About Me

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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Brief Walk on Black Mountain; a rain cheque!

The best laid plans etc - a family emergency intervened this week, so the second part of our series on the Southern Hemisphere conifers must wait another week. (And I must prepare for a radio interview this evening on my new book!) Instead here's a very brief report on a walk in which I participated last weekend, on Black Mountain, the hill that looms over central Canberra, part of Canberra Nature Park, dominated by dry sclerophyll forest. 
Part of the walk route, especially dry at the end of summer.
The main trees in this picture are Brittle Gum Eucalyptus mannifera.
The walk was organised by the active community-based Friends of Black Mountain, and led by Dr. Suzi Bond, Canberra's butterfly guru, and author of the recent and excellent Field Guide to the Butterflies of the Australian Capital Territory. As soon we arrived at the top of the mountain we were surrounded by active Imperial Jezebels, 'hill-topping', ie a gathering of displaying males for mating purposes, also known as a lek. They were manically chasing and showing off, impossible for me to photograph, but here's what one looks like sitting still!
Imperial Jezebel Delias harpalyce, National Botanic Gardens, last September.
A couple of others I did manage to photograph - ie they did sit still!
Marbled Xenica Gleitoneura klugii.
Tailed Emperor Charaxes sempronius.I found this one to be especially striking, and it was new for me
(I really am very much a beginner in this game!).
Of course there are always other animals to be seen too.
Young Jacky Lizard Amphibolurus muricatus, sunning on a rock.
This is a common little dragon locally.
Golden Orbweb Spiders Nephila edulis mating.
He's the little one and there's an 80% chance that this will the last thing he does before she eats him...
Another orb web spider wrapping a packed lunch; I think this was another Xenica,
but the whole process took less than 30 seconds, so it was hard to tell!
And on that somewhat macabre note I must leave you for this week; next time things should be back to something slightly closer to normal!
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Thursday, 8 March 2018

Conifers of the South; #1 the cypresses

Another in my sporadic series of favourite trees - which covers quite a number when I start thinking about the concept. The most recent one was here, and you can work back from there if you're so minded.

Some 300 million years ago, in a world without flowers or birds or mammals, the fossil record reports the appearance of the first conifers, woody plants (mostly trees) with seeds born in cones, and no flowers but abundant pollen that was cast to the winds and relied on chance to deposit a few grains on a receptive female cone of the same species. One big advantage of pollen is that the plant is freed from the shackles of having to live near water, as did their predecessors relying on swimming sperm; a pollen grain is a sperm contained in a water-proof coat, though I'm sure you'll appreciate that this is somewhat of a simplification!
Black Cypress Pine Callitris endlicheri, Cooma, southern New South Wales.
This species is monoecious, with female (left) and pollen-bearing male (right) cones;
some species however are dioecious, with separate male and female plants.
The big break for conifers came 245 million years ago, when the Permian-Triassic extinction event knocked out several competing groups, including the 'seed ferns', and opened the landscape for them. Dinosaurs would have munched on them, doubtless triggering the production of harsh and even toxic resins. They dominated the world, which for a while then comprised just one vast continent, Pangaea, for at least 100 million years. However the eventual rise of the flowering plants presented them with strong competition and now their descendants only dominate the landscape in latitudes or altitudes too high for the pollinators on which the flowerers depend. Mind you, this still represents vast areas of the sub-Arctic, right across the northern hemisphere, where the forests of the taiga and their North American equivalents provide a greater carbon sink than all the tropical rainforests.

Pencil Pines Athrotaxis cupressioides, Cradle Mountain NP, Tasmania.
There are now six living families of conifers, only three of which are found in the southern hemisphere, my area of interest. This excludes Pinaceae, the biggest and probably best-known family, comprising pines, cedars, spruces, larches and firs, found only in the north. Of the rest, the largest family and the most widespread is that of the cypresses Cupressaceae, found on every continent. The other two southern families, Araucariacaeae and Podocarpaceae, are solely southern so it would be a reasonable conclusion that they are Gondwanan in origin. 

Reasonable, but wrong. In much earlier times the conifer families were far more widespread; for instance sequoias were found across the Northern Hemisphere and Australia, but now live naturally only in North America (two species) and east Asia (one). The sub-family that comprises King Billy and Pencil Pines grew throughout the Americas but now comprises just two species in western Tasmania. Fitzroya fossils - now represented by just one species, Alerce, in the southern Andes - have been recently found in Tasmania. Not a conifer, but a group of seed plants from the same general era as the conifers, the Gingko G. biloba is now the sole survivor of its entire Order, but fossil relatives are known from across the Northern Hemisphere and, most recently, from Tasmania. I could go on, but you get the picture. We are now seeing just remnants of a formerly much richer and more extensive dynasty - like a few eroded peaks above the water to remind us of a once mighty and continuous mountain range.

