A Carnival of Colibrí - National Wildlife Federation

Museo Thyssen

Museo Thyssen

Plants and Flowers, plants species: June 2012
Its perennial foliage remains attractive throughout the year and its spring flowers are nothing short of beautiful. Phlox subulata forms shallow roots and its horizontal stems light easily so its common name creeping Phlox.

> IT'S EIGHT IN THE MORNING at northwestern Ecuador's Bella-vista Cloud Forest Reserve, with the sun just cresting the high ridge, the air is literally abuzz-not with insects, but with the wings of tiny birds. Everywhere I look amongst the dangling vines and mosses, hummingbirds (English hummingbirds) flit and whir at a frantic pace. Some are minute and resplendent like polished gemstones, others larger, with plumage so shiny they look metal-dipped. A few sporty streamy tails while still others wear what looks like fluffy pantaloons around their legs. All are swarming around the string of feeders that hang at various levels in the forest understory. At the center of the action sits an odd-looking, bamboo-and-thatch geodesic dome. Perched on a 7,380-foot, knife-edged ridge on a western slope in the Andes Mountains, the unusual structure is a birding lodge with triangular windows that look out over some of the richest cloud forest habitat in the world.

A dozen years ago, neither the lodge nor the birds were here. That's when British naturalist Richard Parsons and his Colombian wife Gloria Nicholls arrived and fell in love with the site's plunging views over the Tandayapa Valley. The couple decided to buy 100 acres (later expanded to 2,000 acres) of what was then unproductive farmland and partly cleared clinging precariously to 30 to 60 degree slopes at elevations from 6,000 to 8,000 feet. Their dream was to let nature-scarred but not defeated-return to these Andean slopes, located just two hours by car from Ecuador's capital, Quito.

In the single entity oversees this profusion of private initiatives, driven simply by a common desire to protect and restore the valley's wildness. Most of the landowners are members of the Corporation of Private Forests of Ecuador, better known as "The Network." Through it, they exchange information and band together when problems such as poaching or land invasion arise.

ith an annual rainfall of 100 inches and mean temperatures between 57 and 72 degrees F, nature has done the rest of the work. In just ten years, self-sown seedlings have grown into trees three stories high. And hummingbirds have returned by the droves-19 species at Bellavista alone. These flying jewels represent the vanguard of an increasingly complex regenerating ecosystem that benefits other rare or secretive birds and mammals. Near Bellavista, for example, residents and visitors have spotted shy pumas crossing the road, and occasionally someone catches sight of the even rarer Andean spectacled bear.

Richard Parsons refills his hummingbird feeders one early morning, I watch impatient buff-tailed coronets land on his fingers. From the valley, I hear the sound of mountain toucans and other cloud-forest birds that have recolonized the region. The scene is a simple but powerful lesson on how individuals with a shared vision can indeed make a difference.

New Zealand-based Tui De Roy spent a month in Ecuadorian cloud forests working on her book The Andes: As the Condor Flies, which is scheduled for publication by Firefly this fall.