20 December 2009

Rio Silanche...(NW Ecuador): December 18, 2009

For our penultimate day we "enjoyed" an ungodly hour to start our journey (well before dawn), as we needed to cover some miles to get down into the Choco lowlands. Here we were in pursuit especially of some of the cool flocks that roam the area that correspondingly hold some very cool Choco specials. We left Tandayapa Lodge with rain hammering down on the van, and me praying that once we descended into the lowlands we would be rid of this hinderance. We arrived at the start of the 7km long entrance road with rain crashing down on us heavier than ever, and a worried frown on my face. We attempted valiantly to bird the road into the reserve, trying to jump out when the rain was marginally weaker and did get some rewards for our efforts: a pair of Barred Puffbirds at one spot, and from the very same spot an almost unrecognisable, sodden, wet Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and a dazzling Yellow-tailed Oriole a little further on down the road. Apart from a misty Grey Hawk en-route the birding was challenging in wet, wet conditions and we opted to retreat to the Rio Silanche reserve canopy tower. As we sheltered from the rain there and watched Purple-chested Hummingbird buzzing around the flowers at the base I contemplated the desperateness of our situation: we had a bunch of birds to see, the rain was preventing us from doing this, and all I could see in all directions was a thick blanket of impenetrable cloud! Remarkably though the rain suddenly stopped an hour or so later, the birds immediately picked up, and we ended up racking up more than 120 species by the end of the day. Who would have thought it when we first arrived in the gloom. Taking a forray onto the tower on and off through the day brought us a brilliant Blue-whiskered Tanager, and a calling Dusky Pigeon both slap bang by the observation platform, and both regional endemics. A short walk before lunch saw us run into THE flock, when one cecropia tree played host to some specials, including another Blue-whiskered Tanager, a trio of Grey-and-gold Tanagers, and a pair of Orange-fronted Barbets. While a neighbouring tree held a pair of the fantastic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, another endemic. On the trails a couple of Broad-billed Motmots showed up, and along the road a male Western White-tailed Trogon brought our tally for the trogon family on the trip to four species, plus two quetzals in our four days. Another (or was it the same one, just a different angle?!), feeding flock held a Black-striped Woodcreeper demolishing large bugs on the side of a rainforest treetrunk, an Emerald Tanager, and a calling female Spot-crowned Antvireo. After a lunch with Pale-mandibled Aracaris and little else on the tower, we walked around the reserve once more, picking up a "firecracking" displaying male White-bearded Manakin to start with (see photo). Later we added Scarlet-browed Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Griscom's Antwrens in yet another flock, in addition to a very popular Red-billed Scythebill clasped to a trunk in the same frantic feeding flock. Finally we had to "check out" of the reserve and return to Tandayapa, although I could not resist some further stops on the way out from the reserve, first for a Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, then a Choco Toucan, and finally a pair of frisky Chestnut-mandibled Toucans showing distinct signs of breeding very, very soon.

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