In Ecuador, the Christmas Bird Count is held every year with a total of 21 established official routes. However, in 2020, an unusual year because of the global pandemic, new destinations have been added as preliminary editions. This includes the Quijos Valley where the event promoted much more than lessons invaluable conservation but also strengthened the bi-cantonal alliance of Quijos and El Chaco. Its professional execution achieved fabulous results.

Flame faced tanager/Tangara parzudakii, Tangara carafuego, Napo Province| ©Jacqueline Granda

The History of Christmas Counting

The Christmas bird count was not always what it is today, today, it consists of living a dive on routes distributed worldwide to see these beautiful feathered species of colors and habits typical of each circumstance, family or time of year. Nor did it have research or record purposes in the number of existing species for analysis, education and conservation.

On the contrary, it was a Christmas-era hunt called Christmas “Side hunt”. This activity aimed to hunt as many birds as possible, until at the initiative of the famous ornithologist Frank M. Chapman who gave it a very conscious turn in proposing it as a citizen science project that began in 1900, resulting in a major change: from predation, to conservation.

Christmas Count - Quijos Valley| ©Jacqueline Granda

The 2021 Christmas Count in Ecuador

The organization of this event was not easy, nor fast, but it was effective. It began in September 2020 with a dream that needed a lot of support and being an independent initiative, also a lot of faith and commitment.

When the call was made for the previous study of path layout, the bird brotherhood distributed in different corners of Ecuador was not expected, it was months of meetings, several visits of specialists, socialization with the inhabitants themselves that would be the local guides when opening the doors of their farms, many attempts to knock on doors, recognition of routes, measurement of perimeters , and among other visible and non-visible details, many hours of planning, to finally formalize the dates of the Christmas Count to be made for the first time in January 2021.

Quijos Valley and its biodiversity in the heart of the triangle of fire

Ecuador is considered one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, which puts it in the lead when it comes to bird watching.

The Quijos Valley being located in an area where three natural areas converge: Cayambe-Coca National Park, Sumaco Biosphere Reserve (part of Sumaco National Park) and the Antisana Ecological Reserve, which is why it is called the triangle of fire, is a privilege that makes it a paradise with the ideal conditions to host a unique and abundant biodiversity.

El Quijos Christmas Count| ©Jacqueline Granda
Roadside Hawk - El Quijos Christmas Count| ©Jacqueline Granda

The day of the inauguration finally, came!

What a positive way to start 2021!

Although it has been months of planning and waiting, came the long-awaited January 8. With it 45 participants from different places in Ecuador who joined the 59 participants, inhabitants of the Quijos Valley, as the organization was very strict and responsible in relation to the bio-security of all attendees. It is important to highlight the participation of bird watching specialists, special guests to offer their knowledge in master talks as part of the organization, with renowned characters from the field such as: the Biologist Gonzalo Nazati who led the Workshop of scientific and naturalistic illustration, the Magister Manuel Espinosa with his master talk “The Birds and Humanity”, the Magister Oswaldo Ponce , with his masterful talk “Birds of half the world” and the presentation of his interactive book with the same name, in addition to the Engineer Luis Salagaje who explained with solvency and illustrative way the “Use of the E-Bird platform,a very useful tool in bird observation and registration”.

Time passed very quickly and I took advantage of each and every second of the event, I was invited to be part of the inauguration. As soon as the registrations opened, I did not hesitate to secure my quota to participate in the count. My participation was brief during the first day, but with a sense of message as a representative of the World Organization of Tourist Journalism in Ecuador and I took advantage of every second of this historic event that convened the conservation conscience of its visitors and locals.

El Quijos Christmas Count Guides| ©Jacqueline Granda
  Inauguration of the Bird Count, preliminary edition I ©Jacqueline Granda
Drawing and Jury Contest I ©Jacqueline Granda

2020 A Year of Big Dreams

The Organizing Committee was made up of the dignities of the Cantons El Chaco and Quijos, demonstrating a display of commitment by the Decentralized Autonomous Governments of: Borja, Sumaco, Sardinas, El Chaco, Quijos and volunteers of the Civil Society. Although the previous hard work, they executed it effectively on the dates indicated, in the places to develop the count, such as: measures and protocols of bio-security during and before the event, cleaning, disinfection and adequacy of spaces to be used, box lunch arrangement for all involved.