Callitris endlicheri almost co-dominating with eucalypts, Goulburn River NP, New South Wales.
The cypress family is strongly represented in Australia by the genus Callitris ('beautiful trio', for the leaf arrangement); there are 13 Australian species and three in New Caledonia. Originally a rainforest genus, it began to diversify around 30 million years ago as the land dried. The family itself however goes far further back than that, into the Triassic, some 240 million years ago in the upheaval following the Permian-Triassic extinction mentioned earlier.

Australian cypresses are highly adapted to life in the arid and semi-arid zones, notably the White Cypress Pine Callitris columellaris. (There is disagreement about this species; a strong body of opinion would split it, limiting C. columellaris to a small coastal strip straddling the NSW-Queensland borders, leaving C. glaucophylla to cover much of the rest of  sub-tropical Australia.) Here are some White Cypresses in the harsh central deserts, where they are generally associated with ranges.
Rim, King's Canyon, central Australia.

Barrarrana Gorge, Arkaroola Ranges, South Australia.

Ormiston Gorge, Western MacDonnell Ranges, central Australia.
Many Callitris species are associated with colourful, especially orange, lichens.

Lichens on Black Cypress Pine, Goulburn River NP.

There are also endemic members of the family in Tasmania (though they were not always restricted to there, as mentioned previously). In particular there are two members of the genus Athrotaxis, with a putative third, A. laxifolia, generally believed to be a hybrid, though conclusive genetic proof was still lacking the last time I read of it. They are slow-growing cool mountain rainforest trees, very susceptible to the increasing burning regimes that are the lot of most Tasmanian forests these days. They are however protected from logging, in and out of reserves. In protected situations such as at Cradle Mountain National Park, there are some magnificently ancient specimens, mostly battered by old lightning strikes.

Pencil Pines A. cupressoides looks, as its species name suggests, very cypress-like. The next three photos were all taken around Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park.
The origin of the cupressoides name ('cypress-like') is very clear here - totally unsurprisingly,
given that it's in the same family.
An old Pencil Pine on the shores of Dove Lake.

Foliage detail, with scale-like leaflets.
King Billy Pine A. selaginoides is sometimes asserted to be named for a nineteenth century indigenous man (needless to say this wasn't his real name) but I've never read a suggestion as to why this should have been so!
King Billy Pine foliage and cones, both of which are larger than those of Pencil Pine.
The species name refers to the this foliage, and its similarity to that of Selaginella, a genus of club mosses (an even more ancient group, not mosses at all).
Selaginella uliginosa, north-eastern Tasmania.
And just for the record, here's a photo of Athrotaxis laxifolia in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra.

Beyond that there are only four members of the family native to Australia, in two small genera, found only in Tasmania and the far south-west of the continent.

In South America there are just three others, all comprising single-species families. Alerce Fitzroya cupressoides is a magnificent tree of the cool wet montane Valdivian rainforests of the southern Andes. It was named for Captain Robert FitzRoy who captained the famous Beagle expedition of the 1830s, on which Charles Darwin sailed as his companion. (FitzRoy feared suicide, driven by the lonely pressures of command, and the fate of other captains that he knew. Thirty years later, burdened by financial woes and his ever-looming depression, he did indeed take this own life.)

The tree can be huge - Darwin recorded one with a diameter of over 12.5 metres - but intensive logging has rendered big old ones hard to find; it yields superb building timber. Since 1976 it has been completely protected in Chile.
Alerce, Puerto Montt, Chile, above and below.
Big trees in this small reserve are reputed to be 2800 years old.


