31 March 2010

Smith Oaks Spoonbills (HAS Smith Oaks, High Island, Texas): 31 March 2010

The highlight from today was the rookery at Smith Oaks. Great Egrets were sprouting plumes, while their facial skin had turned electric, lime green. Meanwhile glowing pink Roseate Spoonbills picked up sticks, dropped them again, and tussled with each other for prime position in the rookery (photos).

30 March 2010

Bolivar Peninsula, Texas: 30 March 2010

A late afternoon run down to the shore was worth it for massive wheeling flocks of sandpipers seen at Rollover Pass, along with at least 6 plump Piping Plovers. When we arrived on the beach at HAS Bolivar Flats further along the peninsula we were greeted by the sight of packs of terns loafing on the beach, and small parties shorebirds combing the shore. The highlight was this rich cinnamon Long-billed Curlew, that glowed in the early evening sunlight (top photo). A number of these "well-endowed" curlews were found on the sandy beach to our surprise, (as they are more often on the "semi-desert " like habitat along the peninsula). Also on the sand were groups of Royal Terns (middle photo), and a small party of elegant Marbled Godwits were watched probing the mud. Although the higher numbers of shorebirds were around the jetty on 17th Street, where Western Sandpipers were among a throng of waders probing the mud, and a rather large flock (35+) of Gull-billed Terns also lifted off the mud as they headed off to roost, as the sun set on our first full day of the spring migration season (bottom photo).

Much more to come from the Upper Texas Coast throughout April...

29 March 2010

High Island, Texas: 29 March 2010

Just a quick one to say that we all arrived back in High Island Texas for a month-long stint in this migration Mecca. As we unpacked the rental car a distinctive shape sitting on the top of a tree in Boy Scout Woods drew us to a true harbinger of spring, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. All too soon this distinctive "kingbird" took flight, when it was joined by two other birds, that drifted over 5th Street and were soon lost from view as they moved off on their continuing migration. A great start to this spring season on the Upper Texas Coast...

28 March 2010

Amazon Tour (Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): March 2010

This is a final gallery from this short venture into the Amazon rainforest. Highlights were many and varied, although for me the slippery Ochre-breasted Antpitta, a long wanted lifer took the biscuit. Unfortunately no photos of that rainforest wraith, but here are a few other crackers from the trip: Common Potoo panting in the heat of the day (top photo), Polkadot Treefrog (second photo), Pygmy Marmoset (third photo), South American Bullfrog (bottom photo), and the video at the bottom is of Night Monkeys peering out of their day roosting hole.

Amazon Tour (Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): March 2010

Well, I did briefly mention our encounter with a brace of cool manakins one morning in Sacha, when first a male Golden-headed Manakin appeared right where we were expecting to find a Blue-crowned Manakin (not to worry though, we caught up with this one on another day), then later we tracked down this calling male WIRE-TAILED MANAKIN (photo and video). A morning with these two Crested Owls and this breathtaking manakin is quite enough for anyone I feel!

Frogs, monkeys and other bird updates to come from Sacha...

27 March 2010

Amazon Tour (Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): March 2010

Just a shot of the wonderful pair of Crested Owls mentioned below...

Amazon Tour (Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): 5 March 2010

A TALE OF TWO PUFFBIRDS. For this day we visited Sacha Lodge's centerpiece, the magnificent metal walkway that sits loftily above the canopies of the surrounding jungle. From this lofty position we picked out White-throated Toucans, Black-tailed Trogons, Opal-rumped Tanagers and other colorful canopy fare. Less expected up there was our first puffbird of the day, the dinky Lanceolated Monklet that amazingly taped right onto the steel frame of the walkway (bottom video). Walking back to the lodge from the walkway through the Amazon rainforest bought us a slinky Rusty-belted Tapaculo that played hide and seek behind a fallen log for a while before it emerged out into the open. However, the "celebrity couple" that morning were the pair of brilliant Crested Owls roosting behind the lodge (see photo on above post), that frankly stole the limelight from all else that day. However, our journey back to the lodge did produce another highlight or two, with two species of manakin (Golden-headed and the audacious Wire-tailed-video to come soon), the gorgeous Amazonian songster, the Musician Wren, and another puffbird, this time the White-chested Puffbird sitting quietly (top photo). More from Sacha to come...

