The Ecuadorian people have spoken: Protect the environment and toss out the career politicians

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Amazon rainforest canopy near Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. Photo: Lou Jost

Yesterday Ecuador held a binding constitutional referendum which asked voters seven questions, two of which were directly aimed at controversial environmental issues. The first environmental question was about mining, which the previous government had been pushing hard. The question asked whether Ecuador should prohibit metal mining in protected areas and urban areas. The second environmental question was about Yasuni National Park, which our former president, Raphael Correa, opened up to petroleum exploitation. Correa’s administration lied to the populace and manipulated it to provide political cover for the oil drilling inside this most important national park. The referendum question asked the Ecuadorian people whether the area open to petroleum exploitation should be reduced to 1/3 of its previous value, and whether the “untouchable zone” in the park (designed to protect indigenous people) should be expanded by 50000 hectares.

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Huaorani clan leader in Yasuni National Park. Photo: Lou Jost.

Another question relevant to EcoMinga asked whether the current very high tax on land sale profits should be rescinded. Many landowners whom we deal with had been afraid to sell their land to us for fear the government would take away most of the money we would pay them.

There was one other question relevant to all Ecuadorians and especially environmentally-conscious citizens: Should politicians be limited to  two terms? Correa had changed the laws so that he could run indefinitely, and he is widely believed to be plotting his return for the next election. This would be a disaster for the environment and for democracy here.

I am proud to say that the Ecuadorian people are very environmentally conscious, on the average, and they voted resoundingly for the added environmental protections, and against the extreme land tax, and against multiple re-elections, all by a 2:1 margin!

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Golden-mantled Tamarin (Saguinus tripartitus), Yasuni national Park. Photo: Lou Jost

Rare lizard found this week in the Viscaya unit of our Naturetrek Reserves

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Riama meleagris in our Naturetrek/Viscaya Reserve. Note the iridescence on the scales. Click to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

A few days ago our reserve manager, herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes, was working with community members in our Naturetrek/Viscaya Reserve a few kilometers north of the town of Banos (Tungurahua province) when he accidentally encountered a lizard he had never seen before. It proved to be Riama meleagris, a species that has  previously been recorded from only two other sites, both in Tungurahua province. Both those other localities are now now highly disturbed, and the species is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Our reserve is the only protected area where this species has been found; it is good to know that it will be protected from deforestation here at least.

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Rialma meleagris in our reserve. Click to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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The former landowner, Jorge Peña, and his family, who now help us care for the reserve. Click to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

An ornate creature from our Rio Zuñac Reserve

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Click on any of these to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Katydid: Moncheca sp. (M. elegans or new species). Those jaws bit me many times during my photo shoots. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Different species of insects are primarily distinguished by their male genitalia. We found both a female (with sword-shaped ovipositor) and a male individual of this species. I include the genitalia here in case there is some expert who can help decide whether this is a new species. It is similar to Moncheca elegans but the colors are not right. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

My friends Tom Walla and Johanna Varner, professors at Colorado Mesa University, came to visit our Rio Zunac and Cerro Candelaria Reserves last month. They set up a light to attract night insects. They were especially interested in moths, and I’ll write more about that later. But along with many amazing moths we attracted two feisty individuals of this spectacular katydid. They were very active and often did a raised-wing display to try to scare me. They also really enjoyed biting me with their giant bright yellow mandibles. I became fascinated by them. They stayed alive for two weeks, allowing me to observe and photograph them (I found that they like to eat flowers), and when they died I mounted them and photographed them even more.