This superb old Alerce is reputedly 3500 years old;
Alerce Andino NP, southern Chile.
A fascinating remnant of the last glaciation on a beach near Puerto Montt is a dramatic testament to the durability of Alerce. Here are the stumps of Alerce, originally growing well above sea level, drowned when the sea rose with the melting of the ice caps at end of the last glaciation around 15,000 years ago (that was the figure I was given, though I might have expected it to be closer to 10,000 - but still!).
Ancient Alerce stumps at low tide, Puerto Montt.
Another South American cypress has a similar unfortunate story to that of the Alerce. This is Pilgerodendron uviferum, also the sole member of its genus, but found much further south than Alerce, though they overlap at the southern end of Alerce's range. On Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, this cypress becomes the world's southern-most conifer. It is known in Chile as Ciprés de las Guaitecas, 'cypress of the Guaitecas Archipelago'. This windswept archipelago runs south from the island of Chiloé near Puerto Montt; together they represent the emergent peaks of the Coastal Range of Chile, which runs into the sea just south of Puerto Montt.

Pilgerodendron uviferum, Puerto Aiguierre, Guaitecas Archipelago. It can grow into a 20 metre high tree,
with a 1.5 metre diameter trunk and produces superb building timber, for which the forests were ruthlessly
plundered. It is now protected by being listed on Appendix 1 of CITES, which deals with species
threatened with extinction at least partly due to trade; the timber may not be exported.
Next time I'll conclude this two part series by talking about the other two southern conifer families, both of which are now found only in the Southern Hemisphere. For now though, I'll leave you with another image of Pencil Pines at Dove Lake in Tasmania; in many ways pure Old Gondwana, though the pines themselves are of a lineage much older even than that.
Pencil Pines in front of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.
(And it's worth knowing that Cradle Mountain is the souvenir of one of the most significant events in Australia's story. Around 55 million years ago Antarctica began to 'unzip' from the southern margins of what is now Australia, starting from the west. As the rift opened, vast quantities of subterranean molten material flowed into it, including an estimated 5,000 cubic kilometres beneath Tasmania! The dolerites of Cradle Mountain derived from the final disintegration of Gondwana and the isolation of Australia.)
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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

My New Book!

Hello again. I don't normally advertise here - especially not for myself - but my new book on birds, Birds in their Habitats; journeys with a naturalist, has just been released, and if you enjoy my blog it occurs to me that you might well enjoy it too. It was a long time in incubation, and covers a fair bit of the Southern Hemisphere, though obviously enough with a strong emphasis on Australia. Here's a link to the chapter contents; they're reasonably detailed so a browse through them might give you a reasonable idea of the contents.

My idea was to introduce you to seven major habitats, and some of the birds I've encountered in them. It's not a book about me, but about the birds, and my idea was to tell stories, with the hope that you'll enjoy the read and at the end of it discover that you've learned things you didn't know - about aspects of ecology, behaviour, evolution and conservation. It's also a bit about the people who study birds and the amazing things they're discovering, and a bit of a delve here and there into the sometimes slightly strange world of the people who watch birds.

Here's what it looks like from the outside.

And here's a link to the publisher's page, with a bit more blurb and the option of ordering if you so choose. However it's also available through other on-line sources and even good old-fashioned bookshops (especially in Australia) if you're so inclined.

And finally as a small bonus a couple of pics from the book, with their captions.
A pair of Waved Albatrosses, in a breeding colony on Española, Galápagos, performs an elaborate bill-clashing bond reinforcement ceremony as one returns from a fishing expedition. Their sole chick is the object of intensive care.

Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra. This bird is preening, running each feather in turn through its bill to clean it and ‘rezip’ the barbules; this is an immense task, which every bird undertakes every day.
Thanks for reading, and if you do choose to buy the book, thank you for that too!


