Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Podocarpus National Park

I had long wanted to visit immense Podocarpus National Park, renowned as a park of megadiversity, even within a megadiverse country. It is truly a jewel of Ecuador's park system.

Cloud forest at Podocarpus National Park
(Photos by Narca)

Just how great is this diversity? Imagine a single hectare that contains 90 species of trees. Imagine a region of 3,000 to 4,000 species of plants, of which 20% are endemic. Imagine a single park with 560 species of birds and 68 species of mammals. Imagine a park with more than 1200 species of geometrid moths (the most known for any locale in the world; all of North America has something over 1400 geometrids).

A day-flying geometrid moth at Podocarpus 
(Entomologists: please correct me if the ID is wrong!)

And why such diversity? Podocarpus National Park lies at the juncture of several major ecological zones, much as we find at home in southeast Arizona. But in Ecuador those zones are the Northern Andes, the Southern Andes, the Amazon basin, and the Tumbesian Pacific region. Habitats here include the (subtropical) lower montane rainforest; cloud forest; elfin forest; and páramo.

Major international conservation groups (The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International) have aided in Podocarpus's establishment, study, and development. It's an ongoing work, as these groups join forces with Fundación Arcoiris and the Jocotoco Foundation of Ecuador to design and establish wildlife corridors that incorporate Podocarpus National Park. The flagship species for the corridor work is the Spectacled Bear, but protection of the bears' habitat will also benefit myriad other species, and safeguard the watersheds for human use.

Bombuscaro River within Podocarpus National Park

We first approach Podocarpus at its eastern entrance near Zamora, in what is called the Bombuscaro Sector, named for its major river. Copalinga Lodge serves as a wonderful base for exploring this side of the park. (Entry to the park is now free, as it is at all of Ecuador's national parks.)

After waiting out a morning of rain, our first afternoon venture along the entrance trail is a humdinger––we see so much that we don't get very far! Andean Cocks-of-the-rock are chasing each other about.

A stunning male Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Later, the same site holds Amazonian Umbrellabirds and Inca Jays! (I'm reminded that years ago, when I glimpsed the dark shape of my first umbrellabird at San Rafael Falls in Ecuador, it struck me as the weirdest woodpecker I'd ever seen!)

A female Amazonian Umbrellabird

Inca Jays are closely related to the more familiar Green Jay.
Looks like this one isn't dry yet, after the rain!

Over the course of three days, we venture into the park several times, between (and during!) rainstorms. A few beautiful tropical butterflies brighten the path, and one damselfly.

This damselfly is for you, Doug!

Turquoise Emperor (Doxocopa laurentia)

Tree ferns are a prominent presence in the park, and the region is also celebrated for its orchids.

Tree fern at Podocarpus National Park

Rain interrupted our study of the orchid nursery!

An exquisite mushroom, in the genus Phallus.

A cauliferous plant

Plants that bloom along their woody stems and trunks are termed "cauliferous". They are often pollinated and dispersed by bats, climbing mammals, and birds. (Sometimes damaged plants do the same thing, as we witnessed at Cave Creek Ranch after an intense freeze: a redbud tree there flowered the following spring from its trunk and major branches, instead of its more normal flowering at the tips of branches! Now after several years, that individual redbud is behaving more normally.)

The 3-km road between Copalinga and Podocarpus National Park also is fun to bird.

Roadside Hawk, in its preferred habitat––along a road!

Russet-backed Oropendola is the only oropendola in the area.

Subtropical Cacique

Both the big oropendola and the cacique are related to our orioles and blackbirds.

Along the Bombuscaro River right at the parking area for the park entrance, a shy Fasciated Tiger-Heron is foraging one evening, and leap-frogging from boulder to boulder. Some of its jumps, seemingly unaided by wings, are prodigious!

Fasciated Tiger-Heron

After hiking in the park, we find that the verbena and feeders back at Copalinga Lodge are always buzzing with hummingbirds. Here we enjoy Violet-headed Hummingbirds, two Wire-crested Thorntails, Little Woodstars (and one White-bellied Woodstar), Sparkling Violet-ears, and many Violet-fronted Brilliants.

Violet-headed Hummingbird at Copalinga

Our next destination is Cabañas Yankuam in the remote Cordillera del Condor. They hadn't responded to emails, and Gary Rosenberg had advised me that they are very hard to reach, even for locals. But Catherine at Copalinga kindly calls them for us, and arranges accommodations before we make the long drive in.

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