MONKEY FACE

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Well, I’m back. And not counting an outbreak of V&D that took out most of the field course for a couple of days (now affectionately referred to as the vompocalypse), I have had an awesome month away. Ecuador is famous for having an incredible diversity of habitats despite its small size- and though I still feel there is a lot of the country which I haven’t seen (I’m looking at you, mangroves) we managed to fit a lot into four weeks.

I wanted to start the onslaught of Ecuador posts with some pictures from one of our traditional pre-jungle warm up spots- Quito’s Botanic Gardens. Usually the couple of days we have before the students arrive are spent in a frenzy of organising the very large numbers of field guides, sampling tubes, hammocks, bat detectors, camera traps and rum into boxes that are ready to make their eight hour trip from Andes to Amazon- however, there’s usually a free afternoon when we can run away to the Jardín Botánico.

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I’ve never seen this corner of the Parque Carolina busy, which is incomprehensible considering the inordinately cheap $2 entry fee and the extraordinary orchid houses they have inside, featuring a seemingly endless array of species from teeny tiny blooms to huge extravagant show-offs. One of them housed a group of that had long been on my wishlist- monkey-faced orchids, so-called because they’re supposed to look like the face of a baboon. I can testify that the resemblance was uncanny. Though I could have easily stayed in the orchid houses all day, I eventually tore myself away to browse through the carnivorous plant and butterfly greenhouses, as well as the outdoor areas. If you’ve never been to Ecuador before, it’s a great introduction to the astounding biodiversity in the country and a good way to get your head around some of the key plant groups you’re likely to see (trust me, some people get a kick out of recognising key plant groups).

p.s. Without wanting to detract too much from the plants, the gardens are also a great place to do a spot of urban birding- last year we followed a black-tailed trainbearer as it sampled its way around the garden.

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