They belong to the genus Moncheca, which contains some of the world’s fanciest katydids, like M. pretiosa. Our individuals are most like M. elegans, but the colors don’t match an expert-certified photo on the internet. The male genitalia are the definitive way to tell them apart, so I provide a photo of the genitalia above in case an expert looks at this post. This exact form has been seen and photographed by my friend Andreas Kay, and also by someone named Moira who submitted her picture of it (from Sumaco, in eastern Ecuador, not far from our reserve) to an internet bug ID site, to no avail.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

More birds of Manduriacu

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Two of our most beautiful birds perching together. Orange-breasted Fruiteater (right) and Crested Quetzal (left) in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

Yesterday I wrote about the exciting discovery of the Choco Vireo in our Manduriacu Reserve. Now I want to add a few of the other special birds that have recently been found there by our staff member José María Loaiza Bosmediano and others.  Certainly the most beautiful find is the Orange-breasted Fruiteater (Pipreola jucunda),  a Choco endemic found from 600m to 1900m on the western slope of the northern Andes. Though it has a narrow range, it is not yet endangered.

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Orange-breasted Fruiteater in Mindo. Photo: Francesco Varonesi

Another special Choco endemic found in Manduriacu Reserve during the last Christmas Bird Count was the Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger). This relative of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (the bird on our banner at the top of this page) is one of Ecuador’s strangest birds. The males gather at leks to display from special perches to attract females, making a weird display and a low mooing sound.

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Long-wattled Umbrellabird in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

Here are a few random YouTube videos of the bird’s display:

This is one of three species of Umbrellabird in the world.  Another species, the Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus), lives in our Rio Anzu Reserve, while the third species, the Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), lives in Costa Rica and Panama.

Another fancy bird found during the Christmas bird count in the Manduriacu Reserve was the Choco Trogon (Trogon comptus), also called the Blue-tailed Trogon though that name is also applied to an Old World species.

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Choco Trogon in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

The quetzals are fancier relatives of the trogons. The Crested Quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus) seen with the Orange-breasted Fruiteater in the picture at the head of this post, is one of the most beautiful of Ecuador’s birds, though it lacks the long tail of the Resplendant Quetzal of Central America. It occurs on both sides of the Andes; here is a photo by Roger Ahlman taken on the eastern slope of Ecuador at San Isidro Lodge:

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Crested Quetzal, from San Isidro Lodge on the east slope. Photo: Roger Ahlman.

Manduriacu also has the Golden-headed Quetzal, Pharomachrus auriceps:

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Golden-headed Quetzal. Photo by Roger Ahlman.

There are several toucan species at Manduriacu; one of my favorites is the Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus):

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My painting of a Crimson-rumped Toucanet.

 

The Purple Quail-Dove, Geotrygon purpurata, below, is another of the special Choco endemics of Manduriacu.  This species, like the Choco Vireo discussed yesterday, is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List criteria. It is found only between 600m and 1100m, a range of elevations which is also one of the most heavily exploited by local people for logging and agriculture. The world population of this species is estimated to be only 600-1700 adults, making it more endangered than even the Choco Vireo, and probably more endangered than any other bird found in any of EcoMinga’s reserves. Jose Maria is monitoring a nest with a camera trap (photo below), so we might learn more about the biology of this rare species.

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Camera trap photo of the Purple Quail-Dove at its nest in our Manduriacu reserve. Photo courtesy José María Loaiza Bosmediano.

Jose Maria included this note about the discovery of the nest photographed above:

“El  17 de noviembre, encontramos junto con Alejandro Naranjo  y Galo Pantoja (ex y actual guardaparque respectivamente), un nido activo de Geotrygon purpurata Purple Quial-Dove y/o Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove.

Increíblemente el nido está a tan sólo unos ocho metros del sendero que conduce a nuestra casa-refugio. Ésta es una especie de alto interés conservacionista pues es endémica de la región biogeográfica del Chocó y se encuentra amenazada de extinción en la categoría EN PELIGRO (EN) a nivel global. Aparentemente se trataría del primer encuentro del nido de está palomita; sin embargo estamos buscando información relacionada para corroborar éste dato. Por lo pronto hemos colocado una cámara trampa para monitorear todo el desarrollo y estamos muy ansiosos por saber lo que ocurrirá, esperamos también que los depredadores ¡no lo encuentren!

Nos hemos percatado que sólo hay un huevo de color blanco y al parecer será el único de la nidada. La estructura del nido es sencilla como se puede ver en la foto y está a un metro de altura desde el suelo.

