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Introductions and a Couple Snapshots

February 1, 2023

Hello all from Hattie and Logan. Though maybe not as hardcore of birders as past managers have been, we are both aspiring naturalists and have been finding our time in the cloud forest of Ecuador to be a dramatic and incredibly refreshing breath of air. We both come from hot, dry and sunny southern Arizona where the yearly rainfall is often less than half what we get here on the reserve in a month. We have only been at the reserve for just over three weeks now, and yet it feels far longer due to the days being packed with many challenges, animal encounters, and people we have met. Time moves differently here. Every day there are a wide breadth of interactions with a stunning variety of animals, from toucans to tayras to snakes and millipedes, that it is perhaps more helpful to serve it up for our readers in a less linear narrative. We want to keep our blog short and sweet in the hopes that our entries can act as little vignettes of the life on the reserve and document our trials, tribulations, and successes along with the joy we are finding in the bosque nuboso of northwest Ecuador.

Morning Forest Dwellers

It was another rainy, early morning in the cloud forest. Sometimes it rains so hard the rain on the tin roof wakes us up and this time it did around 5. We got up, downed a coffee and a cinnamon roll I had baked the night before and headed up to the Andean Cock of the Rock lek just in time to hear the first call. After spending the first twenty or so minutes in the hide, watching the usual suspects jump around from stick to stick, hooting and hollering as they do in the off chance they are able to attract a mate, we made our way up to Observation Point Four, where the biggest group of males gathers.  Ten minutes into trying to spot bird bands on their ankles, Logan drops his old, yellow backpack and says “Time for a forest poop.” The only thing consistent about doing the ACOR data collection is that Logan will have to take a poop right in the middle of it.

In his absence, the forest felt surprisingly quiet. The Andean Cocks of the Rock had begun to quiet down as the day inches onward and the morning fog seeped into the moss, making everything soft and muffled. I began to hear an eerie and echoing hoo, hoo, hoo coming from the forest below me— a call we heard yesterday but weren’t able to place. I pulled out my phone, opened Merlin, and began recording. No results. Within minutes, the same call started up behind me. I hopelessly pressed record on Merlin again and was watching the call graph onto the screen when I heard a yelp behind me. I turned around, and watched a Dark Backed Wood Quail run out from the bushes and directly over my foot. He screamed and frantically circled below me like a chicken being chased at the county fair. I nearly jumped out of my pants. Fortunately for the little guy he found an opening in the brush, and with apparent relief headed down the hill.  

Hattie getting a glimpse at some banded birds.

Logan emerged from the trail, arms raised in a shrug and looking for an explanation as to the sound. I filled him in on my encounter with what I now know lovingly as the forest chicken. The Dark-backed Wood Quails began their call again, this time together in a duet. We stayed and listened for a while enjoying the morning drizzle and the views afforded to us by the small spaces in between trees, revealing small glimpses of distant deep green hills embraced by fog.

Distant Cousins

Sundays in the cloud forest are a little harder to get going. This day in particular we woke up later than we had planned. After feeling disappointed in our ability to make it up the trail at 6 am as we had hoped, we leaned into feeling sleepy, made tea, read for a bit, then eventually got back on track.

Logan sharpened the machete, pulling the fila down the blade over and over. I still don’t like to watch. Too scary.

Logan’s face while thinking about the impacts of a poorly swung machete.

Somedays it feels like no matter how many times you check that you have everything you need with you, something always manages to sneak its way out of your backpack and back inside between locked doors. The Sunday Sleepies got the best of us again, and we made two trips back to the house to retrieve forgotten items, each time taking our boots off to not drag mud over the front porch.

We hiked up the trail slowly, discussing which steps we ought to replace and where to install water bars to eliminate the gulley effect the hard rains here have on the trail. At the Tucanes intersection up on the ridge that heads to the ACOR lek, we stopped to check the game camera we had set up the day before. There was a video on it from five minutes previous of an indiscernable dark creature with a long curly tail ambling up towards the Bosque trail. Logan thought it was a monkey in pure excitement, but I didn’t think so. It didn’t make any sense for it to be crawling around on the ground like that, but Logan was excited so we decided to follow the creature up the trail in the off chance we could catch a glimpse.

We bring our laptop to check the SD cards in order to be able to check them easily, so we had to get creative in the rain!

We crept up the trail slowly, trying not to break any sticks under our feet. We elected to stay to the left, and follow the Bosque trail further. Two large trees had fallen into the trail and blocked our way. We stopped for a while, and took it as a sign that we’d lost the “monkey” and turned around. We hiked back talking loudly, breaking sticks and stepping on large leaves left and right. As we neared the game camera, a loud crash interrupted our conversation. I heard something move directly above me and thought to myself “Damn that’s a big bird.” I looked up, and saw a small white monkey peering over a branch and staring directly at me. We were following him after all!

This guy looks as surprised to see us as we did him!

