September 12 2010

Lalo Loor Dry Forest

My volunteer experience at Lalo Loor dry forest is very different than my time at El Pahuma, the rain forest, or what it will be like in the Galapagos.  Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua. It’s a new, unique concept where large landowners allow the Ecuadorian government to use their land for conservation, but technically still own in.  Lalo Loor was one of the first of these public-private partnerships and probably one of the more successful ones.   Lalo Loor’s owner has branded the area as a ‘research’ area, and to be fair, the dry forest, is a pretty unique ecosystem but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various  community   projects.  I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. [No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga].  The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time.  It doesn’t have electricity or running water.  No heat.  No air.  No indoor plumbing, not hot water.  When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too.  When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Perdenales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food.  I get to eat lunch and dinner in town.  In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects.  I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails.  I call it La Escalera de Michelle.

It gets dark about 5:30 pm…maybe a little earlier at the house due to its location in the forest.  From about 6p-9p, I read by candlelight.  [i found a Spanish language copy of  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It’s slow going, but I am making my way through it, and its improving my Spanish language skills.]  It also gets light about 5:30am.  I wake up a bit earlier than that due to the howler monkeys that start their screaming about 4.  Thank god for the siesta.

Little Bastard

 

The following is the text of a press release I created for La Ceiba foundation work in the dry forest of Ecuador.  I spent approximately one month in the wet forest, dry forest, and Galapagos Islands of Ecuador doing plant and animal research for La Ceiba.  In part to the research I collected, La Ceiba was able to convince the Ecuadorian government to add additional protected lands.

The Bosque Seco Lalo Loor [BSLL] protects over 250 hectares of transitional semi-deciduous lowland tropical forest.  The forest supports a large population of Mantled howler monkey.  The reserve is located in a dry area of Ecuador’s coast where it receives a little over 1000 mm of rain each year, nearly all of it falling between January and May.  For the rest of the year, the forest receives almost no rain at all.

The monkeys eat a diet of mostly leaves, but they will eat fruit if it is available…  Leaves are a good source of carbon, but they lack nitrogen; therefore the diet is not especially nutritious due to the high concentration of leaves.  As a result, the monkeys live a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to other tropical monkeys.

La Ceiba Foundation is collecting data for demography, range, and feeding habits of the monkey population.  A group consists of 2 people.  Each group will have binoculars, watch, compass, trail map, and a data sheet.  Each group will work a separate area of the trail for four hours once in the morning and once at night.  Once a monkey is encountered the group will stop and a collect data for 30 minutes.

Other notable plants and animals in the forest include:

  • Jaguarundi
  • Howler Monkey
  • Ocelot
  • Tayra
  • White front capuchin monkey
  • chestnut mandibled toucan
  • choco toucan
  • Ecuadoran Trogan
  • Grey back hawk
  • Hook-billed kite
  • Palamandibled Aracari
  • Red Mask Parakeet
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Equis
  • Blue Morpho Butterfly
  • Helicopter Damselflies
  • and several species of orchids

August 15 2010

Ecuador and Orchids

After traveling around Colombia for a month, I am now in Ecuador.  Ecuador is known for its natural diversity – and all the fun that accompanies it. It is the second-smallest country in  South America, but its range of offerings is no less than astounding. In one day’s drive you can journey from the Amazon Basin across glaciated Andean volcanoes, down through tropical cloud forest and into the sunset for a dinner of ceviche on the balmy Pacific coast. For nature lovers Ecuador has exotic orchids and birds, bizarre jungle plants, strange insects, windswept páramo (Andean grasslands), dripping tropical forests and the fearless animals that hop, wobble and swim around the unique, unforgettable  Galápagos Islands.   And this is why I am here.  For the next month I will volunteering with Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. Ceiba has operations in the jungle, the Oriente, the coast, the Galapagos Islands, and the cloud forests.

I had orientation today and got my suggested items list and spent the day shopping.  I had a lot of the items like a headlamp, water bottle, wool socks, long-sleeved shirts, hiking shoes and pants, but I needed rubber boots, tall socks, and work gloves.  I also bought a few souvenirs and shipped them back home.  The cloud forest is only about 1 hour north of  Quito, and I’ll be living at the Mindo Orchid Reserve.  I am not sure exactly what I will be doing there, but it involves photography.  Then its off to the Ecuadorian Amazon.  From there it is a quick flight over the mountains off to the coast to do some work in the dry forest.  I know that I will be working in the EcoCenter for a couple of hours a day, but I am not sure what else I’ll be doing there.

A plant person, I am not, and I’m even less of a flower person. However, Ecuador is a bio-diversity hot spot, and I would be amiss if I didn’t at least check out some of Ecuador’s offering. I would also be de-friended by one of my best friends who not only has a master’s degree in plant pathology [I can’t even], but also grows orchids in one of his many home greenhouses.  But as a person who like to be thorough in my writing I did a little bit of research on the beautiful orchid.

Among the biggest misconception about orchids is that they are parasites. Most people will conclude this because in the wild most orchids are found to grow in the branches of trees and some even cling on bushes. Many species of orchids are epiphytes. This literally means “on top of plant”. They are called this because they usually attach themselves to the branches of trees. They are also referred to as air plants because they absorb moisture and nutrients from the air that surrounds them. This is also why most orchids require proper ventilation to thrive.

 

The orchids that hang from tree branches and birches get the nutrients not from the tree itself but the surroundings. They live “up there” because this is where they can get the best of the best nutrients from its surroundings, such as from dead leaves and bird droppings. That is why to classify them as parasitic because of their chosen location is completely untrue.

Some orchid species cannot create their own food through photosynthesis. So what they do is they rely on the fungi on their roots to create the food for them. These are the more appropriately called “parasitic orchids”.

In reality parasitic plants, like mistletoe, are considered parasites because they cause damage to their host plants. Orchids that cling and hang from trees are actually somewhat beneficial. Their host trees are considered more of a stage for them to thrive rather than a host to steal nutrients from.

Enough of the science lesson…

Whilst in Ecuador I went to not only the Orchidarium in Cuenca, but also did volunteer work at the Mindo Cloud forest about an hour north of Quito where I photographed and catalogued all the orchids on site. My favorite flower by far is the monkey faced orchid.  I’m sure it has a fancy  scientific name, but I like the monkey face name.

See that cute little monkey face. Talk about a flower with personality! And when it’s in full bloom, it smell like an orange.  How perfect! These orchids grow in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru at 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level.