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“We’re living in a cloud forest…”

November 16, 2014

IMG_7834On days or afternoons when the view looks like this, a little song pops into my head, “We’re living in a cloud forest, cloud forest, cloud forest,” sung to the tune of “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens. Living in the cloud forest is a particularly awesome experience. Each day, Parks and I discover at least one (usually more) amazing life form of flora and/or fauna that is totally new to us. We walk the trails of the reserve looking at and observing everything around us – you never know what the cloud forest might reveal at that moment. Reveal is a good word because some of the wonders of the cloud forest require a little time, patience, and/or luck in order to be seen, and of some you only find a trace.

For example, can you spot the Lynch’s glassfrog in this picture? It flattened out its tiny body to even further camouflage itself on this palm frond. I’m not sure how Parks saw it.

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Can you see the very well-camouflaged glassfrog? My fingers provide some scale on how small it is.

And we only have seen hints of some of the more secretive and nocturnal mammals, like these footprints which we think belong to a jaguarundi, a small jungle cat. We set up a camera trap to try and capture a photo of it, but no luck.

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Suspected Jaguarundi prints

Other gems of the cloud forest, are more reliably seen, like these guys, Andean Cock-of-the-rock.

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Three lovely Andean Cock-of-the-rock hanging out at the lek

The Andean Cock-of-the-rock displays twice every day – early morning and evening, year-round. At Las Tangaras, we are luckly to have a large lek, a displaying and mating area. We visit the lek at least once each week to observe them and record data on when they display, who is displaying (some birds are banded), where they’re displaying, who is friendly or aggressive with whom, and if a female shows up and some lucky guy gets to pass on his DNA.

As for mammals, we see lots of the two species of squirrel that are here and also get fairly regular visits from an agouti, a funny rodent about the size of a small dog, who sits and eats fruits in the yard.

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An agouti munching guayaba in the yard, totally not bothered by us

While showy birds and bold mammals are more easy to see, shy birds, mammals, amphibians, and other animals can be more difficult to spot, mainly due to the abundant and lush cloud forest vegetation, which itself is amazing and wonderful to look at, discover, and try to identify.

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A tiny Pleurothallid orchid in flower. The flowers which are less than 1 cm, arise from the top of the petioles.

Unlike the towering giants of the Amazon, the cloud forest consists of scattered large trees, with lots of understory shrubs, small trees, and a wide array of fern species, including the huge and prehistoric tree ferns. While the cloud forest is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Tarzan-like jungle with lots of things dangling off trees, it is different in that it is not so dark or enclosed, and while there are vines and lianas, many of the things dangling down are air roots from the vast array of epiphytes that grow on the trees and shrubs. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but they are not parasitic; they get their moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere. Orchids, bromeliads, philodendrons, mosses, and lichens are just a few examples of the epiphytic plants found here. The forest has the appearance of being constantly decorated for a massive party with hundreds of garlands and flowers draped and hung in the trees.

You may be familiar with the opening line of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees”, “I think that I will never see a poem lovely as a tree.” If trees are like poems, then the trees found here in the cloud forest at Las Tangaras are like rambling, free verse, epic poems.

It is perhaps impossible to convey in a photograph the enormous amount of plant life that can live on a single tree, but I’m going to try. Here’s a picture of a single tree, then a photo zoomed in on a section, then zoomed even more. Take a look at the trunk, it is just covered.

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Las Tangaras Reserve helps to conserve a small section of the cloud forest found along the western slope of the Andes, but just like the Amazon rainforest, the cloud forest is also threatened by deforestation and the encroachment of farmland and cattle ranches. Across and up the river from Las Tangaras there is a new road and cleared area that provide a stark contrast to the lush landscape of the reserve. Here’s the view heading down the entrance trail to the lodge (you can just see the lodge roof in among the trees)…

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The lodge is nestled down at the base of the slope. You can see the roof at the bottom, middle of the photo.

…and the view from the from the lodge porch…

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A morning view with the mist rising up among the trees.

…vs. the cleared area and road. Parks is standing in the new wasteland with all the topsoil exposed for easy erosion.

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Parks in the barren lot.

If one tree can hold such a diversity and magnitude of life among its branches, then it is difficult to imagine the number of species and amount of life lost when a whole swath of forest is cut down. What new animals or plant species yet to be discovered were lost? What rare or endangered life form lost its life or a little bit more of its habitat?

This is the reason that places like Las Tangaras Reserve are so important. Las Tangaras conserves an incredibly unique environment, while at the same time giving people the opportunity to visit and gently enjoy it. Hopefully, it impresses on each visitor the necessity of protecting such an amazing and special habitat. Walking among the immensity of plant life in the cloud forest surrounded by the chorus of bird, insect, and frog songs, catching sight of a brilliantly colored birds or even a glimpse of the rare mammal – this is an experience not to be missed or soon forgotten.

I’ll leave you with a fun set of photos that illustrate that you really never know quite what you will find when you peer into the corners of the cloud forest. We saw a leaf wrapped in gossamer threads and tried to see what was inside. First, with no flash…

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…and then…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 21, 2014 5:54 am

    Cool cloud forest finds, Alexia & Parks. Keep on exploring!

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