With regard to civil society as volunteers passionate about avitourism and conservation it is important to highlight the activism of people like Sandra Morocho, Luis Salagaje, Víctor Manitio, Jonathan Camino, Mauro Brito and Josselyn Zapata, because being mostly locals and connoisseurs of the bird field, are the most interested in promoting a non-extractivist alternative that officially presents qualitative and quantitative results during the Christmas Count of Quixo Birds – El Chaco , preliminary edition; these passionate people were at the forefront of general coordination and very professional performance in segments such as: previous project design, self-management, call for event, master talks and drawing contest, baseline survey for route design, assignment of local leaders and guides, online registrations, route distribution, scientific baseline survey and mother lists , compilation of results, communication in media, coordination of lodging, transport, feeding of route leaders of the Canton Quijos, preparation and reporting, compilation of results, registration of participants, elaboration of T-shirts, masks and banners for routes, coordination of box lunch by route, logistical support for events, digital component for online marketing, social networks and audiovisual support.

This short article is not enough to tell you in detail, all the experience I enjoyed during three days of birding, however I could appreciate that the fieldwork took a lot of effort, time and energy from several previous months to achieve a resounding success that we witnessed and benefited from, as did the attendees, guests and participants.

It was breathed in the environment at the general level, a huge satisfaction not only for the warmth of the people but for the total sync in each of the activities that were carried out and of which we were part. It is true that it was a first event as a preliminary edition but it served as evidence that it is possible to organize it jointly between the public and private company, by joining forces with a common goal.

Counting Equipment - Linares Route - Sumaco| ©Jacqueline Granda
Delivery of Material for Route Leaders| ©Jacqueline Granda

Let the count begin!

The long-awaited day of bird counting, preliminary edition at the el Chaco – Quijos biannal event, filled us with joy, expectation and even knowing that we would start very early, it was difficult to control the emotion caused by the new experiences, the tour unknown but beautiful places, in the case of the route on which I was designated, I met Linda Escorza, local guide and host of the route , it was the first time that she received people to make identification of birds officially, because during the process of organization, it was necessary to measure and evaluate her farm at the level of territory and biodiversity, in her case and that of her husband, Orlando, debuted as birdmen in this historic count, preliminary edition, it was novelty and at the same time filled them with emotion their direct participation , being conservation hosts on your own farm, the special thing is that all your life as a finqueros, your productive activity was always livestock.

I woke up at 03:30 in the morning, to be fully ready and look forward to the group I would be part of, picking me up from the accommodation I was in, I honestly tell you, the organization was a total synchrony. I felt very fortunate because my counting team had as Road leader Sandra Morocho, Tour Guide, aviary, event organizer, local and also my friend, who could ask for more, only enjoy and collaborate in all possible ways during this important process for everyone!

We arrived at Linda’s Finca who was waiting for us with her husband, Orlando. Everyone wanting to start, we did, ate a little of everything we had in a very large box lunch and stored in the backpacks supplies for the rest of the day, water and elements such as: binoculars, telescope, listing for registration, sphero, change from shoes to water boots, and most importantly, sharp eyes and ears.

Counting Equipment - Linares Route - Sumaco| ©Jacqueline Granda

to Finca de Linda and Orlando a journey that touched our souls!

When we arrived at the beginning of the Route: Linares – Sumaco Road Ring, and first met Linda and Orlando, finqueros owners of the place we would tour for the count, we started by introducing ourselves and thanking them for their hospitality to make their farm a tour of avitourism, and we briefly commented that this activity is a sustainable alternative in a paradise like the one they own , we simply began to walk, not knowing how this social dynamic would develop during the almost 8 hours of travel in an activity that was new to both.

From the beginning, Linda was shown to be interested in learning and not missing any of the details she wrote down in her notebook, asked quietly all that was in amazement a discovery, for she kept a note of everything, very careful not to make mistakes, and in the case of Orlando, who turned the telescope into an extension of her body , enjoyed as a child with new toy being able to see the birds so closely having seen them and always heard them from afar, the team’s birdmen, Sandra Morocho, Manuel Espinosa, Amaru Espinosa, were very professional at the time of birding with the equipment they had to their credit, binoculars, talking, and of course ears and sharp eyes, but above all for their experience in identifying sounds , sizes, behaviors, habitat, finally important details of birds, which showed us the world of birders effectively thank you for that!

