For our last day in Ecuador, and after visiting the paramos around Quito the day before, we reserved a visit to one of the iconic place for birdwatching in the neotropics. The Refugio Paz de las Aves is worldwide known now, the successful history of conservation and dedication of Angel Paz and his family is simply inspiring... and a trip to northwestern Ecuador couldn't be complete without a visit to this amazing place. So, Rafael Cortes, José María "Chema" Loaiza, Washington and your blogger host headed to the km 66 entrance very early in the morning, meeting Angel before dawn and following him through the trails around his property.
It was still dark, and the only bird we saw close enough to identify were the Sickle-winged Guans that were feeding at Angel's blackberry plantation (photo at the feeders... you'll know what I'm talking about if keep reading). Notice how similar it is to our Black Guan of western and central Panama.
We first visited the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek. The bright scarlet body and the weird vocalizations made this spectacle a must to see, no matters how many times you have seen this species. Some mixed flocks passed through as well, including such species like Flame-faced, Golden, Metallic-green and Golden-naped Tanagers, Golden-headed Quetzal, a pair of Powerful Woodpeckers, Ornate Flycatcher, Olivaceous Piha and many more.
Of course, the main attraction of the site are the antpittas... and we saw two species: the shy Moustached Antpitta and the cute Ochre-breasted Antpitta, better known as "Shakira". I managed no photos of these beauties... I wasn't prepare for the light conditions, and Angel don't allow flashes (I'm OK with that). The famous "María" (Giant Antpitta) was nesting, so we don't even hear her. We don't get disappointed, since a spectacle difficult to believe was waiting for us. We followed Angel (and his brother) to a feeding station and watched him preparing the breakfast.
Soon, a bunch of birds surrounded us, waiting for Angel to finish of setting the table. The menu included grapes and bananas, and the birds loved it, specially the Sickle-winged Guans, the intrepid Crimson-rumped Toucanets and their bigger cousins, the absolutely gorgeous Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans!
Both Blue-winged and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers attended the appointment, taking turns to show up. Then, an iconic bird did his triumphal entry... my poor shots simply do not reflect how colorful is the Toucan-Barbet... seeing him so easy and so close made me remind my life Toucan-Barbet some time ago in Colombia.
While everybody was entertained watching the feeders, I notice a group of birds approaching us from the lower part of the trail... soon I realized that they were Dark-backed Wood-Quails, and that they were following the voice of Angel's brother, Rodrigo... eventually, the birds took control of the feeders... and I swear that I was never so close to a wood-quail!
This is definitively a place that I want to return: I need better photos, more antpittas (including María), and to show all these birds to Gloriela and Gabrielle... Angel, this is not the last time you hear about me!