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Slipping and sliding through February

February 28, 2020

Well despite it being a leap year, another month has flown by! By now we’ve been able to explore the entire reserve and have a good knowledge about the trails.  I think we’d both agree that the trail we frequent the most is the Fuente de Agua trail. While it may sound like a lovely, tranquil trail running along the river, let me assure you it is quite the opposite.  The Fuente de Agua trail, or the water system trail, is our slippery and very muddy trail leading to the intake source for our water supply. I should add that getting to the intake source requires us to walk up stream in the river, using rope to swing across or climb up the bank in some sections (don’t worry parents this is why we use the buddy system).  

Now if it’s such a bad trail, why are we on it all the time you may ask.  Well this month the water system has broken a record seven times in three weeks.  The first time it took us an exhausting six hours going back and forth along the trail trying to troubleshoot the problem.  We located a gaping hole in the manguera (the black rubber piping that carries the water to the house) and fixed it to the best of our ability.  However, two days later we realized that our best just wasn’t good enough and had to fix it a total of two more times–each time learning from our mistake and making the section stronger–throughout the week.  The main problem now seems to be air bubbles getting trapped in the manguera which happens during heavy rains, and seeing that we are in the rainy season, there’s not much we can do about that besides monitoring it.  While it’s very demoralizing to turn on the faucet and see the slow trickle of water turn to nothing, the silver lining is that we’re now great plumbers who stay in good shape hiking back and forth and back and forth and back and forth…

Apart from the water problems, we have been very lucky this month with our guests.  We’ve had people visit from Belgium, Hong Kong, Canada, etc. all of whom are very friendly and eager to talk to us about what their time in Ecuador has been like.  We’ve even had some familiar faces this month, including Henry’s grandma who braved crossing the bridge to bring us our own supply of TWO jars of yummy peanut butter (thanks Edie!) and the previous incredible managers Alya and Guillermo.  

Each visit gave us a much needed boost of happiness!  Additionally, we’ve had an awesome volunteer with us for the majority of the month.  Laura’s been super helpful staying on top of trail maintenance while we go off to battle the water system, and provides us with words of encouragement and yummy zucchini bread to lift our spirits.  We’re very sad to send her off to Quito today.

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(Left to right: Bridget, Laura, and Henry ft. his favourite breakfast bun)

We’ve also been very lucky in the bird world from seeing to banding new species.  We saw a Mottled Owl from the cabin (which was calling at 3 am and yes, Henry made me get out of bed to help spotlight it), we banded a pair of Beryl-spangled Tanagers which are nesting 3 meters away from the cabin, and Henry saw a Cerulean Warbler (which is apparently rare and exciting).  

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(One of the Beryl-spangled Tanagers parents outside the cabin)

But nothing has been able to outshine my personal favourite: a tiny Purple-throated Woodstar that has been coming around to our hummingbird feeders.  If you don’t know what it looks like I’ll wait while you go ahead and Google it… adorable right?! And it’s not just its size that makes it so stinking cute, it’s the way it behaves around the feeders too.  While the other hummers divebomb each other and flit aggressively around the feeders, the Purple-throated Woodstar floats in, bobbing up and down while wagging its tail–making it impossible not to smile. I thought it must be singing a little diddy in its head while flying, to which Guillermo laughed and told me it was a good thing we were going into town soon.

Another exciting development are the three Gray-breasted Wood-Wren nests that Henry discovered!  We’ve been documenting the chicks growth by weighing them and keeping track of their development i.e. when their gape formed, when their eyes opened, when their feathers developed (NOTE: Henry has extensive experience handling baby birds–we would not be attempting this otherwise!).  I’ve found it really cool seeing the weird alien babies turn into something that resembles a bird. We’re hoping to publish our findings once they’ve fledged and provide useful information about Wood-Wren breeding biology. Also, I found a Rose-faced Parrot on one walk into town and Henry saw that its mate was inspecting a snag as a nest site!  We were both super excited since it is a very elusive species and information about them is greatly needed. We jumped on the opportunity to learn more and set up a camera trap the next day.

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(Alright, Henry did give me a small boost up there!)

It’s a good thing I climbed lots of tall trees as a kid.  Neither of us have spotted them since, so we aren’t optimistic that they are nesting there, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

On that same day into town, a super friendly taxi driver, Giovanny, offered to take us the rest of the way into town.  We learned that he’s had just about every job possible, but his dream is to work in transport. He loves being a taxi driver and has become a good friend of ours–he even invited Henry to play soccer on the weekend with his friends.  Another person we’ve befriended in town is a chef named Fernando who owns a fantastic vegetarian/vegan restaurant. Being vegetarians at the reserve due to our lack of refrigeration, we’ve both found that if we eat meat or fish in town upsets our stomachs.  So we’ve been avoiding it while not sacrificing any of the taste or flavour. After all, it’s impossible to miss the taste of meat while eating a delicious authentic Argentinian empanada made with fresh dough. Fernando happily offered to bring us things from town if we ever need them since his family drives up the road every Sunday.  We haven’t asked him for anything yet, but we talked to him about bringing us propane tanks which brings me to another peculiar story. While Henry and I are both strong, the idea of carrying a propane tank across the bridge is something we’d like to avoid. So in order to get more propane, we call a man known at the reserve as Simon the Mule Guy.  Appropriately named, Simon brings a mule from town who crosses the river, picks up our empty tanks and walks back to the entrance to meet a taxi driver we previously called to bring two full tanks from town, exchanges the tanks, and then walks back across the river to the reserve. Quite a trek, but so is the way of life on the reserve!

Well that sums up the peaks and valleys of this month.  We’re eager for March to come since both of our families will be visiting and we can’t wait to show them around the reserve and Mindo.  Until then we’ll be blissfully enjoying the two consecutive days we’ve had of working water–must be a Carnival miracle! 

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