26 March 2010

Amazon Tour (Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): 3-4 March 2010

2 people from Ohio (staff from the fabulous Ottawa NWR), decided they just could not leave Ecuador without sampling the obscene diversity of the Amazon. So early on the 3rd we set off in a plane for the short flight across the Andes to oil town of Coca, jumped into a motorized canoe and jetted down the Napo River (a tributary of the mighty Amazon), and made our way to Sacha Lodge, a luxurious hideaway perched on the edge of
Pilchicocha Lake.

There was little time for much after our afternoon arrival, although we were more than happy that we spotlighted two different species of screech-owl within twenty minutes of each other close to the lodge at dusk-first a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl called softly back at us, and then a Tropical Screech-Owl glared at us angrily with striking yellow eyes, while we got fitted out with rubber boots for our trips into the jungle.

Our first full day in Sacha was all about parrots. We motored down the Napo a little further and dropped in on three different clay licks for the parrots in Yasuni NP. At the first, slap bang al;alongside the Napo River we watched Mealy Amazons, Yellow-crowned Amazons, and Dusky-headed Parakeets digging into the banks. A moment of drama unfolded when one of the Amazons dropped into the water, but was soon fished out, and the sodden parrot was soon back on dry land. The third lick, the so-called "parakeet lick" was the best show of all. Dozens and dozens of Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets came down to the lick, accompanied by hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, and a lone Orange-cheeked Parrot that strutted very impressively among them (see video above). All the while the group were very jittery by virtue of the fact that a pair of Great Black Hawks sat ominously above the whole time (see video below). This led to some spectacular scenes whereby the parrots would all take off at once and fly near head height straight at the blind we were sat it, that made us feel like we were the targets for all of this!

I have attached videos so that you can also enjoy some of this crazy action here to show what an awesome scene it is. Still of the parrots to come...

25 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Final Day (Paz de las Aves NW Ecuador): 2 March 2010

For our final day were back in the realm of the subtropics, where tall, moss-covered trees are laden with bromeliads. On this day we visited the so-called "Antpitta Farm" of Paz de las Aves, as the farmer there has managed to habituate a number of these shy species, thus beginning a trend of "antpitta taming" in Ecuador and Colombia. We left at a truly ungodly hour to get there, although not for the sake of the antpittas but for a rather more gaudy attraction. As the first glimmers of light started to push their way through the rainforest we set off down a short trail, and soon heard the ugly, pig-like squeals of our quarry, the remarkable Andean Cock-of-the-rock. This was a new lek site (as the old one had been abandoned recently), although what a boon this proved. This new spot was magical. We stood in an open topped blind, with as many as ten different vermilion males squawked, squealed and danced around us, a classic Andean scene. As we headed out from the lek we paused to admire three Golden-headed Quetzals at the forest edge too.

Then we descended Angel's valley, where his prize "possessions", the antpittas, lurk. As per normal the Giant Antpitta proved oh so easy, Maria bouncing up to us on the trail right on cue. Although an as yet unnamed recently fledged juvenile was a nice surprise as we descended to the valley bottom for another antpitta. This species as is often the case took a little digging, although right when the group were losing their will to live Angel and his brother Rodrigo, gestured for us to follow them. A hairy trip across a slippery wooden bridge and we were soon face-to-face with Willy, a showy Yellow-breasted Antpitta that posed atop a rock for us making the wait all the more worthwhile (middle photo).
As we headed back towards the cafe we got distracted for quite a time at Angel's new fruit feeders which were a hive of activity, a pair of Olivaceous Piha (bottom photo), several Toucan Barbets, a few Black-chinned Mountains-Tanagers (top photo) and a Crimson-rumped Toucanet making this a must-see spot. A male Orange-breasted Fruiteater hiding out in the trees above was not too shabby either!