In my case it was the first time I had a bird count, so I was in charge of recording the species that we were identifying with sounds and through visualization, it was a complementary team, we leaned with looks because silence was essential, and with signals to communicate without making noise, my work take note of the sighted species , the number of each and enjoy the paradise I had around me with my new bird friends.

Linda and her husband on their farm| ©Jacqueline Granda

Without realizing it we had traveled the estate of Linda and Orlando, in which for several occasions we almost buried mud to the knees but as you know the union makes strength and when we slip we also laugh and continue. Linda told me that she had grown up in the countryside and that she now worked in the city, and that she would give everything, to return to live on the farm with her children. Orlando instead told me what life was like as a rancher, he had his cows and bulls perfectly identified, even one of them had named him Kevin, he said this bird thing, even though it was new to him, he was very interested in learning.

In my memory I still have latent his eyes wide open and also cover his mouth so as not to shout of emotion, when by learning to observe through the telescope, they managed to see clearly, the colors and details of each of the birds, for they had never done so that way, and that excited us all, mainly Linda and Orlando , for like never before, they were proud that such beautiful feathered beings lived on their estate and although they had seen or heard them before, it was the first time they had done so that day was perfect!

Linda’s phrase became an emblem of counting, for she previously said, “If you had proposed to me two months ago the alternative of avitourism, I would not have cut down my forest, for I did not know that this option was possible.”

As we continued to walk in the early hours of the tour, both Linda and Orlando had in mind to expand their livestock business, as the heritage area is livestock and the conditions are optimal to remain so, their idea of making more paddocks and buying more livestock is what guided them their experience as a safe productive source.

Cerulean Warbler, Setophaga cerulea| ©Jacqueline Granda

We enjoyed the journey so much that sometimes we didn’t get hungry, well Orlando was always hungry, but the mission of performing the count optimally, was something that was completely worth it, to some extent, the sight of a new bird and its illusion of taking us through new corners of its farm entertained us all in a positive way , there was a time when the most experienced connoisseurs of the group almost about to cry with emotion, gave us the news of the sighting of a very special bird, because in addition to being migratory, it is endangered and its sighting is very rare, this species was the Cerulean Warbler, Setophaga cerulea, and

although we had just met her we were also very excited, in addition when we learned that it came from North America, and was visiting as a migratory bird, made it more surprising and special.

When we finished the tour, we shared with our eyes the satisfaction of having lived this experience, the team count was over, it was the anteroom to a farewell, or rather a until soon. The closure was full of emotions and warm words, of learnings and teachings, between glances and shock of fists, we embraced from the heart because bio-security allowed us nothing more than that, so Linda and Orlando told us:

Thank you for coming and making us know these beautiful birds, we had never seen them so closely, their beautifully colored eyes, and their red feathers that looked like a few called among the leaves, because now that we know that this is the home of these birds, we will never cut any tree again, on the contrary, we will recover as much forest as possible , because we want more people to come and walk with us on our farm and for our children to value this paradise that is our home.

It was a very special moment and above all it was proof that one values what one knows and cares for what he loves, we got very excited and said goodbye to the promise that it would not be the last time we would meet to repeat that bird experience.

Cock of the Rock - Female| ©Jacqueline Granda
Andean Cock of the Rock, Gallito de la Peña| ©Jacqueline Granda
Christmas Count - El Quijos| ©Jacqueline Granda

Bird brotherhood in action

Along 17 routes the counting, recording and sighting of bird species was developed that more than one surprised by the beauty of its green landscapes during the long walks in which as an award some participants were lucky and adrenaliny showed their photos of bears of glasses, dantas and of course on other routes that although they had no time or reaction to capture them on camera , they told him with joy and surprise.

The teams enjoyed each and every one of the experiences we lived and it was a complete delight to be able to meet again during dinner to count the tour of the day, all keeping with a little zeal, the number of species sighted, because we still had to check among the members of the teams the number of species so as not to omit any, because we knew that the veracity of the information was crucial in this first count.

