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:

This is what the ant thrush looks like:158271066.Q9wtg8ln.RufousbreastedAntthrush

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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Family visit

Last week two of my brave family members from the US visited some of EcoMinga’s reserves with me.  My sister Lorie Koessl and my brother Brad’s 17-year-old daughter Saige Jost are both nature-lovers and hikers, so they were perfect companions. Here are some of the things we saw in and around our reserves in six days of hiking.

Mammal encounters are rare here. Usually we only see them in our camera trap videos, or we find their tracks or scat. But on our visit to EcoMinga’s Rio Anzu Reserve in the Amazonian foothills, we were sitting on rocks along the river when we heard a strange call,  not quite bird-like….a few seconds later two tayra (Eira barbara) appeared on the opposite bank, jumping from rock to rock. These are relatives of the wolverine and mink, fairly large muscular omnivores that are capable of killing large birds and mid-sized mammals. This was one of the best views I have ever had of them. They were not concerned by our presence. My sister had borrowed one of my cameras for the day and she managed to snap a few pictures of them as they went along.

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Tayra (Eira barbara) on the limestone along the shore of the Rio Anzu. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Of course there were many invertebrates in the Rio Anzu Reserve. Here is a colorful grasshopper photographed by Saige on her cell phone:

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Grasshopper. Photo: Saige Jost.

In our Rio Zunac Reserve, we encountered a couple of rodents. One especially cute individual had made a nest in an abandoned cabin that used to belong to our park ranger Fausto Recalde before we bought the land from him:

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Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai). Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Incredibly, this turned out to be a recently discovered new species of mammal,  Albuja’s Climbing Rat (Rhipidomys albujai), that was only described a few months before our visit, by our friend Jorge Brito and coauthors:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23766808.2017.1292755

From the Climbing Rat’s cabin Lorie spotted our magnificent pair of Black-and-chestnut Eagles, though they were too far away to photograph. This cabin is just below their former nesting site, but it seems they are not currently nesting there. Perhaps they are still caring for last year’s fledgling.

On a day hike to our Cerro Candelaria and Naturetrek Reserves, we were able to spend time watching the well-named Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata) feeding in a raging whitewater stream that would have quickly killed almost any other bird or mammal.

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Female Torrent Duck resting on a rock in the rapids. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

This is a very distinctive duck appears not to be closely related to the familiar north temperate duck species, but its position in the tree of life is still uncertain.

On the day of the Torrent Duck sighting, our ranger Fausto Recalde brought his 5-year-old daughter Amy along. She was an excellent guide, who found several interesting things that we had not noticed. She was also very playful; she did this controlled falling trick about 20 times in succession, laughing all the while:

Amy Recalde playing.

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A spider (genus Gasteracantha?) along the river of the Torrent Duck. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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A plant with irritating spines, Nasa (Loasaceae), along the river of the Torrent Duck.

Night hikes are always special in the tropics. We took a night hike during our three-day stay in EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac Reserve, and in the space of less than a half hour we saw a non-stop show of fascinating insects, arachnids, frogs, and sleeping lizards:

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A tropical harvestman (“daddy longlegs” to US readers). Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Frog at night. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Sleeping lizard. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Exuberant antennae. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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One of many variations on this theme seen during our night walk. Parobrimus sp. (could be Parobrimus horridus) according to a comment below by Yannick. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

There were neat invertebrates during the day too along the Rio Zunac. On our return home we saw these:

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Walking stick. Male Oreophoetes sp (maybe a new species) according to Yannick in the comments below. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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A water bug. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

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Saige plays with a millipede. Photo: Lorie Koessl.

Some of the invertrebates were less welcome. There was an eruption of biting horseflies in the Zunac Reserve that week, and here are some that we killed while they bit us during a quick dinner:

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Dead horseflies killed as they tried to bite us during dinner. This is about a quarter of the total number we killed during that dinner; most were completely squished….Photo: Lou Jost.

On the same rock wall where we piled the dead horseflies, there was a fascinating construction of waxy tubes made by large black bees:

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This is an open cell under construction. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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This is a sealed cell with larva inside. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

Lorie and Saige, thanks for your visit! It was fun to show you EcoMinga’s reserves!

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Myself, Saige, and Lorie at the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall just below EcoMinga’s Naturetrek Reserve. Photo: unknown stranger.

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Approach to Quito’s airport. Photo: Saige Jost.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga.

Moustached Puffbird, never before seen in Ecuador, has just been found in our Dracula Reserve

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First record of the Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis) for Ecuador. Click to enlarge. Photo: Alex Boas.

Ecuador is one of the world’s richest countries for birds, and it just got richer. Jose Maria Loaiza B. (a noted professional ornithologist who is EcoMinga’s community relations person in our Manduriacu Reserve), Juan Carlos Crespo (also an experienced ornithologist), and Alex Boas (ornithologist and photographer) visited Cerro Oscuro in our Dracula Reserve last week, partly because they suspected that the riparian habitat near the base of Cerro Oscuro might be appropriate for the elegant Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis), previously known only from Colombia and Venezuela. Puffbirds are tough to spot, since they spend most of their time perched quietly in the forest looking for large insects, but they have distinctive calls. Jose Maria heard a puffbird call near the edge of the stream that flows past Cerro Oscuro, and when they tracked it down, they were thrilled to find the first Moustached Puffbird ever seen in Ecuador! Continued searching turned up the mate of the first bird, and also a second pair of Moustached Puffbirds nearby.  Fortunately Alex was able to take some excellent photos and video to document the find. The team was not able to find any Moustached Puffbirds outside of the Dracula Reserve.  So for now, our Dracula Reserve is the only place in Ecuador where this bird can be seen.

Alex Boas’ video of the Ecuadorian sighting of the Moustached Puffbird.

Here are Jose Maria’s own words on the discovery:

“Novedades en la Reserva Cerro Oscuro

Por: José María Loaiza B.

Este pasado fin de semana realizamos una visita a la Reserva Cerro Oscuro en el noroccidente del Carchi y nos encontramos con una increíble sorpresa: la presencia de Mosutached Puffbird / Malacoptila mystacalis, especie que es registrada por primera vez en el Ecuador. Por el momento, la única localidad conocida es la parte baja de esta Reserva.

Este descubrimiento no fue del todo fortuito, ya desde hace tiempo sospechábamos que este esponjoso pájaro podía estar entre la vegetación ribereña. Dos parejas fueron encontradas: la primera justo a la orilla del río y la segunda más arriba de la casa-estación. Este hallazgo también contribuye con la extensión de su rango de distribución, y nuestra reserva asegura la supervivencia de lo que podría constituir una pequeña población en la frontera  noroccidental del Ecuador, posiblemente la única en todo el país.

El comportamiento característico de esta especie (y todos los Puffbirds), perchada sigilosa  en el sotobosque y relativamente quieta,   nos permitió detectarla por su canto y luego hacer excelentes fotografías y videos.   El equipo en campo estuvo conformado por la experticia de Juan Carlos Crespo, la experiencia fotográfica de Alex Boas y el  oído de José María Loaiza….”

They also made a second thrilling discovery in Cerro Oscuro. More on that in a future post. EcoMinga thanks Joe Maria, Juan Carlos, and Alex for their dedication and curiosity about the avifauna of our reserve.

 

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation