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Where in the world are our guests from?

August 2, 2016

August is a wonderful month to visit Mindo.  The dry season is fully underway, with gorgeous sunny mornings and (relatively) little rain.  Plus, the summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere bring many tourists to Mindo and to Reserva Las Tangaras.

But where do all these people come from?  We decided to find out.

For the past five years, we have asked guests to write their country of origin in our guestbook.  Now, we have quite an impressive data set to share with you all.

From June 2011 to July 2016, the guestbook at Las Tangaras has been signed 760 times.  These guests represent 36 nations and every continent (except Antarctica).


Guests Map

Thank you mapchart.net for this lovely graphic.

(By the way, any guesses as to what the map colors signify?  Hint: It has nothing to do with our dataset, and everything to do with our location…)

It probably comes as no surprise that the United States have contributed the most guests to Las Tanagaras, since Life Net Nature is a nonprofit based in the USA.  But some of the other Top 10 Countries surprised us.  Do they surprise you?

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Top Ten (actually eleven) home countries of Las Tangaras guests

Here the distribution of all 36 countries, territories, and autonomous regions that our guests call home.

In the graphic above, the number next to each country represents the number of guests  from that country.  The chart on the right is a zoomed-in version of the white slice of the chart on the left, representing countries with fewer than 5 visitors.

As you can see, exactly ten countries have sent us only one visitor: Norway, the Canary Islands, India, Singapore, Nicaragua, Panama, Japan, Peru, Uruguay, and Brazil.  If you were one of those visitors, we sure do appreciate you!

Truly, we appreciate the diversity all of our guests, especially since they all bring such interesting travel stories.  If you’d like to be added to our guestbook (and any future infographics), please drop by for a visit!

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A Walk from Mindo

July 13, 2016

So you’ve just arrived in Mindo!  If you’re like most of our visitors, you probably came on a bus, possibly from Quito, and you’re looking forward to stretching your legs and exploring this new area.

Maybe you’ll spend some time in Mindo’s lovely town square….

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…or sample an Ecuadorian almuerzo in a local restaurant.

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Today’s almuerzo: tilapia

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Rio Mindo

Now, are you ready to travel to Reserva Las Tangaras?  You have two options.  If you’re carrying a lot of luggage, you might want to take a taxi.  It’ll cost you $6 and take about fifteen minutes.  But if you’re feeling energetic, you can walk all the way to the Reserve from Mindo.  The road winds its way through the jungle and crosses the Río Mindo just outside of town.

Your walk is mostly uphill.  Do you wish you’d taken a taxi now?  If you had, you might have missed some good birds that you can see as you walk:  parrots, tanagers, flycatchers, and wood wrens—even the occasional swallow-tailed kite.  Plus, you’ll see some nice views of Mindo and the surrounding area.

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When you see this sign, you’ve made it to the reserve’s entrance!  Get ready for a two kilometer hike through the jungle.  Fear not:  this part is all downhill.  It should take you about forty-five minutes.

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All downhill from here!

DSCN0943Las Tangaras’s entrance trail is adjacent to private land, so you might see people herding cattle or cutting grass.  Give them a “Buenos días,” if it’s morning, or a “Buenas tardes,” if it’s afternoon.  We like to be good neighbors.

As you walk, watch your step!  The trail can get slippery and muddy, especially when it has just rained.  (There’s plenty of rain in the cloud forest.)  It’s important to place your feet carefully and go slowly.  A leisurely pace gives you a chance to admire the view and any animals and birds you might see.

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Look out for trails of ants!  If you stand still, they might crawl up your legs.  You might end up sharing the trail with them for a hundred meters or more!  Who can blame them for taking the easiest route through the forest?

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This sign means you’re almost here.   Maybe you’re looking forward to a coffee or a mug of hot tea—or maybe you’re just ready to sit down for a while!

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Keep a sharp eye when you’re crossing the bridge over the Río Nambillo.  If you’re lucky, you might see a white-capped dipper or a torrent duck.

