Eagles and Chotacabras, findings full of emotions

Ornate Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus ornatus

By: Ángelo Córdova and Carlos Zambrano

On a clear afternoon, while we were observing birds from the Life Centre, we noticed a great commotion among the birds dining on the feeders. Suddenly, we saw something that looked like a great shadow posing on a tree directly in front of us. Ángelo quickly zoomed in the telescope and to our great surprise, we saw that an ornate haw-eagle was perched there. With a wingspan greater than a metre and weighing just under a kilogram is probably one of the largest predators that soar over the Mashpi skies.

It inhabits humid tropical forests from the Yucatán peninsula to the south of Argentina. It can capture prey five times greater than its own weight, and other birds are its main food source. This explains why the other birds around the feeder made tracks at full speed, or as they say in Ecuador, made feathers!

Although in studies carried out about their state of conservation it was found that these birds can tolerate a certain level of forest fragmentation, it is a species that is almost threatened due to loss of habitat and hunting.

Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata)

By: Juan Carlos Narváez and Ángello Córdova

A few nights ago, while on a night time walk very close to the Dragonfly station, we heard a very particular song. On raising our lanterns, we could make out the brilliant eyes of a mottled owl.

This bird can be found throughout Central and South America, and it inhabits a great variety of ecosystems, from dry forests to rainforests in lowlands and highlands, up to cloud forest. It mainly feeds on small mammals like rats and bats that it traps thanks to its great sense of smell. It also hunts insects that fly at night, like beetles and large grasshoppers.

Lyre-tailed nightjar (Uropsalis lyra)

By: Juan Carlos Narváez

Some nocturnal birds are distinguished by their special ability to camouflage themselves during the day, so pass by unnoticed by their predators. This is the case for the lyre-tailed nightjar. Its feathers allow it to be confused with the rocks where it generally nests or rests. It is a fairly rare species that dwells in the cliffs and caves of the Andean cloud forest. It is found all the way from the south of Venezuela up to the north-east of Argentina. The name ‘lyre-tailed’ is due to the fact that males exhibit a pair of very long of feathers in their tail that can reach double the length of their body, and these are used to be carry out courtship dances to attract a partner.

Females, however, do not have a long tail. Nightjars are nocturnal and during the day they perch on branches coming off cliffs nears rivers or open zones. One very particular characteristic of these birds is that they hunt in the dark of night, feeding principally on moths and other flying insects. To be able to trap them, the birds have a special adaptation: modified feathers that look like moustaches fall close to their beak and are sensitive to movement, warning the birds when an insect is coming close, while they fly over the tree tops.

Figure 1.- Male perched showing off his long tail.
Figure 2.- Perched female. Note the moustache close to the beak.

In Mashpi we can find females nesting along the road, especially in the highest part of the reserve, although sometimes, while walking at sunset, you can see the males flying, showing off their long tail, in particular if we are directed towards the Laguna River.

The graceful snail-eater (Dipsas gracilis)

By: Ángelo Córdova

While we were walking back to the lodge, we chanced upon this snail-eater. This species is found in the north of South America. It is a non-venomous snake whose main foods are slugs and snails. It has jaws that are adapted to be able to extract the soft bodies of snails from their shells. To do this, it inserts each jaw independently and then hooks its curved teeth into the tender body of the snail before it can hide in its shell. Little by little, it pulls out the whole snail. This is very specialised behaviour and means that the snake of nocturnal habits has a diet rich in gastropods.

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