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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.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Wildsumaco Continued; away from the lodge

In my last posting I ran out of time before finishing my introduction to Wilsumaco, the truly superb new  conservation-oriented lodge on the eastern Andean slopes of northern Ecuador. I waxed enthusiastic on the immediate surrounds of the lodge itself, but didn't manage to leave its immediate vicinity! That can now be rectified in a fairly brief posting. 

We came to Wildsumaco from the west - not from Quito itself, but from the much closer (and higher) San Isidro Lodge, which is also worthy of its own post in the not too distant future. This is the direction from which most visitors are likely to arrive, but you could also come from the east, leaving Coca after a stay in the Amazon basin. Before we even reached the lodge we stopped at a set of feeders off the road at the edge of the forest, where we saw some species that we didn't later see from the lodge verandah. Inevitably some of these photos were taken on the feeders - sorry about that!
Violet-headed Hummingbird Klais guimeti, another eastern slopes specialist in the Andes,
but curiously also found at lower elevations in central America and Venezuela.
Gould's Jewelfront Heliodoxa aurescens; like some of the species mentioned in the previous post,
this is primarily a lowland bird which has only recently been recorded at this altitude (1500 metres above sea level)
at Wildsumaco, presumably because people weren't looking here prior to the lodge's existence.
Green Hermit Phaethornis guy, another species which doesn't find its way to the Pacific side of the Andes,
though its range extends from central America to Peru.
I find the hermits especially hard to photograph, as they don't seem to land where they're photographable!
One hazard of watching feeders is that it can hard to remember to look up or down as well, and one should!
The seemingly weightless Swallow-tailed Kite Elanoides forficatus must be one of the loveliest birds of prey.
It is a widespread resident in the northern half of South America; a population in the south-east of the US
migrates south to join the southern birds after breeding.
This magnificent caterpillar was doubtless destined to become an equally  magnificent butterfly or moth
- there are plenty around - but I can't begin to suggest what that might be.
The extensive lodge driveway and the road past the gate provide excellent birding opportunities too, but another highlight was accompanying guide Byron down into the forest to look for trickier options. The forest itself is of course beautiful.

Creek above, and cloud forest below, along the forest track.


Bromeliad flower. Bromeliads are a feature of the Andean cloud forests, with more than 4500 species
in Ecuador alone, at densities which can exceed 100,000 plants per hectare.
Some glowing leaves.
Like other lodges, Wildsumaco has begun habituating wild antpittas, infamously difficult birds to see normally, and Byron was an expert in calling them up.
Byron calling up Plain-backed Antpitta Grallaria haplonota, which has a breathy fluting series of notes.
Plain-backed Antpitta - not much light or time, so apologies for the poor photo.
It's the only one I've ever seen though!
He also conjured up Ochre-breasted Antpitta, which I had previously seen in Peru at Paz de las Aves - I never mind seeing a bird, especially one this elusive, more than once however!
Ochre-breasted Antpitta Grallaricula flavirostris, Wildsumaco.
Other prized birds are much less easy to photograph, so bear with me if you will - I worked hard for these miserable shots, believe it or not!
White-crowned Manakin Dixiphia pipra. In my defence, this is a tiny bird, hard to approach in the dim
light of the forest understorey, and jet black.
The males form small loose leks, just in earshot of each other, where they display to attract females' attention.
Blackish Antbird Cercomacroides nigrescens; like any antbirds this one is shy and cryptic in the dense
understorey. If this photo is memorable for anything (and OK, it's really not!),
it's for being the only antbird I've ever managed to lay lens on!
So, a brief introduction to a special, exciting, and utterly enjoyable place. I hope you can find your way there some day.

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