10 February 2013

Star Spangled Coquette...ECUADOR (21 Jan)

A frantic last morning at Yankuam had us scouring the road for their star bird, the beautiful and rare, Orange-throated Tanager, which at about 10am became vocal and landed wonderfully in a tree overhead for us to gawp at for some time, admiring the blue on the wings and of course the throat, which looks like it has been set on fire.

With the tanager in the bag, we returned to the lodge for lunch and started on our way to Copalinga near the town of Zamora. However, one great stop en-route brought us Lined Anthshrike, Stripe-chested Antwren and Chestnut-crowned Becard.

Of course, as we arrived at Copalinga Lodge in the late afternoon, and after being greeted by their excellent host, Katherine, my first question was "are they around?" She knew what I meant-her marquee birds, the Spangled Coquettes. Before we knew it a female whizzed into view foraging in the Portaweed, although she was outshone I am afraid to say when the "Star Spangled male" turned up and showed off his orange crest...

More from Ecuador soon, although I have to dash now...Tandayapa Bird Lodge is calling!

07 February 2013

At the frontier...ECUADOR (20 Jan)

Moving on from Tapichalaca we undertook a monster long drive to get to our next spot-Yankuam Lodge, in extreme southeast Ecuador, within an area that casts shadows into Peru. The drive was made worse due to a recent landslide meaning we were diverted for one section of it, although that did yield us a pair of Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers as compensation.

At Yankuam the real prize is the rare and beautiful Orange-throated Tanager, for which this is the only reliable site in the World. However, on this tour Yankuam offers so much more, as we dipped our toe into the foothills of the east slope for the first time. As well as some cool foothill species the area holds a number of Amazonian birds that just creep into the Andes in this area. It was an exciting first morning there, when the activity was literally constant (it was genuinely difficult to make it back for lunch), and almost everything in our bins was new. We started well with a Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher, which was followed not long after by the striking Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher. The sound of an Orange-throated Tanager, and the sight of a flock moving at full speed overhead, had us excitedly scanning for that beauty. Unfortunately, despite adding many new birds within the flock, including the considerably less beautiful Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner, the tanager went unseen. We slowly worked our way along the road picking up new bird after new bird, including common fare like Paradise and Green-and-gold Tanagers, and even Yellow-backed Tanagers. After an audio duel we all finally managed looks at one of the special birds of the area, the tiny White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, only recently added to the Ecuador country list at this site. The same area yielded a clear look at the smart Hairy-crested Antbird, which revealed it to have a brown crest, unlike the other birds in Ecuador of the white-crested race, these appeared like the brunneiceps race of Peru. On the way back to lunch we were admiring a group of Turquoise Tanagers, when conveniently a Striolated Puffbird landed slap bang in the scope along side them.

Although it was a great day for birds, it was not a great day for bird photography, and so here are some of the frogs that the roadside ditches at Yankuam produced, and an image of their rather odd bridge which we had to cross to get into the birding areas.

More frantic searches for the Orange-throated Tanager in the afternoon yielded none, but did give us a very nice Purplish Jacamar as ample compensation. The next day was to be our final fling for the tanager before we moved onto Copalinga, near Podocarpus National Park....

05 February 2013

War of Antpitta Attrition...ECUADOR (18 Jan)

Having settled in to Tapichalaca the night before, and already acquainted ourselves with the substantial downpours the site is famous for (ruining our chance of Swallow-tailed Nightjar), we were ready to hit the trail hard this morning. Luckily the rain had abated, although the construction along the road had not, and so we left very early to avoid delays in getting to the trailhead. Before we reached the main trailhead though we picked up some noisy and raucous Golden-plumed Parakeets which were loudly proclaiming the dawn as they emerged from their local nest boxes. The same area also produced the small though very impressive Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, and less impressive, for the group at least, Orange-banded Flycatcher, all major targets for us in this area.

However, what we were all really here for was a certain antpitta-Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered in 1997 at this site, and remains the only reliable site in the world for it, by virtue of a tamed group of them there. We arrived at the designated time-08:30-and within minutes of the local rangers whistles, there they were: 3 black-capped Jocotoco Antpittas which hopped about within literally inches of us for the next thirty minutes. We were also keen on seeing their other habituated antpitta, the considerably more common Chestnut-naped Antpitta, although knew the Jocotoco Antpittas were very protective over their worms, and may not let the other one get a look in. The ranger continued to whistle for the Chestnut-naped Antpitta, and then suddenly (and just as we were admiring a party of Red-hooded Tanagers) it appeared just behind my legs! We were greeted with incredible scenes that followed this, as the skittish Chestnut-naped tried to sneak in and steal the worms, only to be openly charged with extreme prejudice by one of the Jocotoco Antpittas. If only I had my video running! This did not deter the Chestnut-naped though, that merely waited in the shadows for the Jocotocos to seem to lose interest, when it would quietly hop in and gorge on the worms, while the Jocotocos were looking the other way. 

The rest of the day should, and could, have been a let down, but we simply scored so many great birds. On the way down to the lodge we notched up another antpitta-Slate-crowned Antpitta-a triple antpitta morning-never to be scoffed at! Also on the way down the ranger ensured we picked up their local Andean Potoo doing a marvellous dead snag impression, a roosting site which it had apparently been using on and off for the past four months. The day closed with a stunning White-capped Tanager that Bernice and I at least, got killer looks at before it upped sticks and left, flying directly over the lodge in the process. The final chapter of the day was provided by a female Swallow-tailed Nightjar doing sallies by the gate of the lodge as night fell over the Andes.

