In this exotic author’s tour during the Christmas holidays, we will be able to see the nature and wildlife of the mysterious Madagascar Island, which separated from India about 88 million years ago, during the breakdown of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Since then, the unique flora and fauna of the island have been formed in conditions of complete isolation. As a result of this segregation, 90% of the plant and animal species that inhabit the island are found nowhere else in the world. People appeared on the island relatively recently, although the opinions of scientists about the time when the first settlers arrived differed. Surprisingly, this island drifted close to the east coast of Africa. Madagascar is one of the world’s largest islands on Earth (4th by the area) – and only here we can see unusual long-tailed curious lemurs, mammals that belong to primitive primates, they are sometimes also called semi-monkeys. Only here we will be able to observe the funny Madagascar aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascarensis), which in appearance can be compared with an animal from a fairytale. This is only one modern species from the family. Also only on this island, travelers can find many endemic species of phlegmatic chameleons.
We will visit the best national parks of this island with untouched nature that speaks for itself, take a walk along the fantastic alley of baobabs, get acquainted with the life of the local communities, swim in the Indian Ocean, enjoy wonderful fruits and admire the magnificent landscapes of this tropical island!
Day 1. December 24 – Sunday.
Day of arrival in Tana (Antananarivo). Accommodation in a hotel in the city center. Christmas evening. Introduction of the group members at dinner with each other and with our guides. Christmas night in the tropics.
Day 2. December 25 – Monday.
In the morning, after breakfast and gathering at the hotel, visit the bird sanctuary, Tsarasaotra Park. We can observe there following species: White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black Heron, Malagasy Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Malagasy Kingfisher, White-throated Rail, Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Malagasy Brush-Warbler, and other bird species. Then flight to Toliara (former Tulear) and lunch after arrival. Check-in for three nights at a hotel on the first line in Mangily town.
Day 3. December 26 – Tuesday. In the morning before breakfast, an excursion to the “spiny forest” with endemism in the flora of more than 95%. In addition, we’ll be able to spot baobabs there. If we are lucky, we’ll hope to see the following bird species: Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Running Coua, Crested Coua, Thamnornis, Subdesert Mesite, Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Archbold’s Newtonia, Red-capped Coua, Subdesert Brush-Warbler. Also in the “spiny forest,” we will be able to detect some species of snakes, geckos, Madagascar iguanas, and many other representatives of the fauna of “cold-blooded” animals. Photo 3029. On the way from the forest to the hotel, we will stop at a nursery where two extremely rare globally endangered species of radiated and spider tortoises are bred. In the afternoon you will have the opportunity to soak up at the beach. And in the evening we will organize a night excursion to the “spiny forest”, full of rustles, night voices, and shadows of the night inhabitants of the woods. We hope to see several species of lemurs, including the Reddish-gray mouse lemur and Petter’s sportive lemur, Lesser hedgehog tenrec – a close relative of Eurasian hedgehogs, Torotoroka scops owl, and much more.
Day 4: December 27 – Wednesday.
In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we will go to see a rare passerine bird – the red-tailed vanga. This bird belongs to the Vangidae family, which is endemic to Madagascar. After birdwatching, we will visit the botanical garden, which has a large collection of succulent plants, as well as other endemic plants collected from all over the island. After lunch, we will have free time, which everyone can use at their choice.
Day 5: December 28 – Thursday.
After an early breakfast, we check out from the hotel and drive to the Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. Many interesting bird species of Madagascar can be observed in the park, including several species of Madagascar cuckoos (Giant Coua, Coquerel’s Coua), Cuckoo-roller, Lesser Vasa Parrot, rare Appert’s Tetraka, Long-billed Bernieria, endemic Stripe-throated Jery, Rufous Vanga, White-browed Owl – endemic to Madagascar. Besides, we will be able to see local lemurs -Verreaux’s sifaka and Hubbard’s sportive lemur and many other interesting species of animals and plants. After observations in the park, it will take us 3 hours to get to our next stop – a wonderful hotel located near the Isalo National Park. Here we will stay for 2 nights. If we have time after the move, we will walk through the picturesque surroundings around the hotel.
Day 6: December 29 – Friday.
After breakfast, we will head to the Isalo National Park for the day. Among the interesting birds in the park, we can see the Malagasy Turtle-Dove, Malagasy Coucal, Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Bee-eater, Malagasy Kestrel, Malagasy Paradise-Flycatcher, Madagascar Lark and other species. The park is also home to the Verreaux’s sifaka and the ring-tailed lemur or catta lemur. Here we can also spot local endemic species of snakes, lizards and frogs, such as bright Malagasy poison frogs (Mantella sp.) and the graceful day geckoes (Phelsuma genus). After a long day filled with interesting sightings, we will meet the sunset at the Windows of Isalo.
Day 7: December 30 – Saturday:
After breakfast, we check out from the hotel and move to the Tsaranuru Valley to a new place, located near the Andringitra National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with amazing panoramic landscapes. The transfer trip will take about 5 hours. The views there are just amazing! oto 4860 Photo 2802. We will stay for one night at the famous Catta Camp, where we will live in a neighborhood with ring-tailed or catta lemurs. Photo 2802
Day 8: December 31 – Sunday:
In the morning after breakfast, we will walk through the forest with Malagasy Coucal, Malagasy Bulbuls, sunbirds (Souimanga Sunbird, Malagasy Sunbird), Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Forest Rock-Thrush, and other interesting species. Besides, we will be able to observe different species of reptiles and amphibians, including Malagasy poison frogs, chameleons, and many others. Then we will move to Anja Park (2.5 hours), where we’ll have a chance to see its inhabitants such as the ring-tailed lemur or catta lemur and several species of chameleons. After observations in this park and lunch, we will drive three more hours to another national park – Ranomafana. The park was founded specifically for the conservation of bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur genus). Here we will stay at the hotel for 2 nights. We’ll have rest after moving. In the evening, we’ll celebrate the last day of 2023 and have a delighted New Year’s Eve dinner.
Day 9: January 1 – Monday.
After breakfast we will go hiking to Ranomafana National Park, where in the morning we will be able to watch birds: Blue Coua, Pitta-like Ground-Roller, Tylas Vanga, Red-tailed Vanga, Pollen’s Vanga, Nelicourvi Weaver, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Madagascar Blue Vanga, as well as Golden Bamboo Lemur, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Red-bellied Lemur, Red-fronted Lemur, Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, Milne-Edwards’s sifaka. Interesting species of lizards live in the park including flat-tailed Madagascar geckos (Uroplatus sp.), Madagascar day geckos (Phelsuma sp.), and many other species. After lunch, we will rest at the hotel, and after dark, we will go on a night hike to see chameleons, frogs, snakes, nocturnal insects, grey mouse lemur, and pigmy mouse lemur in the flashlight.
Day 10: January 2 – Tuesday.
After breakfast, we will check out from the hotel and move to another place called Tana. It is a long road with stops at different places to observe birds, mammals, and other animals. On the way, we will stop by an amazing reptile park, where we will see a couple of dozen species of chameleons, amazing Madagascar geckoes (Uroplatus sp.), exotic frogs, and much more! Near the park, we will stop for lunch at one of the local restaurants. Photo 4162. We will also visit the lemur park near the city and walk around the city center. We will spend the night in one of the hotels in the city of Tana.
Day 11: January 3 – Wednesday.
After breakfast, we will check out from the hotel and drive to the local airport for a flight to Toamasina, and from there we will transfer by boat to Palmarium. Transfer to Palmarium will take 3-4 hours by car and 1.5 hours by boat. Upon arrival in Palmarium, we’ll stay in comfortable bungalows in the forest near the lake. Several species of lemurs, chameleons, and butterflies live on the territory close to bungalows. In this unique place, lemurs are not afraid of people and let them come close. And at night we will have an excursion to observe the most beautiful creature of Madagascar – the mysterious local funny animal (“arm-leg”) called aye-aye…
Day 12: January 4 – Thursday.
