18 October 2016

Hooked on Silanche…ECUADOR (4 Oct)

Rio Silanche has always been one of my favourite places to guide in northwest Ecuador, and this day illustrated very well why. Simply put, it is very birdy, every time you go there, making it a joy to guide. This was not actually where we had planned to go on this day at all, as we were originally planning to visit Milpe, which was nearer our base in Tandayapa Bird Lodge. However, on arrival there we were confronted with low cloud hanging ominously over the site, which would render any birds seen mere black shapes in the mist. A quick decision was made to continue on instead to the lower altitude (500m) site of Silanche, in the hope that as we descended we would move below the continuous cloud layer rendering Milpe basically unbirdable. This worked well; straight after arrival at the entrance road to Silanche conditions were visibly better, the cloud was there, but high, and only minimal rain was experienced the entire day. The reason for my love of Silanche is simple, it is literally oozing with birds, and it is always hard to get to the main reserve (only 7km on), as the road in is typically loaded with birds; and so it proved, once again

Soon after alighting from the van we hit our first birds at 7am -  Gray-and-gold Tanager – and there was pretty much a constant stream until we left at around 3pm. The tanager was quickly followed by a Yellow-tailed Oriole, and we slowly made our way along the road, stopping at the remaining forest patches as we went. Not long after another stop had us examining a strange looking tree stump, which on closer inspection through the telescope was found to be strange-looking, as there was a Common Potoo (a night bird) sleeping on top of it! The same area also brought us our first toucans of the day, a mob of Pale-mandibled Aracaris, before we moved on to our next spot. Next up was a perched Blue-headed Parrot, before we sidled up the road once more. After picking up a pair of Pacific Antwrens and a Golden-olive Woodpecker at the following stop, we got a real surprise at the next one, where a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth was found with arms raised aloft at the apex of a palm tree! While watching this very unexpected mammal, we heard the wolf whistles of one of the areas scarcer birds, Barred Puffbird, which took an age to make its way towards us, but eventually plopped itself in the tree above us, shortly before a Rufous-tailed Jacamar was also added to our burgeoning day list. Moving on to the reserve itself (Rio Silanche), we found a flock immediately after arriving, which held several Scarlet-browed Tanagers within it. By this time, late morning, following a long series of bird-after-bird, we were little frazzled and opted for an early lunch on the canopy tower. Before we had even tucked into our lunch, we were distracted, however, as a male Red-capped Manakin suddenly appeared right beside the tower and hurt me deeply for leaving my camera back in the van! The same area also brought our toucan count to three for the day, with both Yellow-throated and Choco Toucans found around the tower, and brought our toucan count to five species in two days. Golden-hooded Tanager and Yellow-tufted Dacnis added further colour to the day, and after lunch, we proceeded to walk one of the short forest trails in the area. This was looking like a dodgy decision, when a fine White-whiskered Puffbird put us out of our misery, and drew us out of an add blank spell for birds during the early afternoon (traditionally the quietest time of day). Having been pretty much constantly at it since 6:30am, and now being near 3pm, we opted to head back towards Tandayapa, but were stopped again on the way out from the reserve, just a few kilometres into our journey, when a Hook-billed Kite was noticed perched alongside the road, which quickly changed perch and landed near its presumed mate.

One final, and very memorable, stop was made on the way back. We took a side road to the lodge passing by the tiny town of San Tadeo (a mere handful of houses by the roadside), and climbing up into verdant, wet cloud forest. We had been here the day before, but had left empty-handed, and irked by the lack of Tanager Finch at a known spot for it. Not so on this day, when a short burst of playback brought a rustle in the undergrowth nearby, and the Tanager Finch almost landed just a metre from us; a fantastic finish to marvelous day. And to think we still had one final day left (this was a short, 3-day tour), and one to visit one of the areas foremost birding sites, the revered Paz de las Aves reserve, where rare and shy forest birds are usually the order of the day

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