24 December 2014

Mining for Parakeets...ECUADOR (5th & 6th Nov.)

My custom photo tour continued, spending these days in and around Buenaventura reserve in southern Ecuador. This reserve has been set up by the fantastic Jocotoco Conservation Foundation, that operates lodges, which then funnel back money to conservation, in order to purchase ever more much needed land for protection in Ecuador. The reserve covers a range of elevations in the foothills of the west slope of the Andes, and contains an exciting mix of birds of the Choco biogeographic region of the north, with others more typical for the south.
This Jocotoco reserve, like their others, has been set up to save some threatened species, particularly in this case, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, El Oro Parakeet, El Oro Tapaculo, and Ochraceous Attila, among others.
We worked the dirt entrance road for periods in the morning and afternoon of our first day, which has patches of sparse trees, allowing better light conditions than the deep forest. While this proved challenging photography overall, due to long periods of inactivity, we had some good results by the end of our time there. We did well for raptors in this regard, managing to photograph a Laughing Falcon, quite literally, laughing at us; and also several Gray-backed Hawks, an impressive hawk that is a regional endemic. I also managed to fluff my lines there, as far as photographing quality birds go. I managed to tape in the scarce Ochraceous Attila to the perfect perch, only to find that my camera settings had changed, due to a dial turning while rubbing against my body shortly before, unbeknown to me. Thus, as I went to examine what I thought would be killer shots, I found, to my dismay what had happened. A great, and rare, opportunity to photograph this ginger flycatcher had passed me by! 
Luckily though the group I was with did get it, which brought some relief and compensation. Also along the road there we chanced upon an atypically static Squirrel Cuckoo, a common species that I had not yet photographed well, and was new for the group too. Our time along the road also yielded a Western Slaty-Antshrike (recently renamed Black-hooded Antshrike), and Fasciated Tiger-Heron standing, frozen, by a rushing creek. However, it may best be remembered for a glorious Chestnut-mandibled Toucan posing in a treetop.
Periods around the lodge itself were punctuated by photo sessions with the hummingbirds and other birds and animals that visit the feeders. At the sugar feeders Brown Violet-ears and Green-crowned Brilliants preened their immaculate plumage, various Violet-bellied Hummingbirds glowed beside the feeders, and Green Thorntails displayed their namesake feature, in between frantic bouts of feeding; and every so often Green Honeycreepers stole in and robbed sugar water from the hummingbirds. 

Also beside the lodge was a spritely Common Tody-Flycatcher, which seemed to declare it's territory every few seconds, and a more placid Saffron Finch beamed from the bushes too. The less subtle of the visitors though were the boisterous band of Rufous-headed Chachalacas, and some bold White-nosed Coatis, which have become a regular lodge fixture in recent years.
The toughest photography was when we entered the deep forest, although we did this not because we were masochists, ready to punish ourselves, but because we knew in order to photograph one special bird, that is where you needed to be. As we descended the trail to a narrow river, we could hear the deep cow-like moos of a displaying male Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and it did not take long to locate it at a traditional display ground. Strangely only one male was present, but he was all we needed to gain great shots of this extremely odd bird.
Our final time at the reserve was spent seeking the rarest and most emblematic of Buenaventura's birds, the El Oro Parakeet. This bird was only formally described in 1988 by Robert Ridgely "The Great", who has done so, so, much for Ecuadorian birds through his scientific research and conservation work. The birds name means The Gold Parakeet, in reference to the province of Ecuador, where gold has been mined (i.e. El Oro). Getting to see the bird was straightforward; nest boxes have been erected, and while the birds were not, at that time, nesting, they do regularly return to the boxes and around the boxes even when not nesting. So we saw them no problem, but were thwarted in our photo attempts by heavy low cloud. It took two visits, and then the bright sunshine on our second visit led to more than satisfactory shots of this extremely rare bird that is confined to with the borders of Ecuador.
Our next stop, believe it or not, was to yield yet more photos still. One of the joys of birding Southern Ecuador is the variety of habitats encountered over a relatively short distance. So far we had traveled into mangroves by boat, visited wetlands, and evergreen forested foothills. Next up was another very different Jocotoco Conservation Foundation reserve, Jorupe, set within dry wooded hills, carpeted in deciduous trees...

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