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Continuing studies on cacao, My bird research in Bird-Friendly Chocolate was finally published and I am acknowledged for the field work with Maquipucuna Foundation. Rustic (shade-grown) cacao plantations near forest maintain 60-80% of resident bird species and is an essential stop gap for species loss in the neotropics.


Roger Ahlman publishes reports for Peru

Roger Ahlman one of our star guides has just published 2 first records for Peru, the Bronzy Jacamar at Manu Lodge and Brazilian Merganser between Manu and Puerto Maldonado.


First records of Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla in Ecuador

First records of Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla in Ecuador are reported by Roger Ahlman. These records represent a significant extension in the migratory range of this species that was only previously known from Colombia in South America.


Observations on Primary and Secondary Nectar Robbing in Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador

Emily Tompkins, has gone on to study Rhinocerous Auklets in St. Lazaria.

Hummingbird-pollinated flowers often have their nectar extracted by nectar robbers who do not act as pollinators. SIT student, Emily Tompkins, studied the nectar robbing community in a cloud forest in Yanacocha Reserve, Ecuador, with the objectives of determining which species of flowers were being robbed by primary and secondary nectar robbers, the frequency of nectar-robbing, and recording any aggressive interactions between robbers and other robbers or legitimate pollinators. Feeding behavior and flower visitation data were collected during walking transects and stationary observation periods in front of Siphocampylus giganteus and Fuchsia sp. Hole counts and corolla measurements were collected to analyse the frequency of robbing and the characteristics of robbed flowers. A high incidence of nectar robbing was found. Diglossa humeralis (Black Flowerpiercer) and Diglossa Lafresnayii (Glossy Flowerpiercer) are primary nectar robbers, and three species of hummingbirds, Metallura tyrianthina (Tyrian Metaltail), Coeligena lutetiae (Buff-winged Starfrontlet), and Eriocnemis luciani (Sapphire-vented Puffleg), act as secondary nectar robbers on five plant species. Aggressive interactions were observed, M. tyrianthina in particular was a frequent target of aggression by larger hummingbird species. The role of primary nectar robbers affects other avian flower visitor by allowing secondary nectar robbing and increasing competition for legitimate pollinators. I hypothesize that the most important effect of nectar robbing on the flowers of Yanacocha is the cost of nectar production and the indirect effect of a reduced appeal to legitimate pollinators.


Anolis proboscis
Photo by Wanda Parrott

Discovery of a Lost Lizard

On my last Western Slope tour (Sep.10)  I stopped to remove a sluggish lizard from the roadway.  Upon close inspection I saw what I thought was a long tongue sticking beyond the snout.  In the hand I could see that it was a fleshy, laterally-flattened proboscis almost the length of the head projecting forward from the tip of the upper jaw.  I asked Wanda Parrott to photograph the lizard and then released it.  After connecting with Ana Almendariz from the Polytechnic University she informed me that the species has not been recorded since it was collected over 51 years ago and that these are probably the only known photos of this species!


Torrent Duck Study

Liz Goldsmith with
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel chick

Liz Goldsmith, a Macalester student in the SIT ecology semester, undertook Charlie's prospectus of researching the Torrent Duck in April 2006. Merganetta armata was studied over 3 weeks on 4 rivers in the Northern Andes of Ecuador to examine the effects of development, deforestation, and disturbance on the local populations. Interviews with locals and questionnaires emailed to birding professionals indicate a decrease in Torrent Duck sightings over the last 20 years. In general, Torrent Ducks are not disturbed by the presence of human settlements but are highly impacted by oil and chemical spills.

The Torrent Duck is uncommon to locally fairly common along swift, rocky rivers and larger streams throughout the Andes. The species was studied over 3 weeks on 4 rivers in the Northern Andes of Ecuador, the Río Cosanga and Río Quijos on the Eastern slope, and the Río Pilatón and Río Toachi on the Western slope, to examine the effects of development, deforestation, and disturbance on the local populations.  A questionnaire was also given both orally to local residents and by email to birding professionals in Ecuador to collect data on the trend in Torrent Duck populations, behaviors, threats to the population, and the effects of past disturbances.  Torrent Ducks were observed through point counts and direct observation at 3 viewpoints along each river.  Torrent Ducks were found on all 4 rivers during the study.  Questionnaires both oral and by email described a decrease in Torrent Duck sightings over the last 20 years.  Higher densities on the Río Cosanga and Río Pilatón demonstrate that in general Torrent Ducks are not impacted by the presence of human development.  The lower density of Torrent Ducks on the Río Quijos and Río Toachi appears to correspond with a high rate of disturbance from oil and chemical spills.  The watersheds of both the Río Toachi and Río Quijos also are more heavily deforested than their geographic counterparts, the Río Pilatón and Río Cosanga.  Promotion of ecotourism for the Torrent Duck as well as a campaign to get the Torrent Duck formally declared threatened in Ecuador are two possible conservation strategies.  Further study is needed of this possibly threatened species to determine population size and threats throughout its range.



