21 December 2010

Another special Antpitta moment...ECUADOR (18 Dec 2010)

Having tried for Crescent-faced Antpitta on the tour previously and been thwarted by several calling birds, we went on our final mission for it, although this time in the south, near the town of Saraguro. As we climbed the road, temperate forest cloaked the road sides, with a thick bamboo understorey. Just the kind of stuff the antpittas like. Indeed, while stopping at a likely spot, we tried a tape of the bird and got a quick close response, but just could not get an angle where we could see it in the shady understorey. With this we headed higher and went on a hike through the paramo grassland and dropped into the elfin forest on the treeline, although this time did not even hear one. We then tried another track, choked with bamboo, and again heard nothing. It was now nearly 2pm and I was starting to wonder whether this bird was slipping out of our grasp altogether...

I could see the group was waning (one even retreating to the bus for a nap!), and decided to head down another steeper trail that looked perfect for the antpitta-dense elfin forest with a swathe of bamboo covering the forest floor. Venturing down the trail I found a spot that looked great for seeing one: large mossy trunks that would provide an ideal perch for the bird, if only we could get one to respond. I played that tape and immediately got a reply. The group went into "combat mode" bunching up into one area and readying ourselves for the task at hand...I played again a few times but was greeted with silence. I continued to play intermittently and then suddenly this classy antpitta flew up onto an open branch over the trail. We were all onto it swiftly and soaking up its stunning plumage, before it flitted off, leading to someone exclaiming "that was f***ing brilliant!" I could not agree more. Ken had stayed up the trail to avoid the steep downhill hike/slide so I went and beckoned him down. He had no trouble getting down with the renewed promise of this mega-antpitta, and amazingly once again the bird flew in and landed on an open branch, when this time my camera went into a frenzy to capture this fantastic memory (photos). Unfortunately when I returned for a third time to try and get the bird for the final member of the group (who had been sleeping on the bus), the bird remained hidden and silent. However, after all that on our way down the road we heard another, right by the road, and by just peering into the undergrowth we found our second one of the day and this time we were ALL able to enjoy it, and of course toast it with a beer later that night in our Cuenca hotel! It may have taken some time to get it but it was well, well worth it, forone of Ecuador's classic birds!

Our next day was a venture into the windswept paramos of
El Cajas NP, with the offer of tame high Andean birds, and spectacular high Andean scenery...

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