As we emerged out of the dark forest we checked his hummingbird feeders at the forest edge which held 11 hummer species, including the dazzling Velvet-purple Coronet among an all star cast that also included Violet-tailed Sylph and Empress Brilliant. We ended with a fine Ecuadorian spread at his cafe, and after a final bit of forest birding we had to retreat back to Quito, with our bellies full of empanadas and our heads full of incredible birds!

24 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 5 (Rio Silanche, NW Ecuador): 1 March 2010

Today we journeyed downhill to the lower foothill/lowlands of the Choco. This area of NW Ecuador has suffered its fair share of (rampant) deforestation, so the few patches that remain are vital to the birdlife of the region. In spite of this the patches of forest and secondary habitats close to the town of Pedro Vicente Maldonado still provide some truly exhilarating birding.

This day is one of my "fave" day trips out of Tandayapa Lodge, because it is so "birdy" and there is rarely a moment when you are not glassing something. In contrast the more thickly forested regions of the Andes can make you wonder if you are in the tropics at all, during those killer dull spells!
Our purpose for the visit was to showcase the small Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF) sanctuary of Rio Silanche. However, in order to do that we had to get there through secondary habitats en-route that can be so action packed for birds it is hard to actually get to the reserve. So it proved, with the road birding on the way producing some cool birds of its own, like a BARRED PUFFBIRD that chose to stand sentry on the top of a tree making it rather noticeable to us (bottom photo). As we tried vainly to get the reserve stop after stop became necessary as birds popped up by the road. One stop brought us the remarkable Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, another an encounter with Purple-throated Fruitcrow and a Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and even the cool Cinnamon Woodpecker.

Finally, we made to the forest within the MCF sanctuary and set about trying to find the roaming flocks within the reserve that are a tanager-lovers dream. Before we hit these flurries of frenzied activity a tip off from another Tropical Birding guide, Andres Vasquez took us to a hollow, where out popped a brilliant Black-throated Trogon from its recently occupied nest (a rare bird in these parts). Taking another trail just twenty minutes or so later we were looking skyward for canopy flocks, but were distracted by the call of another trogon, this time the endemic CHOCO TROGON (top photo). After locating the pair we watched and watched and then saw the male settle down in a clump of moss: our second trogon nest in thirty minutes! To add to the trogon bonanza, later that afternoon we checked a stakeout for the recently split Western White-tailed Trogon (now simply called White-tailed Trogon) and came upon a fine male glaring down at us. Triple Trogon day!
Searching for tanager troops up on the canopy tower proved pretty fruitless in the extreme heat of the day, although a Purple-chested Hummingbird buzzing around the few flowers left at the base was noteworthy, being one of the endemics confined to this Choco region (like the aptly-named trogon above too). Walks in the forest bought us in contact with several of the frantic flocks that often stream through the trees at Silanche, one of which bought us a Spot-crowned Antvireo, and others bought us a flurry of tanagers including the rare and beautiful Blue-whiskered Tanager, and Golden-hooded and Scarlet-browed Tanagers among a host of other tanagers that tallied up to 17 tanager species for the day. One of the most memorable ones through was one of a pair of Emerald Tanagers that when taped in almost took a little of our hair off as it flew in at eye level! Some chunky pied Orange-fronted Barbets also shuffled along with the flock in one area too. Last, but by no means least, was an encounter with the dashing White-bearded Manakin, whose "firecracker" displays could be heard in various parts of the reserve, but initially appeared just out of reach as they "danced" in the shadows. Finally, we found a well-dressed male that lingered in one spot for a time, even allowing us to scope him up while he preened his immaculate plumage.

Just one more day lie ahead for the tour, although it did involve a visit to the famous "Antpitta Farm" of Angel Paz, and the promise of whole lot more besides antpittas...