Charlie lead a project with Maquipucuna, a local foundation, which is establishing a wildlife-habitat corridor between the Western Andes and the Northwest lowland tropical rain forest, the most endangered ecosystem in Ecuador. Shade-grown mature cacao plantations surveyed by Roger Ahlman are yielding bird diversities, which may approach the total species found in nearby tropical rain forest! Maintaining these bird-rich agroforestry systems vs. conversion to "bird deserts" of banana and oil palm plantations would be a stopgap in the loss of bird habitat throughout the Neotropics. Roger recorded on MiniDisk, what sounds like the Great Currasow, long thought extirpated in Ecuador, this could be one of the few recent localities known! He has also documented Streak-chested Antpitta, Blue Cotinga, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Ochraceous Attila, Scarlet-breasted and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Apart from acquiring habitat diverse mature cacao plantations, Maquipucuna will be encouraging a bird-friendly chocolate certification program, which will help market the product to help save bird species.


Secondary nectar robbing, a previously unsubstantiated foraging behavior for
the Cinereous Conebill (Conirostrum cinereum)

by Charlie Vogt

Charlie has discovered a new feeding behavior for the Cinereous Conebill and discusses its evolutionary implications. Article published in Ornitologia Neotropical.


Range extensions and noteworthy records from mainland Ecuador
by Charlie Vogt

Charlie reports range extensions and noteworthy records for 12 species.  Article published in Bulletin of the British Ornithological Club.


High elevation records of bird species from Rucu Pichincha Volcano, Ecuador
by Charlie Vogt

While Ecuador has become a world-class birding destination, there are still relatively few bird observers in the field compared to the U.S. and Europe, and most observations are made relatively close to roads.

Visits on foot to a volcano in N Central Ecuador, yielded the discovery of an area of luxuriant, high-altitude páramo situated just N of the summit cone between 4400-4600 m.  This area of gentler slopes and shoulders supports a diverse and abundant resident bird community.  Over the course of 5 visits between 9 September 2005 and 21 October 2005, a total of 22 species were recorded, including one critically endangered species, Andean Condor Vultur gryphus.  10 species (45%) exhibited significant altitudinal extensions for Ecuador (Ridgely & Greenfield 2001) and 5 (23%) of these constitute altitudinal extensions for the central and northern Andes (Fjeldsa & Krabbe 1990).

Article published in Cotinga No. 26 Autumn 2006.


Wind Farm Bird Impact Study, Loja Oct. 2004

Charlie and Jonas spent 5 days doing a rapid environmental assesment of a proposed Wind Farm on the bird population on a ridge just west of Loja.

The city of Loja is preparing a pilot project with the installation of 11 wind turbines for electricity generation on a nearby ridge. The wind turbines are on a 60 m tower with 30 m blades posing a collision risk for birds flying between 30-90m above the ground. Access roads will be built along the ridge line leading to loss and fragmentation of forest. The windy ridge provides updrafts for a number of raptor species (excluding Andean Condor for which there are no recent records in this area) which cruise the length of the ridge.  The ridge is mostly deforested pastureland but with significant patches of secondary temperate forests and shrublands.  The only confirmed species at risk is the Bearded Guan, listed as endangered, which was seen and tape recorded in a forest adjacent to the study area.  We have recorded at least 10 species which are not known for the West slope of Loja according to Ridgely and Greenfield, 2001. We prepared recommendations for mitigation measures to minimize construction and operation impacts of the wind turbines on the local bird population.  While there are numerous studies of wind turbine - bird interactions in the U.S. and Europe, this appears to be the first one in the tropics.


Cordillera del Condor – the frontier exploration

Between February 18 – March 20 2004 CECIA undertook the 8th and last expedition to the Cordillera del Condor in southeastern Ecuador at the Peruvian border, and Jonas had the opportunity to join the team consisting of;  Ana Agreda (expedition leader), Hernando Roman and Luis Tonato. This outlying ridge that was formed some 100 million years ago has developed a unique avifauna, some shared with the older Tepui mountains of Venezuela and other relict mountain ranges outside the Andes.

