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  • Writer's pictureDr. April Reside

Maquipucuna and the Diseases

My beloved arrived at the end of my second week in Ecuador, so Andres and Paola took us out to celebrated with canelazo (the Ecuadorian drink of orange juice, cinnamon and cane liquor) and cui (Guinea pig!). Guinea pig was a surprisingly tasty meat but I found the charred face of the little mammal on the plate a tad confronting. Beloved hooked in.

Our first ever cui (guinea pig) dining experience

The next day we headed out from Quito, itching to get to the forest. The soles of the fallen-off-the-back-of-a-truck boots my beloved brought with him already started to peel off, so we asked our driver for the day (Javier) if he could swing past a shop on the way. Javier kindly agreed, and seemed to find the whole affair of finding shoes in gringo sizes quite entertaining. The second stop on the journey was the equator! Or “Mitad del mundo” (middle of the world).

The equator through Ecuador

It was quite a set up, compared to other places I’ve crossed the equator, with a small entry fee and a big tower and a long equator line you could stand with one foot either side. The equator here runs through a very dry dusty landscape of dry sparse vegetation including cactus.

We continued on, and up over the mountain range to the town Nanegal, where it turned to tropical forest along the Andean slopes to Maquipucuna a 6,000 ha cloud forest reserve approximately two hour drive from Quito. We arrived and met Arcenio who introduced himself as our guide for the next few days. Over lunch we were treated to over 7 species of hummingbirds fighting over access to several feeders set up near the lunch area. They don’t stay still long enough for easy identification but we could make out the white necked Jacobin, brown violetear, rufous tailed hummingbird. Heading down one of the trails we disturbed the stunning rufous motmot, who seems to be resident at the lodge. From the bridge across the river, we saw the male torrent duck staking his claim on a large rock.

The bridge across the river where we saw torrent ducks and Andean cock of the rock

Nearby was the rusty-coloured female torrent duck, and her white fluffy baby. While we watched on, another male decided to launch a territory challenge. The two males snapped at each other along the rocks and into the water, and then took their disagreement up the river and out of sight. Our resident male returned victorious. Later, on dusk we watched mama torrent duck settle in for the night on the lee side of a rock with her baby tucked underneath.

We took one of the walking trails past a small waterfall and up to the top of the nearest peak. We found flocks of small tanagers, a crested guan and a beautiful green toucanet. After dinner we took the same trail again, but at a slower pace, and didn’t get very far, stopping for the frogs along the road (mostly Pristimantis species). Ecuador has 207 species of Pristimantis so Beloved declared identifying them to species level a mug’s game. He found a salamander (Bolitoglossa biseriata) on the prowl. I find it difficult to take salamanders as a serious vertebrate. The look too much like a slug with cute little ineffectual-looking legs.

Bolitoglossa biseriata

I wandered on while the slug-vertebrate was getting its photo taken, and found a small snake entangled in a vine hanging around a small stem. Being the herpetologists’ assistant, I dutifully called “SNAKE!” so said herpetologist could arrive before the snake could contemplate doing a runner. No chance of that with this specimen (Dipsas elegans) however. Upon being manipulated into a more photographic stance, it acted dead, adorably hiding its head under its body. So despite all sorts of encouragement it remained as photographic as a pile of poo.

Dipsas elegans hiding its head

We trudged on to the waterfall, eagerly anticipating a plethora of glass frogs. We were a bit disappointed to find one lonely – you guessed it – Pristimantis on a rock. Beloved disappeared down the stream and returned shortly with a beautiful green female jesus lizard (Basiliscus galeritus). She was about as keen to be photographed as the snake but had the opposite strategy – diving straight into the water and swimming and hiding as deep as she could get.

That night we were both felled by ailments – Beloved with a bad feverish cold and me with a nasty stomach bug, so our critter spotting has been reduced to whatever we can see from the hammock on the veranda of our room when we are awake enough to take a few steps outside. Being in the forest in Ecuador means that is the resident motmot and lemon-backed tanagers. Occasionally one of the hummingbirds buzzes past after being chased off the feeder. When we felt well enough we hauled our ailing arses the 30 m to the bridge, and watched the white-capped dippers and black phoebes skitter about the rapids, and swallow tanagers in the trees above. Then, the flash of a female Andean cock-of-the-rock appeared. She swooped past and into the vegetation on the riverbank, dashing out occasionally. Another female appeared, but kept going straight up the river. The first lady hung about for another few minutes before also disappearing up the river. So there are some advantages of being moderately immobile!



The article above has been kindly provided by Dr. April Reside, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland. Please check out her blog Conservation on the Fly for more fascinating entries:


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