28 November 2010

Tandayapa Lodge nightbirds...ECUADOR (21-25 Nov 2010)

While guiding the Tropical Birding Andes Introtour we were based out of Tandayapa Lodge, where the nightbirds were a real treat. On three separate mornings over coffee we spotlighted a Common Potoo sitting on its latest favoured stump. On one night we ventured a little lower in the valley where the staggering male Lyre-tailed Nightjar performed with aplomb: first picked up by its vivid red eyeshine, we soon homed in on its spectacular tail trailing well below him. Just to be sure we got a look at this we observed him sallying regularly from its perch where the tail initiated gasps from all present! Lastly, and by no means least, there was the lodge's resident Colombian Screech-Owl that was so obliging on the first night, that we returned again with those who opted out of the first night. Once again he called and perched close by, and this time I was not stupid enough to have left my camera back at the lodge (photo)!

27 November 2010

A day in the Choco Lowlands...ECUADOR (25 Nov 2010)

In the midst of Tropical Birding's Andes Introtour (based out of Tandayapa Lodge) we took a venture downslope into the lowland forest patches close to the town of Pedro Vicente Maldonado, and to the wonderful Mindo Cloudforest Foundation reserve of Rio Silanche...

Pretty soon we were made aware this was to be no ordinary day when a pair of the endemic Scarlet-breasted Dacnis showed up, and was only our fifth species of the day (top photo). We edged our way further up the road and the promise that the Rio Silanche reserve would bring at the end of it, where the very best forest exists. However, as is usual here, we just kept getting distracted along the way: Scarlet-backed Woodpecker crept up a trunk, and not long after this "Ariel" white Black-tipped Cotinga appeared dramatically in a
cecropia tree, where it remained for extensive photo opportunities (2nd photo). This was the first time in my five years of visiting this area that I had seen it.

, we arrived in the reserve itself and spent the afternoon chasing dizzy flocks around, picking off new species every time: Scarlet-browed Tanagers turned up on multiple occasions, and a Blue-whiskered Tanager nipped in briefly a couple of times. The same flock held Orange-fronted Barbet, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Gray-and-gold Tanagers, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, and even a tiny, tiny Griscom's Antwren at various points through this action packed day!
Outside the flocks the action was never dull either: White-tailed Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, White-necked Puffbird (3rd photo), Choco Toucan, noisy Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and a Purple-chested Hummingbird probing the red blooms in the car park all keeping us busy to say the least!

Quite simply a phenomenal day's birding that produced over 140 species for the day, and was peppered with dazzling species, local specialties and endemics to this rich Choco region. Frankly, I loved every minute of it, birds were simply everywhere and there was not time NOT to bird!

We will return to The Galapagos again soon, I promise!...

20 November 2010

High Andean Dreams...Ecuador: 20 Nov 2010

Just a quick interlude from my "Galapagos Diary" to update from today in the field.

I had a mega days birding at Papallacta in the high Andes of Ecuador. We arrived at the pass with snow dusting the scenic paramo, and clear skies bringing spectacular looks at two neighboring giants: Antisana (photo three), and Cotopaxi (photo two) volcanoes. As we drove up to the heady heights of 4200m we noted Paramo Ground-Tyrants hopping along the snow covered verges (photo four), and an exquisite violet-hooded male Ecuadorian Hillstar probed the thistle-like chuquiragua plants. Once we reached the top it was all about trying to find the "Andean Grouse", actually a shorebird called Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. A lot of walking, catching our breath, and then finally there they were, two birds shuffling through the snow-covered moss, that allowed us to walk right up to them (within 5 feet! top photo)

Then we dropped down lower and wandered into the polylepis woodland, where instantly a pair of Giant Conebills showed up, creeping nuthatch like up the trunks as they do. A bonus was also finding the ultra-skulking Paramao Tapaculo that very nearly got its photo taken.

After a brief stint with Sword-billed Hummingbirds at Guango, and a pair of Torrent Ducks along the Rio there, we finished up in the atmospheric elfin forest, where right "at the death" a pair of Masked Mountain-Tanagers showed up in a large flock of Black-backed Bush-Tanagers.

A great Andean day...

19 November 2010

Volcanic Islands of Lava...GALAPAGOS: 12 Nov 2010

Today we also got our first Lava Gull, that with an estimated world population of just 600-800 or so birds is arguably the rarest gull in the world (top photo). This one was a juvenile photographed on Santa Cruz, while picking up our first finches: both Small and Medium Ground Finches, and our first Wandering Tattlers. (Bottom photo is Small Ground Finch).

At night we had a short cruise to the south of Santa Cruz, where we were to venture in to the finch-loaded highlands, and see more reptilean residents of these reptile-dominated islands...

