20 February, 2012
In November, I visited Peru to check on the progress of some ABC projects and partners, and in the process, had the pleasure of visiting several field sites.
In northern Peru, I helped lead an ABC field trip to Abra Patricia Reserve and Huembo, two project sites operated by our Peruvian partner Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN). Visiting sites allows project managers like me to ask questions and observe progress that is difficult to do over Skype and email from abroad, and to interact with local managers to better plan for future needs at reserves. One such advance was a surprise. Local guard Roberto Bazán Culquí (see my earlier blog — Local Conservation and Conservationists in Peru) had recently habituated “Dorita” an Undulated Antpitta to worm feeding, using techniques he mastered and figured out alone.
This trip was not a birding tour, but a conservation tour (with a lot of birds). In addition to spectacular views of endemic birds, such as Royal Sunagel, Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, Marvelous Spatuletails and a Long-whiskered Owlet we spent a lot of time visiting tree nurseries and restoration sites, and touring a newly constructed administration house and research center – the bricks and mortar of conservation efforts here. We even picked up shovels and participated in the tree-planting efforts. On degraded land within the western edge of Abra Patricia Reserve, we planted a few Andean Alders with the help of local community members that had been hired as part of the reforestation effort. At the main lodge, we also demonstrated a new product called ABC BirdTape to help prevent bird collisions on windows. ECOAN’s lodge has many windows and staff previously asked me about solutions to prevent hummingbirds and other birds hitting them. ABC has been developing BirdTape to apply on existing windows to make them more visible to birds. Please visit abcbirdtape.org to learn more about this product, which will soon be available for order to place on your home windows. As part of this demonstration, I cut the tape into artistic shapes including a hummingbird and orchid, for decorative effect. We left several BirdTape rolls behind for ECOAN staff to apply to other windows.
At the conclusion of the tour, our guests returned home and I went on to Cusco in Southern Peru to take part in the the 9th Neotropical Ornithology Congress, where over 700 scientists attended shared their latest bird research, networked and visited the enchanting city of Cusco. Here, I and ECOAN’s president Tino Aucca co-lead a roundtable discussion to establish a Peruvian Alliance for Zero Extinction. As interesting as the talks and meetings were, hundreds of passionate bird-lovers won’t remain inside conference rooms for long without some seeking escape outside. On Saturday, well over a hundred ornithologists from the Congress visited one of our project sites at Abra Malaga Thastayoc-Royal Cinclodes Private Conservation Area in the Vilcanota Mountains near Cusco. ABC and ECOAN have been working here with the local community for more than a decade to protect and restore Polylepis forests for ecosystem services and habitat for the Royal Cinclodes and other endangered birds. I went early with a small ECOAN group that included ornithologist and illustrator Jon Fjeldså, author of Birds of the High Andes. Despite undergoing open heart surgery a few years before and wearing sandals, Jon clambered through the mud and up and down steep slopes (off trail) with the confidence of a mountain viscacha (a fury rodent that looks a bit like a small kangaroo and lives here. The thin oxygen at this elevation (well over 4,000 m or 13,100 feet) did not seem to deter the other groups either, who must have been buoyed by adrenaline from the many potential “lifers” they were pursuing. We entered the newly constructed visitor center and saw information panels that I helped write just a few weeks before. These panels begin to tell the story about the conservation efforts here. The local people greeted Jon like a returning hero, or perhaps like an Incan Santa Claus. In return for his gift of promoting greater awareness of Polylepis forests through his decades of research and publications, they gave him a traditional poncho as a symbol of thanks.
While I was photographing the improved infrastructure and new signs posted in the reserve, other groups were having an entirely different kind of fun exploring the Polylepis forest. November is the onset of the rainy season, a time when many birds begin breeding. Richard Amable, a friend from Puerto Maldonado and founder of the Jacamar Bird Club, photographed an endangered White-browed Tit-Spinetail exiting a nest cavity. Justin Hite, a friend from my time at Cornell University, was traversing steep slopes to count hummingbird nests suspended under daunting cliffs. But of all the nest finders on the mountain this misty day, Harold Greeney of Ecuador’s Yanayacu Biological Station was probably the champion. An antpitta expert, he found three Stripe-headed Antpitta nests in short order. He told me that the nest of this species has yet to be described, but by the end of the day he had taken nest measurements and was planning to go back to take video of the nesting birds to collect more behavioral data. This illustrates one of the great opportunities afforded to researchers in neotropical forests, even regularly visited ones such as Abra Malaga or Abra Patricia: there is still so much to discover. As long as ABC is working to protect places like these, birders and researchers will be able to visit them and learn, and the birds will continue to thrive.
If you are interested to read more about what ABC staff do, please check out our recent issue of Bird Conservation magazine for more stories.