16 March 2010

Utuana to Tapichalaca (with Catamayo in the middle), Ecuador: 15 Feb 2010

To say we crammed a lot into this day is an understatement. We begun our day in the southwestern highlands in and around Utuana, picking up a bunch of local species, then made our way across the Andes to the eastern temperate forests of Tapichalaca. Along the way we made a short detour to check for finches in Catamayo as well. The result of this action-packed day was lots of birds and some really, really special ones in the mix...

Utuana was looking grim at dawn, with low mist as we got out of the car, that then miraculously lifted, when the birds came thick and fast: first a number of constantly calling
Line-cheeked Spinetails revealed themselves, then several pairs of Piura Hemispingus appeared, rapidly followed by Silvery Tanagers, and a striking pair of roadside Golden-headed Quetzals. Then we opted to drive higher up the road, but stopped to check a spot for Jelski's Chat-Tyrant, that paid off quicker than expected, and also alerted us to a calling Gray-headed Antbird nearby that very uncharacteristically allowed itself to be seen right from the roadside. (Normally they are buried deep within the bamboo). With things falling nicely into place we headed for the reserve upslope, hurried to the feeders, stopping for the incredibly dashing Black-crested Tit-Tyrant en-route, and then settled in by the feeders to enjoy the show. Namely for the numerous, and somewhat aggressive Rainbow Starfrontlets that were crowding the feeders, one of Ecuador's most colorful hummers (and that's saying something considering there are over 120 species of them!) Of course on this incredible birdy day we were soon drawn away from the starfrontlets, Speckled Hummers (bottom photo) and others as another pair of Black-crested Tit-Tyrants deservedly lured us away, that also led us to a bonus pair of Bay-crowned Brush-Finches that fed out in the open, again rather uncharacteristically.

Job done, and with time pressing on this short tour we had to leave Utuana and head east into the province of Zamora-Chinchipe. However, before we entered that state we stopped for a frantic fifteen minute spell at
Catamayo, as it was kind of on the way, and frankly I could not resist. Luckily on this day all that was needed was that long to pick up Drab and Parrot-billed Seedeaters, Croaking Ground-Doves, and Peruvian Meadowlarks.

It was then full steam ahead to the wet temperate forests of Tapichalaca, the home of "Ridgely's" Antpitta (better known as Jocotoco). Amazingly, and for the first time for me, we arrived in nice weather and not a spot of rain. The fine weather permitted us to bird en-route, stopping for a roadside flock on the edge of the reserve brought us a pair of Black-headed Hemispingus mixed in with several dandy Golden-crowned Tanager (top photo). Once we reached the reserve we got some late afternoon Golden-plumed Parakeets, preening their handsome plumes in the late afternoon sun, and then waited at dusk for a Swallow-tailed Nightjar that landed on the lodge driveway, as a Rufous-bellied Nighthawk hawked overhead. The swallow-tailed was "only" a female (minus the extraordinary tail of the male), but after this mega days birding who were we to complain! The Jocotoco Antpitta was up next...

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