22 June 2011

Gearing up for this...PNG

I am on the verge of leaving for one of the most special places on Earth: Papua New Guinea. The so called "Land of the Unexpected", which I understand well after visiting over the past four years. The unexpected often comes my way there, although one thing is always expected and always produced: some of the most bizarre and enthralling birds on the planet. Here is a video of their national bird (Raggiana Bird-of-paradise) doing what it does best...I cannot wait to hit the New Guinea jungle real soon....

21 June 2011

Macro Tandayapa...ECUADOR (18 June)

While at Tandayapa Bird Lodge last Saturday I decided if the birding sucked-something I contemplated with my late mid-morning arrival at the lodge (thankfully though the birding was fantastic)-I brought with me a compact camera to have some fun with macro stuff. Something I had my eyes opened to with a group from Ohio last year and I want to do more of. So here are the results of my Tandayapa macro session...It's early days I have a lot to learn I know, and do not ask me what they are (frustratingly no decent books exist for this sort of stuff in Ecuador)!

20 June 2011

Cock-of-the-rock update...ECUADOR (18 June)

Last weekend I got my first (a little belated to say the least) look at nesting Andean Cock-of-the-rock due to the conveniently placed nest that is literally on the side of Tandayapa Bird Lodge itself. So when I returned this weekend I was keen to see how they were getting on. The bold female was still sat on her muddy nest, balanced on the lodge windowsill. Once again her two ugly nestlings were well hidden beneath her deep down in the dark mud nest. So first off I just got some glares from the female as I passed by. Although later when I returned I got my first proper looks at the chicks of this dazzling bird. Looking down at this sorry looking bird it was hard to fathom that this was set to turn into one of Ecuador's most beautiful cloudforest birds! Sadly I will not be around to keep checking on them over the next few weeks but good luck to them, and may they blossom into the beauty they are meant to be soon!

19 June 2011

Cloudforest Tales...ECUADOR (18 June)

Desperate to get out of the city and into the jungle I caught a ride over to Tandayapa Bird Lodge and spent a very enjoyable five hours on the trails.

I walked in from the secondary forest surrounding the lodge (putting to flight a Slate-throated Whitestart from near ground level that led me to its tiny nest), quickly into the primary cloudforest and soon after was rewarded with a beautiful Rufous-breasted Antthrush strutting, chicken-like, across the trail. It had been an age since I had seen this cloudforest denizen and it was good to see this "old friend" again. I had only just had the chance to take in this furtive bird when some loud staccato calls coming from my right led me to a navy-dressed Beautiful Jay (just one of several "beautiful" jay species in the valley). An often difficult local specialty (confined to this Choco region).

I continued along the Potoo Trail with little action, and so turned up the Antpitta Trail. No sign of any antpittas but a flurry of activity in the understorey brought views of the common Three-striped Warbler, and the less common Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant. Walking slowly on I was stopped in my tracks by a large movement overhead, and I turned my eye to the large green form of an Olivaceous Piha plucking fruits from high in the trees. All too soon it glanced down at me and fled the scene. As I had been watching this mute cotinga (it hardly ever calls) I was vaguely aware of some frog-like noises behind me. With the piha wiped from my attention I noticed these more clearly and realized that several of the male Golden-winged Manakins that hold court in this area were in the midst of display. I searched for a while and finally found this black-and-gold gem perched in the shady understorey, which it brought instant color to when it stretched out its wing revealing a large flash of yellow.

Continuing up the trail and merging onto the Nunbird Trail it wound up, getting steeper, and the forest fell silent save for the odd Crested Quetzal that taunted me regularly but remained steadfastly hidden from view. Eventually with little activity after the mornings flurry I began my journey back and soon caught a movement in the corner of my eye which trained me onto a large ceropia tree bearing fruit that had attracted four Toucan Barbets to gorge on its crop.