Thursday, 1 March 2018

On This Day 1 March: Welsh National Day

From time to time over the years I've marked various national days, either by celebrating the natural history of the country, or by highlighting connections with Australian nature. Today it is the latter. The day is actually the feast day of Saint David, patron saint of Wales. Unlike the equivalent days in Scotland and Ireland, it is not a holiday in Wales, though it is marked in various ways. David lived in the 6th century, a religious teacher and founder of monasteries. It's not clear for what he was sanctified, though that's not my department (though unlike St George he doesn't seem to have been rewarded for slaughtering the wildlife!). It appears to have been political in fact, coinciding in 1120 with a time of massive Welsh resistance to the Norman invaders. However that's not my main interest today. Rather I'd like to introduce three Welsh naturalists and biologists, all born in the 1700s, who contributed to the landscape of Australian plant (especially) and animal names, though none of them ever came anywhere near here. Indeed, as far as I can tell, two of them never left Britain, and the third ventured only as far as France. All were interesting chaps (but aren't all naturalists?!).
Narrow-leafed Bitterpea Daviesia mimosoides, Tinderry Nature Reserve, east of Canberra.
The genus was named by pre-eminent English botanist James Smith in 1798 for the Welsh botanist Hugh Davies.
This pea genus, of some 120 species, is endemic to Australia, and is found in every Australian state.
The Reverend Hugh Davies was born in 1739 on the island of Anglesey, at Llandyfrydog (I just like writing that, but am glad I'm not narrating this!). Aside from a stint at Oxford, a couple of botanical collecting trips to the Isle of Man, and some time in London with botanical colleague William Hudson in 1792, he seemingly not only to have never left Wales, but to have spent most of his life on Anglesey. He followed in his father's footsteps as an Anglican clergyman, but was also a very highly regarded (and apparently self-taught) botanist. In this he was apparently influenced by, and worked closely with, Thomas Pennant, whom we shall shortly also meet. He contributed plant specimens and advice to major British botanical works including Hudson's Flora Anglica, James Smith's mighty Flora Britannica and The Botanist's Guide through England and Wales by Dawson Turner and Lewis Weston Dillwyn, among several others. He also edited Pennant's Indian Zoology and contributed to others of Pennant's works. 
Broad-leafed Bitterpea Daviesia latifoloa, Budderoo National Park, southern New South Wales.
He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1790 and published in their prestigious journal. Throughout this he seems to have been dogged by depression; in the forward to his crowning work, Welsh Botanology (I do love that word!), in 1813 near the end of his life, he wrote of "a constitutional nervous sensibility, which increases with years to an oppressive degree, having rendered me unequal to the duties of my profession", in explaining his recent resignation from the ministry (though he was by then in his 70s anyway). This 8-volume book, based on his own herbarium, was hailed as the first to associate Welsh names for plants with their scientific names. He died in 1821, aged 81. Here are some more of 'his' genus.
Gorse-leafed Bitterpea Daviesia ulicifolia, Tinderry Nature Reserve.

Daviesia alata, Bundanoon, southern New South Wales.
This one is interesting in having leaves reduced to scales, or absent, a characteristic
more associated with plants of more arid regions.

Our second botanical Welshman today was Lewis Weston Dillwyn, with whom Davies cooperated on The Botanist's Guide through England and Wales.  
Silky Parrot-pea Dillwynia sericea, Bundanoon.
The genus was named in 1805, also by James Smith, for Dillwyn when he (Dillwyn) was just 27.
He too had a full-time profession, but it was very different from Davies'. In 1822, when Lewis was just 24, his father purchased the Cambrian Pottery in Swansea, and put the somewhat reluctant Lewis in charge. His father, William, was a Quaker and anti-slavery activist who had returned to his homeland from Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. There is evidence that William was motivated in the factory purchase by a desire to keep his son active while dealing with his gout - at age 24! Lewis was somewhat reluctant to take up the responsibility, having already embarked on a botanical career; the previous year he had delivered a well-received paper to the Linnean Society on the plants of the Dover area. His Botanist's Guide was published in 1805, the year that Smith commemorated him with the genus name. He was later to publish on subjects as diverse as beetles and shells, and was made a member of the Royal Society.

When he did get to focus on the pottery, his passion dominated there too. Flower painting on china was very fashionable in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, but with little emphasis on botanical accuracy. Dillwyn aimed to change that though – he collected back copies of the Botanical Magazine, and insisted that his artists copied them accurately, complete with botanical name. (Copyright laws were presumably laxer then.) They also did good butterflies, flowers and shells. He died in 1855, aged 77.
Small-leafed Parrot-pea Dillwynia retorta, Black Mountain Nature Reserve, Canberra.
My last featured Welshman today was somewhat more adventurous than the previous two, though this was greatly assisted by an apparent lack of need to have a profession, having been born into the gentry in 1726. Having said that, he was very generous in donating proceeds from his publications, especially is British Zoology (1776), to charity. This book was hugely influential - see below.
Brown Beech Pennantia cunninghamii, family Pennantiaceae, an eastern Australian rainforest tree.
The genus was named by Johann Reinhold and Georg Forster (father and son) to honour Thomas Pennant, in 1776.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
Compared with Davies and Dillwyn, Pennant travelled quite widely, though he didn't get much further than Scotland and France as far as I can tell - he certainly didn't leave Europe. He was interested in everything he came across, animals, plants, landscapes, geology and people, and wrote detailed accounts of his expeditions, illustrated by his servant Moses Griffiths. His earliest published papers were on geology and palaeontology, which impressed Carl Linnaeus enough to have him elected to the Royal Swedish Society of Sciences at the age of 31. Ten years later, with the support of Sir Joseph Banks, he was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
It was Banks who presented him with a skin of a King Penguin from the Falklands, which Pennant wrote about, along with all other then-known penguin species, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He was ambitious - despite his relatively modest travels, he wrote a History of Quadrupeds, the previously mentioned Indian Zoology, and Arctic Zoology. (The latter was to be a Zoology of North America, but he changed his mind in protest against the loss of British authority there.) He died, aged 72 in 1798, before completing a massive illustrated 14 volume account of every country in the world, with its products and natural history. 