To the "Dawn of Evolution"...GALAPAGOS: 12 Nov 2010

After five years in Ecuador (and a little last minute begging) I found that there were a few spaces left on the TROPICAL BIRDING GALAPAGOS ENDEMICS CRUISE, (guided by Andres Vasquez) and swiftly pulled some strings and got myself on board for my very first adventure to the Galapagos. These islands are famed for being the spark for Charles Darwin's theories of evolution by natural selection. This came about from his observations of the many confusing finches on the islands...

We landed on the island of Baltra, nearly tripped over some Land Iguanas basking by the dock, (photo), picked up our first endemic-Galapagos Dove, and our first "Darwin's" finch-Medium Ground-Finch, then boarded our yacht, The Fragata, and set sail for nearby Santa Cruz island...

Return to the "Antpitta Farm" Part II...(Mindo, Ecuador): 10 Nov 2010

...Onto the Antpittas. The first to appear was the "showoff" Giant Antpitta, "Manuel", that like Tandayapa Lodge's own Giant Antpitta was remarkably confiding for this normally shy species. It is easy to get blase about Giant Antpittas these days, although it is good to remember that not that long ago they were almost mythical!

Then we went after the diminutive Ochre-breasted Antpitta, the only grallaricula antpitta to have been habituated to date anywhere (photo). This one is usually the toughest of the species at Paz de las Aves to see, although you would not know it on this day, as it popped up and into everyone's bins on several memorable occasions. Angel, the local guide/farmer, has named this cute antpitta "Shakira" as it wiggles from side to side, in the manner that the Colombian pop icon Shakira does! We saw the bird, and the wiggle!

Lastly, we retreated back up the steep trail and encountered "Susan" his reliable Moustached Antpitta that took all of five minutes to show up and parade around in front of us all. If only all birding could be so easy! On our return to Quito we crossed the equator once more and birded some dramatically different dry scrub for the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant that was duly seen after a 30-minute search.

Another great Andean day, but there was no rest for the wicked and after pulling some strings I was off to The Galapagos just two days later for my long-awaited first trip to "Darwin's Islands"...

Return to the "Antpitta Farm"...(Mindo, Ecuador): 10 Nov 2010

My final day of this short Tandayapa Lodge tour (in northwest Ecuador) with the South Africans, Vernon and Mel. Awaking at an ungodly hour saw us arrive in time for the cock-of-the-rock show, where vivid vermillion males screeched and displayed in the first light of dawn. Then our attentions were switched to a large fruit-laden tree which drew in numerous glowing Golden-headed Quetzals (top photo), and more Andean Cock-of-the-rocks so that virtually "overdosed" on these bright red cotingas! We were at the now World famous, Paz de las Aves, near Mindo, my first visit there since March.

A brief whistle from the local farmer, come bird guide Angel, had us sprinting (as best we could on a steep Andean slope!) to where Angel gently coaxed a pair of Dark-backed Wood-Quails onto the trail, within meters of us all (bottom photo). Not only that but they had in toe two teeny, tiny chicks, little balls of unrecognizable fluff. Dramatic indeed! Next up was what the "farm" is rightly famous for: ANTPITTAS...

10 November 2010

Magical Milpe (NW Ecuador): 9 Nov 2010

Another day trip from Tandayapa Lodge, this time to the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation reserve of Milpe, in the western foothills of the Andes, near the town of San Miguel de los Bancos. What a day. We opened with Rufous-throated Tanagers feeding in a low fruiting tree, then were dazzled by the antics of displaying Club-winged Manakins (voted the bird of the trip in our four days by the way-good choice), and followed on chasing down flocks filled with foliage-gleaners, and even trogons (including Choco Trogon), and finished off watching Black-tipped Cotinga and Choco Toucans along the road. It's all good. When you've not been birding in Ecuador for 8 months you soon forget how easy it is to rack up more than two hundred species in just a couple of (well four) days! The photos are of the oh so cute and friendly Ornate Flycatcher, very well-named (photo)

Back "Home" in the Tropics: ECUADOR (8 Nov 2010)

Having been enjoying a two-month spell down under in Australia, I am now back in my adopted homeland, Ecuador. After trying desperately to recover from a bad cold, jet lag , and come down from the high of all those weird Aussie birds, I got back in the field and on tour in Ecuador, with a four-day trip for Tandayapa Lodge. After a trip to Yanacocha on the 7th , (where I miraculously , and finally, got my nemesis bird, Curve-billed Tinamou, that skidded off the road in front of our van), I was back in the lush Tandayapa Valley, and soon after watching one of my favorites: the rare Tanager Finch jumping clumsily around in the bamboo (photo). It's good to be home!

More photos from Ecuador and Australia to come when possible...

01 November 2010

Confiding Honeyeaters on the Tablelands...(Queensland, Australia): 17 Oct 2010

This Bridled Honeyeater appeared by our feet while we had breakfast in the field at Mount Hypipamee. The species is one of the Atherton specialties, and so it was great to get such a close up encounter with it. I suspect it has been fed a few times before!