Conservation and birding at Yanacocha

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This story, like many others of conservation, begins with a species. In the case of Yanacocha, a hummingbird. The Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) is an endemic specimen of Ecuador, and it can only be found on the western slopes of the Pichincha volcano. Unlike what its name denotes, its colors are as majestic as what it represents.

In 2005, the Puffleg was declared as the emblematic bird of Quito. However, beyond the ostentatious title, it is currently in critical danger of extinction. To protect it and the impressive number of birds that inhabit the area, the Yanacocha Reserve was founded, one of the places we visited with a group of tourists on the Ñan Travel experience.

Just over two decades ago, the Jocotoco Foundation acquired about 950 hectares of Andean highland forest and páramo on the western side of the Pichincha Volcano. From then on, the conservation history of its reserve has been a reason for visit and delight for forest beings and visitors alike. It is a paradise for wildlife and also for birdwatching enthusiasts.

We embarked from Quito on a journey of approximately 45 minutes to reach this destination. To the north, on Occidental Avenue, you have to take an overpass at Machala to enter the neighborhood ‘Mena de Hierro’ that leads to Nono. After the Rundupamba church, a nine-kilometer journey on dirt roads, usually accompanied by rain, leads to the wonders of this close yet distant place.

We arrived around 09:00, and we recommend not getting there past noon, to be able to enter and enjoy the place. Once there, we were greeted by local and specialized guides who shared useful information about native plant species and also about birds, not forgetting the emblematic Puffleg, of course.

Once introduced to the humid and rainy environment of Yanacocha, there was nothing left but to venture into the forest and wait for the fleeting rays of light by nature’s grace. They say that in the summer months it is not safe to have them either, but when the landscapes clear, they are spectacular.

We are on our way to the Hummingbird Garden, as the locals call it, where just arriving is enough to have it within sight. We are greeted on the way by the giant leaves of the Gunnera pilosa, which give a feeling of being far not only from home but also in time. Not to mention that they are ideal for the constant rains of the area (they can be used as umbrellas). Of course, they should not be cut, but collected from the ground.

Along the way, there are various bifurcations of paths, trails, and chaquiñanes, where one can explore with time to make the most of the visit. There are even Polylepis forests that completely change the panorama of the walk. Everything is signposted, and the guides explain the species one may encounter there.

The reserve has gradually expanded its dimension. Today, there are 1,080 hectares protecting other threatened bird species besides the Puffleg, such as Andean guans and condors, the Imperial Snipe, and the Giant Conebill. There are also mammals of great importance for the páramos such as the spectacled bear, Andean wolves, coatis, guantas, deer, deer, and tigrillos.

For all this, reforestation programs with native plant species are also carried out here to restore the natural habitat of the reserve. Polylepis trees and other flora species have been planted in grasslands of the lower zone of the reserve and others in the higher ones that exceed 4,000 meters above sea level and were burned decades ago.

And, indeed, amidst so much wonder, we conclude the approximately 45-minute walk to the garden, where different species and specimens that inhabit this area in coexistence fluttered around us, surprising all who stop for a while to admire their beauty.

Right next to the garden is the Inca Trail, a small ‘complex’ of tunnels that, when crossed completely in the dark, surprise with a unique view of the Guagua Pichincha, and can even lead to waterfalls.

On the way back, the rain stopped, but we did not have the view that we will have on our next summer visit. Finally, upon leaving the Reserve, we embarked on our way to Nono before returning to Quito. This magical little town is one of the oldest in the province and holds spectacular places to visit and spend the day, such as the Hacienda Yumba Urqu, where we closed the visit with the best views of the province, a delicious brunch, and a brief visit to the central park where we asked to repeat this experience which is never the same again.

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