23 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 4 (Mashpi/Tandayapa Valley, NW Ecuador): 28 Feb 2010

For this day we mixed things up a little, spending the morning back in the foothills of the Andes again, although this time at the exciting new "hotspot" of Mashpi. In the afternoon we entered the very different world of the subtropics once more, visiting the upper end of the Tandayapa Valley, targeting a completely different suite of birds.

Mashpi is an area of rich foothill forest near the town of Pacto. Our morning there was characterized by hot, dry sunny weather, a bird guides nightmare in the Andes, as the birds in these mountains prefer a bit of cloud cover and even a bit of rain to keep them active. Thus we experienced a fairly quiet morning there by the heady standards that Mashpi has set itself over recent months. That is not to say though that it was not worthwhile, for we quickly found the regional endemic Moss-backed Tanager just after our arrival, then came upon our first motmot of the tour with a Broad-billed Motmot a little further up this deserted forest road, and also found one of the tour stunners in the form of a super male ORANGE-BREASTED FRUITEATER feeding low in a fruiting tree (middle photo). Indeed this was the first in a brace of fruiteaters that morning as Julie later found a male Scaled Fruiteater sitting quietly beside the track. Better still by the end of the day we had also added a third fruiteater for the day, with a male Green-and-black Fruiteater in the Tandayapa Valley. More Toucan Barbets gorging on cecropia catkins were also much appreciated during our morning at Mashpi.

After picnicking at Mashpi we hit the road back to Tandayapa, and headed up to the ridge at the top. Before reaching the ridge though our keen-eyed driver pointed towards a vivid green shape moving through the trees beside the bus, that bought us face to face with the startling Grass-green Tanager, a vision in green with bright orange bare parts. Walking near the top of the ridge line we encountered another party of PLATE-BILLED MOUNTAIN-TOUCANS, our third sighting in as many days of this standout Andean bird (bottom photo). Some of the repeats were more interesting than the new stuff, as we also came upon another pair of TANAGER FINCHES (our second encounter in three days, and this one in a completely different spot than the first), top photo. After a long day in the field some of the group were itching to return to Tandayapa Lodge and get some shuteye, although a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta hopping along the road in front of the bus stopped us in our tracks, and was quickly followed by another "road block" in the form of a pair of Band-winged Nightjars that took to the wing off the road and were then spotlighted flying around our heads just over head height.

Next up was a visit to another Mindo Cloudforest Foundation sanctuary, Rio Silanche, in the lowlands of the Choco region...

Andes Custom Introtour Day 3 (Milpe, NW Ecuador): 27 Feb 2010

Our third day of this 6-day introduction to the wealth of birds in the Tandayapa region of NW Ecuador involved a venture down slope. A short drive down from Tandayapa Lodge brought us into the foothills of the Andes to Milpe, and with this significant change in altitude (dropping from 1750m to 1100m) came a whole swathe of new and exciting birds.

Road birding in this area was superb, with
4 species of toucan found within the forest patches along the Milpe road, including Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (here at a much lower elevation than is normal for this subtropical species), and the endemic Choco Toucan and "target-chested" Pale-mandibled Aracari. Also just off the highway we found a Golden-headed Quetzal to add to the bonanza of birds easily seen from this dirt track. A late afternoon forray along the road also saw us manage to tape out several White-throated Crakes that hurried across the traffic-less road in response to tape (much to my and the groups surprise!), and get up close and personal with the wheatear-like MASKED WATER-TYRANT (top photo).

Such foothill forests are some of the richest in terms of boreal migrants, many of these "northern" species wintering at these altitudes in the Andes. On this day we bumped into an immature male American Redstart flitting around cecropias in the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF) sanctuary, fiery faced male Blackburnian Warblers were found in some of the mixed flocks roaming the area, and several Swainson's Thrushes were seen taking advantage of the fruit available in this tropical area during the boreal winter.

