05 June 2009

Feeding Frenzy at Paz’s Fruit Feeders…(Paz de las Aves, NW Ecuador): May 30, 2009

Deep in the cloudforests of the Andes of northwest Ecuador, there is a special place where one dedicated farmer, Angel Paz, and his family have worked tirelessly to create a very special reserve for birds. Having abandoned the idea of more orchards in favour for the birds he has developed techniques for habituating rare and difficult to see species, most notably antpittas, which has got him the nickname of the “Antpitta Whisperer”, and his place the nickname of the “Antpitta Farm”. His most prized assets, the antpittas, however are not the only things on offer there. This is a truly extraordinary private bird reserve in the Andes that usually springs a surprise or two.

Today’s treat was some of the best feeder action I have seen in Ecuador. Angel and his brother Rodrigo met us shortly after the sun had risen over the Andes, we donned our “wellies” (rubber boots) and headed down the steep trail into the heart of the cloudforest. Audacious Andean cock-of-the-rocks could be heard in the throws of their noisy early morning display antics in the valley below, although we headed straight off to the “Fruit Blind”. Once there the brothers Paz loaded up bowls with grapes and carefully laid out delicately sliced pieces of banana on bird tables a little way out from our position in the blind, overlooking a patch of moist bromeliad-laden forest. On our arrival a mob of hungry looking Sickle-winged Guans greedily patrolled the area, ready for the first fruit offerings, although it was only when the full spread had been laid out that the birds really got going, guan numbers swelling to at least 8 birds and then other species dropped in left right and centre in a flurry of intense feeding activity. In addition to the clumsy guans wolfing down grapes, a mixed group of flashy Tanagers descended from the treetops, as a group of 6 Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers mixed in with their commoner brethren, the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers to get in on the banana action at the table. Not to be outdone, a greedy troop of Toucanets also dropped in with at least 4 different Crimson-rumped Toucanets (see photo) crashing into the feeding area. Less dramatic was a subdued female Red-headed Barbet that popped up right outside the blind. However, arguably the star billing came from a tally of three Toucan Barbets (the “Clowns of the Andes”) – see photo - that also found the bananas to their liking. All this crazy action played out within fifteen feet of me and a couple from Canada who waited quietly in the hide beside. With all this top action however we just could not keep quiet, although for the frantic five minutes of intense grappling over the fruits, none of the birds cared one jot. All too soon it was over, the tanagers retreated to the treetops, and the barbets slinked back into the forest, just leaving a few shameless guans hanging about in front of the blind. An amazing early morning show at the “Antpitta Farm”, that just goes to prove there is a lot more than “just” antpittas to enjoy there.

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