After breakfast, we will go to watch the lemurs. We will spend the whole day at the Palmarium with lemurs, where we can see and feed indri, black-and-white ruffed lemur, and other species up close. Photo 0699. Among the birds, we can see the endemic Hook-billed Vanga. And at night we will watch the gray mouse and eastern woolly lemurs.
Day 13: January 5 – Friday.
After breakfast and checking out from the hotel, we will drive to a place called Andasibe. This way we’ll pass firstly by boat (1.5 hours), and then 4 hours by car. Along the way, we will visit various local craftsmen shops. We’ll have lunch on the way. In the evening after dinner, we organize a night excursion into the forest to observe mouse lemurs, insects, frogs, chameleons, and other animals.
Day 14: January 6 – Saturday.
In the morning after breakfast, we will have an excursion to Analamazaotra Special Reserve. Here we can see many interesting bird species: Blue Coua, Madagascar Ibis, Red-tailed Vanga, Nuthatch-Vanga, Red-fronted Coua, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, and Collared Nightjar. We also will find wild indris and diademed sifakas. Then we will stop by Vakona Lodge, where tame lemurs live and there is a farm of Nile crocodiles. Photo 4021 In the evening one more excursion to the night forest.
Day 15: January 7 – Sunday – Day of our departure.
In the morning after breakfast, we check out of the hotel and collect all the necessary things – we are preparing for our departure back to Canada. However, before arriving at the airport, we will still have the opportunity to stop by the reptile park, where we will be able to see various species of chameleons, uroplatus, frogs, snakes, as well as Cocorell’s sifakas.
Departure day. Transfer to the airport. Flight home.
Photo credit by Ivan Leshukov.
For more information and/or to book this tour, please contact the travel agency directly at YYT Travel Tours: 7851 Dufferin St., Suite 100, Toronto (Thornhill), Ontario L4J 3M4 Tel: 1.877.999.4768 or 905.660.7000 – TICO Reg: #4332359
This is a journey for nature enthusiasts, for those who are interested to see the diversity of ecosystems and biodiversity in all their manifestations. We will drive along mountain roads and visit places with rich biological diversity, as well as get familiar with the cultural traditions of the Kyrgyz people, who move to high mountain pastures in summer. We will have the opportunity to look at the plains and human settlements adjacent to foothills from the height of mountain passes, see the turbulent streams running down narrow gorges from snow peaks, enjoy the splendor and variety of colorful alpine meadows with marvelous butterflies fluttering over them, walk along the paths in the lush forest belt, hear the singing of numerous birds and the whistle of marmots warning their neighbors about the appearance of unexpected guests in their habitats… We will be able to dive into the clear waters of Lake Issyk-Kul, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks on the hottest days of summer. And also we will be able to explore the colorful and noisy Asian bazaars and immerse ourselves in the oriental flavor, where history and modernity perfectly complement each other.
Day 1: June 11, Sunday. Early morning arrival at the airport of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan with a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul – accommodation at the Asia Mountains *** hotel, breakfast. Early registration. We’ll have time for rest and an introduction. After accommodation, you can take a dip in the pool with refreshing clear water, or you can immediately go to the lakes and ponds of the fishing farms (30 km) to observe waterfowl and near-water birds that inhabit water reservoirs in the foothills for birdwatching. We expect to see many waders, gulls, and terns, as well as long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach) and shikra (Accipiter badius). Return to Bishkek in the afternoon. It will be possible to visit one of the colorful oriental bazaars and get familiar with the city. The evening program will include a walk around the evening city after dinner or rest if desired.
Day 2: June 12, Monday. Full-day excursion to the famous Central Asia Ala-Archa National Park (2,200 – 2,400 m above sea level; 40 km), rich flora is presented in the park; many species of birds and mammals also inhabit its area. The park has amazingly beautiful landscapes and a huge variety of plants in mountain meadows, which change seasonally, but all are remarkably beautiful. Here we will walk through a mountain forest, in which many trees have an unusual shapes and create a unique mountain landscape – with sharp crowns of Tien Shan spruce, spherical trunks of Turkestan juniper or “archa” trees, and delicate fluffy foliage of Tien Shan birch. There are also many insects here and in summer we will have the opportunity to see the carpenter bee and many different kinds of butterflies. In some places, we can see wild ibexes and even snow leopards, but it all depends on a lot of luck. But bird watching allows us to hope for success and during the excursion, we will be able to observe many mountain bird species: common dipper, blue whistling thrush, rufous-napped tit, coal tit, red-mantled rosefinch, Himalayan rubythroat, Himalayan or snow vultures, bearded vulture or lammergeier and many other species.
Return to Bishkek in the evening. Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel *** (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 3: June 13, Tuesday. Full-day excursion to Alamedin Gorge (2,100 m; 30 km).
This forested gorge with a rather mild sloping landscape is part of the northern slopes of the Kirghiz Range, the highest peak of which – Western Alamedin – reaches a height of 4,875 m above sea level. On the slopes up to a height of 2,500 meters, there are main areas of mountain steppe and forests with Tien Shan spruce and juniper trees. Above this, there are subalpine and alpine meadows, which at an altitude of 3,700 meters turn into snowfields and glaciers. There we will get acquainted with the nature of the mountain forest and steppe. Also, we will be able to watch the birds, which we can attract using the application with the songs of typical species inhabiting mountain forests. During this trip, we hope to see white-capped bunting, red-headed bunting, common or pied rock thrush, and other mountain bird species. Return to Bishkek.
Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel *** (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 4: June 14, Wednesday. Drive towards Issyk-Kul lake and stop near Balykchi village (1600 m, 180 km). We will stop at several places to see the banks of Issyk-Kul Lake, as well as the rocky desert that stretches around. We will have a chance to see some desert inhabitants: small lizards, insects, arachnids and birds. Observation of bush birds: Excursion along the bank of the Issyk-Kul Lake. We expect to see birds of bush thickets: common rosefinch, Cetti’s warbler, and common redshanks. In the evening we’ll spot the nightjars and long-eared owls. We will also have the opportunity to walk in the evening along a semi-desert area to look at its nocturnal inhabitants in the light of headlamps. If we are lucky, then we have a chance to see nocturnal mammals – jerboas, wild cats, foxes, long-eared hedgehogs, and possibly jackals. Also, we will be able to highlight nocturnal invertebrates such as scorpions, camel spiders or solifuges, and tarantula spiders.
Overnight at the Royal Beach Hotel (B/Lunch-Pack/A) with a beautiful cool pool and access to the Issyk-Kul Lake shores.
Day 5: June 15, Thursday. A trip to the foothills of Semiz-Bel to Tory-Aigyr (50 km). There we explore the foothills with dry valleys and desert plains. In the basin of the Toru-Aigyr River, there are rock paintings [petroglyphs] of ancient nomads on stones and rocks; in addition, there are burial mounds and stone sculptures showing the elements of the ancient Turks culture. Arid plains and dry valleys are overgrown with patchy bushes and scarce semi-shrubs, among which are halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) and psammophytes (plants that grow on sands). Perhaps, we will be able to see wandering Bactrian camels in this place that graze on the foothill plains. Both on the plains and in the foothills we will be able to observe typical representatives of desert landscapes, including such birds as secretive Pallas’s sandgrouse, pied wheatear, greater short-toed lark, crested lark, grey-necked bunting, chukar partridge (mountain partridge), as well as a large long-legged buzzard. In addition, we will be able to spot fast small lizards (Eremias sp.) hiding in the shade of infrequent plants, as well as other well-adapted inhabitants of the semi-desert.
Overnight at the Royal Beach Hotel (B/Lunch-Pack/A) with a beautiful cool pool and access to the Issyk-Kul Lake shores.
Day 6: June 16, Friday. A trip to the Semenovskoye gorge (1,800 m, 70 km). The Semyonovskoye Gorge is one of the most famous and interesting places in the Issyk-Kul region. This beautiful gorge attracts tourists visiting Issyk-Kul Lake. The length of the gorge is about 30 km. Local enterprises are oriented towards the welcome of tourists: we will see local residents luring visitors with birds of prey or the opportunity to ride a horse through the gorge. There are many good places in the gorge for viewing scenic landscapes and the opportunity to see the glacial streams of the Ak-Su mountain river (which means “white water” in the translation named due to the foaming turbulent stream descending from the snowy peaks). In summer, there are many yurts for visitors set up in the Semenov Gorge, where everyone can taste national dishes: beshbarmak, koumiss, ayran, baursaks… We know about the meaning of all these words when we’ll visit this area. Birdwatching: On the excursion in the gorge we can observe birds of the forest belt such as white-winged grosbeak, red-mantled rosefinch, red-fronted serins, isabelline wheatear, booted eagle, kestrels, many other species.