A short hike into the forest was necessary to pick up the sanctuary's most famous resident, the rusty, red-capped
Club-winged Manakin that were observed giving their strange and absorbing displays at the forest edge (see here for more information on this fantastic little manakin). Once we tore ourselves away from the "manakin show" we hung around the forest taking in the crazy mixed flock that was swirling around the reserve, that held all manner of tanagers, foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers, flycatchers, euphonias, and even a couple of the scarce and vividly colored Yellow-collared Chlorophoinia. In all 17 species of tanagers were recorded this day including the endemic Rufous-throated & Glistening-green Tanagers, striking Purple Honeycreeper, and the "Blackburnianesque" Flame-faced Tanager too (one of my favorite Andean tanagers). On top of that, 10 species of hummer were seen at the busy feeders by the sanctuary cafe, that pulled in the audacious Velvet-purple Coronet, the endemic White-whiskered Hermit, and the glistening, gem-like GREEN-CROWNED WOODNYMPH (bottom photo).

Next up was a venture to the exciting new birding spot of Mashpi, in the western foothills of the Andes...

22 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 2 (Tandayapa Valley NW Ecuador): 26 Feb 2010

Continuing our short tour of the endemic rich region of the Choco of NW Ecuador, we spent the day birding the subtropical forest in the Tandayapa Valley. A short time after daybreak we peered through the gloom of dawn at a Scaled Antpitta that hopped down in front of the blind at Tandayapa Lodge. This rainforest wraith soon retreated back into cover once full light had reached the cloudforest. However, it was then that two powerfully built White-throated Quail-Doves strolled onto the compost heap and fed for some time.

Next up was a foray upslope to the upper end of the valley. As we made our way up this forest-fringed back road an odd-looking branch had us making an "emergency"stop, for this strange branch was not a branch at all but a cryptic COMMON POTOO doing its best branch impression at a day roost (TOP PHOTO)! While birding a quiet forest road the Tandayapa Lodge volunteer Scott Watson came hurriedly towards us to let us know that he had just had a magnificent encounter with the rare Tanager Finch, and so we hotfooted it to the spot and found it just where he advised-thanks Scott (BOTTOM PHOTO)! We then returned to our original spot and lucked into a trio of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans rummaging within a fruiting tree to gasps all round.

A lunch stop at Tandayapa Lodge bought us a flurry of activity from 17 odd species of hummers, to a nesting Powerful Woodpecker by the hot tub, to a pair of White-winged Brush-Finches creeping through the brush there. A late afternoon jaunt down lower in the valley bought us the clown-like Toucan Barbet in an area that also bought us the often tricky Beautiful Jay too, before we hurried to a roadside stakeout for Lyre-tailed Nightjar and enjoyed wonderful views of this extravagant nightjar in the scope with its spectacularly long tail trailing behind him.

Next up was the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation sanctuary at Milpe, and the promise of some rich Andean foothill birding...

21 March 2010

Papallacta (E Ecuador): 21 March 2010

Just a quick interlude from giving the daily highlights on a recent Andes Introtour, to upload today's birding adventure... Having finished a short tour yesterday, and now on "vacation" Nick Athanas and I decided to head to Papallacta in eastern Ecuador for a break from city life in Quito. The pass at Papallacta is at a heady 4,000m and so can often be cloaked in cloud and is prone to cold, wet and frankly horrible weather. Therefore as we approached the area and saw dark clouds gathering our hopes for the day were not high. Remaining lower down for a while as a result we found a shrub laden with red flowers that was buzzing with highland hummers: first a Shining Sunbeam attempted to stand guard, although had its hand full in trying to fight off regular visits from several awesome Rainbow-bearded Thornbills, Viridian Metaltails, and even a Golden-breasted Puffleg dropped in for a time.

Finally we pushed on into the paramo grasslands that swathe the scenic hillsides around the mountain pass. This area bought us some of the classic highland birds like Andean Tit-Spinetail (bottom photo), a mixed group of cinclodes, that held both the recently recognized Chestnut-winged Cinclodes (just very recently split from Bar-winged), and the distinctly butcher Stout-billed Cinclodes too. Some chuquiragua blooms also lured in an Ecuadorian Hillstar briefly.

