12 September 2009

Purple Patch at PVM…(NW Ecuador): September 11 & 12, 2009

I spent the last day and a half at the exciting Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary with a group of “hard core” British birders chasing down flocks, and scouring the gloomy understorey for skulkers. Rio Silanche, or PVM as it has been known (after the nearest town, Pedro Vicente Maldonado), is a tiny area of lowland forest in Pichincha that has been bought up and converted into a reserve (complete with canopy observation tower), by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. It is a great site for flocks, and therefore severe neck strain. We spent our time craning our necks skyward, sifting through flocks of tanagers and other gaudy South American birds trying to catch up with some of the specialties of the Chóco lowlands, as this small forest patch lies within this endemic rich bioregion.

The upshot of all this was we ran into some great birds, including a trio of scarce Euphonias: Fulvous-vented, White-vented (pictured here singing), and Orange-crowned Euphonias. These tanager-like birds were formerly grouped within the tanagers (Thraupidae), although were recently re-classified and subsequently moved out of the tanagers and into the siskin family (Fringillidae). Another star performer was this Purple-chested Hummingbird (see photo), which was vigorously defending its chosen patch of purple flowers. This hummer is another of the many endemics special to the bird rich Chóco region. As birds surged through the trees above the group worked tirelessly, fighting “tanager neck”, to pick out Scarlet-browed Tanagers flitting through the trees above that also had the odd Rufous-winged Tanager for company. Other standout moments from the past few days included a lift off of ten Swallow-tailed Kites (and another that glided gracefully over us, as we sweated from the humidity on the canopy tower). With a little work we finally ran into a pair of Chóco Trogons, that someone at least had earmarked in their quest to track down all the World’s trogons, (just some 40 odd species to get on that particular global adventure). A male Spot-crowned Antvireo posed and sang at us as we watched on just below. Also as we blundered after a fast moving flock in the area, a pair of Rufous-fronted Wood-Quails came crashing noisily out of the leaf litter and took us all by surprise, although we were not complaining one bit! A pair of Orange-fronted Barbets were found spitting sawdust as they excavated a new nest right by the road, a dinky pair of Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrants took some finding, although what would you expect from the World’s smallest passerine (just over 6cm); and a Scaly-throated Leaftosser had to be included on this list for the name alone, although the one of a pair that we found bounding around in the shady leaf litter was an undoubted highlight for both the rarity, and the “blinding” views. Despite all these crackers, amongst a horde of others, the top bird that was picked out by all from this area turned out to be the uninspiring sounding Black-striped Woodcreeper, although if you think woodcreepers are unimpressive this one may just make you change your mind. We finished with an antswarm by the car park as we finally had to leave this magical lowland reserve behind that drew in a Northern Barred Woodcreeper, and Bicolored and Immaculate Antbirds, that came in to feast on the various insects fleeing ahead of the swarm. A nice finish.

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