All too soon I was back at the lodge reflecting on a wonderful morning in Tandayapa's cloudforest with some top draw sightings. Although I decided to check in at the Lower Deck before I was finished as I heard some evidence of action coming from that direction. So I walked on up, passing the docile female Andean Cock-of-the-rock as I did so (that is nesting on the side of the building right now). Once up "on deck" a feeding flock was clearly passing through that yielded the largest woodcreeper in the valley: Strong-billed Woodcreeper hugging a trunk nearby, and the most colorful woodpecker in the valley, with a pair of feisty Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers. Some nervous excitement in the trees further back drew me to a feeding flock that also held the badly named Metallic-green Tanager. I am not sure quite how you describe the color of the green but it is far from metallic! All this and I failed to mention the continuing nesting pair of Golden-headed Quetzals that fuss around their cavity close to the lodge.

I feel lucky to live so near a treasured piece of Andean forest that can bring me such sights whenever I wish!

18 June 2011

Quetzal Upgrade...ECUADOR (18 June)

A thrilling day on the trails brought me many of Tandayapa's most special birds, although before we get to that story here is an "upgrade" I enjoyed today. After last weeks close up of a female Golden-headed Quetzal emerging from its nest cavity, today I was treated to the gem-like male poking his head out of the hole...it may not have the extravagant tail of Costa Rica's celebrity quetzal (the resplendent), although there's nothing wrong with the rest of it!

More to come from a top notch Tandayapa day today...

Milpe...ECUADOR (13 June)

A few hours were spent a little lower down the Andes from Tandayapa, at the Milpe reserve in the foothills (1100m elevation). Although birds were quite in general as no large flocks came throuugh while I was there Brett Taylor (a Tandayapa Lodge volunteer) and I managed to stumble on to a fine pair of Esmeraldas Antbirds that responded well to a recording, giving some stellar looks. This can be a really tricky bird to see, as to say they are a skulker is an understatement. After that we had breakfast in a restaurant in town, famed amongst birders for its feeders, Mirador Rio Blanco. Tanagers were sparse at the feeders, although a male Guira Tanager dropped in and got the juices flowing although managed to hid behind a branch when it was within camera range! I fared better with this handsome Black-cheeked Woodpecker that posed for quite some time while it stole nectar from the hummingbirds feeders...

16 June 2011

Tandayapa Hummers...ECUADOR (12-13 June)

Tandayapa Lodge was surprisingly quiet for hummers at the weekend. They are the thing that Tandayapa Bird Lodge is perhaps most famous for (I mean it boasts a list of more than 30 species!), and I personally have experienced the very best of this in the past with 21 species in a whirlwind hour one lunchtime on tour! Well things were very different last weekend. The bruisers or minders of the bunch, the Buff-tailed Coronets had got a hold of the feeders, often vigorously defending them to good effect, stopping many others from getting a look in. Of course a bad day at Tandayapa still meant ten species were seen and triple figures of hummers, just not the more expected 15 species that is usually common place there. The list of hummingbirds that I personally racked up in just an hour or so at the feeders included Buff-tailed Coronet, Green Violet-ear, Sparkling Violet-ear, Brown Violet-ear, Andean Emerald, Purple-throated Woodstar, Violet-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail (that always vies for title of cutest hummer on the planet), and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Not bad for a "bad" hummingbird day....

Behind the feeders a Smoky-brown Woodpecker crept up a trunk silently too.

Another update from northwest Ecuador to come soon...

15 June 2011

Quetzal Nest...ECUADOR (12-13 June)

The cock-of-the-rock was not the only bird nesting at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. Just a minutes walk from the hummingbird feeders a Golden-headed Quetzal had recently excavated a new nest. Strangely enough, presumably the same pair also nested in the very same tree last year. However, since that time the top of the tree had broken off and fallen down leaving just a 6 foot high stump. This clearly did not bother these industrious quetzals though that insisted on using the same tree and just happily made a new hole in which to nest. While I was there I missed a changeover of a male and female that Iain Campbell managed to observe while tucked away in a blind (hide) overlooking the hole. Although I did manage to see the female emerge from the cavity while I was stood by the hole that showed no signs of nerves at all in my presence. The male glowed emerald green in the trees behind and seemed a whole lot more skittish, giving alarms calls possibly due to my presence. So I withdrew and let them get on with it. It seems they are incubating right now, and it would be good to see the young quetzals emerge later in the season.

