Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Orchids of Ecuador

Ecuador is an incredibly biologically diverse country.  Compared to its surrounding countries in South America, it is rather small - Ecuador has a land surface area of 272 045 km2 and represents only 0.17% of the earth's surface area.  Despite this, Ecuador is one of the top 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth, especially when it comes to plants (its #1!).
I recently visited the Botanical Gardens in Quito, located in Parque La Carolina in the centre of the city.  I am constantly wanting to learn more about the natural world, especially plants, my weakest link.  The Quito Botanical Gardens are a wonderful place to learn about the vegetation zones of Ecuador and get a glimpse of the incredible biodiversity of the ecosystems and plants found within this beautiful country.  The walk through the gardens takes you through a majority of the vegetation zones found within Ecuador, including high Andean wetlands, cloud forest (exhibiting a diversity of palms, bromeliads and ferns), paramo, dry thorny shrub zones and the Amazonian lowlands.  In addition to highlighting these zones, there are also theme gardens and exhibits including the rose garden, carnivorous plants, exterior orchid gardens and many more.

The main attraction however, are the orchids.  There are several small outdoor exhibits for orchids, and a large greenhouse-type building located in the centre of the gardens filled with an incredible diversity of these spectacular plants.  The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is one of the largest families of flowering plants on the planet, with approximately 25 000 described species.  Orchids are cosmopolitan - virtually found just about everywhere on earth except in glacial zones.  In Tropical America, there are up to 250 genera of orchids (compared to approximately 25 genera in North America).  Orchids are the dominant plants in Ecuador; 1 out of every 5 plants in Ecuador is an orchid!  Ecuador has over 4000 described species of orchids, and hundreds more in the process of classification.  On top of that, over 1700 species of orchids are endemic to Ecuador. 

Approximately 67% of Ecuador's orchids are mostly found in the highland regions (sierra & cloud forest), 17% are found in the Amazonian lowlands, and 16% are found in the coastal regions.  When walking through a humid forest in Ecuador (or anywhere in the tropics), keep an eye out not only on the ground for flowering plants, but up in the trees - 82% of orchids are epiphytic, growing off of the trees, branches, vines and other plants found above the forest floor.  Orchids, bromeliads and other ephiphytic plants essentially drip off the trees in these environments and provide homes for an abundance of animals, including frogs and insects.  The presence of orchids indicates the health of primary forests.    

Almost 20% of Ecuador's land mass is covered by protected areas, but that being said, the deforestation rate is still quite high.  This has a huge impact on endemic species in Ecuador.  A majority of Ecuador's endemic orchids are at risk.  Of 98% of the endemic orchids in Ecuador, 2% are critically endangered, 11% are endangered and 87% are classified as vulnerable.  It is so important to protect the fragile forests and all natural environments from loss of biodiversity.  These orchids are not only beautiful to see, but are carefully weaved into a very interactive ecosystem of plants and animals that depend on each other for their survival and well-being.  

If in Quito, check out the botanical gardens and the beautiful plants and vegetation zones that are featured.  If your visit to this spectacular country is short and you don't make it to cloud forest or lowland Amazonian rainforest, at least try to stop by the Quito Botanical Gardens to see and gain an appreciation for the incredible diversity that Ecuador has to offer. 

~ Jenn

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sunset Colours

Sunset on the Andes

I haven't seen anything quite like this before.  This is the projection of the sunset on the forested landscape west of Quito.  The photo doesn't really do it justice, it was beautiful!  It reminds me of the fall colours that southern Ontario is currently experiencing this month and made me think of home!  ~ Jenn

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Photos from Mindo

Mindo countryside
The beautiful Mindo landscape
Colombian Screech-Owl
Colombian Screech-Owls (Megascops colombianus), Mindo
Mindo Gardens Mirador
Mirador up in the cloud forest, Mindo
Crimson-rumped Toucanet
Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus), Mindo
Western Basilisk
Western Basilisk, Mindo
Masked Water-Tyrant
Masked Water-Tyrant (Fluvicola nengeta), Mindo
Scaled Fruiteater
Female Scaled Fruiteater (Ampelioides tschudii), Mindo

Some Favourite Photos

  I have been in Ecuador a month so far, and have enjoyed some stunning landscapes and beautiful birds & animals.  Here are some of my favourite photos thus far, more to come. ~ Jenn
Carunculated Caracara
 Carunculated Caracara (Phalcoboenus carunculatus), Antisana Ecological Reserve
Black-faced Ibis
Black-faced Ibis (Theristicus melanopis), Antisana Ecological Reserve
Pichincha Volcano
Pichincha Volcano, Yanacocha Ecological Reserve
Sword-billed Hummingbird
Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera), Yanacocha Ecological Reserve
Looking up through the Cycads
Sunset at Atacames
Green Thorntail
Green Thorntail (Discosura conversii), San Miguel de Los Bancos
Green-crowned Woodnymph 
Green-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania fannyi), San Miguel de Los Bancos

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Banded Ground-Cuckoo Video

I was very lucky to capture on video this Banded Ground-Cuckoo taking a grasshopper by hand for the first time ever!  What a magical experience!  Check out Sword Billed Expeditions for more information on seeing this beautiful bird  ~ Jenn

A Very Special Bird

Banded Ground-Cuckoo
The Banded Ground-Cuckoo (Neomorphus radiolosus), a truly spectacular and stunning bird! This rare and endangered species is known from only a few reserves in Northwestern Ecuador and Southwestern Colombia. Not much is known about their ecology, and their conservation and the conservation of their restricted Choco ecosystem is of utmost importance.

Banded Ground-Cuckoo
Like some antbirds, Banded Ground-Cuckoos are known to follow large swarms of army ants, as well as groups of peccaries and monkeys, to snatch up whatever insects, lizards, amphibians and other food these groups disturb up off the forest floor. In the morning, we ventured out onto the trail at Un Poco del Choco Reserve with Nicole and Wilo, the property owners. They have had regular sightings for the past month and Nicole has had some success in feeding an individual as well. When we found the ants (not even 5 minutes after being on the trail), the cuckoo was there! Not long after we had our first looks of this incredible bird, a second individual came along, and a THIRD! This was the first time Nicole had seen THREE birds together on the reserve, very exciting! 

Banded Ground-Cuckoo
Nicole was attempting to feed one of the birds but it was not overly responsive and timid, unlike her previous feeding experiences. We waited for a while as it scurried off and would occasionally come into the vicinity. We were just about to head up to the cabins when a cuckoo approached closely to us, not timid at all. Nicole was sure this was the cuckoo she had been feeding in the previous weeks and proceeded to offer food, and the cuckoo was very responsive!
The cuckoo was rather bold this morning, and at one point it approached Nicole's hand, in which she immediately dropped the grasshopper out of surprise! On the next feeding attempt the cuckoo actually took the grasshopper from Nicole's hand for the first time ever! She is the first to attempt ever feeding a Banded Ground-Cuckoo, and the results have been incredible! So happy to have this experience!

Banded Ground-Cuckoo
A truly memorable experience with a spectacular bird!  Now, Edison Buenano and Diego Andrade will be offering special tour extensions to see this beautiful bird. Check out Sword Billed Expeditions or ask me for more information!

~ Jenn