English botanist John Latham named the Crimson Rosella for him, though he'd been gazumped by the German Johann Gmelin; this didn't stop its common name being based on his for a while.
The Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans (here in my Canberra garden) was for some time known as
Pennant’s Parrakeet or Pennantian Parrot.
As suggested above, his British Zoology had a significant impact, not least because it offered fixed English names for some bird groups which had not previously had them; among these are flycatcher, grebe, oriole and pratincole.
Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus, Nowra, New South Wales.
While Pennant wasn't thinking this species, it's because of him that we call the bird an oriole!
Overall, quite an impact on the landscape of Australian biological names from three Welshmen who probably never even dreamed of coming here. Thanks for reading, and if you have any Welsh blood, make the most of the day, holiday or not!

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Chaparrí; a special private reserve doing vital work

Northern Peru has many surprises for the visitor, not least because it far less well known and publicised than the tourist-seething south of the country. One of these is Chaparrí, a community-based private reserve which in 2001 became the first in the country to be formally recognised by government. In fact it was the efforts of the community, culminating in the declaration of the reserve in 2000, which resulted in the new legislation enabling the recognition of such privately owned conservation areas. This community initiative was funded by Peruvian wildlife photographer Heinz Plenge and various conservation groups. 

The community allows the reserve managers to manage their land - totalling 34,000 hectares - in return for them benefitting from entrance fees and income from the simple but very attractive and comfortable lodge. Moreover community members work as guards, guides, lodge staff and on conservation projects such as the Spectacled Bear rehabilitation centre, as well as on construction and maintenance projects.

Set in the dry forests of the Tumbes Bioregion 75km east of the city of Chiclayo, the reserve is firstly very beautiful indeed.
Typical Chaparrí landscape.
The high mountain in the middle of the ridge is Chaparrí iteslf, for which the reserve was named.
It was apparently of great cultural significance to the local Muchik people.
The red arrow is pointing to Chiclayo, near the coast; Chaparrí is slightly inland from it,
near the village (and surrounding community) of Santa Catarina de Chongoyape;
the village is often known simply as Chongoyape.
The importance of Chaparrí however goes beyond its beauty. The Tumbes Bioregion (technically ‘Equatorial Pacific Seasonally Dry Forests of south-west Ecuador and north-west Peru’!) is a biodiversity area of world importance. Indeed it is regarded as one of the world’s three top conservation priorities (along with the Philippines and Brazil’s Atlantic coastal forests), based on the number of both endemic and threatened species present. Birdlife International describes it as "one of the most important and threatened of all Endemic Bird Areas”. Just 4% of the original forests are in good condition; there are an astonishing 65 bird species endemic to the region, 21 of which are threatened with extinction, and nine endemic mammals, of which six are threatened. 60% of the reptiles and frogs present are also endemic. Remarkably, 39 of these endemic birds can be found at Chaparrí. Of these, the 'flagship species' is probably the appallingly rare White-winged Guan Penelope albipennis, whose world population is probably less than 250, a quarter of which live at Chaparrí, stemming from a reintroduction of 16 birds in 2001.
White-winged Guan at Chaparrí; it is very exciting to see this Critically Endangered species here,
as it is very difficult indeed to find it elsewhere.