More from my "Tandayapa Weekend" Getaway soon...

13 June 2011

Cock-of-the-Lodge ECUADOR...(11-12 June)

After another week of inactivity and lots of typing I headed out to Tandayapa Bird Lodge for the weekend to escape the "Big Smoke" and get some clean mountain air and frankly some birds into my system. I needed a fix! On arrival at the lodge the news came through that the locally nesting Andean Cock-of-the-rock had just got chicks. I hurried down to the part of the lodge where the bird is nesting. First off I should mention it is actually nesting ON the lodge itself on a convenient windowsill that it obviously found to its liking. I was greeted with the sight of the deep maroon colored female that merely reacted to my presence by nonchalantly turning her crested head in my direction, but barely flinching otherwise. Unfortunately the chicks were well hidden underneath her significant carriage in the dried mud nest below. I returned there a little later and found mother was gone and so I changed my angle so I could look down into its shady nest. I could just make out two silvery gray balls that looked more like lichen than birds but a couple of movements later revealed them to be a couple of very inactive chicks hunkered down in the nest. A great opportunity (and my first) to see this large cotinga nesting. I will check in with the lodge regularly for a progress report!

More nesting birds from Tandayapa coming up...

07 June 2011

Antisana Emerges ECUADOR (5 June)

As we began our drive out of the Antisana reserve we once again crossed the caracara-covered plateau, and as we looked up towards the massive volcano we saw blue sky breaking through, and then amazingly the impressive snow-crusted top came dramatically into view. I fired off a couple of shots in case the cloud dusting the horizon thought about moving back to obscure this awesome sight. Not only did the clouds part but the lapwings that had been taunting us all day long finally gave up the ghost: as we were driving out having passed hundreds of mocking Andean Lapwings en route we finally found a few foraging close to the road. This time when we stopped (and remained in the vehicle) they bobbed their heads excitedly, and agitatedly at first, and then they calmed down and calmly began to feed once more-FINALLY! A great end to a wonderful "city break" (or break from the city). Antisana is often people's favorite tour site, and it is very easy to understand why: a magical combination of staggering high Andean scenery and approachable high Andean birds.

06 June 2011

Antisana (continued) ECUADOR...(5 June)

As we drove on we emerged up onto the wide open grassy plateau, where usually there is a dramatic backdrop provided by the volcanic cone of the mighty Antisana Volcano, towering some 5700m+ above. Sadly though a low swathe of cloud engulfed the volcano, with just hints of it appearing here and there. So we set about photographing the birds up there instead (I had hoped to try out my newish landscape lens on the mountain). Soon enough masses of Carunculated Caracaras were evident, scratching for food on the grass-laden ground.

The carpet of caracaras was interspersed with flocks of "grazing" Andean Lapwings and Andean Gulls. The lapwings were a major photo target for the day, although these annoyingly abundant, though significantly skittish, birds led us a merry dance in trying to get them onto our memory cards. No matter if we approached slowly by car or on foot, they took off before we could get in range.

Checking out a large lagoon produced flocks of high Andean waterfowl dominated by Andean Coot, Andean Ruddy Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Teal and a good scattering of Silvery Grebes. The bushes around the lake held a Sedge Wren that did its very best to avoid me getting a shot off (yes, the same species as the US apparently), and down below a Stout-billed Cinclodes used its stout bill to probe in the bright green moss for food.

One more final update from the high Andean splendor provided by Antisana to come...

05 June 2011

Back in the Field: ECUADOR...(5 June)

After days chained to my desk in Quito enough was enough. It was time to get back in the field. So Pablo Cervantes (my old Antarctica accomplice) and I headed out from Quito for a day trip into the high Andes. Leaving the smog of Quito behind we rose into clean crisp mountain air at a heady 3800m or so elevation. Before we even caught sight of Antisana's most prominent feature (its 5700m volcanic cone) birds starting popping up, and I felt at home once more. A bridge provided support for a colorful high Andean flycatcher, the Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, and a fencepost held a blue sparrow-like bird that is common in the paramo of Antisana: Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.

We then continued higher and emerged up onto the paramo grassland plateau where some of the best scenery in the reserve can be found, and some of it star residents...