Day 7: June 17, Saturday. A trip to the Turgen gorge of the Kyungen-Alatau ridge, to the Chon-Ashuu pass (3,800 m, 160 km). During this trip, we will have the opportunity to see the picturesque landscapes of the gorge, the fauna, and flora of the highlands, and subalpine and alpine meadows with their specific vegetation, including highly specialized and adapted to elevations forms and endemic plant species. We will be able to see wild marmots here, as well as possibly Tien Shan ground squirrels and pikas, small mountain mammals – relatives of hares, which got their name because of the communication system in the colonies when different individuals interconnect with each other by whistling or squeaking. On rocky screes near mountain streams, we can see an amazing large mountain wader – the ibisbill, hidden with its grayish plumage among pebbles on the banks of mountain streams. Among the bushes the white-capped buntings, and rock buntings sing cheerfully, sitting on the tops of bushes and trees. The Himalayan rubythroat – a nightingale with a red throat also inhabits shrubs and bushes at the edges of mountain forests in this area. At a height above the gorges, Himalayan vultures, residing at high altitudes, can soar; sometimes they are accompanied by other scavengers such as bearded vultures, which often glide over the slopes, looking for the bones of dead animals.
Overnight in Karakol at Turan guest house (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 8: June 18, Sunday. Trip to Jety-Oguz gorge (50 km). On the way, we will visit the museum of the famous Russian explorer of Asia, Nikolai Przhevalsky, whose grave is located on the shore of Issyk-Kul Lake. In Karakol, we will also be able to see the Orthodox Trinity Cathedral built in 1896, the pagoda-style Dungan mosque (1899), and many preserved houses and buildings of the 19th century. Jety-Oguz gorge, translated from the Kyrgyz language as “seven oxen”, is located on the northern slope of the Terskey-Alatau ridge, enveloping Lake Issyk-Kul from the south. This gorge is situated at a distance of 25 km from Karakol town. The attraction of the gorge is the fold of red rocks “Jety-Oguz”. One of the rocks, called “Broken Heart”, is a place of pilgrimage for lovers. Near the ridge, at an altitude of about 2,200 meters above sea level, there is the Jety-Oguz resort, famous for its healing geothermal springs. The slopes of the gorge are covered with lush vegetation. In the city itself and around, we will be able to observe typical anthropogenic bird species, which include small laughing doves and masked white wagtails. During the trip to the mountains, we will also see rock buntings, an oriental turtledove, ruddy shelducks, mistle thrushes, grey wagtails, brown dippers, and other interesting bird species.
Overnight in the Tamga yurt camp, in the village with the same name – Tamga (40 km) (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 9: June 19, Monday. Drive to the mountain town of Naryn (2,037 m, 300 km) through the Dolon pass (3,030 m). The settlement of Naryn was created as a small fortress on the trade routes that led from Kashgar (East Turkestan) to Central Asia, to protect traders (merchants) from the attack of robbers who raided trade caravans. The city appeared here in the middle of the 19th century, when, after the annexation of Central Asia to the Russian Empire, a Russian garrison was stationed there. We will have the opportunity to get aware of the history, nature, and culture of this interesting settlement. We will stop along the way at the Dolon Pass to observe the birds and mammals that we can spot in these places. It is possible to detect several high-mountain bird species here, which include alpine and red-billed choughs, as well as cinereous vultures, wall-creepers with bright red spots on their wings, brown dipper, water pipits, and other species.
Day 10: June 20, Tuesday. Full-day excursion to the Kapchygay gorge on the Small Naryn River (2,100 m; 70 km). Naryn and the adjacent mountain gorges are famous for their picturesque passes, turbulent mountain rivers, deep gorges, colorful lakes, and waterfalls, surrounded by mountain peaks with caps of eternal snow and high-altitude glaciers, replenishing the stormy streams descending from the mountains in summer. The local population preserves the traditional culture and lifestyle that has been represented by nomadic peoples for centuries. Many-day hiking and horseback expeditions through the Tien Shan mountains, as well as seasonal hunting tours for ibexes and Marco Polo sheep, are still going from Naryn. Rafting enthusiasts of different categories of difficulty also come here. However, our one-day tour will cover only a trip to the Small Naryn River with its fabulous abrupt ravine landscapes and the astonishing nature of the highlands. We will have the opportunity to observe mammals and birds that inhabit the slopes of the gorges, banks, and turbulent streams of the Naryn River. We hope to see several species of birds of prey here, including the golden eagle, and the long-legged buzzard, as well as small passerines: bluethroat, pine bunting, red-headed bunting, and 16 other species.
In the evening return to Naryn. Overnight at the guest house “At Baktygul” (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 11: June 21, Wednesday. Trip to the alpine Son-Kul Lake (3,016 m, 150 km), the second largest and one of the most beautiful lakes in Kyrgyzstan. Only in summer, nomads (local herdsmen and shepherds with families) spend their time here, because, around the lake on the slopes, there are luxurious and lush pastures with an abundance of grass and wildflowers (edelweiss, gentians, and many others, including amazing sossurea, cousinia, and many other endemic families, genus and species). The entire lake is a nature reserve due to the numerous waterfowl that nest there in the summer. The trail leads through the pass Moldo-Ashuu (3,330 m), from where impressive alpine landscapes open up. Along the way, we will have the chance to observe the colorful bird species that inhabit the steep cliffs and rocks. These species include European roller, European bee-eater, lesser kestrel, eastern rock nuthatch, and other species.
In the evening we will arrive at the high mountain camp, where we will stay overnight in the yurts of the Bayish camp (B/Lunch/A).
Day 12: June 22, Thursday: We will spend a day in the vicinity of the alpine Son-Kul Lake (3,016 m) with its magnificent landscapes of alpine jailoos (high-mountain pastures) and unforgettable colorful sunsets. In summer, high mountain pastures are still dotted with yurts of semi-nomadic herdsmen who bring their livestock here to feed on succulent mountain herbs. Lakes lurk between the mountain peaks; some of them, depending on the glaciers, are seasonal. At an altitude of 3,000 meters, it is not hot even in summer. Therefore, many species of birds live here, which have adapted to inhabit high-altitude meadows and plains. We expect to see many different species, including the Mongolian plover, Eurasian and Himalayan vultures, bearded vultures, rock sparrows and snow finches, accentors, demoiselle cranes, several species of waders, and waterfowl.
Overnight in the yurts of the Bayish camp (B/Lunch/A).
Day 13: June 23, Friday. On this day we will drive from Son-Kul Lake to Chon-Kemin National Park (1,700 m, 300 km) through the Kalmak-Ashuu pass, located at an altitude of 3,446 m above sea level. The park got its name from the Chong-Kemin River, which originates from Dzhasyl-Kel Lake at the junction of the Kungei-Ala-Too and Zailiysky Alatau ridges and flows into the Chu River in the Chui Valley. The right slope of the river gorge is a natural border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We will stop along the way to admire the breathtaking mountain scenery, and identify interesting species of mountain plants with many endemics blooming at this time. We also expect to see marmot colonies along the way, as well as other mountain mammals and mountain bird species. Here we can see Himalayan rubythroat, mountain twite, common linnet, Egyptian Vulture, hill pigeons, and other bird species.