03 February 2013

Hummer Quest...ECUADOR (17 Jan)

After moving on from the west of the Andes, we crossed over to the east side of the Andes, where not only the geography would be different, but the habitat, and subsequently the avian life there. A whole suite of new birds awaited myself and the group from Texas. We arrived the evening before and bedded down in the "Sacred Valley" of Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador, famed for it's high number of people aged over 100 that live there (is there something in the water? you might ask-well they think so as they have a brand called "Sacred Valley" to take full advantage of their local fame!) Our original plan had been to visit the Cajanuma sector of Podocarpus National Park, near the city of Loja. However, in the evening I got twitchy-I knew there was a high altitude hummer within reach of us, which we could NOT find at Cajanuma, but could find closer to our hotel, if only we could aquire several 4 x 4 vehicles to get up to Cerro Toledo. With the help of my co-guide for the trip, Ecuadorian Pablo Cervantes, we rustled up 3 pick-up trucks to help us with our revised plan. 

An ungodly hour saw us having a similarly ungodly breakfast (not what was required for our trip into the chill of the high Andes), and then headed south, through the village of Yangana (which was still sleeping), and once we'd all moved into the pick-ups, turned west up Cerro Toledo. The road was not as rough as feared, and clearly had not experienced too much rain recently. I expected little traffic at all, along this remote road which serves merely a couple of farms, and a set of radio antennas  However, after first getting out of the trucks, (and conveniently finding our only Bearded Guan of the tour), and being forced onto the road side by three consecutive vehicles I wondered what must be going on. However, the remainder of the morning we were blissfully alone, just as as masses of cloudforest and Elfin forest. Reaching the foggy and windy edge of the Elfin forest, just before it gave way to a different habitat altogether, the high Andean paramo grasslands, we jumped out, braced against the wind in our faces, and set about trying to find the bird we had ventured here for: Nebina Metaltail. This dingy bird has a small range, just covering a small area of southern Ecuador, and into Peru, where it is also local and confined to the north of the country. Unfortunately I had lost my GPS points for where I had usually seen it, and could not find the exact spot, although the habitat looked good so I pressed play on the I-Pod, at which point a hummer almost immediately appeared next to us, which turned and revealed it's red throat: NEBLINA METALTAIL! It really was that easy. Three were seen by the morning's end, along with a handful of other temperate species, although generally the road was quiet. A brief flyover Red-faced Parrot represented the rarest bird of the morning. It typically flew over low and kept quiet, so almost got past us unnoticed. A feeding flock there also yielded our first Citrine Warblers, Golden-crowned Tanagers (a real looker, decked out in deep, indigo, gold, black and rust), and a beady-eyed Black-headed Hemispingus.

After this scenic morning on the east side of the Andes we headed further south, heading as if in a beeline for Peru, although stopping just north of the town of Valladolid, at the most famous Fundacion Jocotoco reserve of all: Tapichalaca; where the infamous Jocotoco Antpitta was discovered in the 90s, and remains there today.

Next update from Tapichalaca to come soon...

02 February 2013

More from Jorupe ECUADOR (13 Jan)

After the breathtaking opening to the day with the procession of cool birds coming in to feed around Urraca Lodge (which means "Jay Lodge" after the beautiful White-tailed Jay which roams the reserve), we went on a morning long hike through the reserve. Starting in the parking lot we quickly located a couple of our targets right there: male Slaty Becard and a gaudy White-edged Oriole. However, the hoped-for Watkins's Antpitta would not play ball, a pattern which would continue right until the late afternoon, when, finally, we got crackerjack looks at this dry country antpitta. That morning I experienced some of the toughest birding I had ever experienced in Jorupe, although by the end of the day we still managed to find all but one of the usual targets there, but it was a sluggish process getting them. Blackish-headed Spinetails were calling everywhere, and toyed with us for the entire morning, just showing properly just prior to lunchtime, to some relief all around. Similarly, the Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaners remained firmly hidden all morning, and one bird did not give itself up until mid-afternoon, when at the death it lingered on an open branch, and we were all glad to see the back of it after all the effort we had put in! Gray-breasted Flycatchers were more co-operative, showing up as planned, and even posing for this photo I took during the lunch recess, when we also had this handsome Whooping Motmot, and when the feeders were again visited by Scrub Blackbird, Black-capped Sparrow and Plumbeous-backed Thrush

Our attempt at seeing a trio of roosting Spectacled Owls ended in disaster, when each one of them flew off deeper into the woods before everyone could get them in the 'scope, and we decided to return to that one later. Other notable birds in the morning included Speckle-breasted Wren, Gray-cheeked Parakeets perched by the lodge, Collared Antshrike, Tumbes Pewee (which proved remarkably elusive for a bird that has a reputation for perching prominently), Ecuadorian Piculet, and a furtive Red-billed Scythebill that hugged the back of a tree for an age, frustrating us for quite some time. Around the lodge an Amazilia Hummingbird stood guard by the feeder, and even battled with a Long-billed Starthroat at one point that tried to sneak in unnoticed

So it had been hard work but the long list of targets was found bar one (Rufous-naped Foliage-Gleaner, which we were to try for the following day again elsewhere)...so it was not all bad, and once we got the killer looks at the antpitta in the afternoon smiles returned all round!

More from Southern Ecuador to come as we moved on to the wet slopes of the eastern Andes...