Andes to Amazon: Herping Ecuador pt. 1

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Andes to Amazon: Herping Ecuador pt. 1

Post by nvherper258 »

I've been gone from the forum for a while, but it was not without reason! Back in March I took my first international herping/wildlife viewing trip to Ecuador for an 11 day whirlwind starting at some of the highest elevations in the country down to the lowest. So, in my next two posts, I'm going to try my best to condense this amazing experience into coherent paragraphs.

After a 3-hour layover in Atlanta followed by a grueling 6-hour red eye flight, my group landed in the capital city of Quito just in time to catch a bus to the hotel and crash for the night. The following morning, we got back into the bus and traveled up in elevation along a winding road until we reached Parque Nacional Antisana, a large parcel of protected paramo (alpine vegetation above the timberline) ripe with birding opportunity and, to a lesser extent, herping. With that being said, a large rock face on the side of the road produced our first find of the trip while looking for endemic hummingbirds.

A vibrantly patterned Stenocercus guentheri

Leaving the national park, we drove a little over 2 hours to reach the lodging we would be staying at in the cloud forest for the following 4 days. Reaching the lodge at sunset, we quickly unloaded our bags and ate dinner before going out on our long awaited first night hike of the trip. From the start of this hike, I knew instantly that herping in the tropics was going to be much more difficult, and different, than herping in the states. Luckily, I was accompanied by several people with good eyes, so it wasn't long before someone called out "snake!".

Dipsas klebbai is endemic to the eastern slope cloud forest of Ecuador

Nothing else was found after photographing the snail-eater, so I got into bed early to be well rested for the following days' morning hike. Seeing the cloud forest during the day was even more breathtaking than at night, with every plant and bird gripping my attention. Our goal was to visit a lekking site for the famous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, but a handful of amphibians crossed the trail to keep the long walk to the site interesting.

An adult Rhinella margaritifera

This Pristimantis enigmaticus took nearly three hours to identify back at the lodge

I'm still waiting on some people to confirm this species of Pristimantis

Being a general wildlife oriented trip, we spent much of the daytime birding to keep everyone interested. While I didn't mind this, and got many good bird photos, I looked forward to nightfall and the excitement of finding new species every time the sun went down. Over the course of the next 3 days, I worked the habitat to the best of my ability and managed to score several more great finds.

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Pristimantis bicantus was described less than a mile from our lodge

Nymphargus siren was one of my top anuran targets

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A lightly colored Pristimantis conspicillatus

The final notable find of our cloud forest portion of the trip came on the very last night just before dinner. A huge storm came over the mountains in the late afternoon, soaking the forest in nearly 3 inches of rainfall in just a few hours. Our trip leader noted that these afternoon storms often led to great amphibian activity at night, and were often the only times that caecilians could be reliably found on the surface. I took this as a good sign, but was still very unprepared for when a member of our group screamed my name, followed by "caecilian!", from across the lodge. Instinctively, I got up and ran to grab my camera, making it back to where the scream had come from to see all of our party staring at something in a trail-side ditch.

My first ever gymnophiona, an electric blue Caecilia orientalis

I took several minutes to photograph the caecilian, and took even longer to simply watch it slink through the fallen leaves in the ditch and eventually disappear into a wall of moss. What made this find even more special was that it came on my 4-year anniversary of field herping, a dumb little hobby I took up when the world shut down for Covid-19 way back in 2020. Little did I know, this hobby would take me farther than I could ever imagine and lead me to pursue a career in wildlife biology. It's funny how life works out, and I appreciate it if you've read this far and hope you look forward to reading part 2!
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Re: Andes to Amazon: Herping Ecuador pt. 1

Post by lateralis »

Nice, I was in the Peruvian Amazon in late January early February on a 10 day trip with Tamandua Expeditions aka JungleKeepers with Paul Rosolie and his team exploring new land concessions they purchased last year. Emerald tree boas, Rainbow boas and Fer de Lance were primary targets as well as anacondas, unfortunately we missed the "water boas" but nailed everything else plus some. Incredible experience exploring one of the most biologically diverse locations on the planet. To see pristine rainforest untouched/unexplored for the most part by humans is a privilege I will cherish the rest of my days...if it wasn't such a pain in the ass, I'd post pics from the trip but alas I haven't the patience to load them up and I've long since closed my photo bucket account. Suffice it to say, if you get a chance to go to the Amazon - DO IT!
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Re: Andes to Amazon: Herping Ecuador pt. 1

Post by Kfen »

Thanks for posting! I can't wait for part 2.
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