Birding in Mashpi

By Juan Carlos Narváez, Expedition Leader

Before we begin, I want to tell you a personal experience about bird watching. During my college years one of the subjects I liked the least was Ornithology (the science of studying birds). Then when I started to work as a guide, getting up before dawn to observe birds was not exactly one of my favorite activities. Until a good friend told me one day: "Bird watching is like collecting stamps, you need a book called “Birds of Ecuador” and mark each new bird you observe, soon you will see that you will want to find more birds and the stranger they are the better."

So, I followed his advice. It did not take long for me to be to catch the bird-watching fever, and now every time I go out for a walk, even when I go to the Metropolitan Park in central Quito, I take my binoculars to see if I get lucky enough to find a new bird to add to my list.

Now back to the topic, in Ecuador there are approximately 1,685 species of birds (according to the only environmental information system SUIA, 2016), this means that we have 16% of the diversity of birds in the world (IOC World Bird List, 2016), and we are only behind countries like Colombia, Brazil and Peru (Proaves, 2013).

So far, 400 bird species have been counted in the Mashpi Protected Forest Reserve, which represents about a quarter of the diversity of Ecuador in a very small area (1,200 hectares) .The great diversity of birds found in Mashpi makes birding one of our main activities and during all of our excursions you will be able to hear and see them.

Mashpi is located within the bioregion of Chocó, the only continuous tropical rainforest along the South American Pacific and covering an area of nearly 100,000 km2 that extends from the western coasts of Panama and Colombia, and reaches the Northwest of Ecuador (Boada, 2006). This area is very biodiverse and much of this diversity is unique, but unfortunately forests in this region are seriously threatened, they are less than 20% of its original forest and only 6% is protected. So it is a critical area for conservation and the last refuge for many endangered birds.

When it come to bird watching the early hours of the morning are the best, and the hotel terrace is perhaps one of the best places to observe from. This is because the hotel is surrounded by forest and the terrace is at the same height of the treetops, from here they can be seen moving among the branches from a comfortable platform with experienced guides and enjoying a cup of hot coffee and delicious homemade cookies.

In addition, the guides are very skilled in handling the telescope, an instrument which not only facilitates the appreciation of the beautiful colors and shapes of birds, but it also allows you to take pictures, even with any mobile device, transforming any person into an expert photographer.

During the morning tour, finding birds gets a little more complicated because the birds move and vocalize less. However, there is always the possibility of finding one of the many mixed flocks that live in the reserve. These are associations between different species of birds that move and hunt together and also emit certain warning calls that help protect them from any predator, especially birds of prey (Arbeláez-Cortes et. Al, 2011). To find one of these flocks means that you will be able to see up to 20 species at the same time. For a birdwatcher, these meetings are like winning the lottery! In addition many of the birds that are usually associated with mixed flocks are rare to see, as in the case of antbirds (Myrmeciza) or the Banded-ground cuckoo (Neomorphus radiolosus).

The evening is another good time to return to birding and the oriel from the Life Center is a very good place, from here you can see toucans, parrots, tanagers, flycatchers, etc.

Another activity that guaranties a lot of birds is to walk part of the extensive altitudinal gradient that the reserve has. It starts at 1,400 meters and reaches 500 meters above sea level, right in the transition area between the cloud forest and rainforest. Starting the walk from the entrance gate to the center of life, about 8 km you have descended from 400 meters and will have been able to find unique species to the top of the reserve as the Black solitaire (entomodestes Coracinus), Indigo flowerpiercer (Diglossopis indigotica) or the Bearded toucan (Semnornis ramphastinus), and in the lower levels species such as the Baudo guan (Penelope ortoni), the Pale-mandibled aracari (Pteroglossus erythropygius) or the Choco toucan (Ramphastos brevis) to add to the list.

Usually on a two-night stay on average you can observe an amazing number of species: between 70 and 80! But you also have to take into account that many of the species observed are possibly unique. This makes Mashpi a true paradise for bird watchers.



Mashpi Photo Gallery



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