However, the days highlight came in an area of elfin forest near the timberline, where as we crept in to try and find a calling Crescent-faced Antpitta (painful miss), Nick caught a shuffling movement on a wet mossy branch beside us that led us to this stunning Ocellated Tapaculo that shuffled clumsily around us for what seemed like an eternity. Exemplary performance. I am still reeling from the fantastic run I seem to be having with this often tricky species of late, my fourth sighting this year!

20 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 1 (Ecuador) 25 Feb 2010

A very special gang of birding friends began a tour with me on this day, a mixed group from the Magee Marsh area of Ohio. A mixture of folks from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ottawa NWR, and Maumee Bay State Park came over to Ecuador to find out what all the fuss is about. So I set about showing them... We began on the cloudy slopes of Pichincha, at the spectacular hummingbird reserve of Yanacocha, just a short drive from the capital Quito. The Andes is ALL about multicolored mixed flocks and the craziness of this all, and we saw this first hand. Among the melee of species present we picked out several butch tanagers including the striking Scarlet-bellied & Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers, Blue-backed Conebills, and the strangely-named Superciliaried Hemispingus (much to Laura's delight!) Also along the trail was an all too brief Barred Fruiteater, and a not so brief Ocellated Tapaculo that already was vying for bird of the trip just a few hours in. This polka-dotted Andean beauty is tough to beat in my book, and not surprisingly another group soon joined up with us eagerly to treasure this cool mountain bird.

The hummer feeders were predictably busy, with the outrageous Sword-billed Hummingbird proving the showstopper there (one of an outstanding 24 hummer species seen that day here and at Tandayapa Lodge in the late afternoon), competing not only with hummers but several nectar parasites too, in the form of several cobalt blue Masked Flowerpiercers and Glossy Flowerpiercers too (top photos).

Over lunch a
Tawny Antpitta came to check us out, popping onto a fence post and glaring at us (jealously) while we picnicked on site! The afternoon was quieter but thrilling all the same for a couple of notable additions: the dreamy blue Turquoise Jay (bottom photo), and the gob-smacking Andean Cock-of-the-rock, dressed in bright vermilion, munching on cecropia catkins.

17 March 2010

El Cajas to finish...(Ecuador): 18 Feb 2010

The final day of this short tour was spent amongst the magnificent scenery of the high Andes, in the national park of El Cajas, just outside the colonial city of Cuenca. It was another full on day, with a bounty of birds for us in this markedly different environment from what we had experienced previously. A foray into an area of cloud forest bought us a pair of Rufous Antpittas hopping boldly along a trail ahead of us, and an Andean Guan hiding out in the low trees.

As we ascended up towards the paramo grasslands that dominate this vast park, we made several roadside pit stops. First for an obliging Violet-throated Metaltail, then for an even more obliging Andean Tit-spinetail (third photo), in addition to our fifth and final antpitta of this 8 day trip-Tawny Antpitta (to add to Rufous, Jocotoco, Watkins's, Slate-crowned seen earlier). Up on the open paramo we found a pair of strutting Carunculated Caracaras, and a small group of Andean Lapwing.

However, the star performers were hiding out in the flaky red polylepis woodland. This tree is the highest growing of any in the world, and supports few birds. However, the ones it does support are very special indeed. First we found the tame, glowing blue Tit-like Dacnis working the woods at the edge of a scenic lake (fourth photo), and then a movement caught our eyes and we homed in on the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill gleaning from the trunk of a
polylepis. Try as I might I just could not get a shot. Then amazingly, after lunch we wandered into another polylepis patch and chanced upon another of these magical Andean birds. This one was way more helpful and my camera went into overdrive (top two photos). A great way to end this fast-paced, bird-packed, short circuit of the south.