Day 14, 24 June, Saturday: Morning excursion to Chon-Kemin National Park (50 – 70 km). Chon-Kemin National Park, located in the valley of the same name, is a unique natural complex with diverse flora and fauna and many picturesque landscapes. It covers mountain belts from semi-deserts to glaciers at altitudes from 1,400 to 2,800 meters above sea level. On the territory of the park, there are 6 species of plants and 21 species of animals included in the national red book. Coniferous and mixed forests grow on the slopes of the mountains and in the valleys. We hope to see birds here, which are typical for the steppe and forest belts of the mountains. Among the inhabitants of the park, we expect to observe the tawny pipit, the masked white wagtail, the common rosefinch, the common sandpiper, the rosy starling, the Eurasian penduline tit, and 15 other species.
Return to Bishkek (130 km) in the afternoon with stops along the way to enjoy mountain scenery and birdwatching. Along the way, you can meet European Roller, Black-capped Night-heron, little grebes, terns, Spanish sparrows, and other 10 species of birds. Upon returning to Bishkek, we hope to have time to visit the oriental bazaar to buy small souvenirs, and spices and look at the variety of vegetables and fruits in the summer.
Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel (B/Lunch/A).
Day 15: June 25, Sunday. Morning transfer to the airport. Flight home. June 25 – flight back to Canada with Turkish Airlines.
For more information and/or to book this tour, please contact the travel agency directly at YYT Travel Tours: 7851 Dufferin St., Suite 100, Toronto (Thornhill), Ontario L4J 3M4 Tel: 1.877.999.4768 or 905.660.7000 – TICO Reg: #4332359
In the summer of 2019, I visited Ecuador with my daughter. Elina went there for 2 months of studies to improve her knowledge of Spanish. I joined her when she completed her practice, and we planned together to explore this amazing country. We have selected a visit to three of the four natural-geographical zones in Ecuador: Amazon (eastern part of Ecuador), mountains, and coast. We did not plan only to visit the Galapagos this time.
Ecuador or the Republic of Ecuador is one of the countries, having the richest fauna and flora with an estimated highest level of biodiversity in the world per square kilometer. This is also one of the countries with the highest rates of endemism in the world. In addition, Ecuador is a country of unique culture and a long history of human civilization. The ancient history covers a huge period and goes back almost 17 thousand years ago. Modern history – from the 19th century to the present day – can be characterized as a period of struggle for independence, the formation of statehood, and the process of evolutionary development of society. Taking into account the value and uniqueness of biological diversity for the development of the country, the new Constitution of Ecuador (2008) contains an article that legitimately recognizes the Rights of Nature or the Rights of Ecosystems.
Amazonia (Amazon Region) in Ecuador stretches from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the lowland tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, occupying an area of about 130 thousand square kilometers. It is impossible to survey in detail this vast territory even during a long visit. We planned to stay in Amazonia only for two days, knowing that we can look only at very small pieces of jungles. Our choice focused on the town of Puerto Misahualli, still surrounded by the jungle, through which the Napo River flows. Yasuni National Park is located not far from the town; it is known for its rich biological diversity. A small Napo Wildlife Center was established in this park, to save wild animals and rehabilitate them back into the wild. The area near the river is surrounded by jungles with swamps and other wetlands, in which hoatzins, one of the most amazing birds with ancient morphological traits, still occur. In the area of the park and in the tropical forests around there are settlements of local indigenous peoples – the Kichwa-Anangu tribes; they are completely dependent on forest products, gathering herbs, and hunting wild animals.
Just before my arrival, heavy rains fell, which washed out the roads and even demolished one of the bridges on the way from Quito to Amazonia. Therefore, our bus took another safer road, which was much longer. As a result, we arrived at the final point of our journey very late. But the owner of a small hostel located in the jungle met us in the central square of Puerto Misahuali in the middle of the night. Another 15 minutes took the road to the hostel, and then we went up to the lodge along a narrow path illuminated by a flashlight beam. We stayed in a lodge that was still under construction. Its owner, Scott, has kindly provided us with the only guest room with access to the common dining room. The cottage is equipped with a comfortable shower and toilet. The house is supplied with electricity, but there is no internet connection yet. A small balcony adjacent to the dining room offers beautiful views of the river and the lush green jungles around. Scott began to build the guest-houses and make landscaping in the area around his house. Two of his assistants from Puerto Misahuali completed the construction of cottages for tourists, a small restaurant, and sanitary units. Volunteers from other countries helped with the design of the buildings and the new territory. All buildings are connected by a network of branching paths with picturesque bridges over water streams and small ponds that create habitats for amphibians and aquatic invertebrates. The buildings are located in a charming landscape surrounded by tall trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Bird feeders and bananas for monkeys attract forest dwellers, who can often be seen near the cottage.
Coming out of the house in the evening, visitors find themselves surrounded by velvet darkness, over which the pearly canopy of the night sky reveals itself with unusually bright stars and other night luminaries. Darkness is occasionally cut by zigzag flying fireflies. The darkness is filled with the noises of the night – the sounds of the jungle. First of all, it is a many-voiced choir of amphibians – frogs and toads, which begin their singing at dusk. From the voices, it can be assumed that about a dozen different species inhabit the local ponds. However, it was never possible to see them during the day. All amphibians are invisible, hiding in the depth of the ponds and in plants, growing on trees. By the presence of bromeliad plants in the trees, one can expect to find here bright tree frogs. Grassy bromeliads – evergreen epiphytic plants – can often be seen on trees. Tree frogs are associated with some of them. They settle on bromeliad clumps, sometimes very high on a tree. It is not easy to see frogs on trees or in bromeliads; although during the breeding season they can descend lower on trunks and become more observable. Reproduction takes place in the wet period. Some species lay their eggs right in the wet sinuses of the leaves, where the development of tadpoles takes place, which then turns into adult frogs. However, a considerable number of species also live in terrestrial reservoirs, as can be judged by night voices. In addition to frogs and toads, cicadas, owls, nightjars, night-herons, and other nocturnal birds join the night choir. In general, it is quite difficult to distinguish individual species in the polyphony of multiple jingles, but sometimes, when a bird flies closer, its voice begins to stand out among other nocturnal sounds. Bats also appear with darkness, slipping noiselessly among the crowns of tall trees. Some individuals quickly jump out of the dark and rush over a narrow strip of light rising above the house’s balcony in the hope of grabbing a gnawing insect or spider. Surprisingly, during our stay in the cottage, we did not see or hear mosquitoes or other bloodsucking insects. It is likely that the rainy period has just begun and they did not appear yet.
A clear starry sky, a chorus of nightly voices, flashing fireflies — everything promised a clear morning the next day and we prepared to get up early to watch the dawn and the birds arriving at the feeders near the open balcony of the house. But after midnight, the first drops of rain drummed on the roof, and in the morning we were awakened by the even sound of tropical rain. It then amplified, then calmed down by the oncoming waves, but did not stop. After morning dawn, only rolling streams loomed in the window, through which blurred silhouettes of trees and a gray river appeared in an obscure fog. Some kind of revival was heard in the crowns of the trees: birds from the Icterid (Icteridae, Passeriformes) family woke up there; it was a russet-backed oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons). These birds are somewhat similar to the bright-colored American orioles; they even build similar nests, which hang from the tree branches, but rather large, resembling oblong baskets. Nests are closed at the top and with an opening entrance at the bottom. Despite the rain, the awakened oropendolas began to actively discuss the events of the new day, flying from tree to tree in pairs and small groups. Some of them have already built their dangling nests, and sometimes they flew inside to fix the inner trim. Others still constructed these nests and brought thin and long blades of grass to weave them into the walls of the nest. When the rain slightly calmed out, the yellow-rumped cacique (Cacicus cela) appeared (it is also a bird from the Icterid family). As soon as the rain subsided a little, both species began to rally out their relations, opening wings and showing bright spots on the tail and wings. Caciques and oropendolas are widespread in the Amazon region. They occupy in the jungle tropical forests the upper layer of tall trees. Both species show themselves by their noisy, loud voices and contrasting colors. Caciques have also very bright clear-blue eyes, contrasting with the overall black color of the plumage. In addition to these numerous two species, some other interesting birds flew up to the lodge, but we could not identify them behind a dense wall of rain. Several flocks of parrots flew over, small passerines emerged from the wet foliage and immediately hid again from time to time. The hummingbirds were not seen at all, apparently, they sat huddled in the thick shrubs and waited for better weather. Meanwhile, when Elina woke up, she made tea and was preparing to pour it into cups, when she suddenly found in one of them a large shaggy spider, somewhat resembling a tarantula. It is likely that the spider got into the mug to escape the rain. The spider did not want to leave its shelter, so we pick it out from the mug with a small sprig. Once on the balcony, the spider quickly ran down, hiding from the rain under the veranda.
