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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Aguas Verdes; another good news bird ecotourism story

Some time ago, I told the remarkable story of Angel Paz and his cloud forest property Paz de las Aves on the western slopes of the Andes in northern Ecuador. I won't retell his story here - please trust me that it's worth reading if you're interested in the concept and haven't come across his story.

Today I want to tell you about a very recent such enterprise further south on the other side of the Andes and across the border, on the eastern slopes in northern Peru. Norbil Becerra is a carpenter who was intending to turn his small family-owned patch of rainforest just outside of the little town of Aguas Verdes (not to be confused with the town of the same name on the Ecuadorian border) into a coffee plantation, which is the fate of much of the cloud forest around there. At 1500 metres above sea level these forests have a mix of upper and lower elevation species.
Aguas Verdes is not a wealthy town, and it is unsurprising that Norbil's efforts have met with local
opposition and even derision. But as the number of visitors and their money continues to rise, that
may change. (We arrived in a tremendous downpour; we were invited in to the simple open downstairs room
to have a cup of tea while we waited. The pig above trotted in while we were there, but was
only passing through to the back yard.)
Instead, inspired by what he saw at nearby Huembo Lodge (of which more in a forthcoming posting here), he turned his talents to building a viewing platform facing an array of hummingbird feeders. At Huembo he saw the extraordinary Marvellous Spatuletail (see under September in that link) - his first ever hummingbird - and like many before him he was hooked.
Norbil's viewing platform is spacious and impressive, looking not only at feeders but
at plantings of selected flowering plants, chosen to attract both hummingbirds and butterflies.
Feeders (look carefully!) in the shade behind the flowering Verbena hedge.
Norbil's patience and determination were remarkable - it took seven months for the recalcitrant hummers to find the feeders, but he persisted in putting cleaning and refilling the feeders, in the face of great pressure to be sensible, to clear and plant coffee. And in the end they came, and now, just a year or so later, visitors are coming too. We did, last September, and felt hugely rewarded for our walk through streets still running with rainwater and then along a road for a kilometre out of town; fortunately the white sands under the forest drain the storm waters away efficiently.
Blue-fronted Lancebill Doryfera johannae.
This lovely hummer has a remarkably straight bill; it is scarce, though widely-distributed.

Fork-tailed Woodnymph Thalurania furcata, another widespread and truly gloriously
iridescent hummingbird.
Golden-tailed Sapphire Chrysuronia oenone; really, I run out of superlatives for hummers...
This one is found throughout the northern Andes.
Many-spotted Hummingbird Taphrospilus hypostictus, limited to the lower eastern slopes of
the northern Andes.
For me though, the highlight was the truly amazing Wire-crested Thorntail Discosura popelairii. This was not the first time I'd seen it but it was by far the best view I've had, and the only chance I've had to take a moderately acceptable photograph.
Wire-crested Thorntail male at Verbena.
Birdlife International describes it as "generally rare"; Cornell Lab of Ornithology refers to it as "stunning".
It is one of the most enthralling birds I've ever had the privilege of meeting.
I mentioned the butterflies - I can't offer you names (and would be delighted if you could help out) but hopefully you can still enjoy a couple of them in anonymity. 

However Norbil didn't stop there. Much more recently he built a nearby raised hide within the forest, and equipped it with a simple but ingenious mechanism to deliver corn to the forest floor in front of the viewing windows.
Norbil's hide for viewing almost mythically shy and hard-to-see birds of the cloud forest floor.
The corn is delivered though the pipe on the left to the ground below the viewing slots (below).
The bird framed by the viewing slot above is one I'd almost given up hope of seeing - a tinamou! Moreover, not one, but two species wandered in to offer us extended views. Tinamous belong to the ratites, the great flightless Gondwanan birds (ostriches, emus, rheas etc), but unlike their larger relatives they can still fly weakly.

This Cinereous Tinamou Crypturellus cinereus came in early, and others later followed.
It is widespread across northern South America but, like other tinamous, is very secretive.
Later it was joined by a Little Tinamou Crypturellus soui, likewise rarely seen normally.
Little Tinamou, another Aguas Verdes thrill.
Another hard to see resident of the forest interior which came to visit was the pretty little Orange-billed Sparrow Arremon aurantiirostris.
Orange-billed Sparrow, another new species for me.
Grey-necked Wood Rail Aramides cajaneus, perhaps not as hard to see as some of the
others, but hard to imagine a view as spectacular as this one!
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi.A large and widespread forest species, but not normally easy to approach.
When you're in northern Peru - which is entirely different from the more visited south of the country - there are several reasons to visit this wonderful innovation at Aguas Verdes, not the least of which is to do yourself a favour. But supporting people like Norbil and what he stands for is probably even more important.



Flabmeister said...

Agree 100% about supporting such endeavours. If Senor Juan is on the case I suspect the future looks good for this one. Hopefully someone in the village - if not Norbil himself - will put up a lodge and then the town will really start to see the benefits.

This reminds me of places we visited in SE Arizona where the hummers attracted tourists (and sugar salesmen as the feeders got through a lot of solution in peak season). The operators there asked for a donation towards the cost of the sugar and sold other produce (eggs, apples, tomatoes).

Of course it isn't necessary to leave Australia to find entrepreneurs working this way. Several stations in Western NSW with a good array of dry country birds (but no hummers) are setting themselves up to attract birders.


Susan said...

I really hope he succeeds. To follow a different path like this takes real guts.

snakechaser said...

We just returned from a 2-week trip to Peru. We visited Norbil's place about halfway through our trip. For me, it was a highlight because it was obvious that Norbil is an extremely talented carpenter and because of his success in attracting tinamou, hummingbirds, and tanagers. The tinamou blind is now about twice the size and accessed via a concrete bridge. The hummingbird garden has about 5 feeders on one side and only flowering bushes on the other. There's also an area with feeding platforms for tanagers. Norbil is now working on building a lodge.

Ian Fraser said...

Thank you Snakechaser, that is most excellent news! So glad you enjoyed your visist. I'll be back there in October and can't wait to see the changes.