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Welcome to the lodge at Reserva Las Tangaras!  This two-story building doubles as a research station and your new home in the cloud forest.  Please take a moment to sign our guest register—we love to see where our guests are from.

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Then come up onto the porch and meet us, the new reserve managers!  We arrived at the end of June.  Annie is from West Virginia (United States) and has a background in environmental education and avian biology.  She’ll be happy to teach you about the dramatic and entertaining hummingbirds at our feeders.  You might catch her strumming a tune on the reserve’s ukulele.

Skyler is from Ohio (United States).  His background is a mixture of biological research and land conservation and stewardship.  He enjoys the challenges of maintaining the trails and property here, and can often be found in the reserve kitchen baking bread, muffins, cookies, and other treats.

More than anything, we love guiding visitors to our spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek and preparing tasty (mostly) vegetarian meals for our guests.  If this sounds tempting to you, and you’d like to book a guided lek tour or stay overnight, email us at lastangarasreserve@gmail.com, or call us at 96-982-4972.  We’d love to host you!

 

 

Solar Power at Reserva Las Tangaras

June 28, 2016

A part of the charm of Reserva Las Tangaras comes from the remote location and off-grid aspect of the cabin. Here you are removed from the noise of cars, dogs barking, and roosters crowing. You fall asleep to the sounds of frogs calling and the river flowing, and wake up to the chorus of songbirds in the forest just outside. Dinner is eaten by candlelight, and evening activities and chores carried out by the light of headlamps or flashlights when necessary.

Despite the romantic and tranquil atmosphere that comes from being off-grid, a certain amount of electricity is necessary in order to keep the reserve functioning well. Managers need to keep laptops charged for data entry, cameras for documenting species sightings, and the reserve cell phone in order to communicate with potential visitors.

Previously, all of these tasks and more were accomplished using an efficient gasoline generator. While the generator will still be necessary to run power tools, all other charging tasks can now be accomplished via solar power!

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The first successful phone charge via solar power!

We were able to install a 120 watt polycrystalline solar panel on the roof of the cabin. This panel, connected to a charge controller, deep cycle battery, and inverter, supplies noiseless and environmentally friendly power to meet most of the needs of the reserve. The panel can even produce power in cloudy conditions and during light rainfall (though at a lower rate).

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The newly installed 120 watt solar panel, soaking up some sun.

Installing solar power is the newest of several sustainability efforts that are ongoing at Reserva Las Tangaras, including maintenance of a fruit orchard, composting biodegradable waste, recycling and reusing a variety of materials, and encouraging a sustainable level of tourism to the area. We are happy to have been able to contribute to these efforts, and though we are sad to be leaving we hope future managers and guests enjoy harnessing the power of the sun here at the reserve!

A Nature Walk Through Las Tangaras

May 20, 2016

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We would like to take you on a trek at Las Tangaras Reserve through one of our most popular trails: Sendero de Quetzales! The trail is 1.0 km in length climbing from 1330 m elevation to 1440 m along the ridge behind the lodge and through old growth forest. So put on your hiking boots and get ready to see some cool plants and animals.

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Right off the bat an agouti leads the way to the trailhead. Agoutis are some of the more commonly seen mammals on the reserve. By foraging for fruits and nuts, and sometimes burying their food for later, they serve as an important seed dispersal mechanism for native trees. This guy was in a hurry to get back under the cover of the understory!

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It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormous diversity of plant life in the tropics. Hiking through the cloud forest you’re surrounded by plants of every shape and size. In fact, there are so many plants and so little space that they often grow right on top of each other! Many plants, called epiphytes, are structural parasites that use the trunks of larger trees as a kind of ladder to climb up and reach a sunnier elevation than the forest floor. Often these epiphytes don’t directly hurt their host plant, but a branch (or even a whole tree) can become so heavy with them that it can break and fall.

The family Araceae are a large group of flowering plants with many representatives along this trail. Check out the “elephant’s ears” growing as epiphytes. These are common houseplants in temperate zones.