Jocotoco Antpitta Video (Tapichalaca, Ecuador): 17 Feb 2010

Here is a rather poor video taken handheld on my Blackberry of the oh so friendly young Jocotoco Antpitta at Tapichalaca...

Tapichalaca Tapaculos (Ecuador): 17 Feb 2010

With just a morning to continue exploring Tapichalaca before we had to head north to the colonial city of Cuenca, Rich decided to return to the Jocotoco Trail, although not just for a shot at seeing the adult antpittas that were uncharacteristically absent the day before (when the juvenile entertained us instead), but also for the chance of one spotty tapaculo. However, first up was a tapaculo but not the special polka-dotted one that Rich was so keen on, but a Chusquea Tapaculo, that was visiting the compost pile behind the lodge. On our way up the Jocotoco Trail we bumped into a striking Long-tailed Antbird, and pretty soon after re-acquainted ourselves with the young Jocotoco Antpitta, that simply would not leave us alone. At one point, once we thought we had lost it, we watched as it literally stalked us along the trail!

Having lost the antpitta we tried the tape a couple of times for the Ocellated Tapaculo that we so wanted this morning, to no avail. We spent a little time trying for and finally getting a marvelous Barred Antthrush a little further on, before returning to the "tapaculo" spot a little later. On returning to the very same spot just thirty minutes or so later we were startled to hear a pair of Ocellated Tapaculos calling loudly! What followed was the greatest Ocellated Tapaculo show that I had ever experienced. Just a quick burst of tape bought them crashing clumsily through the undergrowth, and periodically emerging out of the dark depths to call back from an open branch. This culminated in one particularly excitable bird that actually landed on the open trails beside me. Thankfully I did not stand open mouthed for too long and managed to crack one shot off of this once in a lifetime performance...(top photo). One of the classic Andean birds for sure, with its cherry-red face, and boldly dotted plumage.

With time running out, what with all the time we had spent with the polka-dotted one, we hastened back down the trail, only to be distracted by the arrival of the two adult Jocotoco Antpittas that were a little less shameful than the tame juvenile, at least occasionally retreating into cover! (bottom two photos) After leaving Tapichalaca (seeing a gorgeous Golden-crowned Tanager as we left), we endured the long, long drive to Cuenca, after which we settled in to our hotel, and started thinking ahead to tomorrows final day, in the high Andean paramo of El Cajas...

More Tapichalaca Antpittas (pm)...(Ecuador): 16 Feb 2010

After lunch with hummingbirds and the usual afternoon cloud descending over Tapichalaca, we opted to take a short drive downslope to check some forest patches around the town of Valladolid, that holds a different suite of birds to the temperate birds found around the reserve at Tapichalaca. On the way down we had one of the sightings of the trip, a juvenile Semicollared Hawk that was perched rather brazenly by the roadside as we descended, allowing for the odd photo too (top photo). Down at Valladolid the main target feel pretty easily, Maranon Thrush, so named as it is confined to the Maranon drainage basin of southern Ecuador and extreme northern Peru. After picking up a few other titbits, like Mottle-backed Elaenia and Olive-chested Flycatcher, we drove back up into the cloud of Tapichalaca. Rich and Terry chose to relax in the late afternoon while took a stroll on one of the trails close to the lodge, where I rain into this Rufous Antpitta hopping along the trail (my third antpitta for the day!) We all ended with the same female Swallow-tailed Nightjar flitting on and off the entrace track to the lodge as night fell.

Tapichalaca Antpittas and more (am)...(Ecuador): 16 Feb 2010

Today was a little less hurried than the day before, and we spent a relaxed morning on the Tapichalaca trails. The trails are lined with wet temperate forest, and is home to many special birds. Tapichalaca is one of the best spots in Ecuador for antpittas, and we picked up two of these with little trouble this morning. First the diminutive Slate-crowned Antpitta hopped onto an open bamboo branch for us as we made our way up the trail, then after a short pause to gorge on a White-throated Quail-Dove watched at a feeder, we ran into some researchers who are busy working with the reserve's flagship species, the recently (1997) described Jocotoco Antpitta. Judging by the fact a remarkably tame juvenile Jocotoco Antpitta was stood right beside them, I guess the antpitta is not too hard to study right now (photos)!!! This was one of the tame trio that have made finding this ordinarily shy forest bird relatively straightforward in recent years-a guides dream! While we watched this bold antpitta hopping around our feet, we were distracted by other avian delights too, with a Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan perched in the trees overhead, and a short time later a Green-and-black Fruiteater in a neighboring tree also.

