20 December 2014

Into the Valley...ECUADOR (2 Nov.)

Having spent some time doing "patchwork" in Quito, I returned to my "other patch", one I can call that, as is almost a second home to me: the Tandayapa Valley. With a big conference on biodiversity occurring the following week in Ecuador's capital, a couple of attendees had decided on taking a day out of their pre-conference schedule to go and see what the Tandayapa Valley has to offer. On person, based in Norway, came in the night before, so after picking him up, we headed straight for the airport to meet a passenger coming in all the way from South Africa. Once we were all in the car we pointed westwards, towards the Tandayapa Valley. We packed a lot in to a small space on this day. Rather than racing to the hummingbird feeders at the lodge, an almost unavoidable urge, we instead, headed right up to the upper reaches of the valley, where the bromeliad-laden cloudforest offered us offered us one particularly special bird: Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. One of the participants had staked her claim for this bird, and so I did not want them to leave without it. Thankfully, we had great activity, which included at least 2 different Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans with it, not to mention a certain Grass-green Tanager too. While up there too, we also picked up a confiding Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, Green-and-black Fruiteater and Red-crested Cotinga, before we retreated to the lodge for lunch. 
After lunch it was only natural to take in the swarm of hummingbirds at the famous feeders there, which led us to such avian gems as Western Emerald, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Booted Racket-tail, among many others. The hummingbird feeders were not the only feeders that were active though, and a Rufous Motmot and Crimson-rumped Toucanet also put in an appearance or two at the "papaya feeder". The former bird was particularly interesting, as it was a patch "tick" for me, having only recently been recorded on the lodge property.
The big gaping scarlet hole on our list though was a certain Andean Cock-of-the-rock, a bird that many wish not to leave the country without, and one look at this thrilling bird, it is easy ti understand why. It is the quintessential Andean bird in some ways. This did mean we would not touch down in Quito until a little later than planned, and with jetlag kicking in for some, I outlined this option, which was duly snapped up. Apparently cock-of-the-rock outweighed jetlag in its importance! So we slowly drifted down the Old Nono-Mindo Road, a site of a cock-of-the-rock lek (display area); but were stopped in our tracks by a clipped, crisp call from the roadside. We quickly jumped out of the vehicle, and soon after clapped eyes on the culprit, a beautiful, Beautiful Jay, a very unexpected bonus for the day. This scarce navy blue jay is an endemic to the region, and one you can iss during a dedicated search over several days, let alone on a day trip with so much other birds to look for on the agenda, a search had not even been planned! The final "stanza" of the day was played out by Andean Cock-of-the-rocks, several gaudy vermilion males of which danced in the telescope to the delight of the group. That was supposed to be the final show of the day, but a fruiting tree in the area led to yet more quality birds; holding another Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and also at least 3 Crested Quetzals to boot; a Technicolor end to the day if ever there was one!

One day; 2 Grass-green Tanagers, 2 Beautiful Jays, 3 Crested Quetzals, 3 Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans, at least 4 Andean Cock-of-the-rocks, and 2 Rufous Motmots; enough for any day!

Next stop was Ecuador again, although this time down south, where a couple of Asian photographers had arrived to take pictures of the most impressive birds of the region...

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