28 February 2011

The Moustached Lady...ECUADOR (22 Feb.)

After taking in all of the action at the Paz de las Aves fruit feeders we were alerted to the arrival of "Susan" a little further up the trail, and soon found this Moustached Antpitta happily hopping around in the open, grabbing a mouthful of worms and then chasing off into the shady understorey where it was though a recently born juvenile was waiting to take advantage of the feast. Thank heavens for Susan as she seems to be the only reliable antpitta of the four species that can be seen there, right now! After a brief sojourn at the hummer feeders with Velvet-purple Coronets, Empress Brilliants, and a striking Tawny-bellied Hermit headlining, another shout went up. This time for Orange-breasted Fruiteater which was seen feeding close to the cafe (where we later enjoyed a brunch of locally made empanadas and bolones).

From there we headed high and to the east, to the hummingbird lodge of Guango...

27 February 2011

Feeding Frenzy at Paz...Ecuador (22 Feb.)

Moving on from the "Wood-Quail show" we stopped off at the various wooden contraptions that comprise the phenomenal fruit feeders at Paz de las Aves. As we arrived so did a mob of hungry-looking Sickle-winged Guans, the bruisers of the birds there, often displacing others at the feeders. However, on this day they were not so aggressive and all comers got a look in. Within minutes a Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager came in to check out the bananas, and was soon outshone by a group of the endemic Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers (top) that were soon followed by another stunning endemic species, the multicolored oddity that is Toucan Barbet (bottom). Last but by no means least was a couple of showy Crimson-rumped Toucanets (middle) that dropped in and out in between the mobs of tanagers and guans.

Next up: more from Paz before we moved east and climbed into the high Andes...

26 February 2011

Back to Paz...ECUADOR (22 Feb.)

The following day with the landslide crews having fixed their machinery, and mudslides and landslides swept off the roads, and rivers having receded to more normal levels our birding plans were a little smoother. We finally broke through to visit Paz de las Aves a dream for photographers and birders alike near Mindo. As my guys were the former we strided with vigor down the trail to the blind for the Andean Cock-of-the-rock and watched on as three different scarlet males danced in the depths of the cloudforest. By 7.30am it was all over the males having fled to feed, and so our next crop of close up birds was on the agenda. Unfortunately not Angel's famous Giant Antpitta "Maria" that has atypically gone AWOL in the last few months, but the regular covey of Dark-backed Wood-Quails bustled onto the trail snatching every worm that they could (this included the two adults and their one surviving juvenile that looks much like the adults birds now except for a buffy stripe down the center of the bill) This is a rare Choco species that is very hard to find anywhere but here....

More from Paz de las Aves to come...

25 February 2011

Who's a Pretty Boy then?... ECUADOR 21 Feb.

I cannot resist a gallery of my latest "favorite" Andean tanager from our landslide-haunted day in Mindo. This one continually brightened what had threatened to be a very dull day indeed! The Blackburnian Warbler of the tanager world: Flame-faced Tanager. I had dreamt of photographing this stunner many times. On this day for all of us it became a reality. We'll not forget this day in a hurry...

We finally managed to battle our way through the weather and get to Paz de Aves, highlights to come...

21 February 2011

A Landslide of Tanagers & Hummingbirds...ECUADOR (21 Feb.)

Our day did not start well. We had a plan to visit the antpitta refuge Paz de las Aves, but after the heaviest nights rain in living memory the river swelled and our day with cock-of-the-rocks and antpittas was on stony ground and had to be abandoned. Fear not I thought we'll just drop back Tandayapa Lodge and the photographers who I was with would be happy to shoot the many hummers buzzing around their balcony. Unfortunately the night of heavy rain brought chaos to the region in the form of many poorly placed landslides meaning we simply could not get there. Eventually after several attempts thwarted by numerous landslides, broken machinery, and so forth we retreated to a spot in Mindo for some hummer/tanager "therapy". This worked to perfection, as the feeders brought a constant flow of tanagers coming and going from the neon-blue Golden-naped Tanager (top) to the hulking endemic Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager to the blackburnian-warbler like Flame-faced Tanager, there always seemed to be a glowing Andean tanager on offer. As if that was not enough the usual hummers vied with tanagers for the most colorful birds at the "table" with gleaming Velvet-purple Coronets (bottom), powerful Empress Brilliants, and the bee-like Purple-throated Woodstar a constant buzz at the feeders. The landslide just did not feel quite so bad after this colorful Andean performance that continued unabated all day long.

19 February 2011

Final Highland Fling...ECUADOR (14 Feb)

Our finale for the tour was a visit to the windswept grasslands of El Cajas NP, birding up to more than 4000m elevation. We found Tawny Antpittas bounding across the paramo (high Andean grassland), Mouse-colored Thistletails crawling through the shrubbery, bright blue Tit-like Danis creeping through the polylepis woods, and the smart endemic Violet-throated Metaltail that came in so close it was hard to squeeze it all inside the scope for a view! We also found my former nemesis perched out prominently as they should be (where were they for me over the last five years!), Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant looking a little damp on an overhead cable.

However, the bird of the day for me was right by the highway in a dead patch of their favored polylepis trees, a wonderful pair of nuthatch-like Giant Conebills, that despite appearances and behavior are actually a strange kind of high Andean tanager. At least they showed me some love on Valentine's Day!

Cryptic Nightjars...ECUADOR (13 Feb)

We had one final morning along in the eastern foothills, where whilst unsuccessfully searching for an Oilbird one of the people in the group Larry pointed me towards another roosting nightbird...a cryptic nightjar. Now this is not always good news for guides as we often use their calls at night to identify them, or focus on the males with their flashy wing or tail patterns to ID them. This one was sleeping quietly and was never going to give me a call at this time of day. What´s more there was no sign of any easy to use ID marks. After a little vexing and photographing it from every angle I decided it was a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar. On getting home and consulting the literature I am glad to say I got it right, not always easy with quiet nightjars!