In the late morning, the rain ended, but the heavy drops were still falling down from the wet trees. In the debris, located near the house, we heard a noise and spotted small monkeys with white faces jumping from branch to branch. The brown-mantled tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis) came to check out the banana feeders. The monkeys were very careful, immediately soared up the tree trunk and hid among the high branches after insignificant stirring. However, they carefully examined all the trees in the area around the cottage, moving in small groups from tree to tree.
After observations of monkeys, we went to Puerto Mishahualli to meet with local guide Carlos and visit interesting areas around. The bright sun after the rain woke up nature: sparkling hummingbirds and small sparrow birds fluttered over the flowering shrubs; scavengers and other predators began circling in the sky. We met with Carlos near the central square, where other tourists were already waiting for a trip down the river. The monkeys – White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons) – were also nearby, occasionally descending from the trees and exploring the area in search of edible food remains.
Carlos enthusiastically began to tell us about birds and other animals living in jungles around the town. From time to time he interrupted his story that to show us a bird flying nearby. After several minutes of conversation, he offered us several possible trips, and he was ready to go to the jungle immediately! Frankly, leaving the lodge, we did not plan to go somewhere, as we intended to explore the surroundings and walk along the paths around the town, where there were really many attractive shrubs with birds and insects flying everywhere. However, the single magic word “hoatzin” affected us like real live bait on fish. Carlos said that the hoatzins live nearby Puerto Misahuali in the marshes, where people can always see them…
In my memory immediately appeared the pages from the ornithology textbooks and the description of this amazing bird. The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) (the name “Hoatzin” came from the Aztec language) is the only species from the Opisthocomidae family and Opisthocomiformes order. It is the only bird on the Earth whose chicks have free fingers with claws on the wings. Adult birds lose these claws. This bird shows that an evolutionary connection between birds and reptiles is possible. Modern scientists suggest that the claws on the wings of the Hoatzins can be an adaptation to life in the dense tropical forest because other morphological traits do not indicate similarity with reptiles and are typical for all bird species. However, genetic studies conducted in 2015 showed that these birds appeared about 64 million years ago, in the time when the last dinosaurs became extinct. And, who knows, it is possible that Hoatzins or their ancestors, in their origin, are connected somehow with feathered dinosaurs. Hoatzins feed on vegetarian food, mostly leaves, but they can also eat flowers and fruits. This is the only species among birds, which is distinguished from others by the fact that the hoatzins digest plant food in a large crop, where bacterial fermentation of plants occurs in the same way as in the rumen of ruminant animals. This feature makes the Hoatzin “dung or stinky birds”, which have an unpleasant smell. The meat of the hoatzins also has a sharp, rotten smell, due to which birds are not eaten even by people from local tribes. Perhaps, this fact served to the preservation of these large birds — the size of a medium goose — in equatorial forests. Their habitats – riverside shrubs and swamps – also remain relatively intact, protecting this amazing endemic of the equatorial forests of the Amazonia. Therefore, to be in a place where you can see the hoatzin and not take this opportunity was completely unacceptable for me as an ornithologist and passionate birdwatcher. Elina also was interested to see the Amazon forest and its dwellers. At the same time, Carlos continued to list all new and new species to see, as well as interesting places to visit, more and more winning over us to him with his avid enthusiasm. Visiting places that Carlos called was interesting for both of us, so we almost immediately decided that we would use the offers. After short debates, we selected the boat excursion on the same day and jungle hike to a small forest reserve the next morning.
After a half-hour, we were on a small motorized vessel, well-equipped to serve tourists, driving along the Napo River. Carlos prepared rubber boots for both of us to hike through the jungle. Tropical landscapes with amazing trees pass by, but practically everywhere along the river, residential houses are built or are in the process of construction, occupied either by the local villagers or equipped as cottages to accommodate tourists. In some places on the river, we could see local artisan companies or families of gold diggers who washed the sand. The Napo River is known for its gold-bearing outlets, therefore many local inhabitants associate their income with gold mining. Stealthy white-winged swallows (Tachycineta albiventer) sailed by over the river very low, almost touching the water. A couple of other swallow species also flew near the water, but not so low. Not many birds were seen in this late morning time. We spotted two species of kingfishers – the Ringed (Megaceryle torquata) and the Amazon (Chloroceryle amazona), but both escaped so rapidly that we could not see their bright plumage in the details. The snowy egret fluttered from the shore; there in the shade – under the branches of the coastal plants, we could see its hidden nestling chick, which had already begun to fledge, but still kept the juvenile greyish plumage. We left Puerto Misahualli around 11 o’clock in the morning, for birds it was already the time of a day’s rest, so it was not surprising that we saw so little a number of birds along the river. We stopped on a sandy spit, from which the footpath went into the jungle. “Hoatzins …” – explained Carlos, we shook our heads knowingly and followed him under the canopy of the dark forest. Carlos slightly cleared the narrow path with his machete in places where lush vegetation locked the passage after the recent rains, but it was noticeable that the path was used and the road did not seem hard. The rainforest greeted us with relative silence, darkness and dampness. The silence of jungles was interrupted by the chanting of cicadas and the dialogues of ubiquitous caciques and oropendolas in the crowns of tall trees. Among other birds, Carlos heard only the great tinamou (Tinamus major), a secretive species, hidden in the darkness of wet rainforest. Two species of woodpeckers and a barbet, encountered on our way, flew away immediately, as soon as we approached closer.
The tropical equatorial forest is interesting not only by observation of birds. Many trees here are perfectly adapted to the conditions of life in a dark and humid environment. Probably, it should be said, first of all, about the walking palm or the cashapona (Socratea exorrhiza), – the unique tree, which has unusual stilt roots. According to local legends, these roots allow the palm to move from the place of growth to the side if something hinders the growth. But this statement was questioned by scientists, whose assumptions boil down to the fact that stilt roots make this palm more stable, as it grows to a height of 25 meters with a trunk diameter of only 12-16 centimeters. The second assumption is quite acceptable, given the swampy nature of the terrain and the absence of solid soil in the places where these palm trees grow.
Another interesting tree we saw on our way was the wild cacao or cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). The word “cocoa” itself is also of Aztec origin. The cocoa tree is now widely distributed and cultivated outside of South America. But this species originated in the subequatorial regions of South America, most likely in the plains of the Amazonia, where this species still grows in the jungle in natural conditions. We saw later cocoa trees in mountainous areas also, but they were planted there, mainly for decorative purposes. The main cocoa plantations are located in humid plains, near Amazonia. Bromeliads were the most diverse among other plants. They grow in the tropical forest of the Amazonia as independent shrubs, as well as epiphytes on tree trunks or grassy plants inhabiting tree trunks and settling sometimes very high in treetops. Several species of orchids also were spotted, but in this season they had already finished flowering.
Among insects in the tropical forest, termites, ants, and cicadas are the most numerous. Termites and ants in the moist and swampy jungle arrange their homes in the trees. Termite houses do not look like massive hills, and resemble, most likely, wasp nests, although many of them have quite impressive dimensions. We were not focused on insect-watching but spotted several interesting species such as ants – leafcutters, giant ants, walking sticks, and bright dragonflies. Carlos warned us to be more careful with giant ants, as the bite of this species is painful and can lead to unpleasant consequences. Also in the dark wet forest, we saw several different types of mushrooms that were visible on the trunks of dead and dying trees.
