Updates from the Andean Chocó
For those of you who don't follow us on our social media accounts, it's been quite a while since you've last heard from us. So here are a few updates about the most important things that have happened at Un poco del Chocó in 2021. Our personal highlights definitely were to get vaccinated in the summer and to be able to work with students again. It can be quite lonely in our green paradise without visitors! Things are slowly getting back to normal and we are very grateful for all the support we had throughout the rough times of the pandemic. A big thank you again to all of you who have helped us stay afloat!
More solar panels
We couldn't quite believe it ourselves, when the government started to install solar power units in our area at the beginning of 2021. Since we bought our little forest, there was always the plan to get connected to the power grid but, as you might know, this hasn't happened yet. There had been rumors before about an alternative project to supply the rural area with photovoltaic systems and finally it became a reality. So we were extremely happy when additional systems were installed at both our home and the station house. The new systems are only for a minimum supply, but we are happy about every extra kW we can get. Especially in the cloudy rainy season these new systems have been a blessing.
We are now part of a network of climate monitoring stations of the Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve. In March we got a new weather station installed on our roof. We already had a simple home weather station before, but the new station is quite an upgrade as it's directly uploading all the data into a cloud and joined platform. It's become a very nice tool to monitor the weather in our region and very useful for some of our research projects. If you'd like to check out our current or past weather at the reserve, you can look it up here!
Webinar for IBP
In July I gave a webinar for the Institute of Bird Populations. As we are collaborating with their MoSI program (Monitoring of Overwinter Survival), I was invited to present our bird banding and monitoring work in the reserve. If you'd like to learn more about our avian research program, you can watch the video on YouTube or on the IBP website where you can find more presentations about avian monitoring projects, molt and ageing techniques, and the general work of this wonderful organization.
New students, new projects
In the second half of the year, finally we received some new interns, bachelor and PhD students. Since March 2020 we had only hosted two interns, so we were extremely happy to start working with students again after such a long year. During the summer, three PhD students from different US universities started their field work in the reserve. Of course, on bird-related topics! So I got involved with their work and actually learned some new skills, such as taking blood samples from birds or applying radio-frequency tags. I am sure there is more to come in the next few years from these new collaborations. In the last three months of 2021, we hosted three bachelor students for their thesis work in the reserve. Two of them worked on topics related to my PhD research on avian life cycle phenology, looking into feather growth rates and food niche affiliation.
Felines roaming through the forest
With new interns we also started monitoring our reserve's trails again for mammal activity. To our delight there was a lot of activity of felines and we recorded three puma sightings, several ocelots and oncillas. Here is a short summary of some of the sightings. Unfortunately the puma footage was quite blurry, so we didn't include it.
X-mas bird count IBA Mashpi-Pachijal
End of December we did our anual bird count in the reserve. This year we organized the count together with friends and other organizations that are part of the Important Bird Area Mashpi-Pachijal. Unfortunately there have been some difficulties with ilegal mining activities in the IBA, so we joined forces to show which incredible (bird) diversity could be lost if we don't protect our forests. We had some friends from Mindo visit and split into three teams. Our joined efforts at UPDC led to a count of 185 different bird species!! The total count for the IBA were 331 species, approximately 65% of the species recorded in the Mashpi-Pachijal area.
At the end of January, we adopted a new family member at the rescue center PAE in Quito. Wilo and I were extremely sad when our old lady Toga passed away at the end of 2021, and so was our other dog Yumbo (on the right) who we had adopted at the beginning of the pandemic. We noticed that Yumbo felt very lonely, and so we looked for some company for him. I first saw Mika (left) on a picture on Instagram during a short vacation we took at the end of January. She looked so sweet and I couldn't believe that she was still available for adoption when we came back from our holiday. So we didn't think twice and took her straight back home with us. Yumbo and Mika immediately got along so well and we are so happy to watch them play in our patio. Which is actually turning into a big puddle of mud these days....
Challenging rainy season
.....because we are having so much rainfall this season. Normally we get a little bit of rain in October and then we have a so-called "veranillo" (little summer) in November/December, before the "real" rainy season starts. Well, not this year!! We've been having a lot of rain since October already and apparently this is caused by La Niña (the opposite of El Niño which results in a lot of dryness in our area). Our weather station recorded 4500mm of annual rainfall from March 2021 to March 2022 and we had some days in the past few weeks where we had over 130mm of rain in just two or three hours! And all this water is obviously causing problems. The road to Quito is suffering frequent landslides these days, and here in the reserve we have had a lot of tree crashes. Trail maintenance in the reserve has always been some kind of Sisyphus work, but this year it is extremely challenging, with fallen trees and branches every other day. Just last week, Christian and Leo cleared a trail and build a new bridge over a small ravine, which was then again completely destroyed by a landslide yesterday :-( So unfortunately now a part of our blue trail isn't passable at the moment and it will require quite some work to re-establish it.
So we've been quite busy during this second year of the pandemic. And this is just a quick summary of it all since I haven't even mentioned the 1600 birds we've banded in the past year and all the other data we collected for my PhD research (more next time ;-)). We are hopeful that things are getting much better this year. At least, we already have a lot of plans for the summer: I will be travelling a bit and leading student trips again. We will also be hosting a few high school groups and returning PhD students at the reserve. Finally, we will again organize a few environmental education workshops with our forest school network for local schools. And in July, I will be giving a workshop on bird molt at the Ornithological Conference (REO) in Cuenca.
We are so grateful for everyone who has supported us during these two challenging years. We have decided to keep our fundraising project on GoFundMe, so if you are interested "To invest in our planet" (which is this year's Earth Day theme), then you can support our conservation and research work at Un poco del Chocó with a small contribution.
We hope that you are all well.
Best wishes from the Andean Chocó,
Nicole, Wilo and the rest of the team