A short walk further along the trail brought us another fruiteater, this time the larger and more boldly patterned Barred Fruiteater. At the end of the morning we retired to the lodge for lunch (picking up a Bearded Guan as we descended down the trail) and a hummingbird fest, with many buzzing around the busy Casa Simpson feeders, including Flame and Amethyst-throated Sunangels, although a short walk along the road was needed to find the local Rufous-capped Thornbill.

16 March 2010

Utuana to Tapichalaca (with Catamayo in the middle), Ecuador: 15 Feb 2010

To say we crammed a lot into this day is an understatement. We begun our day in the southwestern highlands in and around Utuana, picking up a bunch of local species, then made our way across the Andes to the eastern temperate forests of Tapichalaca. Along the way we made a short detour to check for finches in Catamayo as well. The result of this action-packed day was lots of birds and some really, really special ones in the mix...

Utuana was looking grim at dawn, with low mist as we got out of the car, that then miraculously lifted, when the birds came thick and fast: first a number of constantly calling
Line-cheeked Spinetails revealed themselves, then several pairs of Piura Hemispingus appeared, rapidly followed by Silvery Tanagers, and a striking pair of roadside Golden-headed Quetzals. Then we opted to drive higher up the road, but stopped to check a spot for Jelski's Chat-Tyrant, that paid off quicker than expected, and also alerted us to a calling Gray-headed Antbird nearby that very uncharacteristically allowed itself to be seen right from the roadside. (Normally they are buried deep within the bamboo). With things falling nicely into place we headed for the reserve upslope, hurried to the feeders, stopping for the incredibly dashing Black-crested Tit-Tyrant en-route, and then settled in by the feeders to enjoy the show. Namely for the numerous, and somewhat aggressive Rainbow Starfrontlets that were crowding the feeders, one of Ecuador's most colorful hummers (and that's saying something considering there are over 120 species of them!) Of course on this incredible birdy day we were soon drawn away from the starfrontlets, Speckled Hummers (bottom photo) and others as another pair of Black-crested Tit-Tyrants deservedly lured us away, that also led us to a bonus pair of Bay-crowned Brush-Finches that fed out in the open, again rather uncharacteristically.

Job done, and with time pressing on this short tour we had to leave Utuana and head east into the province of Zamora-Chinchipe. However, before we entered that state we stopped for a frantic fifteen minute spell at
Catamayo, as it was kind of on the way, and frankly I could not resist. Luckily on this day all that was needed was that long to pick up Drab and Parrot-billed Seedeaters, Croaking Ground-Doves, and Peruvian Meadowlarks.

It was then full steam ahead to the wet temperate forests of Tapichalaca, the home of "Ridgely's" Antpitta (better known as Jocotoco). Amazingly, and for the first time for me, we arrived in nice weather and not a spot of rain. The fine weather permitted us to bird en-route, stopping for a roadside flock on the edge of the reserve brought us a pair of Black-headed Hemispingus mixed in with several dandy Golden-crowned Tanager (top photo). Once we reached the reserve we got some late afternoon Golden-plumed Parakeets, preening their handsome plumes in the late afternoon sun, and then waited at dusk for a Swallow-tailed Nightjar that landed on the lodge driveway, as a Rufous-bellied Nighthawk hawked overhead. The swallow-tailed was "only" a female (minus the extraordinary tail of the male), but after this mega days birding who were we to complain! The Jocotoco Antpitta was up next...