Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

One of the most emblematic Andean birds is the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera. We have them in most of our reserves, but they are elusive and hard to photograph when we are hiking around. A few days ago, however, one of these wonderful birds landed in front of my kitchen window and stayed long enough for me to get my camera, so I finally got a picture of it. This species has co-evolved with several species of cloud forest plants with long tubular flowers; this hummingbird is the only organism able to pollinate these plant species. This particular individual may have been attracted to two of these co-evolved species, Passiflora mixta and Passiflora tarminiana, which both grow wild around my house (though this hummingbird is also perfectly able to feed from regular flowers too).

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Passiflora tarminiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Passiflora mixta (“Taxo”). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A large hummingbird like this needs lots of nectar for fuel, and each of the flower species that have co-evolved with this hummingbird have large nectaries loaded with sweet liquid.  Below I’ve made cross-sections of both these passionflower species, so you can see the nectar chambers at the base of the tubes:

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Left: P. tarminiana; right, P. mixta. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

All that nectar is a big temptation of other species too. Since  other species don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, they have to rob the nectar by breaking into the nectaries, drilling or biting holes in the back of the flower. Nectar -robbing doesn’t pollinate the flower, so the robbed nectar is wasted as far as the plant is concerned. Flower variations that happen to be more resistant to robbers will have more nectar to offer the Sword-billed Hummingbird,  and will therefore get visited more often by it, and  will get pollinated more often and leave more descendants. Thus natural selection will eventually lead to flowers whose backsides are somewhat protected against robbers. The thickened “armored” walls of the nectaries are visible in the above cross-sections.

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The base of this passionflower has been pierced multiple times by nectar robbers, probably flowerpiercers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Still, some robbers get through. Several entire genera of nectar-robbing birds have evolved to take advantage of this resource. The most dedicated thieves are the eighteen bird species belonging to the genus Diglossa, the Flower-piercers. They often have sharp hooks on their bill tips to rip holes in the backs of flowers. Some of the species that rob these particular passionflowers are the White-sided Flower-piercer, the Masked Flower-piercer, and the Glossy Flower-piercer. Many short-billed hummingbirds also drill holes in the backs of the flowers, or use the holes made by flower-piercers. Bees also rob the nectar by biting holes in the back of the flowers, and butterflies steal their share by visiting the holes made by all these other thieves. Some passionflower species put tiny nectaries on the backs of their flowers to attract ants and wasps, which might deter some of these thieves.

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Black Flowerpiercer feeding on Fuchsia. Photo courtesy Roger Ahlman.

The Slater Museum of Natural History of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington kindly gave me permission to show their scan of the skeleton of this bird, surely one of the weirdest of all vertebrate skeletons. Note the huge keel of the breastbone (sternum), where the powerful wing muscles are attached in the living bird. Note also the bony base of the enormous tongue circling underneath and behind the head, and the little feet pointing backwards:

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Sword-billed Hummingbird skeleton, scan courtesy of the Slater Museum of  Natural History.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird occurs in most of our Banos-area EcoMinga reserves, at elevations from about 2000m to 3400m: Cerro Candelaria Reserve, Viscaya Reserve, Naturetrek Reserve, Rio Verde Reserve, Rio Zunac Reserve, Rio Machay Reserve, and Chamana Reserve. Our lowland Rio Anzu Reserve is too low for it.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita)

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Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Pufflegs frequently cling to flowers with their feet instead of hovering while they feed. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A common shrub in the family Ericaceae (the cranberry and blueberry family) is in bloom right now, attracting many species of hummingbirds in our middle-elevation reserves. The most faithful visitor to this bush right now is the Glowing Puffleg, Eriocnemis vestita, a common hummingbird at elevations from around 2100m up to the treeline in the eastern and southwestern Andes of Ecuador. It has white leg puffs, a bright green rump and belly, and purple vent. Like many high-elevation birds, this species is oblivious to humans. One of these even joined me in my outdoor shower once, landing at my feet while I washed. The photos in this post were taken today while the bird was about 2m away, sometimes even closer. I made no attempt to hide, and moved around with it.  It is a nice feeling when a wild creature does not treat a human as a threat!

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Glowing Puffleg. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg at my feet, directly beneath me. It doesn’t care. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg taking off less than a meter from me. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

Big cats in the Dracula Reserve

SnapShot(4)Puma photographed by our camera trap!

 

Male puma scent-marking in our Dracula Reserve.  (Ignore the date stamp, it was not properly set.)

Last month, as part of our investigation of land we are trying to purchase for our Dracula Reserve (sponsored by the Orchid Conservation Alliance, Rainforest Trust, University of Basel Botanical Garden, and their individual donors), Javier Robayo, Juan Pablo Reyes, Jorge Brito, and Hector Yela set up camera traps to observe the hidden mammal fauna of the area under consideration. As we have seen in our earlier camera trap operations about 14 km to the south, these forests are full of life that is never seen by humans. In the above video, a healthy male puma (Felis concolor) visits our banana baits and  makes a scent mark right in front of the camera. This is the same male that we had filmed in our earlier operation, confirming that all these properties are ecologically inter-connected.  We need to maintain their connectivity by linking our existing blocks of properties, and this is one of our current priorities here.

Next, the banana baits were visited by a forest rodent called an agouti, who sniffs the puma urine. This is probably the stuff of nightmares for a defenseless agouti.

The next visitor was a well-fed female puma, clearly very interested in the scent of the male.

There were also several other visitors to the banana baits, as well as animals passing through accidentally. The most interesting were several unusually patterned squirrels; we are not completely certain of their identity:

There were also a few birds, like this group of Dark-backed Wood-Quail (Odontophorus melanotus), a Choco endemic species:

Another passer-by was a Rufous-breasted Ant-Thrush (Formicarius rufipectus) who was captured in reflected infrared in near-darkness:

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Rufous-breasted Ant-Thrush. Photo: Roger Ahlman.

Quite a busy spot! Please help us protect it by donating to our sponsors:

Orchid Conservation Alliance

Rainforest Trust

University of Basel Botanical Garden,

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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