Thursday, January 29, 2015

Experiencing "Un Poco del Chocó": Introduction

The Chocó Bioregion is a narrow zone of wet rainforest that extends from southern Darien province in Panama to northwestern Ecuador, and is home to a great variety of flora and fauna, many of which are not found anywhere else on the planet.  My friend Rafael Luck and I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to northwestern Ecuador in mid-December in order to experience this special and diverse area.  Our basecamp was "Un Poco del Chocó", a private reserve owned by the German Biologist Nicole Büttner and her Ecuadorian husband Wilfrido (Wilo) Vaca.
Biological Station
There, we settled on a modest but comfortable station in the middle of the forest at 1200 meters above sea level.  We shared the station's common areas with some post-grade students and volunteers from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany... and enjoyed the delicious meals prepared by Wilo.  In fact, both Rafael and me are thinking on doing an internship at the station just to learn how to cook! But we were there for the birds... and the list for the reserve is impressive.  Of course, we were after the Banded Ground-Cuckoo, a kind of Holy Grail for the Neotropical twitcher that reappeared at the reserve one month before our visit... well, we do not get it... we got to the reserve just few days late... the antswarm followed by the ground-cuckoo moved to an inaccessible site of the reserve.  However, we had a great time watching other species, both common and localized at the reserve.
Well, Gloriela DID get her Banded Ground-Cuckoo (on her T-shirt)
We spend most of the days walking along the well-marked trails (guided by one of the owners or by Christian Montalvo who is part of the reserve staff) or viewing the birds at the feeders by the station.  The trail system goes all the way from the station at 1200 masl to the Pachijal river, at 950 masl.  Every trail is well marked and identified with a different color.  And the names are quite picturesque too.  Every detail was taken into account ... even the steepest areas had steps and even a ladder to help pass.
And what about the birds?  Well, Ecuador is bird paradise for sure, and although it was not our first visit to the country, we still had many lifers.  Not only Chocó endemics (that will be the subject of another entry), but also more widespread species as well... and some with such fancy names like Ecuadorian Thrush or Guayaquil Woodpecker, for example.
Ecuadorian Thrush
Guayaquil Woodpecker
Right at the garden, the flowering Verbenas attracted several species of hummingbirds, including such gems like Green Thorntail and Booted Racket-tails.  You can't get bored of seeing these amazing creatures hovering in front of the delicate flowers!
female Green Thorntail 
male Booted Racket-tail
The altitudinal range covered through the trails contributes to the high variety of bird species possible in and around the reserve, just like the variety of habitats.  For example, Bronze-winged Parrots are very common over both cleared and forested areas, while the White-capped Dippers are found only at the Pachijal river (where we saw a new species for the reserve: Spotted Sandpiper).
Distant Bronze-winged Parrot
Pair of White-capped Dippers
And inside the forest the possibilities are infinite... including crossing an antswarm attended by ground-cuckoos, Esmeraldas, Bicolored and Zeledon's Antbirds, Northern Barred and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, and many more!
male Zeledon's Antbird
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
We spend two and a half days at the reserve and recorded 130 species, including many lifers and special birds.  We dipped on some species, like the Banded Ground-Cuckoo and other Chocó specialties, so we have a good excuse to return!  Thanks to our hosts at Un Poco del Chocó and stay tuned for more photos from our memorable trip.
Christian, Rafael, Wilo and Nicole

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