Cloud forest images from our Rio Zunac Reserve, and canopy access at last

 

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Aroids in our Rio Zunac cloud forest. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Last week our rangers and I went on a  camping trip in the wet cloud forests of our Rio Zunac Reserve. We were on a mission to put climbing ropes into the canopies of some of our Magnolia trees, so that we (and other researchers) could study their reproduction, and perhaps protect the seed capsules from insect predators, and try other techniques to help them reproduce. We never see very young plants of these species, so we are a bit worried about their future.

I also used the opportunity to capture some better photos of the complex interior of this beautiful cloud forest. The ridgetop forest above 1700m is very special, one of the wettest forests in Ecuador, with plant life bursting from every available surface, plants piled on other plants. We didn’t have many photos of this forest.

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Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

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Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A grant from BGCI allowed us to buy mountain-climbing rope and harnesses. In the 1990s I used to spend a lot of time climbing tropical rain forest trees, and I still had my powerful bow and arrows and fishing reel; with this I can shoot a fishing line over a chosen branch. Then the fishing line pulls up a heavier line, and then  a heavier line, and after a series of between three and six successively heavier lines, I can pull up the mountain-climbing cord.

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Preparing the bow and arrows. The arrows, dragging the fishing line behind them through the moss and leaves, have a hard time coming down through all the vegetation. So I use heavy fishing arrows, and I put weights on their tips. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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Shooting a newly-described Magnolia vargasiana. Accidental photo of the exact millisecond when the arrow leaves the bow– a minor miracle. I think we could try a million times without ever managing to repeat this feat.  Click image to enlarge. An arrow can be shot with fair accuracy over a particular branch, though what happens after it passes the branch is partly up to chance…The arrows are easy to lose, and I lost two of my three remaining arrows (unobtainable in Ecuador) on this trip. The one I’m firing in this picture was one of them–it got embedded in the tree (even though it has a flat tip) and did not come down. Photo:Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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Shooting another tree, an unidentified species of Magnolia which Fausto Recalde had found the day before. It is not either of the two species previously found here (M. vargasiana and M. llanganatensis, which are both new species recently described by Dr Antonio Vazquez and his collaborators from specimens found on this ridge of the Rio Zunac cloud forest).  This is my last remaining arrow, bent and tattered, but it  worked. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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Pulling up heavier line. This is delicate work, as the knot sometimes gets caught on stuff. I tape the knots with electric tape to minimize that. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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While I pull from the far side of the  tree, our rangers release the mountain-climbing cord from the other side. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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The mystery Magnolia with the climbing rope in place. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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I dress for the climb: harness and helmet. I have a rule that everyone must use gloves on the rope, to keep the rope free of salts from our sweat. In a place with lots of animals, it is important that the rope not attract gnawing critters looking for salt. As a further precaution we normally take the rope down between uses (leaving a cheap string in its place), which also protects it from UV light degradation. But even when stored in the forest or in camp, rodents wouldfind the salt and cause potentially fatal damage. This happened to my rope in Costa Rica. Of course we also inspect the rope before each use…Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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Climbing the mystery Magnolia. It is thin but tall, and couldn’t be free-climbed. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

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Our rangers below me at the base of the Magnolia. Click to enlarge.  Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

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Here’s a flower of the mystery Magnolia. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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There are many other beautiful trees in this forest. Here is Meriania pastazana, similar to our recently-discovered Meriania aurata but without the yellow wings on the ovaries.

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Flower of Meriania pastazana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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The anthers of Meriania pastazana. These are hollow and contain their pollen on the inside. The pollen comes out through small pores (one pore is visible on the top purple tip of the rightmost anther) when the anther is shaken rapidly by a bee or other agent. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

EcoMinga would like to thank Joachim Gratzfeld and Botanical Gardens Conservation International for a grant which enabled us to purchase climbing ropes and harnesses. I also want to thank our rangers, who risk their lives free-climbing some of the trees.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

6 thoughts on “Cloud forest images from our Rio Zunac Reserve, and canopy access at last

  1. A great post, Lou. It was a benefit for me that its majority is of a number of sharp, easily enlargeable photos of the immensely diverse Rio Zunac Reserve cloud forest. (Right know I have too much to do rather than read more lengthy post.) And your post focuses on one Magnolia tree in which a rope was arranged to go high using climbing methods. The details of shooting arrows to begin to place that rope are fascinating. I image your current method is much better than your activities in Costa Rica. Didn’t you also go to southern Mexico to go high into the canopy to photograph a bird, maybe a cotinga, which is always hard to see and had never been focused. Through the named links at the bottom of your page I’ve started making a list of preserves to learn more about locations. -Dan

    • Glad you liked it Dan. Using photos to tell the story is easier for the author as well as for the reader, I have very little time to write these days.

      Yes, you remember very well! I did go to Chiapas, Mexico, for six months in 1985 to photograph the Azure-rumped Tanager (which was a very poorly known bird at the time), the Resplendant Quetzal, and the Horned Guan. The story of the Azure-rumped Tanager is on my website:

      http://www.loujost.com/AzureRump%20Article/AzureRumpArticle.htm

      I used these rope techniques on that trip, but used them to better effect in later Costa Rica trips, where I worked on that country’s quetzals. Incidentally, while the Costa Rican quetzals were gorgeous, they belong to a different subspecies. The Mexican quetzals are more spectacular with much longer, wider tails. The two subspecies, which live in high montane forest, are kept apart by the big flat lowlands of Nicaragua.

      You probably saw the northern subspecies when you did your Golden-cheeked Warbler work?

  2. Lovely work Lou! Salt is certainly a potentially powerful attractant but rodents will and must just chew. I wonder if even a kevlar bag could keep them out? I’d hang the bagged rope from a rafter.

    • Thanks Steve! We do try to keep it out of reach, but rafter-running rodents are clever.

      When I was on long tropical camping trips with lots of stored food, I would hide the most sought-after items in waterproof containers under water, in mountain streams. Nothing ever found that.

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