01 March 2009

Birding the border and the Southwestern Highlands (Ecuador): 9 – 11 February 2009

The next few days saw us bird some starkly different habitats while based out of the same hotel just north of the border. Some time was spent in Jorupe Reserve just a short ride from Macara. As we walked up the road we found a Gray-and-gold Warbler working its way along the entrance track in the rain. The star find though were a couple of Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaners, and a pair of Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaners, along with a male Ecuadorian (Black-tailed) Trogon, a Black-capped Sparrow and both of the lookalike black-and-gold orioles in the area – the widespread Yellow-tailed, and the Tumbesian specialty, White-edged Oriole.

We then spent a couple of days in the southwest highlands (c.2400m), searching for some very localized species. Our first day up near the Utuana reserve was dogged by low, heavy mist and frequent rain, making the birding challenging and finding some of the specialties really tough. One dark shape in the gloom proved to be a Black-cowled Saltator that thankfully showed up later in the day when the rain had cleared in Sozoranga. An early success though was a fine pair of Piura Hemispingus that came in angrily to my tape. This seriously cool ‘tanager’ has recently been ‘downgraded’, lumped with the vastly different and far less attractive Black-eared Hemispingus, much to my chagrin! We also made a beeline for the reserve although I decided to check a spot for Gray-headed Antbird on the way up, drawing a complete blank, although decided to try in the same spot for another canny bamboo skulker, and got an almost immediate reply from a Rusty-breasted Antpitta. A lot of neck-craning and rapid fire directions later, and Chuck, Stuart and I were all on this plump antpitta hiding in the bamboo stand, while a Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush circled us below. This localized antpitta species in Ecuador is not in the field guide as it was not discovered at the few sites it exists in this Andean country until well after publication. On our second day making our way up the bamboo-fringed road to the town of Utuana, I was surprised when my seemingly futile efforts to see a calling Gray-headed Antbird from the roadside when a female bird popped up by the road, a rare experience indeed with this bird that more usually requires a scramble into the thick of the bamboo to see it. Up in the Jocotoco Foundation reserve itself we were dazzled by the usual hummers at the feeders, notably a rowdy bunch of Rainbow Starfrontlets, and a few Purple-throated Sunangels too, and also found one of Ecuador’s cutest birds – the Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, as well as getting a pair of Jelski’s Chat-Tyrants worked up by the main track there. Some open deciduous woodland and scrub close to the town of Sozoranga was worth two visits, for the pair of Watkins’s Antpittas on our first trip there, and the endangered Gray-breasted Flycatcher and superb Elegant Crescentchest seen during our second drop in there. This latter bird having recently been moved out of the dowdy tapaculo family and placed in its own newly formed family, the crescenchests.

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