Birder's Guide

MAY 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 27 of 51

Antpitta Feeding in the Andes 26 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | May 2014 market and creates positive incentives for habitat conservation. In 1996, before the main growth of birding in northwestern Ecuador, a hectare of pasture cost four to fve times more than a hectare of for- est. Now the opposite is true! Tourism is not a panacea, but where conditions per- mit, a virtuous cycle can start. The Milpe Bird Sanctuary is about 45 minutes downhill from the Paz bird refuge, in Los Bancos Canton, some 12 miles northwest of the Mindo entrance road. In 2004, when the Mindo Cloudfor- est Foundation opened the trails for bird- ers, there were precisely zero other tour- ism options along the rural seven-mile Milpe–Pachijal road spur. As of January 2013, there were two small ecotourism hotels and a community tourism opera- tor in San Francisco de Pachijal (a short walk in from the end of the road), and the space has been identifed for possible gov- ernment development of an "ecoroute" for sustainable use and conservation. Not all of these businesses are thriving yet, but I suspect that they will fnd their markets and persist. All of this echoes the expe- rience of the Mindo valley itself, where birding tourism began in the 1980s, at which time there were virtually no servic- es available to visitors. Now roughly 90% of the valley's population derives some of its income from ecotourism. For the romantics in the crowd, the feed- ing of these erstwhile mysterious, cryptic, and hidden birds may somehow subtract from the greater, sensorially overwhelm- pickups rather than old motorcycles with bald tires. They create websites inviting birders to come see their land rather than "for sale" signs trying to get rid of it. And their children are in college rather than picking tree tomatoes and feeding chick- ens. Surrounding their homes is natural Andean forest as opposed to expanding cattle pasture. Ángel tells me that he's try- ing to purchase another chunk of nearby forest to conserve it and expand his tour- ism operation. The community impacts of this type of birding tourism are also positive, given that success breeds emulation. Generally, bird guides are now the new cool, the hip thing to be, such that many high-school- aged kids in the region are learning the birds and trying to get into the business. Consider that most of the world's high- land farmers are bound to encounter some hard times periodically, and farm wages rarely if ever lift someone out of poverty. Like entrepreneurs anywhere, farmers that fnd a specialty niche and success- fully exploit it do better than those who don't, and combining tourism can greatly increase income. However, creating a tour- ism product or experience that works can be hard, and there are certainly some who lose money or really struggle to stay afoat. Ángel says that some of his other broth- ers and neighbors are jealous and accuse him of hogging all the tourists. Indeed, the same charges have been leveled at us in the Milpe reserve, but the fact is that well-conducted birding tourism grows the Most species do what they can to thrive. For chickadees or the occasional Hairy Woodpecker, that might be fre- quenting a suet feeder. When one spe- cies eats food provided by another, is there something more taking place than just survival? In that moment of contact, is there a sort of communion that also counts for something? Some would say, "No", and maintain that any feeding of a bird or other wild creature is "baiting"—an intrusion, an interruption of supposèd inviolate or pristine reality. In the same vein, here in Ecuador I have many times heard the claim that sugar water feeders give hum- mingbirds diabetes. Of course, no one can produce a study to back up that slander- ous charge (because no such study exists), and common-sense observation shows that with this additional permanent calo- rie source, local hummingbird popula- tions zoom upwards. In fact, my concern for sugar water's conservation impact has always been for that additional cohort of insects that must get devoured by the ex- ploding hummer population. By the same token, are local giant earthworm popula- tions being negatively impacted by an in- crease in antpitta numbers? Is the antpitta the new feral cat of the Andes? Of course, I'm being facetious. The positive impacts of the antpitta-feeding phenomenon vastly outweigh any pos- sible negative ones. In the case of the Paz brothers themselves, the most visible impact is economic. Now they drive new The top of this ridge was cleared for cattle grazing, but the forested land below is part of Finca Puyucunapi, which has been under conservation management for the past 20 years. Its farmhouse was turned into vacation rental space in 2013. This property, adjacent to Paz's, provides habitat for antpittas and other cloudforest species. Contiguous forests in healthy watersheds provide many different successful and productive land use options. Photo © Brian Krohnke 3-Antpitta2.indd 26 5/22/14 7:37 PM

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