This next part of the trail leads us up to the highest point in our hike where we cross a small stream and have opportunities for views out and over the forest canopy so keep your eyes peeled for cool wildlife!

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Check steps and other trail features are maintained by managers to help reduce erosion and mark the trail. Make sure you stay on the trail to reduce your impact on the environment!

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Although not everybody’s idea of cool wildlife, insects abound in the leaf litter on the forest floor and along the trail. Millipedes in particular are important detritovores, helping break down organic material and return the nutrients to the soil.

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Look quickly before it flies away! Toucans such as this Choco Toucan and the nearly indistinguishable Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan are common on the reserve but don’t always stay still long enough for a picture. They use their large bills to reach fruit and seeds but have been known to predate eggs and nestlings of other birds, and even eat smaller adult birds if they happen to be in the same fruit tree!

Eyes back on the trail now or you might miss one of the most common types of plants we encounter on Reserva Las Tangaras: the fern! Ferns reach their height of biodiversity in the tropics. As a group they are characterized as vascular plants that reproduce by spores.

 

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You made it around the whole loop and back to the house, but the adventure isn’t over yet! Our yard creates an ideal habitat for a few small creatures you might not find under heavy canopy cover.

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A huge variety of grasshoppers can be found on a casual stroll through the yard. They, along with other insects, serve as an important food source for lots of cloud forest animals such as rain frogs which are abundant here too.

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Rainfrogs are the most diverse family of tropical frogs with over 900 species throughout the Americas with over 200 in Ecuador alone. Small rainfrogs such as this Pastures Rainfrog (Pristimantis achatinus) don’t require standing water in which to lay their eggs. Instead, they are deposited in moist soil under leaf litter and undergo direct development to emerge as miniature adults, skipping the tadpole stage we so commonly associate with frogs!

We hope you enjoyed your hike around Las Tangaras! There are many more species than we could fit in this one post, so you’ll just have to come out and see them for yourself!

 

*While it is possible and likely to see all of these species in one trek our photos represent a collection taken over a series of hikes*

A Dynamic Landscape

April 18, 2016

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Hello, we are happy to introduce ourselves as the new reserve managers at Las Tangaras! We are Heather and Costi most recently from Phoenix, Arizona and glad to escape the desert heat for the most opposite climate we could think of – the rainy cloud forests of Mindo!

One of the most striking things about the land here is just how mobile it is. You might hike a trail one day and then find it completely different the next. The most usual and likely catalyst of change in the rain forest is water; whether it’s a thunderstorm, over flowing river, constantly flowing runoff or our personal favorite: the landslide. Interestingly, the local word for landslide is “rumba” which is a synonym for “fiesta” making us wonder what kind of ground-shaking parties we’re missing out on!

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Evidence of a landslide on a neighboring ridge

So far during our stay here “rumbas” have been a common event – they have knocked out our water system , which required a re-route of the Aqua de Fuente Trail, destroyed part of the entrance trail (now fixed, feel free to come visit!), and successfully blocked the private road that sometimes allows us to transport heavy items closer to the reserve. We have even heard the distant rumbling and crashing of landslides happening on other parts of the reserve while working to clear damage on the trails.

In addition to keeping us busy with trail maintenance, landslides serve an important ecological purpose. In the dense cloud forest sunlight is a resource subject to heavy competition. Tall canopy and sub-canopy trees and shrubs shade out smaller herbaceous plants growing in the understory, leading to the preponderance of the distinct growing habits of vines and epiphytes. No need to grow thirty or fifty feet tall if you can just grow on top of the tree that already managed that height! When a landslide occurs it opens up a patch of bare dirt and sunlight ready to be colonized by new plants and pioneer species. It creates a new habitat type for birds and animals and may help maintain biodiversity.