Imperceptibly, the path led us to a swamp inhabited by hoatzins. A pair of birds sat close to the path. Hoatzins were in no hurry to fly away, assessing the degree of danger, which can be associated with our visit. Then, reluctantly, they flew far away that to hide on another side of the wetland. But after a while, this pair came back and settled down to rest in the middle of the swamp, so that we could observe them from a safe (for the hoatzins) distance. In total, in this swamp, according to Carlos, no less than 12-15 birds can be found. We could believe this because saw several more birds flying at a distance. Besides, we noticed on trees within this wetland several more parrots, a ringed kingfisher, a lesser kiskadee (Philohydor lictor) from Passerines as well as a greater ani (Crotophaga major) from the Cuckoo family. After watching the hoatzins, we went back to the river and continued our journey.
Further our way lay down the Napo River to the Wildlife Center of the same name. This center adjoins Yasuni National Park. We walked up the path, distorted by the night rain, to the visitor center, where we met another group, who had just returned from the excursion, and our guide descended towards us. It turned out that our guide, a student from the Netherlands, had practices in the center, studying the behavior of monkeys and, like many other students, volunteering in the nursery, helping to feed and care for animals, and also conduct excursions for visitors. The center was established for the rehabilitation and release of animals affected by contact with people back to the natural environment. Wounded and confiscated animals taken from poachers and smugglers are brought there. The staff of the center provides veterinarian help and food to the animals. When there is a chance to return animals back to the wilderness, they are placed in rehabilitation enclosures, from where they can be released into the Yasuni National Park after recovery. Those that injuries do not allow them to survive in the wild remain in the nursery for their life. Some of the released mammals and birds continue to keep close to the center, regularly visiting their feeding places. Wild animals, especially monkeys and many bird species, also regularly visit the center, as the nursery is located near the national park with a rich species diversity, and the animals living around us have the chance to get food in the center.
Visiting rules oblige all visitors to respect animal rights. Visitors to the nursery go along certain paths; if they meet on these paths the local inhabitants – monkeys, turtles, crocodiles, snakes, then the first rule prescribes to give way to animals, and only then to pass to people. Our guide warned that among the recently released inhabitants of the nursery there are monkeys who do not tolerate lenses and cameras turned at them. As a rule, these monkeys had a negative experience with people. Local tribes hunt them for food. The lens turned at the monkey may be considered as the last weapon, and there were already cases when angry monkeys snatched cameras from visitors and broke them. The second rule is to observe animals, as if they were in their natural environment, without attracting them closer or communicating with them. This rule is consistent with the practice of releasing animals back into the wilderness.
Several species of monkeys, tapirs, peccary, jaguars, ocelots, turtles, crocodiles, macaw and amazon parrots, toucans have been rehabilitated in the Wildlife Center. The parrots are permanently brought to the Center after they are confiscated from the bird traders, so the Center’s capacity is not always enough to accommodate all the incoming birds. But the saddest thing is that some birds, when after rehabilitation they are released in the wild, are caught by people again and sold on the same market. Therefore, one of the tasks of the Center’s staff and volunteers is to develop birds’ fear of people, as well as working with people – communicating with local tribes to develop sustainable ways to use natural resources and wild animals.
Humboldt’s squirrel monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis) groups often visit the Center looking for food given to animals in rehabilitation facilities. We spotted several groups of this monkey during our visit. We did not see many animals from the Center, as they slept (tapir, jaguar, and ocelot), but we were quite pleased with what we saw and heard. We looked and listened to interesting stories about the behavior of monkeys. Our guide showed us a golden-mantled tamarin (Saguinus tripartitus), a black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps), and a brown-woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha). We felt that she (our guide) likes her subject of study and is passionate about the conservation of tropical animals. The local population – the Kichwa tribes – hunt on woolly monkeys; therefore, these monkeys consider people as a dangerous enemy. Wounded monkeys, who have already had the experience of negative interaction with people, most often got into the Center. In the same way, many other animals enter the nursery. Therefore, the staff of the national park and Wildlife Center works with local tribes, helping them solve the problems of poverty, survival, and development in modern times, and reduce the pressure on the wild natural environment, providing opportunities to work in the park. Local people from tribes also can sell their crafts such as hand-made dishes, baskets, and other souvenirs to tourists in the villages and the visitor center. Some money from sales goes to their producers, and some replenish the budget of the Wildlife Center. Prices in a small souvenir shop are established for foreign tourists, so the local tribes are quite satisfied with the income, which they can get from their production. However, the Wildlife Center does not have enough money and donations for all operations relevant to animal recovery and release, and the financial support to the Center is always welcomed. Part of the funds received from donors and eco-tourism goes to the education of youth from local communities. Boys and girls from local tribes get a chance not only to learn how to write and read, but also study foreign languages and get training to become guides in the ecotourism industry.
The next day, early morning we were already standing on the bridge, watching the amazing lilac light above the river, shrouded in clouds of fog, and the scarlet dawn over a thousand-year tree near the road. We had to go to the small Reserva El Para, located relatively close to the lodge. Carlos promised us to show a clay ravine where parrots are going to replenish mineral reserves. We arrived at the entrance to the reserve, where a local ranger, armed with a machete for a hike, was waiting for us. Together we went along a narrow path along a small stream. The path was overgrown or collapsed due to recent rains in some places. We were moved slowly, as the path was constantly going up and the road was blocked by fallen trees, landslides that fell on the slopes, or just something else. Flocks of parrots rushed high in the sky, both in the direction we went and back. The forest, surprisingly, was silent, even cicadas did not sing. We did not spot any mammals during our way. Only flycatchers and woodpeckers came across the road, but they were all far away and it was impossible to see them well. When we reached the site two hours later, it turned out that the ravine “swam” and collapsed slightly after the rains. The parrot gathering place was empty; the flocks of parrots flew over us, settling in tall trees around, but none of them was going down. After watching the parrots in the distance, we realized that we could not expect more and quietly went back down selecting another smoother path. The dark damp rainforest perfectly kept its secrets. In one of the places we saw signs of vital activity of the sloth, but the animal itself was well hidden somewhere in the crowns of tall trees. From time to time we stopped to look at interesting plants or mushrooms, insects or spiders. The flocks of parrots continued to fly high in the sky from the place, which we just visited. Several birds of prey circled in the sky. In general, the way back took about an hour. We only saw birds near the entrance to the reserve and in open areas along the road on the way back to Puerto Misahualli. The most abundant along the road was a species of birds from the cuckoo family — the Smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani). These birds, like many other American cuckoos, build their own nests and raise chicks themselves. Ani is a very communicable bird; they, instead of scattering in different directions, all flew in one bush, from where they curiously watched people. Many birds (ani) gathered in bushes around pastures, where cows were grazing. This is not surprising, since ani prefers to eat insect larva, and it is likely that large hoofed animals provide them with good food. Flocks of ani uncounted from 3 to 12 birds together.
Carlos drove us back to the town, and then we decided to walk from there to our lodge that to watch the birds along the road and we were not mistaken in our expectations! During the hour’s walk, we saw and could take some pictures of many interesting species than during our few hours of wandering in a dark tropical forest. Several species of hummingbirds, doves, flycatchers, caciques and oropendola, swallows and swifts, ani, and many other tropical species inhabit open landscapes. The birds did not hide there but continued to do their usual activities, just precautionary flying away from the strangers… When we left Puerto Misahualli later that day, we understood that 2-day stay was too short to view the magnificent biodiversity of the Amazonia. Among the places that must be visited is the Yasuni National Park, which is adjacent to a Napo Wildlife Center.
The Dumoine River is one of the nine main tributaries flowing into the Ottawa River, and the last remaining undammed river in southern Quebec. The Dumoine River flows south from Dumoine Lake into the Ottawa River, about 200 km upstream from Canada’s National Capital, Ottawa. It has a basin area of 5,380 km2 and is 129 km long. For most of its length, it acts as the boundary between the municipalities of Temiscamingue and Pontiac. It also happens to be home to the largest area of unfragmented boreal forest in southern Quebec. Not only is Dumoine River located close to the Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, but it serves as a very significant wildlife corridor linking La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve to Algonquin Park, further linking to Adirondacks in New York state, and then to the Appalachian Mountains.
