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A Day at the Reserve

October 13, 2020

Three months have passed in what seems like the blink of an eye. We arrived at Reserva Las Tangaras in the middle of July, full of enthusiasm and expectation and still a little relieved to have made it here at all given the ongoing pandemic which, as I type, seems to have the whole of Europe gripped in a second wave of rising cases.

Here in Ecuador things seem to be getting better due I’m sure in no small part to the way the countries population have adhered to the government’s containment and prevention measures. Only now are we starting to see a few unmasked people walking the streets as the government updates it’s advice, but every business be it a shop, restaurant or bank still insist on masks being worn and hands being sanitised upon entry. Everybody is treated equally, and I think the population accept that measures such as these, coupled with social distancing and limits on the number of people gathering in one place have helped reduce the spread of infection.

As the Covid-19 situation improves here we are hopeful that international tourists will soon start to return to the area. Mindo is relatively isolated yet easily reached from the capital, Quito. The town and surrounding area has so much to offer the inquisitive traveller – it’s possible to ride a cable car to take in some of the amazing views, visit waterfalls and ride the river rapids in a rubber ring. Food and cultural experiences are plentiful and of course you can come and stay at the reserve or just visit for a day and let the peace and tranquillity of nature surround you.

Ideally placed on the edge of the Mindo-Nambillo protected forest, the 50 hectare reserve is perfect for visitors who want to get in to the heart of the Ecuadorian cloud forest and see some of the amazing fauna and flora that help make Ecuador one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. More than 15 species of hummingbird are virtually guaranteed and in 13 short weeks our patience and I’m sure a small amount of luck has been rewarded with sightings of Puma, Capuchin Monkey, Coati, Agouti, Rainbow Forest Racer snakes, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and too many other animals to list…

We’ve started to settle into a routine here and have a weekly schedule of work that sees us tackle jobs ranging from bridge repairs and trail clearing through to creating marketing material and hosting guests. There are tasks we like and there are tasks we like less but if we had to describe an ideal day this is what it would look like.

The day would start early, we set our alarm for 04:50 as this is the time you have to roll out of bed if you want a front row seat at the sunrise Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek display. It’s a 20-minute hike uphill from the cabin to the lek site and but the headtorch illuminated walk is well worth it. There’s always the chance you’ll catch the eyeshine of a tree dwelling mammal like a kinkajou on the way up but even if you don’t, being on the ridge of the hill as the suns first rays emerge and bring the forests birdlife in to song is reward enough.

As the rising sun pushes back the nights darkness the stars of the show start to arrive. The calls begin off in the distance but before long you can make out the unmistakeable silhouettes of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock males gathering on their favourite perches. Almost immediately the show begins as each male starts his display in order to catch the eye of any visiting female.

It’s quite a sight to behold, the lek can attract in excess of 12 birds and between the calling and the dancing you don’t know which direction to point the binoculars or camera. Often, I find myself taking a step back and just trying to take in the whole spectacle.

When a female arrives, things go up a gear, the noise amplifies and displays become more energetic. Having observed many of these morning spectacles there’s no mistaking the moment a female bird is on the scene, but she doesn’t usually take long to make her choice and as quickly as she arrived, she’s gone and the urgency amongst remaining males subsides.

In total the morning performance can last anywhere between 40 minutes and an hour and a half although the main group has usually dispersed by 07:00.

For me the drop in activity signals the time to return to the cabin. This time in the morning is often the best for bird watching and the 20-minute journey back down the hill can often take an hour or more as there are so many opportunities to observe birds feeding and going about their early morning routines. The forest feels alive with activity from floor to canopy.

Once back at the cabin a hearty breakfast is in order, an additional reward for the early start – on an ideal day it would consist of a stack of fluffy banana pancakes or a couple of slices of still warm French toast, drizzled with some local honey or served with a side of spiced apple compote – all washed down with a strong cup of café pasado.

With breakfast out of the way and a renewed spring in the step it’s time to set-out and collect the camera traps. Often placed in remote and quiet corners of the reserve the camera traps act as an ever vigilant pair of eyes, keeping track of any goings-on day and night. With the traps in hand is back to base to see what activity has been captured. It’s always an exciting moment, placing the SD card in the computer as hope is high for a fleeting glimpse of one of the reserves more elusive inhabitants. Maybe today is the day we finally get that shot of the Puma or the Jaguarundi but to be honest, we’re always happy with whatever turns up!

Now the real work starts and it’s out into the reserve proper with machete and saw in hand to do some trail maintenance.  The forest is a dynamic place and without regular attention the trails would soon be reclaimed, and visitors would not find it so easy to explore. Heavy rains and high winds can easily bring down tree limbs already burdened with the weight of creeping vines or bromeliads. Even for a couple of active stewards like ourselves it’s not possible, or sensible to try and tackle more than one trail a day but a couple of hours of intense grooming with the machete works up a good sweat and is usually enough to get the job done.

By now it’s early afternoon and with so much already achieved and the sun high in the sky it’s time to down tools and head to the river for a revitalising dip in the crisp and clear waters of the Nambillo.

At the reserve we’re lucky enough to have a couple of safe swimming holes that have been created in back eddies of the swift flowing water and a few moments spent washing away the mornings hard work are enough to remind you that lunch is long overdue.

You might think that the reserves’ isolated location and lack of fridge would restrict the menu but it’s quite the opposite. It’s been said that limited options encourage creativity and we have certainly found this to be true. Our repertoire of dishes has increased, and we are using ingredients that we might have previously ignored, especially dried beans and pulses and fruits and vegetables that you would not find on the shelves of a UK supermarket.

After a good lunch it’s time to turn our attention to data collection. We make a daily survey of the hummingbirds that visit the cabins’ 3 feeders and note down information the number of species we observe, the number of individual birds and their gender split. This is always a special moment in the day as it’s a period of intense bird activity and it’s possible to watch up to 23 species flit form feeder to feeder jostling for their position on one of the plastic flowers. Their reward is a sip of diluted sugar mix which we make for them daily.

Once the survey is complete the days work is done. Now it’s time to relax with a good book selected from the cabins’ small library and read through to the light fails. Days are regular here, close to the equator. The sun rises at 06:00 and sets at 18:00, give or take 10 minutes and the darkness creeps back as quickly as it was chased away by the sun in the morning.

The LED lights come on and we turn our attention to dinner. This is as exciting an event as lunch and after 3-months we still approach the cooker with a sense of enthusiasm.

The perfect day is topped-off with a well earned glass of homemade ginger beer and a game of cards (which I always win) and it’s not long before bed is calling and thoughts start to drift to what exciting adventures tomorrow will bring…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marc Kramer permalink
    October 13, 2020 2:05 pm

    We did the July-October stint in 2014. Hope you guys had a blast! -Marc & Eliana


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