15 October 2016

Build it, and they will come…ECUADOR (29-30 Sept)

Never has a quote been better applied than for a place like WildSumaco Lodge. They built it, and we (birders) came, and then came again for more! We spent three nights at this wonderfully located lodge, set within the eastern foothills of the Andes, overlooking both Volcan Antisana, and Volcan Sumaco, the latter of which sticks up conspicuously out of the Amazon Basin, appearing quite out of sync from the sweaty lowlands completely surrounding it. The lodge has been built in an area with both precious few reserves, and no other lodging available. Therefore, it was only natural that when they built it, birders would come. And since it has opened, it has become known as a place for rare and scarce species that were formerly inaccessible in the area. In our two full days on site we found it tough work tracking some of these down, but this was aided somewhat by their in-forest feeding station, where worms attracted repeated visits from Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, and Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas. Alongside the feeder we also got perhaps the best looks I have ever had of a tapaculo, when a Northern White-crowned Tapaculo emerged on to an open stem to sing right in front of our noses, revelaling hos namesake white crown in doing so! Either side of this we spent considerable time on the many trails that crisscross the reserve try to glean some of the rarer species out of the forest interior, where they belong. Like always with such tricky birds, we had success with some, and not with others. Our successes came with Rufous-breasted Piculet, Wing-banded Wren, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, and Mark even put me onto an in-flock Brown-billed Scythebill, a rarity for the site. A female Collared Trogon posed along the Manakin Trail, which held a less long-staying Grey-tailed Piha. The start of the F.A.C.E. Trail afforded the best view of the cone of Volcan Sumaco, peeking above the forest; an area that also gave us two low-flying Military Macaws to add to the Chestnut-fronted Macaws also seen in the area. 
Deeper in the forest we found a pair of smart Chestnut-crowned Gnateaters on the far end of the Piha Trail and Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant on the F.A.C.E. Trail. The lodge itself was quite active during our stay, as the Cecropias surrounding the lodge veranda were bearing fruit, and drew in Golden-collared Toucanet, Yellow-throated Toucan, Gilded and Red-headed Barbets, Paradise and Blue-browed Tanagers, and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Saffron-crowned and Blue-and-black Tanagers were also seen there, higher altitude aliens that were unusual for this spot. Sumaco has been rightly revered as a hotspot for eastern hummingbirds, and this was illustrated well during our visit, where their two hummingbird feeder sites produced scarce species like Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuadorian Piedtail (forest feeders only), Goulds Jewelfront (both lodge and forest feeders), Napo Sabrewing (forest feeders only), Black-throated Brilliant (forest feeders only), and Rufous-vented Whitetip (lodge feeder only). Boreal migrants desperately need forest in this area during the boreal winter, and we saw some of these, in the form of a few Canada Warblers and Cerulean Warblers.
My personal favourites though were the owls. There are three principal species known from the area, and all of them are entirely missable! The easiest of these is typically the larger species, the Band-bellied Owl. But try as we might, we could not find it at its usual trailside roosting spot along the F.A.C.E. Trail, or at night, when it taunted us regularly from deep cover. And so it was truly odd that the first owl we set our eyes on was the considerably rarer, and notoriously difficult Foothill Screech-Owl, along the start of the F.A.C.E. Trail. This species is currently lumped with the wider Vermiculated Screech-Owl complex, which may be divided into multiple species in the future. Now I have seen this one, I sincerely hope so! Next up was the one we had expected to see first, Band-bellied Owl, although it took the help of the on-site guide, Byron, to get us to see it, for it required some off-trail capers to get it. Finally, on my final night, I set out to find the final one of the trio, Rufescent Screech-Owl, which after the rigors of the previous night's exploits, I was glad to say was relatively straightforward!

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