Mind you, it's almost embarrassingly easy to see here; this bird was preparing to roost for
the night on the roof of the lodge!
Other Tumbes endemics are readily seen around the lodge and on the walking tracks.
Plumbeous-backed Thrush Turdus reevei.
Tumbes Tyrant Tumbezia (or Ochthoeca) salvini.
Tumbes Sparrow Rhynchospiza stolzmanni.This New World sparrow (or bunting, according to some) has a very small range.
White-headed Brushfinch Atlapetes albiceps.Like the sparrow (above) this lovely brushfinch has a tiny range, but is doing quite well within that range.
Pacific (or Peruvian) Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium peruanum.A tiny owl, no more than 16cm long, whose size probably belies its ferocity, as it regularly
attracts a mob of angry small birds when it's found roosting in the open.
Tumbes Hummingbird Leucippus baeri. This plain-coloured species comes (with many other species)
every morning to drink at a pool in the creek just below the outdoor dining room.
It has a tiny range too, barely getting into Ecuador.
Collared Antshrike female Thamnophilus bernardi.Like most of its family, this species stays low and skulking in the understorey, but is
all around the lodge and quite readily seen.
White-edged Oriole Icterus graceannae, just showing (above the intervening branch)
the white edge to its wing from which derives its name.
White-tailed Jay Cyanocorax mystacalis, a spectacular Tumbesian endemic which sometimes
comes to the lodge feeders.
And that is, I think, a fairly impressive collection of endemics for a brief visit. Other more widespread species are also present of course.
Groove-billed Anis Crotophaga sulcirostris gathering sociably after a bath in a pond.
These non-parasitic cuckoos are indeed highly sociable, with up to five pairs laying their
eggs into a single nest.
Golden Grosbeak Pheucticus chrysogaster female. These lovely birds (the males are more brightly
coloured) are widespread in the reserve.
And of course birds aren't the only animals present! The most exciting non-bird present is for most people probably the Spectacled (or Andean) Bears which divide their time between being protected in large forested enclosures, and spending increasing time in the reserve, preparatory to being released into the wild. They are mostly rescued (illegal) pets, abandoned when they got too big, or confiscated by wildlife officers. Many arrive in very poor condition.

Spectacled Bear Tremarctos ornatus, keeping an eye on the breakfast proceedings from the creek below.
Guards keep an eye on them when they approach people, and usher them away if necessary.
The only South American bear (whose ancestors arrived only in the past few million years), Spectacled Bears
are almost entirely vegetarian, with bromeliad shoots forming an important part of their diet.
This dry country population is unusual, in that they are more normally found in cloud forest and
high mountain treeless paramo.
The bear wasn't the only one with an interest in the dining room. This female Collared Peccary Pecari tajacuregularly brought her two piglets around to see what might be on offer.

Guayaquil Squirrel Sciurus stramineus. Despite the name (Guayaquil is a big city in
southern Ecuador) this large squirrel is found through the Tumbes.
Green Iguana Iguana iguana. This impressive big lizard (up to 1.5 metres long) is found
widely in central and South America. They mostly eat fruit and vegetation.
As I've mentioned, the reserve is dominated by dry open forest.
Cactuses are not uncommon in the open parts of the reserve.
One unusual aspect during our visit (last October) was the aftermath of the wet El Niño season earlier in the year. While the rampant growth that resulted had died back by the time we got there, much of the vegetation was covered with dried creepers, making wildlife spotting harder.

Accommodation is scattered, simple, comfortable and solar-powered. Some of the rooms are near to the wonderful al fresco dining room (where local women prepare simple but superb local food), but others (including ours) are across the creek, in the dry forest. (The antshrike photo above was taken from our verandah, equipped with hammock.)
Access via swing bridge to the other side of the creek.
Our cabin, made in the local tradition.

Verandah (the hammock is almost out of sight behind the twisty tree trunk on the left).

Detail of wall decoration.

Traditional woven ceiling.
Visiting Chaparrí is a rare delight; it is isolated along 15km of unsealed, sometimes rough, road and you can only go with a local guide, so your stay will be quiet and peaceful. It feels very remote. It should be an unalloyed success story but nothing's ever quite that simple, sadly. Some of the community seemingly had somewhat unrealistic expectations of the financial benefits, and are becoming dissatisfied with the less than hoped-for (albeit regular) return. One land owner (to be honest I don't fully understand the relationship between community and personal ownership) has been persuaded to sell up to someone who is already clearing the forest for farming - in the middle of the reserve, to the distress of the reserve staff and managers. There is also a sense of unease about threats from squatters from elsewhere, to whom undeveloped land means unwanted land. 

We can only hope that the majority of the community are willing to hold firm and value their precious Tumbes environment as much as their parents did, who made the far-sighted decision 18 years ago. It was inspiring then, and should be inspiring now. One thing you can do is visit if you're in that part of the world; I can promise it won't be a hardship!

Sunset over Chaparrí Lodge - with White-winged Guan on the roof!

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