Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Ecuador December 22, 2009

December 22, 2009
Angel Paz Antpitta Reserve, Tandayapa Pass, Reserve Station Road


It was an early morning start in order to enjoy the wonders that lay in store with Senor Paz. We were up at 04:30h, dressed quickly and went downstairs. Following a quick cup of coffee we were on our way by 04:55h.
While still dark, and following some skilful driving by Augusto along muddy and deeply rutted roads, we arrived at our destination. Donning rain gear and headlights we set off on a walk through the forest on steep, often slippery trails.
We stopped briefly to try to call in an owl but without success. Soon we arrived at the lookout constructed by Angel Paz to wait for the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock to arrive. In short order we were joined by other birders but having made the descent first we had prime viewing positions.
Before long, with daybreak furnishing better visibility, first one and then two males arrived to cavort and call in an attempt to lure in a female. I don’t know how long we stayed there but it was probably twenty to thirty minutes until the birds finally departed. What a great show we witnessed! One of the cocks was quite close but the general gloom created by the overcast sky and the darkness of the forest did not permit decent photographs.
We all followed Angel Paz to a platform that he has created to feed forest birds. He has an ingenious system of pulleys to string out bananas and other fruits, and a bowl tied to the end of a stick to load a feeding tray with grapes and banana chunks. Two Sickle-winged Guans were waiting patiently for breakfast even before we arrived there. They have obviously come to recognize a sure thing when they see it! Numerous other species came in to feed, with the highlights being Olivaceous Piha, Toucan Barbet and Crimson-rumped Toucanet.
The lodge had provided a little sack of snacks and we had stuffed some of these in our pocket so we could nibble now and then. All of the trails were steep and a little treacherous in places so we need a shot of energy once in a while! Miriam was given to wondering how the trails could go uphill both ways!
Now on to the fabled part of this expedition - the legendary feeding of the antpittas. It is simply incredible how Angel Paz has developed this skill of literally calling antpittas out of their dark forest haunts where they have confounded birders’ attempts to see them since time immemorial. He had no sooner started to call, "Maria! Maria! Venga, venga, venga," when a Giant Antpitta strolled right on to the path and started to eat the worms distributed by Angel’s brother. Soon she was joined by her son! Perched on top of a log she would even reach up to take worms from the hand. Cameras were snapping, oohs and aahs joined the morning chorus, everyone was delirious!
Actually Alejandro whispered to us that Maria may in fact be Mario since "she" has been observed a couple of times on top of other birds!
Before this wondrous antpitta event was over Angel had coaxed out no less that three other species - Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted and Moustached Antpittas. In addition he showed us the bank side nest (with young) of Andean Solitaire, and three Dark-backed Wood Quail.
Next it was on to an array of hummingbird feeders where a dazzling assortment of hummingbird species was flying back and forth, squabbling, feeding and putting on a memorable display for us.
At about 11:00h we were taken to a sort of picnic area where the sister-in-law of Angel had prepared a traditional Ecuadoran breakfast for us and it was quite fabulous. It started with a kind of instant coffee added to a glass of hot milk and water. On the face of it it doesn’t seem particularly attractive, but it has the flavour of mocha and was very enjoyable. This was followed by a delicious treat called "bolon." It is made from green plantain, ground and mounded into a ball about the size of a tennis ball, with chicken in the centre and fried. You eat it by breaking it open and adding delicious salsa. Fantastic!! The bolon is followed by a concoction called "Eat and Drink." It consists of tree tomatoes and other fruit in a fruit syrup, hence the name "Eat and Drink." You can’t believe how good this tastes. The meal is topped off with an empanada con queso.
The sun was shining, the Andes were glistening in the background, hummingbirds were zooming around us and we were filled with the sheer joy of being alive.
After we had eaten Alejandro, Miriam and I returned to the hummingbird feeders, accompanied by Angel and sat and marvelled for a while while Miriam took many photographs.
In all my years of birding this day surely ranks as one of the great highlights.
Miriam commented very aptly that an operation like Angel Paz’s could probably never exist in North America. The paths would have to be lighted; a handicapped ramp would be mandated, the steps would have to be reinforced and fitted with handrails up to standard, washrooms would be required every 300 metres, the kitchen would not have passed health inspection, the access road would have been deemed substandard, the insurance premiums would be astronomical and so on. I think that in North America we have taken leave of our senses by regulating and legislating the minutia of our lives.
Since we had such an early start we headed back to the lodge where we could relax for a while. We sat outside for a while and chatted with a couple from BC who were visiting for a few hours. The hummingbirds and tanagers entertained us and we saw our only Scrub Blackbird of the trip on the grass.
This was a day of food and more food! At 14:00h we went into the dining room for an exceptional lunch - white asparagus baked in cheese sauce, followed by tilapia in another delicious sauce, fried plantain slices and green beans. Dessert was chocolate cookie ice cream with a wafer.
At 15:00h we boarded the van and headed up to the Tandayapa Pass. Light rain turned into a downpour and birds were scarce. We were getting wetter and decided that a Grass-green Tanager was adequate compensation for our efforts and climbed back into the van.
Driving slowly on lightly travelled roads Alejandro heard a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan which had been one of our principal targets and we all piled out. The bird was located quite quickly and we all had great looks. A Masked Trogon added to the magic of the moment.
We returned to the lodge and had dinner at 19:00h, another fine feast. We started with chicken vegetable soup; the entree was roast beef with gravy and boiled potatoes and a mixture of broccoli and carrots; dessert was a bowl of fresh fruit.
We each had a glass of Chilean Merlot which we enjoyed very much.
It was fun to sit with Alejandro and do our lists, chatting about the wonderful day we had spent together. We retired to our room at 20:40h and got a good night’s sleep.

All species December 22 - Sickle-winged Guan, Dark-backed Wood Quail, Turkey Vulture, White-tipped Dove, Tawny-bellied Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Green Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Andean Emerald, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Empress Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet, Velvet-Purple Coronet, Brown Inca, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar, Masked Trogon, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Barred Becard, Orange-breasted Fruiteater (heard), Scaled Fruiteater, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Olivaceous Piha, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Narino Tapaculo (heard), Giant Antpitta, Moustached Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (heard), Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Red-faced Spinetail, Rusty-winged Barbtail, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Turquoise Jay, Blue-and-White Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Southern House Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Andean Solitaire, Great Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Spectacled Whitestart, Three-striped Warbler, Scrub Blackbird, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Tricoloured Brush Finch, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Golden Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Dusky Bush Tanager.

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