The diary of an eagle research scientist
Tashkin Meza is a biologist at Rainforest Concern. With PTES funds, Tashkin is working to protect black-and-chestnut eagles in Ecuador. Find out what it’s like to trek through the majestic Neblina Reserve on a quest for eagles in Tashkin’s blog.
Preparing for the fieldtrip
It’s Thursday afternoon in early October2022, and I’m in Cotacachi, northwest Ecuador in the subtropical Intag valley. I’m meeting up with key members of our research team – Sonja Dillman, Milton Arcos and Armando Almeida – to plan next month’s activities. Then we’ll be conducting a three-day fieldtrip to look for the eagles and engage the local communities. In particular, we’re really keen to try and observe one of the juveniles which hatched from a nest inside our reserve in 2021. We’ll also prepare some talks for when we meet the local communities – explaining the importance of the magnificent bird of prey living in their environment, which is sadly in danger of extinction.
Volcanoes, crater lakes and eagle sightings
On Friday, October 14th, in Cotacachi, I wake to a very clear but somewhat cold morning. It’s 6:00am, and we’re ready to start the journey to Intag where the Neblina Reserve is located. As the journey starts, we can see the majestic Cotacachi volcano rising 4,960 meters above sea level and the three-kilometre-long Cuicocha crater lake. Waiting for Sonja and I, in an area known as La Delicia, is Milton, the main research assistant, and a key member of our team.
The first visit is to the community of Azabi de Mortiñal to the north of Neblina Reserve. There we meet with the leader of the community who tells us that several community members have seen both adult and juvenile eagles. We visit all the locations where the eagles were spotted, using a GPS to take the coordinates. En route, we talk with Mrs. Martha, a lady from the Azabi community , who tells us that the young eagle is very curious, that it often comes very close to the houses and hasn’t learnt to be scared of humans yet.
Towards the end of the day we stop by one of the main trails leading into the Neblina Reserve to discuss what we’ve discovered. While we talk we’re incredibly excited and emotional to spot the two adult eagles flying over the forest.
Continuing the field trip the next day, we decide it’ll be easier to travel by motorbike. Our first destination is the community of Puranqui. Here, there are a few wooden houses, pastures and large areas of granadilla cultivation – granadilla is a type of delicious passion fruit. The locals tell us that the week before they saw a juvenile eagle fly very close to their houses. So once again we visit each sighting location and collect the data with a GPS device. It’s late by the time we finish, and we return to get some rest.
Sunday dawns. By 7:00am it’s a very clear day, but it’s going to rain later. Today we’re travelling to the southern part of Neblina Reserve to a location known as K18. Nearby is an open-pit limestone quarry, and the reserve acts as an important refuge for flora and fauna in the area.
We have arranged to meet Mr. Ajavi, one of the forest guards for the Reserve. He’s ready and waiting for us at Kilometer 18. He tells us that he’s building a new chicken coop to prevent eagles from taking his chickens. He explains that the eagles frequently visit his small holding, perching in a tree near his chicken coop. The news from Mr. Ajavi and Mrs. Martha is a worry – in some places eagles are killed by smallholders for taking their livestock, so it really demonstrates that education and socialisation are key in helping to protect the species. We need communities to get onboard and to become champions for the black-and-chestnut eagle. We hope PTES funding will help us achieve this.
A rainy end to the trip
The communities in the Intag area are mainly subsistence farmers. Across the region there are large areas of pasture and smallholdings, which have replaced the native cloud forest. So in each community we visit, and with every person we meet, we talk about the importance of eagles in ecosystems, how rare they are and the need to protect them. The reserve’s forest guards, all residents of the nearby villages, are also our ambassadors in the communities, explaining the importance of the forests and the threatened species that depend on them.
As the day progresses the rain starts to fall. We finish the three-day trip drenched, but pleased about the amount of information we’ve collected about the black-and-chestnut eagles living in the area, the contact we’ve made with the communities, and even more excited about this majestic species and the hopes we have for its future in and around Neblina Reserve.
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