Today many of the team focused on the threatened queñua (Polylepis spp) forests of the Puina valley. The highest forests of the Andes reaching above 4,350 meters above sea level, across much of the Andes they are threatened by fire, as well as use of fuel for cooking. Madidi and neighboring protected area, Apolobamba protect some of the last significant patches that harbor unique species of plants and animals including at least two habitat endemic bird species that have both been registered by the team this week: the royal cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae) and the ash-breasted tit-tyrant (Anairetes alpinus).
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Our camp in Puina is called Campamento Torrentero because of the presence of torrent ducks (Merganetta armata) that ride the rapids of the Puina River through town. At this time of year these bravest of ducks have ducklings, and, at times with our hearts in our mouths, the team has been treated to the sight of the beautiful adult pair teaching their young to swim and ride the rapids. In addition to these photos we hope to share some video of this behavior with you soon and we are sure you will all agree these are without doubt the coolest and most spectacular ducks in the world!
For the last three days the ichthyologist team, Guido Miranda, Erick Loayza and Jorge Molina has been looking for signs of any native fish species, as well as sampling for aquatic invertebrate diversity in the rivers, streams and lakes of the Puina valley. Beyond introduced trout they had had no luck until they saw an Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) a powerful symbol in Andean cultures who seemed to approve their choice of lake at more than 4500 meters above sea level. The lake revealed an unidentified species of Orestias fish. These small fish are native to the western Andes and should be absent here. Conversations with Puina elders revealed they too were introduced several years ago and are thriving – to our knowledge the first documented case of this genus taking hold on the eastern side of the Andes.