01 March 2009

The ‘Bullbirds’ of Buenventura (Ecuador): 5 – 8 February 2009

We began our south circuit in Guayaquil, making our way south to the Jocotoco Foundation reserve of Buenventura in El Oro province. Before we left Guayas province we stopped at a small reserve just outside Guayaquil, Cerro Blanco, for some birds of the ‘dry’ Tumbesian biogeographical region that encompasses southwestern Ecuador and some of northern Peru. This often dry deciduous zone though was carpeted in rich bright green vegetation, testament to the wet weather that it had experienced lately. This made seeing the Pale-browed Tinamou calling close along the entrance track all but impossible, although we did pick up some other Tumbesian birds like White-tailed Jay, Crimson-breasted Finch, Speckle-breasted Wren, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Fasciated Wren and Ecuadorian Piculet, before we headed south towards El Oro. We made a hairy stop along the busy highway just south of Guayaquil near Manglares-Charute reserve, where we found its star resident, a couple of hulking Horned Screamers perched up on a roadside bush, in the middle of this large marsh.

In Buenaventura we spent a great couple of days in the foothill forest (c.500-800m), there, overnighting in the very agreeable Umbrellabird Lodge on site. The star attraction at Buenaventura is the absurd looking Long-wattled Umbrellabird, some males of which sport wattles of over 30cm in length. We set off down the trail in the half light, listening for their deep, cow-like calls, that have led to their Ecuadorian name, ‘El Toro’. Alarmingly, none were heard, in stark contrast to when I was last here and you could not shut them up. We waited patiently just above the river where the lekking ground is located, where on some occasions a number of males come into perform at once. This was not to be on this day, although we were not disappointed anyhow. Just when things were looking bleak, with no site nor sound, a low mooing sound was heard in the valley below, and our local guide Arten set off on the ‘scent’. He hurried through the forest, while we slipped and slid in his wake, and then suddenly and quietly gestured to a large black shape in the trees, a superb male Long-wattled Umbrellabird perched brazenly above the trail. Other highlights in Buenaventura included a party of the rare El Oro Parakeet, lekking Club-winged Manakins, a male Esmeraldas Antbird, Brownish Twistwings, multiple Gray-backed Hawks, Song Wren, a pair of Pacific Tuftedcheeks, and the odd Guayaquil Woodpecker.

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