06 December 2014

Urban Birding (in the tropics)...ECUADOR (12th Oct.)

With my next tour leading job some time away, I found myself marooned in the city (Quito) for a while. However, the month of October is a month of migration, even in a city like Quito, nestled in the Andes of South America. In this season birds from the boreal north move south for the winter, with some of them ending up in Ecuador.
In recent years local ex-pat birders like Roger Ahlman, and Ecuadorian birders have proved the worth of a small park in Quito, as a notable migrant hotspot. While it does not compare with the legendary migrant traps of North America like High Island and Cape May, as there is really only a trickle of birds coming through here, it has still managed to turn up plenty of birds, with Roger at least, having recorded in excess of an impressive 120 species in the Quito Botanic Gardens over the past few years. Thus, when I found myself, "tied to the city for a while", I thought I would get involved and check out what was happening there. The park provides a kind of oasis in the central, Inter-Andean Valley, which Quito is largely located within. In general, relative to the rest of the country (which is mega-diverse, boasting 1600 species or so), the dry and semi-arid central valley is depauperate for birds, in comparison to the wet west and east facing slopes of the Andes. Therefore, in terms of species diversity, Quito, is relatively low, with the following species making up a very predictable standard day list in the city, Eared Dove, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great Thrush, Sparkling Violet-ear, Black Flowerpiercer, and Black-tailed Trainbearer. All of these birds were in evidence within the gardens that day, but I was hoping for something less predictable, and I got it...
Earlier in the week, another local birder (Dusan Brinkhuizen), along with Roger had found a major rarity in the gardens, Large Elaenia. This fuelled by reason for visiting, for this would be a lifebird too, just minutes from my apartment in the city. Having looked earlier in the week to no avail (and bumped into Robert Ridgely no less in doing so), I opted to return, although on this occasion, more typically, I found myself birding the gardens alone. The sky was threatening to unload a heavy downpour, and I enjoyed a fantastic afternoon's city birding. After a brief brush with a large and burly Elaenia, presumably the Large Elaenia, which I was not satisfied enough to count on that view, other migrants trickled their way on to my Quito list. An adult male American Redstart, presumably on his way to the foothills of the Andes, flitted around the trees; then a flycatcher dropped into view, which I was sure was not regular here, a Streaked/Sulphur-bellied type. On snapping off a reel of shots and checking the literature when I got home, along with a few nervous phone calls to Nick Athanas who was at home, I nailed it as a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, a good bird for Quito. (When birding migrant traps with limited history like this one, all bets are off and all possiblities must be considered to be on the safe side!)
As I got off the phone to Nick, immediately another flycatcher landed in front of me. Noting with the naked eye that it was from the extremely troublesome myiarchus group, I groaned inside, at the prospect of another identification conundrum. However, on clapping my bins on it, I was relieved to see it was a Great Crested Flycatcher, almost the only distinctive one in the group that I could have expected here, and another good find! While not a migrant, the suddenly vigilant nature of the normally placid Great Thrushes on site prepared me for an immature White-rumped Hawk that came whipping through the park, but left empty-handed, probably due to the keen eyesight of the resident thrushes more than anything. All the other migrants seen that day of note were also flycatchers, with a Snowy-throated Kingbird, several Western Wood-Pewees (identified on call), and an unidentified Empidonax flycatcher, which zipped off before giving me a clear look, and also remained silent, leaving me wanting more. The final drop in, was a super Fork-tailed Flycatcher to complete a fascinating few hours dominated by migrant flycatchers. 

However, while migrant watching, I was "photobombed" by a hulking male Golden-bellied Grosbeak (a resident Andean bird), and I was only too please to shoot it, before the rain came crashing down and I abandoned ship!

A few more runs of Urban Migrants was followed by the briefest of trips Down Under, all to come very soon....


Lee Dingain said...

Absolutely fantastic stuff!! Looking forward to seeing what turns up on future visits.

Trillium Leadership Consulting said...

HI Sam,
I enjoyed looking at your photos. I was just in the Botanical Garden in Quito and wonder if you know the black crow-size bird with yellow eye ring and yellow legs? And the slim all black bird of sparrow size (only thinner)? I only have a Galapagos bird book, not one for the mainland.
And, I saw a lot of the long-tailed hummingbirds with the green body - most likely the one you mention - train tail?
thanks - Pat in Seattle