HISTORY OF

RESERVA LAS GRALARIAS

 


Reserva Las Gralarias was launched in 1998 with the purchase of a small farm of 7.5 hectares (19 acres). On a brief birding trip to this area birders had found a number of uncommon and some rare bird species endemic to the Chocó biogeographic zone which is considered one of the world´s most important endemic bird areas. Such species included Moustached Antpitta and Orange-breasted Fruiteater, both species very poorly known at that time and still considered very rare in this area. The reserve continues to harbor these and many other rare species.

Since 1998 additional lands have been purchased, by the current owner with the help of conservation-minded donors and birders and with the ongoing work and support of the Las Gralarias Foundation, Inc.  Thanks to large donations from the USA-based Gulf Coast Bird Observatory as well as stock, matching grants and cash donations from many donors, the reserve has grown to encompass over 1300 acres (525 hectares) of cloud forest habitat stretching across the equator and ranging from 1750-2400 m elevation (appr. 5800-8000 feet). Our ongoing efforts to protect the Santa Rosa River watershed still need funding for the final 700-acre land purchase.

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Masked Flowerpiercer 
Photo by Dusan Brinkhuizen

Reserva Las Gralarias protects four important water systems which serve as the source of water for native wildlife as well as for downslope communities. The reserve is made up of 8 different parcels of land purchased since 1998 and is located along the equator at 00°00´33"S latitude and 78°44´15" W longitude, within the parish of Mindo, the counties of San Miguel de Los Bancos and Nanegalito, and the Province of Pichincha, 2 hours by the main highway, northwest of Quito, Ecuador.

'Las Gralarias' is the Spanish term for the genus of ground antbirds Grallaria, of which there are 5 species confirmed as residents on the reserve.

The reserve stretches along the lower foothills of the Andes Mountains and its habitat type is known as 'cloud forest'.  It receives an annual rainfall of 2000-3000mm (72-108 inches) and has an average temperature between 18-22.8°C (appr. 50-75°F).   The vegetation within the reserve includes primary and secondary forest as well as open woodland, grassy and revegetating zones. The reserve has 12 km (7 miles) of birdy, well-marked, uncrowded trails to hike, ranging from easy to difficult, as well as three hummingbird feeding stations.

Reserva Las Gralarias is home to a variety of endangered plants, frogs and birds. In December 2005 and January 2006, a male Black-breasted Puffleg was photographed at the reserve, near the guest house, where it fed mostly on fuchsia flowers. This is the lowest altitudinal record confirmed for this critically endangered species. We have also had regular sightings of the very range-restricted Chocó endemic Hoary Puffleg, including in 2010 a nest and nestling along Canyon´s Trail and several individuals regularly visiting our feeders.  From November 2007 through December 2017 we have had various sightings and trailcam photos of Spectacled Bear near the guest houses and along Canyons Trail. We have had several sightings and a photograph in December 2018 of Olinguito near the guest houses and along Guan Gulch Tail. The unique Shape-shifting Rain Frog is regularly seen near the guest houses. Numerous other rare and range-restricted species are regularly recorded on the reserve and a number of species new to science have been discovered at  and named for Las Gralarias.

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Black-breasted Puffleg
Photo by Jane Lyons

In 2001 a preliminary vegetation survey was conducted by a team of botanists from Ecuador´s National Herbarium. Species targeted for collection were those species of plants considered to be of importance to birds or special for some other reason. Of the 82 species of 32 families collected, 11 species found are endemic to Ecuador, with 1 species considered critically endangered, 1 species endangered, 3 species considered near-threatened, and 5 species considered vulnerable. With this information we have been able to better plan our trail system in order to avoid disturbing rare species as well as to cultivate those species of plants and trees of particular significance to birds and to conservation in general. A copy of the plant survey (in Spanish only) is available for reading for anyone interested.  In 2012 Peruvian botanist Wilson Ramirez found a tree species on the reserve that had been considered extinct. And in 2018 botanists studied hummingbird-plant interactions with some very interesting data collected so far. The project will be continued in 2019 both as a stand-alone research project and also as part of an individualís PhD dissertation field research.
 
Beginning in 2005 frog experts have conducted a series of surveys throughout the reserve.  The results have been amazing: eleven species of endangered amphibians are now known to live at Las Gralarias, including 3 species of glass frog that are considered critically endangered and are currently known only from Las Gralarias.  In addition, some 6-7 species of frog that may be new to science have recently been found on the reserve.  Thanks to a multi-year grant received in January 2012 from the "Save Our Species" program of the IUCN-World Bank-Global Environment Facility, researchers from the Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica in Quito. In 2018 the new Pristimantis gralarias was formally described and in 2019 we will be hosting university student researchers from University of California Berkeley, Ohio Northern University and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
 

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Kinkajou at our hummingbird feeders
  Photo by Vicki Liu
 
We have been fortunate over the years to have hosted writers and photographers from National Geographic magazine and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), as well as authors, photographers, researchers, birders, tourists and volunteers from around the world.  We have received international grants for our efforts, and we deeply appreciate all of this help as well as the many individual donors, volunteers, friends, staff and our amazing Board of Directors and Publications Team for all the support they have provided for more than a decade.

The continued goal of Reserva Las Gralarias is to conserve the natural habitat found within the reserve, to regenerate disturbed areas with native species, and to purchase additional adjacent properties to form habitat connections along the waterways and forests both upslope and downslope as possible.  We support conservation-oriented field research as well as local environmental education projects.  For more details, see the section on Projects.  

We will be more than happy to talk with anyone interested in donating to this cause or who would like more information. Donors can also contact the Las Gralarias Foundation, Inc., a U.S.A. 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization.

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