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March Madness

March 31, 2020

Hey folks, Henry here. Everyone in Mindo is deep in a self-quarantine period. The president of Ecuador basically shut down the country on 3/17, and I think everyone is supposed to avoid leaving their homes unless it’s an absolute necessity (food, medical emergency). Apparently, these restrictions will only last until April 6th, but given the situation keeps getting worse I’d imagine the restrictions will just become stricter starting on April 7th. I never thought things would get serious here like back in the States, but I suppose it’s a good measure to take against this stupid virus. 

I had the title of this post, “March Madness,” figured out long ago because of all the guests we were supposed to have this month — 21 total, leaving the cabin booked for all but six days in March. Even though that changed (no guests since Bridget’s family left on the 13th), I feel like the title is still appropriate. We have limited knowledge about what’s going on in the US and other affected countries, but it sounds like absolute madness. Everything cancelling, schools going virtual, grocery stores being entirely depleted?? I’m picturing pre-apocalyptic scenes of vacated cities and ghost towns. Guess we chose a good time to live in Ecuador for 6 months, eh?

Even though the rest of the world is in utter pandemonium, absolutely nothing feels different on the reserve. That is, besides the complete disappearance of all day and overnight guests, but we don’t really mind having our slice of paradise to ourselves. The weather has been really weird in March. For the first half of the month, it rained incessantly all day and all night — one day we got a total of 90mm, insane! We literally did not see the sun for 7 days straight, I kid you not. But the second half, so far anyway, has felt totally tropical and awesome. Sunshine all day, and barely any rain in the evening or during the night. Absolutely bizarre. We haven’t said this out loud in fear of jinxing our luck, but *maybe* the rainy season began and ended on the early side this year? Damn, I bet I just jinxed it by writing it out. Oh well, too late. We’ll see what happens I guess.

We had some awesome guests in the first chunk of the month. First off were a Canadian couple, Elaine and Steve, visiting Ecuador again after having volunteered in a remote Amazonian village last year. It was amazing to hear their stories, and it sure did take some pressure off us knowing that they had slept in a shack in the rainforest. Those types of experiences really make our cabin look like a boujie luxury resort! Then we got to meet Tom, one of the previous Tangaras managers from 2015, and his two friends from London, Simon and David, who all stayed for one night and were excellent company. It’s cool how many people of different nationalities we’ve been able to meet, beyond Ecuadorians and Americans: Canada, England, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Hong Kong, and we recently met an Australian couple in a cafe frantically trying to readjust their travel plans after the Ecuadorian president announced he was shutting down the Quito airport. 

Our star guests were Bridget’s family — Mark, Nora, Pete, Neil, and Susan — who arrived on the 9th and stayed with us until the 13th. We had such a total blast. From hiking up to the cock-of-the-rock lek at the crack of dawn to our salsa dance party, every minute they were here was golden and unforgettable. I honestly don’t think the reserve has ever experienced the level of fun that permeated the air during that week. They also helped us with our reserve chores (don’t worry Dusti, we got stuff done), including but not limited to bathroom and cabin cleaning, clearing the Quetzales trail, and building the new exterior bamboo shower. Our work-hard play-hard efficiency was simply off the charts. Here are some of the highlights:


Everyone arrives! Check out Neil’s roller suitcase full of goodies for us 😀



Here, we see two strategies for finding cock-of-the-rocks: blend in and search, or wear red and wait for them to come to you.


Pete’s favorite spot in the reserve (can’t blame him).




Cute again!!!


Sun finally came out after a week of clouds. How pretty is this??


Yummy family dinner!


Marg + chifles & guac + salsa music = one hell of a night.


Waterfall hike! Bridget, Susan, and Neil all braved the cold swim.


Banding demonstration for Bridget’s family with this Yellow-bellied Seedeater!


The water system broke half way through their stay, so Bridget and I exposed Mark and Neil to the wonders of the water trail. Turns out a giant tree had fallen across the manguera and snapped a valve clean off. That’ll do it…


Road beers make the 5-km hike back to the reserve in the rain MUCH easier.



It was really special for both of us that Bridget’s family were able to make the trip out, especially considering all the problems brewing in the States in response to coronavirus. It was actually the first time I got to meet several of them which was awesome, and Bridget absolutely loved seeing them all again and catching up. We were totally psyched to show them around our new backyard, and it seemed like they enjoyed it too! Guys, if you’re reading this, thanks a million!

Speaking of our backyard, let me now segway to the second half of the month which has been characterized by solitude (the good kind) and nature (do I sound like Thoreau yet?). I know you all are really here to hear about the latest bird gossip on the reserve, so I won’t waste any more time. We completed a 4-day venture to capture Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owls for a scientific paper that Bridget is spearheading. Unfortunately, we did not catch any (awww), but every morning there was at least one owl calling right above the mist nets (yay!). Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owls have an extremely limited range on the western slope of the Andes in Ecuador and the southern bit of Colombia, which makes them an inherently threatened species without even considering the additional negative impact of human deforestation and climate change. As a result, the Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl is currently listed as Vulnerable, making any research on them valuable contributions to their conservation — cue Bridget et al. 

Our cabin bird list (started by Guillermo and Alya, you can only add birds to the list that you saw, no heard-onlys, from the cabin) now stands at 104 species with recent additions of Tawny-bellied Hermit and Purple-crowned Fairy. The hummingbirds have been delightfully plentiful recently, both in abundance and species in richness. Beyond the normal suspects, we’ve been receiving frequent visits from a Purple-crowned Fairy, a pair of Purple-throated Woodstars, a female Booted Racket-tail, a Buff-tailed Coronet, and even a Bananaquit! 

Bridget and I have spent most of our free afternoons writing up scientific manuscripts with the years of bird data that has been collected from the reserve. Writing these papers is really a win-win for all parties involved, because the data gets published, Bridget and I get writing experience and publications, and the birds eventually benefit from environmental policy and management plans based off of the published journal articles. We’ve really enjoyed the process overall, even if there are some tedious data management and editing tasks. I’ve been mainly focusing on two papers about Andean Cock-of-the-rocks, and Bridget is working on papers about cloud-forest hummingbird survival and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl natural history. We also submitted abstracts about our research to the North American Ornithological Conference, held in Puerto Rico this year, so hopefully we are accepted (but I have a hunch that the conference is going to be cancelled due to coronavirus…). 

It’s totally weird seeing Mindo quiet like this with no tourists, street vendors or music. But at the same time, nobody seems that preoccupied with the situation — not with getting sick, anyway. People seemed more concerned about the lack of tourism that normally drives the Mindo economy. When you prevent tourists from coming to a town that survives on tourism, people start getting worried. Hopefully this all blows over soon, for their sake, and for everyone else around the world who has been left jobless. 

Who knows what things will be like moving forward. But I guess life stays interesting because you never know what’s going to happen next, right? I’m sorry, I recognize that was a cheesy bit of philosophy. Isolation in the forest does things to you. 

See you in April!


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