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It’s what you don’t see…

September 14, 2020

The title is a bit misleading as you can actually see a lot of what you don’t see if you’re looking (and listening) carefully…

I’m new to the jungle, not just in terms of this trip but in terms of life experience. I’ve done a ‘Jungle trek’ once from Rio de Janeiro which consisted of a 2 hour jeep ride in to what appeared to be a large expanse of jungle behind the vast city of Rio and then what a brisk hike to a very picturesque waterfall for a bit of splashing around followed by a brisk hike back to the jeep. There was not a lot of time to dwell on the surrounding fauna and flora, but as a group we were lucky enough to come across a large wasp stinging a tarantula to death in order to lay it’s eggs (so we were told by the guide). Other than this brief experience and the vast array of documentaries I’ve watched on TV over the years I built myself a preconceived idea of what jungle life was going to be like!!

How wrong I was. First of all, I’m not living in just any jungle, I’m living in tropical montane cloud forest and secondly, the jungle fauna is not just hanging around waiting to be seen but if you use your eyes and ears, you’re patient and you’re careful where you put your feet, the jungle inhabitants will reveal themselves to you.

Let’s take mud, not a thing one gets terribly excited about, but in a tropical montane cloud forest (in July and August) there’s plenty of it around as rain is common. It didn’t take long to start noticing that amongst my own muddy footprints there were signs of what had passed before me.

It must already be clear that I’m not a biologist, so you’ll understand that coming across sets of muddy animal prints didn’t immediately trigger a process of animal track recognition from a university course that I didn’t do. However, I am a mobile phone user and through the power of technology I managed to take pictures that I hoped would help identify my unseen jungle companions when I got back to the lodge. Even with its small library of reference books, identifying animals from their tracks is not as easy as it sounds but the images I took were enough to narrow the owner down to family and in some cases individual species. What was especially useful was having the camera traps set to confirm that we weren’t seeing Paca, Red Brocket Deer and Agouti.

Animal tracks from around the reserve.

The next clue to the existence of animals we weren’t seeing was also a visual one, they leave behind droppings. What is consumed at one end is in part excreted at the other…

Although we’re not seeing a lot of animal faeces, what we are seeing points to the existence of small carnivores. In the two samples I’ve managed to picture, both have been relatively compact and there is clear evidence of fur.

Not long after arriving at the reserve we were lucky enough to see the rear end of a puma disappearing into the jungle but just the size of this cat rules it out as the owner of the droppings. We have also captured both Tayra and Jaguarundi on our camera traps so either of these could be the owners but there are also reports of Ocelot and Margay on and around the reserve so it’s a possibility either of these cats could be responsible.

Animal droppings.

The last piece of evidence for the existence of unseen jungle companions is sound.

On more than one occasion, and once night has fallen, we have heard strange sounds coming from around the lodge. A torch lit inspection has failed to yield any results, but the loud snuffling suggests a foraging armadillo.

In the early morning, just after sunrise and towards dusk, the air is often filled with the sound of bird song. Spotting birds is easy in the jungle, they’re all around but if you only use your eyes for identification then you’re just scraping the surface of what’s out there. There are some obvious calls, like the Andean-cock-of-the-rock and the Choco toucan but if you listen carefully you might pick out the staccato pipping of an ornate flycatcher or the mocking chuckle of a well-hidden quetzal. There are some really good mobile apps to help with the identification of birds by their call and although in the 8 weeks we’ve been here we’ve spotted over 70 different species we know that we’ve got a long way to go to hear, and hopefully see more of the 300+ species we know inhabit the reserve.

The onset of another tropical shower or the arrival of dusk signals the jungles many species of frog to begin their ritual calling. Pastures rainfrogs, emerald glassfrogs and yellow-groined rainfrogs can be seen and heard easily enough but a keen and experienced eye is needed to spot many of the other species that are hidden in the leaf litter or up in the trees.

At night rarer species like the Mindo rainfrog can be heard calling from up in the trees and on our Tres Tazas trail we have been teased by the sound of the Darwin Wallace poison-frog but have yet to find our first specimen.

The failing light of dusk also gives confidence to the millions of insects that inhabit the jungle. From roots to treetops the sound begins to build as individuals call-out to attract a mate. Crickets and katydids do battle for who can shout the loudest and although you can’t always see them you know you’re not alone…

Reserva Las Tangaras is a home to hundreds of different species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs and fish. It would be impossible to see them all, or even get close to it even with an extended stay but it’s reassuring to know that there are clues left all over the reserve to help you see what you don’t see!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Larry Vereen permalink
    September 16, 2020 10:02 pm

    Wish I could be there again! Worked with Dusti for 20 years as a volunteer, and was at Las
    Tangaras numerous times. Enjoy the place!


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