24 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 5 (Rio Silanche, NW Ecuador): 1 March 2010

Today we journeyed downhill to the lower foothill/lowlands of the Choco. This area of NW Ecuador has suffered its fair share of (rampant) deforestation, so the few patches that remain are vital to the birdlife of the region. In spite of this the patches of forest and secondary habitats close to the town of Pedro Vicente Maldonado still provide some truly exhilarating birding.

This day is one of my "fave" day trips out of Tandayapa Lodge, because it is so "birdy" and there is rarely a moment when you are not glassing something. In contrast the more thickly forested regions of the Andes can make you wonder if you are in the tropics at all, during those killer dull spells!
Our purpose for the visit was to showcase the small Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF) sanctuary of Rio Silanche. However, in order to do that we had to get there through secondary habitats en-route that can be so action packed for birds it is hard to actually get to the reserve. So it proved, with the road birding on the way producing some cool birds of its own, like a BARRED PUFFBIRD that chose to stand sentry on the top of a tree making it rather noticeable to us (bottom photo). As we tried vainly to get the reserve stop after stop became necessary as birds popped up by the road. One stop brought us the remarkable Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, another an encounter with Purple-throated Fruitcrow and a Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and even the cool Cinnamon Woodpecker.

Finally, we made to the forest within the MCF sanctuary and set about trying to find the roaming flocks within the reserve that are a tanager-lovers dream. Before we hit these flurries of frenzied activity a tip off from another Tropical Birding guide, Andres Vasquez took us to a hollow, where out popped a brilliant Black-throated Trogon from its recently occupied nest (a rare bird in these parts). Taking another trail just twenty minutes or so later we were looking skyward for canopy flocks, but were distracted by the call of another trogon, this time the endemic CHOCO TROGON (top photo). After locating the pair we watched and watched and then saw the male settle down in a clump of moss: our second trogon nest in thirty minutes! To add to the trogon bonanza, later that afternoon we checked a stakeout for the recently split Western White-tailed Trogon (now simply called White-tailed Trogon) and came upon a fine male glaring down at us. Triple Trogon day!
Searching for tanager troops up on the canopy tower proved pretty fruitless in the extreme heat of the day, although a Purple-chested Hummingbird buzzing around the few flowers left at the base was noteworthy, being one of the endemics confined to this Choco region (like the aptly-named trogon above too). Walks in the forest bought us in contact with several of the frantic flocks that often stream through the trees at Silanche, one of which bought us a Spot-crowned Antvireo, and others bought us a flurry of tanagers including the rare and beautiful Blue-whiskered Tanager, and Golden-hooded and Scarlet-browed Tanagers among a host of other tanagers that tallied up to 17 tanager species for the day. One of the most memorable ones through was one of a pair of Emerald Tanagers that when taped in almost took a little of our hair off as it flew in at eye level! Some chunky pied Orange-fronted Barbets also shuffled along with the flock in one area too. Last, but by no means least, was an encounter with the dashing White-bearded Manakin, whose "firecracker" displays could be heard in various parts of the reserve, but initially appeared just out of reach as they "danced" in the shadows. Finally, we found a well-dressed male that lingered in one spot for a time, even allowing us to scope him up while he preened his immaculate plumage.

Just one more day lie ahead for the tour, although it did involve a visit to the famous "Antpitta Farm" of Angel Paz, and the promise of whole lot more besides antpittas...

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