Flirtatious Hummers...ECUADOR (11 Feb)

After a rainy morning in Rio Bombuscaro in the eastern foothills with little to show for it but wet clothes and a Black-streaked Puffbird, we retreated to our wonderful tanager-themed Andean lodge, Copalinga, where the tide turned immediately with the appearance of a spectacular male Spangled Coquette. These hummers are so striking they are named coquettes that indicates a woman that flirts with and plays with a man's affections! This one certainly played with mine! On top of that a trip down the Old Loja-Zamora Road brought our tanager tally for the day to a whopping 23 species that included such seductive sounding species as Golden-eared, Orange-eared, and Paradise Tanagers among them, proving what a superb tanager area the eastern foothills of the Andes are....

16 February 2011

Touching nightjars...ECUADOR (9 Feb)

We ended our day at Tapichalaca lined up waiting for the appearance of their regular Swallow-tailed Nightjars on their driveway. We had seen a female bird drop in the night before but were all eager for a fancy-tailed male so decided to give it another crack. Dusk fell, the Great Thrushes, Chestnut-naped Antpittas, and Chusquea Tapaculos fell silent, and a nightjar dropped onto the path, Then another, and then another! None though sported the tail we craved, and it transpired there were two juveniles and one female that gave unbelievable close-ups. I tried to see just how close the young one would allow me to go, and was incredulous when it let me touch its head! I guess getting a photo was not that difficult after all!

After the chill of the temperate forests of the east slope, we headed down into the forests of the foothills...

13 February 2011

The Grand Daddy Antpitta...ECUADOR (8 Feb.)

We moved on to Tapichalaca in the wet temperate forests of the east Andean slope, which could only mean one thing: a date with a Jocotoco Antpitta. A true giant among antpittas for many reasons. One it is big, two it is seriously rare, three it is spectacular, four it is one of the most astounding discoveries of the 20th century (only recently brought to the birding world, when discovered in 1997 by Robert Ridgely and Co.), and five it has also become a great symbol for Ecuadorian conservation with all the great work of the Jocotoco Conservation Foundation. This rare grallaria has become obscenely easy since they started habituating a pair, so much so it could be referred to accurately as the easiest antpitta in Ecuador!

So we strolled up for our antpitta appointment at 08.00, greeted the local ranger who was whistling for one of them, and settled in for our scheduled short wait. We waited he whistled, then whistled again (a little more desperately this time), and the worms were laid out for them, but remained conspicuously untouched. After nearly 30 minutes of this unheard of torture my nails were worn down to the nub, and I played out back up plans in my head. We shuffled in readiness to leave, and then "Panchito" nonchalantly hopped in and plucked a worm off the path a few feet away (top). As if to make a mockery of my fretting then in came "Vivian" who was equally showy (bottom), and then up on the railing came their two-month old (ish) youngster noisily begging for attention (middle). They then fed the unnamed juvenile a worm in front of us and hopped all around us for the next joyous thirty minutes. Easiest antpitta in Ecuador? Yes possibly, but it might still give you a scare!

More to come from a night excursion at Tapichalaca shortly...

08 February 2011

Shine on...ECUADOR (6 Feb. '11)

A fog-bound day in Utuana in the southwestern highlands of Ecuador was tricky work although we eked out some goodies like a beefy Black-cowled Saltator and a jittery Jelski's Chat-Tyrant or two, not to mention a pristine pair of Piura Hempispingus. However, when all's said and done, this was what people were talking about over dinner that night, the gleaming Rainbow Starfrontlets that shone at the feeders there...

A morning in the company of Jocotoco Antpittas awaits us tomorrow...

07 February 2011

Owls with anteojos...ECUADOR 5 Feb. '11

We had a great day wandering among the giant ceiba trees in Jorupe reserve, just a couple of kms from Peru. Tumbesian birds abounded like Henna-hooded and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaners, Slaty Becard, and the awesome White-tailed Jay. However, I think the group were most impressed with this fierce individual that we awoke at a day roost, a superb Spectacled Owl.

More to come from down south soon...

03 February 2011

Umbrellas at their best...ECUADOR 3rd Feb '11

Buenaventura: we headed down the trail with light just touching the forest floor as dawn broke. A short way down the low mooing of the Long-wattled Umbrellabird drifted through the half-light to our ears. Our pace quickened... As we reached the spot, a large dark shape with an unfeasibly long wattle swinging below it could be made out in the dim light. More light penetrated the gloom and then two wattleless females dropped in and all hell broke loose. Four different males flapped clumsily into the lek at various times, although one pristine male was having none of it and spent time ensuring his "stage" was his and his alone. Finally he had two subdued looking females all to himself, and he went to town with a performance to cherish. I though I had seen them at their best at this display site before, but since todays show I have had to think again. The wattle was widened and lengthened, and his strange quiffed crest, come hair do was pumped to perfection, giving it a real teddy-boy look like I have never seen before. As that was not enough the male also accentuated all his features to the very interested females by bobbing and mooing loudly while they watched on with fascination. Finally, one female could stand it no more and after being "serenaded" and flapped around for a while she dropped down onto the branch beside the male, mid-moo. However, the male barely seemed to notice and was self-absorbed in its own performance. This just seemed to agitate the female more that resorted to pecking the males neck excitedly. This went on for a time, the male mooed some more and then finally he chased the female into the forest and they were never seen again. What a show, and never before in my five years here have I seen anything like it. My first attendant females, and first show reaching anything like this. Amazing, truly amazing.

More to come from my latest southern soujorn soon...