The slopes of the Andes are dressed with this wonderful ecosystem, also called “Andean brow” due to its generous vegetation. The cloud forest looks like a mossy jungle with tall trees decorated with orchids, mosses, bromeliad, and other epiphytes. Many of its characteristics are similar to that of the rain forest. However as it is not flat but on a slope, the sun rays are able to penetrate deeper inside the forest, thus giving rise to exuberant and unique life forms.
The cloud forest is one of the richest ecosystems of the world in bird and plant species. This ecosystem includes many species from the rain forest, some from the highlands, and others that have evolved to its unique conditions. Some of the most impressive bird species of the cloud forest are: Cock of the Rock, Toucan Barbet, an abundance of Hummingbirds, Tanagers, Mountain Toucans, Cotingas, Manakins, and many others.
The vegetation is also surprisingly rich. Numerous epiphyte species, including bounteous orchids and bromeliads, inhabit these slopes. Currently, it is believed by many scientists that the largest number of orchid species is found in this ecosystem, many of which remain undiscovered or unlabeled. Apart from the hundreds of bird species recorded, the cloud forest shelters other rare animal species such as the Andean spectacle bear, which is rarely seen but is one of the most impressive animal species of the Andes. The cloud forest is a unique ecosystem: a paradise for nature lovers and scientists. Go on an adventure and explore an area of exuberant and little explored biodiversity!
Mashpi Cloud Forest Biodiversity Reserve
310. That’s the number of bird species recorded so far at the Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve. Located 3 hours northwest of historic Quito, the ecological reserve is a dream destination for birdwatching, with designer accommodations for up to 44 guests and abundant opportunities for doing what birders do best.
Situated on 3,200 acres between 1,800 and 4,500 ft above sea level, the Mashpi Reserve stretches across lowland floodplain forests and lower montane- or foothill- forests. The range of altitudes and dead-on proximity to the Equator create an exquisite habitat for a high number of endemic species including, of course, birds. Mashpi’s resident Wildlife Project Coordinator, Carlos Morochz Andrade and his team are working daily on gaining knowledge of the forest ecology and its relationship to bird behavior and distribution. The team estimates that anywhere from 400-500 bird species inhabit the forest, many residing in remote sections at lower and higher elevation that have yet to be tracked. Ah, but many forested areas have been tracked already, resulting in splendid finds: the Indigo Flowerpiecer, Black Solitare, Chocó Vireo, Banded Ground-Cukoo, Yellow-Green Bush Tanager, Moss-backed Tanager, Black-tipped Cotinga and other rare and endemic species.
Leks, Hummingbirds, and other wonders
The biology team has also sought out “leks” (gathering places for male avians where elaborate courtship displays of garish plumage and performance unfold). Four leks have been found to date- two leks for the Long Wattled Umbrellabird, one for the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and one for the Club-Winged Manakin- which are perfect for biologists’ studies and sightings by guests. Guests also have the chance to observe and photograph 13 of the Reserve’s 25 species of hummingbirds in the wild, many of which feed around a shelter close to the Reserve’s entrance and the Life Center.
Meanwhile, many bird species can be spotted from the main road that runs from the gates of the Reserve to the lodge, as well as on group and private guided hikes. Or simply from the lodge’s terrace at dawn or dusk. Electric-powered vehicles are also available for hushed exploration onsite while an observation tower further facilitates sightings.
Text provided by: Mashpi Lodge.