Monday, April 9, 2012

Last full day in Ecuador

The group conformed by José María Loaiza ("Chema"), Rafael Luck and me, plus our driver Washington, spend the morning of our last full day in Ecuador in the Refugio Paz de las Aves watching antpittas, tanagers, toucans, hummingbirds and all sort of feathered beauties, but then we moved a little lower along the main road to the town of Los Bancos, where we payed a short visit to the Mirador Río Blanco to have a beverage and to watch the action at the feeders (I already posted some hummingbirds photos from their feeders).
Río Blanco
The view of the Blanco river valley is simply spectacular, with all those foothill forests surrounding it, and the birds visiting the feeders where nice too.  Many tanagers species made an appearance, including Palm, Blue-grey, Guira, Flame-rumped (Lemon-rumped) and Golden Tanagers.  They were accompanied by many Thick-billed Euphonias and even an Ecuadorian Thrush (which was new for me).  In the way out, we saw my life Masked Water-Tyrant at the roof of a convenience store... a really stunning bird (but no photos... need to return).
Mitad del Mundo
Washington left us at Chema's place (very close to "Mitad del Mundo"), he had an appointment so Chema figured out another way to bird the last 4 or 5 hours of light left and decided to hire a taxi that took us to a nearby place, the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve.  The road passes through an arid environment, but as soon as you start to descend your way through the inner slopes of the caldera (the Pululahua is an extinct volcano and the site we visited is the crater) the things change... a microhabitat of cloud forest becomes apparent, and the birds are completely different from those at Mitad del Mundo.  We walked the road through the slope while our taxi driver waited for 15 minutes before picking us just to drive a little more and to drop us again in another spot (depending on weather condition and activity) just to repeat the process again.  Birding this way produced Blackish and Ash-colored Tapaculos (both seen!!), Black-crested Warbler, Turquoise Jays, Red-crested Cotinga, Plain-tailed and Rufous Wrens, Rufous Antpitta (singing), Andean Guan and many more!
Pululahua crater view
We were very impressed by the landscape... the huge crater holds a little community, with farms, houses, cattle, and birds of course.  Chema showed us the only colony of Burrowing Owls of the crater (and one bird was perched atop a huge stone in the ground), but he had a surprise for us.  It was quite late when we left the taxi and started to walk a hard-to-follow-at-first trail through short grass that eventually reached some sort of secondary forest with a very tangled and dark understory.  We were after a specialty of the area, a Grallaricula antpitta to complete our list of antpittas for the day.  He played once a recording of the bird and we waited.  Soon I detected some movement on a tangle more or less 6 meters from our position... I focused my binoculars and there it was, an incredible cute Leymebamba Antpitta!!!  Despite my excitement I was able to show it to Rafael.  It was very dark for my camera, so I didn't try to take any photo.  What a creature, and what a great bird to count as our final bird of the trip to Ecuador!  Most authorities consider this form (of Ecuador and Peru) conspecific with the Rusty-breasted Antpitta (of Colombia and Venezuela) despite some physical, vocal and habitat requirements differences... for me, the name Leymebamba is simply more exotic!
Chema and Rafael after seeing the Leymebamba Antpitta
We spend that night as Chema's guests in his house, and celebrated with cold beers the successful end of our quick trip to northwestern Ecuador.  A pre-dawn flight back to Bogota (Colombia) was waiting for us the next day.     

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