steps on our entry trail.  We are convinced that the kids enjoyed hammering, sawing, and digging more than they enjoyed anything else on their visit to our reserve!

But, in the end, the truly important matter was getting kids out in nature—observing it, enjoying it, and hopefully working to preserve it in the future.  And we feel as though our experiences with the National Geographic Student Expeditions will encourage future generations of Americans to love Ecuador as much as we have come to love it.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *             *            *             *             *             *

This serves as our final blog entry as managers of Reserva Las Tangaras.  On June 24th, we handed the duties over to the new managers, Amanda and Shayama.  We were sad to say good bye to all of the lovely people in and around Mindo and even sadder to say good bye to the beautiful property that is Reserva Las Tangaras.  We spent our last few mornings rising before the sun in order to enjoy the beginnings of the day over in Yanez—watching the sun come up over the hills and the birds dart through the tree tops during their morning feeding.  We formed many incredible memories… hopefully enough to last us until we can visit Ecuador again!

Good bye from Katie and Luke!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2012 3:26 pm

    Thank you so much, Katie and Luke. You’re truly inspirational! All best wishes on your trails ahead!
    Tony Povilitis, Co-director at Life Net Nature

  2. shyam permalink
    July 6, 2012 4:20 pm

    Great posts Katie and Luke! Thank you again for the wonderful job you did in getting us settled at Las Tangaras, it was a pleasure to meet you both. Your hummingbirds fledged about a week after you left 🙂
    Shyama & Amanda

  3. Rodney Wells permalink
    July 6, 2012 9:21 pm

    You guys truly inspire me! I miss you.

  4. July 7, 2012 9:51 am

    Katie & Luke: We are happy that you had such a meaningful time in Ecuador; however, we are happy to have you back. It appears that you left the Reserve a better place than when you arrived. That is always a worthy accomplishment… Welcome home! DM & MM

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