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Vegetative growth in a post-landslide area

Recently a more terrifying natural occurrence reminded us again how mobile the land here is. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador on April 16th. Fortunately here at the reserve we only experienced a shaking house and items fallen from shelves. The earthquake originated off the coast of Bahia de Caraquez approximately 150 miles from Mindo. Though landslides and earthquakes may cause tragedy and inconvenience for us, we try to remember that we are simply visitors to this amazing ecosystem and we’re humbled to be here to witness the biodiversity maintained by the moving ground.

Long Wattles and Goodbyes

April 10, 2016
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Long-wattled Umbrellabird found at Reserva las Tangaras on March 3rd, 2016. Photo by Zak Pohlen.

We have seen some amazing birds during our time as reserve managers, with the Yellow-throated Vireo being the cherry on top. However, if you ask either of us what our second favorite bird found was, we’ll both unanimously say: “Long-wattled Umbrellabird”. On March 3rd we found a lone Long-wattled Umbrellabird moving with a group of Collared Aracaris (Pale-mandibled). This is the first record of this species for the reserve and an exciting record for the area, as they are a rare species often difficult to see outside of known lek locations. Two well-known leks can be seen at Recinto 23 de Junio, located west of Mindo near San Miguel de los Bancos.

Like the reserve’s poster child, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock, the Long-wattled Umbrellabird is a part of the continga family—a diverse group of passerines found throughout Central and South America. The Long-wattled Umbrellabird is only found in the ‘Choco’ region, a 100,000 square kilometer area of humid forest in western Columbia and northwestern Ecuador home to many endemic birds and other endemic species. Within Ecuador the Long-wattled Umbrellabird is listed as endangered, due to both habitat destruction and hunting pressure. Like the Andean Cock-of-the-rock, male Umbrellabirds form leks where they display with the help of their long, pendulum-like, feathered wattle, and fog-horn-like call. Listen to the song and wing noises below.

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Though not an adult male, it was still an unforgettable moment seeing this bird pop up out in the open, and we were especially lucky that it stayed long enough to get a few photos. Another amazing experience at Reserva las Tangaras! To learn more about research and conservation of the Long-wattled Umbrellabird and the unique Choco region, visit the Center for Tropical Research’s Website, a part of UCLA’s Institute of the environment and sustainability.

Unfortunately, it is time for us to say goodbye to the reserve. Most of all we will miss the incredible avian diversity and all the amazing guests we were so lucky to have met. We feel honored to join the long list of “past managers”, and we are happy to welcome Heather and Costin to their new home for the next three months. Thanks to everyone who made our time at the reserve so special, and thank you Reserva las Tangaras!

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Happy to snag 3 new species for our reserve list, including the Long-wattled Umbrellabird.

Cheers!

Callie Gesmundo & Zak Pohlen

A Lost North American Traveler

March 1, 2016

On February 2nd, 2016 on a quick trip to Mindo, Zak and I spotted a bird silently foraging overhead just down the road from the entrance trail to the reserve. Fortunately for us, the bird was being quite conspicuous and we were able to quickly identify it, and knowing its rarity, snap some quick documentation photographs before watching it move out onto an exposed branch and fly over our heads.  Low and behold, a fellow traveler from the North, a Yellow-throated Vireo! We  spent some time trying to relocate the bird to no avail.

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Ecuador’s 4th Yellow-throated Vireo, and the 1st for Pichincha Province. Photo by Zak Pohlen

According to the Ecuadorian Ornithological Records Committee (CERO), this bird represents the 4th ever recorded in Ecuador, and the 3rd with photo documentation. This is also the 1st record of Yellow-throated Vireo for the province of Pichincha. The first record in Ecuador came in 2008 in Napo province, with subsequent records in 2011, and 2012 in Esmeraldas and Imbabura provinces respectively. For more information on these sightings, feel free to visit Aves Ecuador.

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A Yellow-throated Vireo banded in Michigan during its migration south. Photo by Zak Pohlen

Yellow-throated Vireos are uncommon breeders in the eastern United States and migrate south in the fall to spend their winters from southern Mexico and the Caribbean to northern Columbia, with few records south of Bogota.

Cheers,

Callie Gesmundo & Zak Pohlen