Many showed with joy and pride their photos, others their stories, some added new species in their check list and in my case, most birds had never seen them, so I had more than one lifer and it was a complete discovery their sounds, their colors and their names we were happy, tired but happy! I would love to mention each and every one of the people who were part of the event, to whom I dedicate this article with great affection, however I do not want to fail to name the people with whom even without having met them before, they splurgeed sympathy, professionalism, humility and good energy as if we had known each other all our lives, during the few but consistent moments of encounter : Sandra Morocho, Andrés Paredes, Gabriel Bucheli, Karla Bustamante, Patricio Herrera, Susan Tutillo, Pedro Espinosa, Manuel Espinosa, Oswaldo Ponce, Karen Black, David Intriago, Julio Ayala, Angel Núñez, Alfredo Meneses, Pedro Manzaba, Octavio Gaibor, Pablo Trujillo, Víctor Manitio and María Gaibor.

Linares-Sumado Road Ring Route Count| ©Jacqueline Granda

Last day, bewildering and closing

Being part of a historical count in a paradise like the Quijos Valley, exceeds anyone’s expectations, dusk and awakening with birdsong are omens of good life, and the last day in which with mixed feelings we have enjoyed new friendships, travel experiences, new places that we will surely visit with people we want and joy in the heart that only the hospitality of their hosts have given to this experience.

The closing program was developed in the Parish of Sardines, with an even warmer climate and a fully organized stage for each and every attendee, with bio-safety measures applied from start to finish and even a small exhibition of handmade wooden crafts, and a collection of stone pieces with historical importance.

Although we knew that the thaw would take more than four hours, we decided to share until the last moment with birdmen and new friends of the place, people interested in knowing in more detail our experience as an active part in the counting routes, and so we did, with my road trip partner, bird photographer and author of the book “Birds of the Half the World” Oswaldo Ponce , we exchanged anecdotes and between laughter and stories of the place, we met more of this beautiful place with people who were excellent anfritions, worthy representatives of the Canton El Chaco, and the Canton Quijos, such as Paola Medina, David Zapata and many more people with which we departed the closing event.

Counting Closure - Canton El Chaco| ©Jacqueline Granda
Counting Closure - Canton El Chaco| ©Jacqueline Granda
Closing - Bewildering - Canton El Chaco| ©Jacqueline Granda

Results of the Christmas Bird Count Bi-cantonal El Chaco – Quijos, preliminary edition

The fact that in just 4 days of having opened the online registrations have been exhausted, is a good sign that the interest in being part of this historical event was evident, giving a total of 101 participants registered to be part of this event, taking into account that there were 17 routes, it is important to highlight that the bio-security measures were applied in a responsible way throughout the process.

The contribution of Local Guides, Route Leaders and Counting Participants contributed to the following results:

Diversity:268 species of birds

Population density:4403 individuals

Species that stand out as rare and of high interest to birdwatchers and photographers are:

  • Black and chesnut Eagle, Andean Eagle
  • White-capped Tanager, Tangara white-headed
  • Emerald Toucanet, Emerald Toucanete
  • Andean Cock of the Rock, Gallito de la Peña
  • Crested Quetzal, Crestado Quetzal (Guajalito)
  • Torrent Duck, Torrent duck
  • Tenessee Warbler, Reinita Tennessee
  • Gorgeted woodstar, Gorgera’s Star (hummingbird)
  • Chesnut-bellied Thrush, Brown Ventri Mirlo
  • Cerulean Warbler, Reinita cerulea
  • Sword billed Hummingbird, hummingbird pickled
  • Long-tailed Sylph, Silfo colilargo
  • Ocellated Tapaculo, Ocellated Cover
  • Golden-headed Quetzal, Headed Quetzal
  • Crested Quetzal, Crested Quetzal
  • Rufous-vented Whitetip, Pechiverde White Dot
  • Oilbird, Guácharo
  • Black-collared Jay, Urraca Negricollareja

The attendance and interest of local participants correspond to 59 participants, achieving one of the main objectives with this event, capturing interest and empowering locals of their natural heritage for the socialization of importance, their care and dissemination.

El Quijos Christmas Count| ©Jacqueline Granda
Golden-headed Quetzal | ©Jacqueline Granda
El Quijos Christmas Count Guides| ©Jacqueline Granda

Love stories….. for birds!

Over the course of almost a year I have frequented the Quijos Valley for different reasons related to sustainable tourism and rural activities, always with different people, and in all those adventures, in one way or another, I have been meeting more people from the place, who have touched my heart people with their personal stories that defines them and places them as a key piece in a puzzle , in which one complements the rest.