Long ago, Wiskedjak, a prominent character of the Algonquian legends, came across Kiwegoam or the “turn-back lake” (Dumoine Lake). As he walked to the opposite side, he found a round, high, mountain that looked like a beaver lodge. Wiskedjak wanted to hunt the giant beaver that lived in this lodge, and decided to drain Kiwegoam (Dumoine Lake). While the water was draining, Wiskedjak took a nap. When he woke up, he couldn’t find the beaver, and thought that the beaver had followed the draining water and left the lake, so he followed the beaver. He went past the Coulonge River, past the Pembroke Lakes, and arrived at Calumet Chutes, but he found nothing. He turned around and began to follow his own tracks, thinking they belonged to the beaver. Finally, after several attempts Wiskedjak gave up. Nonetheless, his efforts made a significant contribution! His draining of the Dumoine Lake created the Dumoine River, while his trail established the Calumet portage, or simply the Wiskedjak tracks (Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, 2005; Schaber, 2015). This is an ancient legend, but confident beavers still inhabit the riverbanks…
Since that time and until now, the Dumoine River area is a great piece of intact nature still free of invasive species, and full of wilderness. Many natural habitats have been kept along the river providing healthy environment for settlements of boreal inhabitants. Fresh bear and moose footprints can be found in many places as well as animals themselves. Mostly wild animals are very cautious and try to avoid direct meetings with people. But they leave the evidence of their presence on the roads and in the woods. Other animals even pose for observers, because they are not scared by “bipedal aliens”, disturbing their realm.
The boreal forest is amazingly rich with many bird species, representing good northern species diversity. The birds are the most abundant and diverse group of vertebrate animals around Dumoine River, including many boreal specialists that inhabit the woods and make regular seasonal migrations. Some species are very abundant, others are more secretive and hidden in the woods and in the foliage of deciduous trees. It is hard to spot them in the crowns, but they can be recognized by calls and songs.
Morning light is something special on the river and time spent in the wilderness is very valuable for inspiration, and motivation of curious and artistic minds, as well as for enjoyment of life in all its fullness. The life is empty without such moments. Dumoine River still maintains wonderful landscapes, untouched wild nature and pieces of real wilderness that probably do not produce measurable goods and services, but fill the human sense by belonging to all living creatures and responsibility for the future of this virgin life. It is important to keep such “sacred” places for other people and future generations, because there is more to life than the fast paced urbanized society many of us live in.
Only small portion of photos taken by author was used for illustration. The Dumoine area always surprises the curious minds by unexpected observations of wildlife dynamics and picturesque sceneries.
The majestic mountain systems of Dzhungar, Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai, ridges covered with dazzling white glaciers, and emerald meadows of mountain valleys with sapphire eyes of lakes, seething streams and waterfalls of fast mountain rivers carrying their crystal waters into deserts, languishing from the heat. All this diversity of ecological landscapes and climatic zones is the “Mecca” for tourists, scientists and travelers to Central Asia!
Such a variety of natural landscapes creates unique conditions for the numerous representatives of the animal world, including many insects, the vivid representatives of which are butterflies – natural flowers of nature. More than 300 species of diurnal butterflies live in various ecosystems of Central Asia. Attracting magnets of this region are species such as swallowtails Parnassius loxias, an inhabitant of the rocky canyons of the Central Tien Shan in the Sary-Jaz river basin, and Parnassius autocrator, which is the dream of any lepidopterologist, the inhabitant of screes among the rocky massifs of the Pamirs. The habitats of these two species of Apollo butterflies are very local and almost inaccessible. In 2006, the entomological world was shocked by a sensation. In the unexplored places of the Inner Tien Shan, in the system of the Moldo-Too ridge, a new species of Apollo was described by the Russian entomologist S. Churkin. It was named as Parnassius davydovi. This is the first such discovery in a hundred years.
In addition to the 18 species of Apollos, occurring in this region, 14 species of “sulphurs” butterflies (Colias) are of particular interest to travelers – entomologists. Not one region of the world has such a diversity of species of this genus. Entomologists can find in the region the carrot-scarlet Colias draconis, an inhabitant of the steppe slopes of the Western Tien Shan, and the scarlet fiery red Colias regia, the endemic of Tien Shan. Other species include unusually painted in the ash-brown tones Colias christophi helialaica is an inhabitant of the Alai mountain range, persistently closed by fogs and the legendary, very rare Colias erschoffi, an inhabitant of the harsh middle mountains of the Dzhungar Range.
The fiery red blue-butterfly from Lycaenidae family – Thersamonia solskyi attila – inhabits the mountain systems of eastern Alai. Endemic blues Plebejus lycaenidae with brilliant eyes on the lower wings inhabit buckthorn bushes along the banks of mountain rivers. Numerous species from satyr family – Hyponephele, Pseudochazara, Chazara, Karanasa and other satyrs inhabit dry foothills and high mountain steppes of various ranges.
All this sparkling and shimmering in the sun variety of diurnal butterflies cannot leave indifferent ecological tourists, entomologists and respectable scientists who are happy to plunge into the world of butterflies, during visits of Central Asia.
And when the daytime colors fade, the more modestly colored representatives of the night butterflies begin to dance near the daylight lamps. These are the nimble owlet moths (Noctuidae) with interesting genus Cuculia and swift hawk-moths with a rare species of Rhethera komarovi, and of course the peacock-eyed Neoris that amazes everyone with their large eye-spots on wings. Brightly colored tiger-moths inhabit high mountain valleys. Almost all species of this group of butterflies are endemic to Central Asia, including such genera and species as Oroncus, Acerbia, Arctia ruckbeili and numerous representatives of Palearctia genus.
This natural variety of mountain landscapes is inhabited by 318 breeding bird species. Besides, another 108 bird species appear in the region during migrations and wintering. Many birdwatchers have been attracted to the region by opportunity to observe such species as Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), an inhabitant of pebble floodplains of high mountain rivers. Other species of particular interest are a large Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus), with a wingspan of about three meters, which makes nests in niches of inaccessible cliffs, and tiny White-browed Tit-warbler (Leptopoecile sophiae) with sapphire plumage, a small inhabitant of juniper dwarf. During trip to mountain valleys tourists will have chance to spot the cautious Pallas’s Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus), nesting in rocky deserts along the shores of the beautiful Issyk-Kul Lake, a rare high-altitude bird Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus pamirensis), alpine White-winged Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis alpicola), flashing when flying with snow-white wings, and the legendary Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus turcestanicus), with an amazing flute song, competing with the roar of the waterfall.
Of the 86 species of mammals that live in Kyrgyzstan, the most famous is the fabulous Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia), a resident of rocky gorges. Snow leopards prey on unsurpassed mountain climbers – Ibexes (Capra sibirica), with horns reaches one-and-a-half-meter size. The Marco Polo Argali (Ovis ammon polii) also occur in high mountain valleys, whose horns are also not small. In older males, the length of the horn can reach 165 centimeters. A very beautiful and rare Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul) also lives on the alpine wet meadows (“syrts”).
Ottawa is located on the border between Canadian Shield and Mixwood Plains ecological zones. This location defines its relatively rich biodiversity. Species occurring in the northern Canadian (Ontario) Shield Ecozone and Southern Mixwood Plain Ecozone can be found here, often in the same habitats.
Moose (Alces alces) and White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Ottawa Valley
Ontario Shield Ecozone is associated with Precambrian Shield, which occupies approximately 60% of Ontario stretching from the Hudson Bay Lowlands to the Thousand Islands area on the south. The shield is represented by the limestone bedrock which forms specific landscapes with rock outcrops and alvars grown by coniferous forests with Black Spruce (Picea mariana), Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) and Tamarack (Larix laricina) on the north and mixed and deciduous forests with Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and North-American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) on south. All these forest types can be found in Ottawa Valley and in the Ottawa Greenbelt. The area is abundant with lakes and rivers; many wetlands are shaped in the result of beaver activity. Although there are some extracting industries in this area, such as mining, logging and hydro-energy, it is relatively intact and still keeps the core diversity typical for the boreal forest and taiga biomes.