La especie es mayormente terrestre y propia del interior de bosques muy húmedos y lluviosos en buen estado de conservación. …en Manduricu, el nido está casi en su límite máximo de distribución altitudinal (1100msnm).

Pronto tendremos más noticias al respecto y esperamos obtener buen material fotográfico y videos.”

Here is a YouTube video of the bird from “Un Poco del Choco”, a cloud forest reserve near San Miguel de los Bancos in Pichincha province, Ecuador:

The Purple Quail-Dove is closely related to the very similar Sapphire Quail-Dove of the eastern lowlands of Ecuador, on the other side of the Andes. The two species are believed to have split from each other about 1.2 million years ago; there are slight differences in song, plumage, and habitat (the Purple Quail-Dove is found only in foothills while the Sapphire Quail-Dove is found only in lowland forest, at least in Ecuador). They had been lumped into a single species after initially being described as separate species; the recent decision to re-separate them is based on the discussion presented here.

The full list of birds seen to date in Manduriacu is available online here.

Many thanks to Jose Maria, Edison, and Galo for the great work they have been doing in Manduriacu!

All of these birds, with the possible exception of the Purple Quail-Dove, should also be found in our Dracula Reserve.

Lou Jost, Fundacion Eco Minga

Endangered Choco Vireo discovered at our Manduriacu Reserve

Choco Vireo in our Manduriacu Reserve. Video by Edison Ocaña.

The Choco Vireo (Vireo masteri)  is one of the rarest and most local of the bird species endemic to the Choco bioregion of western Colombia and northwest Ecuador. It was not discovered until 1991, when Paul Salaman (now CEO of Rainforest Trust, one of EcoMinga’s major funding partners) spotted and mist-netted it in a cloud forest in western Colombia. It was officially described and published in 1996 by Salaman and Gary Stiles, a pioneering Latin American ornithologist who has worked extensively in Costa Rica and Colombia. Tjhe vireo was later found in nearby northwestern Ecuador (Esmeraldas province) by Olaf Jahn, Byron Palacios, and Patricio Mena Valenzuela, and in 2010 another population was found in Ecuador’s Pichincha province by Dušan Brinkhuizen and Alejandro Solano-Ugalde. Like the Black Solitaire and a few other species, it appears to be found only in the wettest cloud forests in a narrow band of elevations (1100-1600m) in a badly deforested and fragmented landscape. It is classified as EN (Endangered) in the IUCN Red List.

EcoMinga’s community relations specialist and noted ornithologist José María Loaiza Bosmediano (whose position exists thanks to a generous donation by Felipe Villamizar) recently organized a Christmas bird count in our Manduriacu Reserve in Imbabura province in western Ecuador. In the course of this event, he and his companions Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito) and Galo Pantoja (our reserve guard) discovered and filmed two individuals of the Choco Vireo in this reserve, the first record for Imbabura province! They also made still photos and recorded its call.

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Choco Vireo (Vireo masteri) in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña.

The Manduriacu Reserve was begun by Sebastian Kohn, who recently gave his properties (about 400ha) to EcoMinga to manage. Our management is partly funded by the government’s SocioBosque program, which pays private individuals (but not foundations) to conserve their forest; Sebastian has enrolled his properties in this program and gives us all the money he receives from it.  When the program ends we will be given full title to the properties. One of the vireo sightings was in one of these properties.

Last year EcoMinga began a joint project with the IUCN-Netherlands under their “Small Grants for the Protection of Nature” program, sponsored by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery,  to purchase an additional 132ha to fill a strategic gap between our present Manduriacu properties. The vireo surely occupies this property as well. In addition the Centro de Rescate Ilitío and the Fundación Cóndor Andino have financed EcoMinga’s purchase of a neighboring lot where the second vireo was sighted. We hope to eventually grow this reserve to cover 1000ha.

The vireo sightings in this area are important because there are very few Ecuadorian records of the species in protected areas (though it should also be present in our Dracula Reserve in Carchi province). This discovery increases the odds that the species might be able to survive in the country in spite of the ongoing deforestation at these elevations.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation
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