One of those stories is the one that stars, Victor and Dilma, a marriage that with patience, faith and a lot of work, has managed to raise awareness and motivate everyone who visits them, this story is with which I want to conclude this article as if it were the cherry of the cake.

Victor and Dilma are a marriage that before dedicating themselves to protecting the lives of birds and all beings who visit their lands in the smallest parish of Ecuador, Sumaco. They engaged in other activities, Victor was a welder and Dilma is the daughter of ranchers, and everything changed when the opportunity knocked on the door of their hearts, it was enough with a kind of bird watching for Victor to get involved in a world he will never leave from and who is now one of the most fervent activists in defense of birds. Of course, at first I didn’t understand it, I was reluctant to learn from these feathered wonders, but thanks to Dilma’s insistence and sensitivity, today they have a place they have gradually recovered, what were once paddocks are becoming forests again, and the name with which they baptized it, is perfect: “The Concert of birds”, now they know the behaviors of hummingbirds , have become experts and have so firmly sown that passion for conservation in their children and in all people come to live this experience, they are a reference that it is possible to expand a vision based on the care and preservation of the species of the place.

Victor Manitio, Oswaldo Ponce and Dilma Cadena| ©Jacqueline Granda
Hummingbird at the Bird Concerto| ©Jacqueline Granda
Dilma Chain| ©Jacqueline Granda

Hidden Paradise by Dilma Chain

Dilma Cadena, had a special participation on the day of the inauguration of the Christmas Bird Count, and more than one of us was moved to the point of tears, because listening to his story, was like hearing that nature whispered in a sweet voice in our ear until we reached our consciousness, then the tale of his authorship, thanks Dilma and Victor Manitio for their love of nature.

Hidden Paradise

By Dilma Cadena

Once upon a time, in a very beautiful place, called Quijos Valley, the flowers of the countryside lived very happy, there were also bees, colorful butterflies that perched on the flowers and on the huge trees.

Of course there were birds, with a splendid plumage that flew non-stop.

One day they had a pleasant visit from Canada, they were the migratory birds that were cordially received in this valley, visitors were amazed by the welcome to make their friends, since, in the Quixos Valley there was much, much to enjoy, so, these visitors decided to return every year, since every time they came, they enjoyed it to the fullest , some decided to stay to live in this charming valley.

One day a gentleman came and said: this place is very beautiful! I will buy most of the farms, tear down all the trees, make some grasslands and live off the farm, on the banks of the slopes looked at several orchids and said: I will sell them to my contacts, I know they will pay me a good price, because they are beautiful! What counts is the money (He said to himself), time passed and everything came true!

The bee that pollinated flew very sad and aimless, in the same way butterflies and birds, did not know what had happened, because, even the twig on which they perched was broken and on the ground, then they decided to leave.

Only one bird named Gallo de la Peña remained, which although he looked around, did not find his relatives and friends, as much as he sought, he also did not find food, since his trees were torn down, in exchange for the planting of the passage for the cows.

Then he flew and flew, and in the end he said, I will go too, and I don’t care about the rain.

Thus, the Quijos Valley ran out of orchids, without colorful butterflies and no one to delight us with their melodies in the mornings.

Let’s take care of nature, we’re still on time!

Bird Concert| ©Jacqueline Granda
Reventador Volcano-El Quijos Christmas Count| ©Jacqueline Granda
Bird Concert| ©Jacqueline Granda

It’s never goodbye, always a so soon!

The information collected during the Event Christmas Bird Count, preliminary edition, effectively achieves the objectives posed as a conservation contribution, in addition to a participation of local inhabitants and manages to position the Quijos Valley in the radar of interested in the activities of avitourism, bird photography and conservation studies.

This historical fact has managed to empower entrepreneurial locals who, in addition to knowing their natural heritage, has socialized their strengths as a destination with infrastructure and structure suitable as a responsible destination in tourism for all people who wish to visit them.

The local and external perception is totally positive, showing a collaboration and commitment of community work for the sake of a common and beneficial objective for the cantons of El Chaco and Quijos, as well as its impact on its surroundings with the importance of sustainable and non-extractive alternatives.

It will always be pleasant to return to a place like this and I appreciate your generosity in becoming part of this historic event, for now I wish you: “Happy Bird” and until the next, dear Quijos Valley.

Quijos Valley| ©Jacqueline Granda