Mixwood Plains Ecozone occupies only 10% from the total area of Ontario, but it has the densest human population and the area is heavily developed in the result of human activity. It is located on the limestone to south of the Precambrian Shield and bounded by three large Great lakes – Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. The area, especially in its northern and eastern parts, is mostly flat. Many flat plains are developed for agricultural production, creating conditions for the movement of some southern prairies and grassland species to the north. Two major rivers – Ottawa and St. Lawrence – form their watersheds in this area with diverse wetlands and rich species diversity. Vegetation is very diverse and presented both coniferous and deciduous trees. Carolinian forests are grown on the south of this zone; tolerant hardwood forests are represented mostly on the north and in the areas around Ottawa. The most typical trees of this Ecozone growing around Ottawa are coniferous such as a White (Pinus strobus) and Red pines (Pinus resinosa), Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virgniana), Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), and deciduous such as a Sugar (Acer saccharum), Red (A. rubrum), Striped (A. pensylvanicum) and Silver (A. saccharinum) maples, Red (Quercus rubra) and White (Q. alba) oaks, American (Ulmus americana) and Slippery (U. rubra) elms, Yellow (Betula alleghaniensis) and Paper birches, Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Butternut (J. cinerea), Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Balsam Poplar (P. balsamifera), Basswood (Tilia americana), Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis) and others. In spite of development and expanding of urbanization, only about 1.5% of this ecozone is protected. In this eco-zone, many areas, unique landscapes and habitats need urgent protection, because they become isolated in human-created “matrix” and fragmented by growing road network. Road corridors create conditions for dispersal of exotic alien species, which replace native species and form the new environment.
Animal species diversity in Ottawa valley is relatively high, because species belonging to both – Canada Shield and Mixwood Plain ecozones – occur in this area. In spite of human activity, many species well adapted and live in close human neighborhood. Some of them sometimes create tiny problems for local gardeners. Some species are well preserved since the time when this area was not developed. Another species has been dispersed relatively recently. For example, a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) spread to the north, because evident climate change and created favorable conditions for this species in open mixed woods altering with farms, which provide rich harvest of herbs. Other species, such as an American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), opposite, moves to the south and compete with an Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) for habitats in the towns and greenbelts. Bird feeders placed along trails ensure feeding for both squirrel species; therefore, their populations in the cities and around cities are flourishing. Groundhogs (Marmota monax), Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) and raccoons (Procyon lotor), Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) and other mammals in some degree benefited from urban development and established successful urban populations, which survive in suburban areas and in the city parks. However, roads provide limiting barriers for many mammal species and their dispersal to the new areas is often impossible. Bird species in Ottawa Valley are diverse and abundant; but their composition usually change with seasons. Diverse reptile and amphibian species are also well represented. The diversity of invertebrates and especially insects is large in the southern regions; In the northern regions, several species of bloodsucking insects can be very numerous in the summer, creating certain inconveniences for visiting these places.
The Ottawa region is attractive for any naturalist, who interested to know more about wildlife in Canada. Any season here is fascinating. However, perhaps, late spring – the end of May and the beginning of June, as well as autumn – the end of September – the beginning of October – are most attractive to naturalists, since it is in these seasons that one can observe a greater number of species, flowering “festivals” and bright autumn colors.
These days the parking places to most trails in Greenbelt of Ottawa are closed due to pandemics of COVID-19. But we hope that with summer time the normal life will return and all interested people may enjoy the beauty of nature in the National Capital Region…
The unique Ottawa Greenbelt creates specific atmosphere in the Canadian capital and makes it one of the greenest, “environmentally friendly” and attractive city in North America. The Greenbelt idea was proposed by Jacques Gréber (1882-1962), architect specialized in landscape architecture and urban design, as a part of his master plan for Ottawa in 1950. The land for greenbelt was partly expropriated, partly bought and partly donated by owners of farms located in this area. At present, the Greenbelt covers about 204 square kilometers of lands within the present boundaries of Ottawa from Shirley’s Bay in the west to Green’s Creek in the east. Most part of the area (149 square kilometers) is owned and managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC); other land belongs to federal government. The purpose of greenbelt establishment directed to prevent urban sprawl and provide open space for development of farms, natural areas and government campuses. Greenbelt surrounded Ottawa in the time of its establishment; however, after joining of several urban and rural municipalities and formation of city Ottawa in its current boundaries the greenbelt “moved” inside of the city, where it forms the green arc with numerous recreation areas. It is considered currently as one of the largest urban parks in the world. And, who knows? Perhaps, it serves as a model for future landscape architecture of the environmentally friendly urban settlements under scenarios of adaptive management development of human societies, where highly industrialized civilization neighboring with green spaces and caring about wildlife…
More information about Greenbelt and places of interest you can find here
At present, the greenbelt area comprised by forests, wetlands and traditional fields, provides immense opportunities for recreational activity within a city. This area is used for farming, forestry, research and conservation. Successful location of greenbelt creates the “green” islands for the dispersal of wildlife, providing the connecting corridors for large number of wildlife species during migration and ensuring normal population dynamics. This belt supports also northern bird visitors during wintering, which can stay near feeders established by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club, other environmental groups and citizens. The greenbelt provides the presence of breeding sites not only for “edge” species, but also for typical representatives of many forest and wetland ecosystems from different ecozones.
Even now, with human population of Ottawa about 900,000 people, it is difficult to find an empty trail in the greenbelt in any time of the year. With projected increase of population and its doubling after 30-40 years, the role of greenbelt for recreation will grow dramatically. Several new centers growing in Kanata, Barrhaven, Orleans, Stittsville are located beyond the greenbelt boundaries. Their infrastructure and especially new roads present the new barriers and increase isolation of wildlife habitats in the greenbelt. The further careful planning and development are very important that to keep the current level of wildlife diversity and abundance in the urban conditions. Ottawa can pioneer developing and designing the urban park concept in North America as well as in the world. Current projects of the City of Ottawa, National Capital Commission and Nature Conservancy Canada on evaluation and analysis of the links between core natural areas provides the real base for the development of conservation plan, and, probably, for the development of urban park in Ottawa. It is difficult to predict what we can expect after next 50 years and what kind of wildlife will survive in the urban conditions. However, it is clear that the presence of greenbelt will secure the adaptation of species to the changing environmental conditions in the process of development. The greenbelt represents the real natural and historical heritage, important not only for city, but for whole country and many Ottawa visitors. It is important to remain this land without development. Its current role as a green space will provide much more benefits to the city and citizens at present and in the future than any modern constructions, new streets and buildings. Ecological integrity is more significant that visible current economic benefits. So, we just need to think beyond the boundaries of our current believing, standards and imagination.
What you can do in the Ottawa Greenbelt?
The area of Greenbelt is designed for all kinds of recreation activities. Each designated place has the special facilities, such as comfortable outhouses, maintained trails with wooden bridges and passages in the marshy areas. Guiding maps on wooden boards at the entrance provide information about the trails, as well as about the permitted activities. If in this place you cannot walk with the dog, then a corresponding sign will be put (crossed dog sign, etc.). In places where the trails diverge, signs are usually put showing the number of the trail and where it goes. Each path has its own name. Read them carefully to avoid getting lost. Signs also show directions to parking lots and sometimes even distance to them. In each particular place of the Greenbelt there are special skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and cycling routes. Some areas are open to visitors with dogs. Some areas are open for visitors with dogs.
All sites are attractive for nature watch in different seasons and many naturalists and photographers visit sites during a year that to look for the “chronicles of nature”, inspire by beauty of changing environment or just rest observing natural things.
What is not allowed in Ottawa Greenbelt?
Any activity that can be harmful for wildlife and can damage the integrity of the Greenbelt is not allowed. It is not allowed to cut a forest, leave garbage and wastes, camp in the greenbelt, start fire, collect flowers, plants and firewood, pick up mushrooms, catch insects, hunt or capture wild animals, damage trail infrastructure, disturb animals, destroy their habitats, talk loudly or shout in the animal breeding places.
What is the best season for visit of Ottawa Greenbelt?
There is no “best” season in the Greenbelt. This area is open for recreation activity in any season and weather. However, some areas in Greenbelt are more attractive in winter. Other areas gather more visitors in spring or summer. The autumn is adorable everywhere.
 About the National Capital Greenbelt. The National Capital Commission. 2013.04.26