Roraiman Flycatcher
Photo by Janos Olah

Two different and distinct areas were visited; the Naytza ridge north of the confluence of the Namangoza and Zamora rivers and just north of the main chain of the Cordillera del Condor, and an area near the headwaters of the Carrizales and Apondios rivers in the northwestern part of the Condor southeast of Limon. 13 days were spent at Naytza at two different camp sites; camp I at 1560m and camp II at 1270m.

Camp I was located at a nutrient-poor meseta with vegetation more often found at higher elevations. This was a species-poor habitat for birds due to the low canopy (<20 m) and dense undergrowth of chusquea bamboo, ferns, orchids and several species of palms. Camp II, just east of the meseta, located in subtropical foothill forest, had a much richer bird diversity than Camp I, but normal for this elevation and habitat and very similar to Cordillera del Cutucu further north.

The second area visited was situated in the highest part of the Condor. Muddy trails and long hikes to the upper camp at 2540m, made for a strenuous effort which resulted in inflamed knees and bruises. However, it was well worth the effort as you will see below. Lower camp at 1600m was located next to the river Carrizales in lush subtropical forest and some second growth; middle camp at 1900m in tall primary cloud forest and upper camp in stunted temperate forest.

So what birds did we see?!

355 species were recorded and the most noteworthy were the following;

  • Red-ruffed Fruitcrow Pyroderus scutatus
    The second record for the eastern slope of Ecuador and the northernmost record east of the Andes. One bird seen at Limon at the lower camp.
  • Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus
    Found at the meseta at Naytza (Camp I). Only the second known locality for Ecuador of this species. Exists further south along the Cordillera del Condor at Chinapintza where it seems to be rare. This appears to be the case in northern Peru as well. The bird was uncommon at Naytza with 7-10 different territories, indicating a good population for this vulnerable species.
  • Peruvian Antpitta Grallaricula peruviana
    One or two birds tape-recorded of this rare and little known species at the middle camp, Limon.
  • Bicolored Antvireo Dysithamnus occidentalis
    Two different family groups found the same day at the middle camp, Limon. Southernmost record for Ecuador and the first record west of the Cordillera del Condor.
  • Roraiman Flycatcher Myiophobus roraimae
    One individual mist-netted of this rare and little-known species at Camp I, Naytza. Supposedly only the fourth locality in Ecuador.

Other interesting records were; Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Andean Potoo, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Lanceolated Monklet, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Spectacled Prickletail, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, White-fronted Tyrannulet, Yellow-throated Spadebill, Orange-banded Flycatcher, Sharpbill, Gray-tailed Piha and Jet Manakin.

Two articles were published in Cotinga 24 Autumn 2005:

  • A new population of Cinnamon-breasted tody-tyrant Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus in Ecuador by Ana Agreda, Jonas Nilsson, Luis Tonato and Hernando Roman.
  • Range extensions for, and description of the juvenile of, Bicoloured Antvireo Dysithamnus occidentalis punctitectus (latin names in italics) in Ecuador by Ana Agreda, Jonas Nilsson, Luis Tonato and Hernando Roman.
    Click here for PDF of article.


Ornithological Expeditions to Volcan Sumaco

On an 8-day expedition in November 2003, Charlie Vogt recorded 200 species, of which 130 were new for the area, including Giant Antpitta (4th locality for East slope), a range extension for the Amethyst-throated Sunangel previously known from Southern Ecuador, Cordillera del Condor and Cutucu, as well as altitude records for 9 other species.

In April 2004, Charlie accompanied by Sara Meserve (a student from Williams in SIT's Ecology Program) undertook another 8-day ornithological expedition to Sumaco.  More time was spent in the temperate zone with three nights at camp 3 (2770m) and the summit was reached on day 4. 161 species were recorded in total of which 34 species were new to the area.  Highlights included Orange-breasted Falcon, Imperial Snipe (known from five other localities on the east slope), Mountain Avocetbill, Greater Scythebill (an extremely rare bird, Charlie obtained the second known recording for this species), White-rimmed Brush-Finch and Plain-winged Antwren.


Photo by Sylvia Seger

Intag Cloud Forest Ornithology Course

La Florida Reserve maintains some of Imbabura province's last remaining subtropical cloud forest.  Home to 8 threatened bird species as well as 6 Chocó endemics, the reserve harbors healthy leks of Andean Cock-of-the-rock and at least 3 pairs of the rare White-faced Nunbird. Jonas and Charlie have been teaching Ornithology to students of the School for International Training's comparative ecology and conservation program for a number of years, including techniques in field identification as well as mist-netting and morphometry.  Data on bird species and measurements have been collected over time and an updated Intag birdlist for the area is available.

The area has been under-visited by birders and Charlie and Jonas have obtained several new provincial records which will be published soon.

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