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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'.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Wildsumaco; a gem of Ecuador's wild east

It's been quite a few posts - a record number in fact - since IF Talking Naturally has ventured overseas. While I have no qualms about featuring my home country disproportionately, it's time to raise my horizons a little, and return to one of my favourite countries (of which I have quite a few).
Dawn on Antisana Volcano from the deck of Wildsumaco Lodge.
Ecuador, as has often been remarked both here and elsewhere, is an extraordinary destination for a naturalist; probably nowhere in the world is such biological wealth crammed into such a small area. It's fair to say that the focus of most visitors is on the cloud forests of the north-west slopes of the Andes (especially the wonderful Mindo Valley), on the Amazon basin, and of course on the near-mythical Galápagos. However the eastern slopes of the Andes offer equal riches, and being isolated from the western cloud forests by the treeless snowy high peaks and ridges of the range, have many species unique to the area. Ecuador has a good record of protecting its natural treasures, but it is not a rich country and clearing continues. As elsewhere in South America, private conservation trusts and philanthropic companies have been set up to help fill the gap between existing public reserves and the need for more. One such is the small group of people from Sweden and the US who have bought an area of mid-level forest (1500 metres above sea level) on the slopes of Sumaco Volcano for preservation. They have built a research station and to help pay for it, and to widen understanding of the area's values and needs, have recently built a lovely lodge on a ridge that had previously been cleared. 

I don't often feature private establishments here, but when I've done so it's because I believe they deserve it for what they're doing for the world, and because I believe that you would benefit from knowing about them.

The arrow indicates the approximate position of Wildsumaco Lodge on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

More detailed map of the lodge's location; this one is taken from Wildsumaco's web page;
in the circumstance I'm assuming they won't mind too much!
It's fair to say that you could spend your entire time at Wildsumaco on the magnificent deck looking out across the cloud forest to the Andes, and in particular to mighty Volcán Antisana some 60 kilometres away to the north-west, back towards Quito. At 5,700 metres above sea level, it is the fourth highest peak in Ecuador.
There are not many better reasons for getting up early than discovering what the view to Antisana's like today -
and every day is different. Sometimes the clouds entirely wreath it, other times they are draped
diaphonously over it, as in the photo at the top of the posting, and just sometimes they stay off it completely,
at least for a while.
As the sun rises higher, it's time to pay attention to what's going on closer to hand, and there is a lot of deck to patrol to keep an eye on things.

As can be seen from these photos there is a lot of animal-attracting vegetation close to hand, as well as some of the most productive hummingbird feeders in Ecuador. Here is some of the wildlife I was privileged to see from this most wonderful balcony.
Many-spotted Hummingbird Taphrospilus hypostictus. This one is an eastern slopes specialist, found in a disjunct narrow band south from northern Ecuador.

Rufous-vented Whitetip Urosticte ruficrissa, likewise restricted to the eastern slopes, from Colombia to Peru.

Sparkling Violetear Colibri coruscans,a much more widespread Andean species, but always very welcome!

Brown Violetear Colibri delphinae; a seemingly relatively dull-coloured violetear,
until the sun catches its iridescent patches. Sadly no sun in this pic...
It is found on both slopes of the Andes, and across northern South America and the Caribbean.
Before the widespread advent of feeders, it wasn't often seen by visitors.
I try to avoid using pics of hummers on feeders where possible, but sometimes they're the only ones I can get and the birds are far too lovely to exclude on that basis!
Golden-tailed Sapphire Chrysuronia oenone is very much a case in point;
a very widespread hummer, but what a bird!
Black-throated Brilliant Heliodoxa schreibersii, here at about its uppermost limits.
Unlike most of the hummingbirds seen at Wildsumaco, this one is found down in the Amazonian lowlands.
While the hummingbirds will always be star turns they are far from the only breathtaking visitors to be seen from the Wildsumaco deck. A troop of Rio Napo, or Graell's, Tamarins Saguinus graellsi comes in to accept bananas offered via a pulley system in a tree at eye level to the deck.
Rio Napo Tamarin has been split off from the already restricted-range Black-naped Tamarin,
though as is so often the way this is not universally accepted.
Other delights come for naturally occurring treats,especially the finger-shaped fruit of Cecropia trees.
Black-mandibled (or Yellow-throated) Toucan Ramphastos ambiguus.Another magnificent bird, up to 60cm long, restricted to the eastern Andean slopes.

Many-banded Aracari Pteroglossus pluricinctus is primarily a lowland species,
found here well above its normally expected altitude.
Aracari is the name used for the toucans of this genus, which are smaller than the previous species.
Golden-collared (or Red-billed) Toucanet Selenidera reinwardtii, female above, male below.
This species is much smaller again than the aracari.
Much the same comments can be made about the distribution of this species.
Perhaps it is simply that, before the construction of Wildsumaco,
few observers came to these forests to record their presence.

It is in a cloud forest however, and sometimes the curtain is drawn across the Wildsumaco views.
You can see from the white verandah post that this is - or would be - much the same view
as the one shown earlier in this post.
At this time it can be appropriate to withdraw into the comforts of the large room which backs the deck; this is not a great hardship.
Dining room above (not in the cloud!) and bar below.
There are also some lovely quilts (not tapestries - thanks Susan!) on the walls.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Inca Jays.

And this one, to my shame, has me baffled (though I'm sure it's just me).
I'm pretty sure it's a crake (Grey-breasted perhaps?) but any suggestions gratefully received.
I'm very far from an expert on Ecuador's vast array of bird species!
And as at any rainforest lodge, the morning produces a wonderful array of insects drawn to the lights overnight (at least until the birds find them!). Here is an array of delightful moths and a katydid, none of which I'm even going to attempt to identify - they're worth admiring for their own sakes though.

And at that point my time has elapsed for today, so I'll have to finish this with a shorter posting, of the area beyond the lodge, next time. I'll come back next week and do that slightly earlier than I otherwise would have. I hope I've caught your attention sufficiently for you to have marked down Wildsumaco as "must visit" for your next Ecuador trip. It deserves it.


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Susan said...

Ahem...sorry to go all textile nerd on you, but those are quilts on the walls, not tapestries. Completely different methods of fabrication.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Susan, definitely not my department! Actually it's so long since you corrected me that I was afraid we'd fallen out... :-)

Susan said...