11 June 2009

Antpitta Lurks in the Crater…(Pululahua, NW Ecuador): June 3, 2009

Take a browse through the plates of all the antpittas within the excellent Ecuador bird guide by Robert Ridgley and Paul Greenfield, and you will NOT find Rusty-breasted Antpitta. And yet that is exactly what we were going after today (among other tricky targets), on Brian’s “Hit List from Hell” of birds. The reason it is not in the field guide is simple: when they published this landmark guide to all Ecuadorian birds it was not known to occur in this tiny Andean country. It was not found in Ecuador until 2003, when two separate small populations were found of this little rusty antpitta: Paul Coopmans discovered a small population lurking in the bamboo-cloaked slopes near Utuana in the southern province of Loja, and Nick Athanas independently found a population in the north of the country, at Pululahua in Pichincha province, (that is also the province of the capital, Quito). It is this latter site that we were visiting for this scarce Ecuadorian antpitta on this day. Since its discovery it has been found to be locally common among thick swathes of bamboo that can make it a tricky customer to see. However, before we birded the bamboo-choked sides of the Pululahua volcanic crater, we dropped in to an area of dry scrub and cacti right on the equator at Calacali located within the dry inter-andean valley that separates the western and southern chains of the Andes. Here we searched for some dry country species, finding a couple of them – firstly a non-breeding plumage male Purple-collared Woodstar (a seasonal visitor to the area), and an austral migrant that breeds in southern in South American, and a very small number of which spend the austral winter here in Ecuador – White-throated Hawk, that tortured me by gliding extremely low over our heads, as I realized I had left my Canon camera on the car seat and missed a sweet moment that I could have nailed a photo of this rare raptor.

Onto Pululahua, as we drove down into the volcanic crater swathes of bamboo could be seen cloaking the steep sides to the crater, all good habitat for this tiny Andean antpitta. However, we hurried on to a known spot where a narrow trail cuts right into the bamboo giving us some great views into some of the few openings within these dense stands of bamboo. Just what was required for getting a glimpse of this grallaricula antpitta, a close relative of “Shakira”, the Ochre-breasted Antpitta that we had seen and photographed earlier on the tour. Several bursts of my recording had little effect, being met with nothing but stony silence from the wall of bamboo in front of us. I tried and tried, and had to choose instead to hit another spot lower down, as this territory appeared vacant. It was only when we were just about to alight our vehicle that a lazy and distinctive “twa-twa-twa-twa-twa” emanated from the bamboo. The Rusty-breasted Antpitta (see photos) had decided, (if a little belatedly), to play after all. We made our back up the track, popped the “tape” again, and it jumped up right out in front of us on an exposed branch for us all to ogle, a bird not even in the field guide. Fantastic.

No comments: