23 November 2014

Rail Quest...ECUADOR (4th Oct.)

Professional bird guides like me and others in Tropical Birding (the company I work for), quickly get itchy feet, when stranded in a city for too long; the lure of the field/jungle is so strong, we simply have to give in to it. And so when fellow Tropical Birder Andres Vasquez and I discovered that we had a weekend at the same time, we started hatching a plan to go after some lifers. I had not one, but two rails in my crosshairs, as well as a bittern too. A potential three-lifer weekend was enough to get me planning and packing, and Andres's wife, Paola was keen too. So on the Friday, we set out from the city of Quito and headed west into Manabi province, spending two nights in a hotel in the city of Chone, in order to visit the nearby wetland of La Segua.

We arrived and soon set about seeing our main target, Spotted Rail, a short walk from the makeshift visitor centre. Nothing was heard from the bird initially, and after playing for a while in an area we had been tipped off for it, Paola declared she had it. Nervous minutes followed before a boldly spotted shape with red legs attached revealed itself to be the Spotted Rail lurking in a shadowy hole in the reeds. No photos, sadly, but it was now firmly on our lists, and we were very happy with this start. We took a guided boat trip around this huge wetland, and enjoyed a fantastic ride, which turned out to be especially good for photos; Snail Kites were abundant and just sat daring us to photograph them, which we did, over, and over, again. Truth be told, another, third, rail was also possible at this site; Yellow-breasted Crake, the sole Ecuadorian record of which came from floating vegetation on this lake. 

However, all we saw amongst the floating vegetation and muddy edges were Wattled Jacanas, Cocoi Herons, Black-necked Stilts, Least Sandpipers, a couple of Buff-breasted Sandpipers (a rarity in this part of Ecuador), Wood Storks, Yellow-crowned Night-HeronsGreen and Ringed Kingfishers, White and Glossy Ibises and Anhingas, among others. 

We also got some cracking looks at several roosting Lesser Nighthawks around the edges of the lake, as well as Baird's Flycatcher (a regional endemic), a party of delightful Pacific Parrotlets, both Ecuadorian and Croaking Ground-Doves, and Masked Water-Tyrants. We were not surprised to not find the Yellow-breasted Crake, as we were following a short list of others who had also tried and failed here!

In the afternoon we headed along the coast, taking in a smashing fish lunch on the coast, while several Peruvian Boobies (a lifer for Andres and a new Ecuador bird for me), coasted by offshore. We watched in amusement when one particularly persistent booby, after continuing to harass a small fisherman in the channel by constantly landing within easy reach of his boat (and presumably his catch), finally got it's comeuppance, when the beleaguered angler turned around and promptly whacked it on the head. At this point, the booby got the message and took to the air! In between lunch and another boat trip Andres made an emergency stop, when he spotted a Burrowing Owl sitting out in the open (and clearly having recently had a gory meal), which just begged to be photographed...
We finished off with another boat ride along the mangroves bordering the shore of the coast that faces Isla Corazon, where we hoped we might find a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, which would be new for me. We had barely been going five minutes when a large, long-legged, hunched orange bird crept on to the mud and proceeded to walk along the edge of the mangroves, making sure we all got cracking looks at this handsome wood-rail; job done!

Having failed to find our other main target, Pinnated Bittern, for which La Segua is touted as one of the best sites in Ecuador, we vowed to use our following day to return and nail that species...  

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