 Cebus aequatorialis peeked down at us from the branch and began running deftly, then jumping from tree to tree. Trees began to shake all around us and leaves started exploding from the bromeliads high above our heads. We spotted one, two, three, seven monkeys clambering around, nimbly jumbing between vines and branches with ease while vigorously shaking large bromeliads. A loud crash ensued and I looked over at Logan. He stared wide eyed at the forest floor, clearly thinking that a monkey had fallen, but upon waiting for something to appear it dawned on us that the monkey had simply knocked loose one of the bromeliads it had been beating up on.

These small, New World monkeys were previously categorized as simply a subspecies of the capuchin monkey, but have since been recategorized as their own species, the Ecuadorian capuchin monkey or mono capuchino. Estimates say their populations have been reduced by over 80% and that they have lost 99% of their suitable habitat mainly as a result of deforestation and human conflict. For this reason, they are considered Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Hungry after a hard day of smashing up bromeliads and leaping from tree to tree.

We stood and watched these far distant primate cousins of ours for about thirty minutes. For a short moment we caught a glimpse of a monkey that was much larger than all the rest of the group, but it quickly fled deeper into the trees. One smaller monkey seemed to get cut off from the rest of the group and sat in its own tree making a high pitched hooting like noise for a while. Deciding we didn’t want to disturb him after he started making this noise, we ambled off down the Tucanes trail to clear out the path, pondering this brief encounter with a species that once called most of western Ecuador its home and now has few places of refuge left for it. At least this tiny corner of the cloud forest we are caretaking can provide it a bit of sanctuary from the existential plight it faces. To think we were fortunate enough to have made all the mistakes we did that day and still run into this creature who’s population clings to life. The places a few forgotten items, a fallen tree in the road and a mistaken monkey on a camera trap (this turned out to be a tayra or Eira barbara, a widespread typically tropical dwelling member of the Mustelidae family) can take you awes me with their chaotic creativity. Until next time monkey!

The misidentified “monkey” the tayra or Eira barbara

Water Trail on a Rainy Day

I’d been having this feeling. A kind of sneaking feeling in your gut like you know something is going wrong but you don’t know what. Except, I had an inkling of an idea. We hadn’t checked the water tanks in a couple days. And it had been raining. Hard. We had big plans to get our garden started and clear trails, but I thought I should investigate first. While Hattie stayed and worked on their bird flashcards (they really help!), I jumped up the short, yet steep and slick water trail to our two blue tanks that hold the life force for our toilet, shower, and drinking supply. I popped the first one open knowing what lay in wait and lo and behold there sat almost nothing in the tank. I popped the next one and the same predictable outcome was laid bare. Both tanks were totally empty. We’d been caught with our pants down. I walked into the house with a big grin. “It’s water day.”

Oh the water trail. I do love it, but it is without a doubt the most treacherous trail on the reserve (for which reason it’s closed to visitors. Just us managers get the joy of walking it). It starts with a steep slippery incline, tricks you into thinking it’s benign with a couple nice fairly level curves, then becomes an off camber slip fest of flattened plants pretending to be a trail. Soon you find yourself nimbly holding a large bolder that you slip around above a big enough fall to make you worry before entering the canyon section. The canyon section involves a longer than you think slippery (again) scramble through a large creek that turns into several small cascadas requiring a couple small rope ascents and swings and a final short scramble to the last cascada where the intake sits. It’s actually really my favorite trail on the reserve. However, I don’t like hiking up canyons when an inch or more of rain can fall on any given day and change the creek to a flood, so as we hiked up the trail I very much hoped that we didn’t have to head up that last bit, as exciting as it is.

Hattie trying (and failing) to avoid getting wet while fixing our pipes.

After opening and closing several sections of the water pipe with no water rushing out, we got closer and closer to the canyon section. The sky loomed quite cloudy above. Only one opening remained before having to start heading up. I cross my fingers and Hattie twisted open the last pipe only to get absolutely doused by water spraying out. Dark silty water soon followed indicating that some dirt had gotten washed in. Quickly it cleared up, meaning we were good! The canyon section would be left for a sunny day. Now we just had to close this pipe as a huge amount of water sprayed out of it. While Hattie held one end I tried to twist it. Water sprayed both of us to the point all of our clothes were completely drenched in water. We started laughing hysterically as it kept spraying us until finally we got it closed.

We walked back and a light rain started, getting heavier as we walked. I was real glad we were heading back down the trail and not up it now. All that was left was to clean out the tanks and wait for them to fill up to make sure it was all working (along with walking back and opening all the little connections to let air bubbles out). We even went swimming after despite already getting our daily dose of water for the day!

A successful day!
2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2023 7:33 pm

    Wow! You guys really dug into the work down there. Great blog!


  2. February 2, 2023 2:02 pm

    Nice blog. I have been following Reservas las Tengas for several years. My wife and I hope to visit at some point, Thank you.



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