Ecuador II Travel Diary - p 3 of 5

8 November 2011
Here is the story, more or less.  Some years ago, dairyman Angel Paz, who had purchased a tract of pasture and forest near the village of Nanegalito, was out hiking.  He paused for lunch near the river.  A normally shy Giant Antpitta ventured into the open and accepted his offering of chicken pieces.  This happened several times, the bird soon learning that Angel's presence meant a tasty snack.
   When Angel found a lek of the beautiful Andean Cock-of-the-Rock on his property, the other shoe dropped.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Today, no birding trip to this area is complete without visiting the Rufugio Paz de las Aves that Angel has established. 
   We rise at 4:00 a.m., and by 4:30 are trundling through the darkness in Oswaldo's pickup truck.  As dawn breaks we, along with a bunch of Finnish birders, pay our $20 per head and make the steep descent down to the Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  Photography is near impossible owing to the dim light and thick vegetation through which bits and pieces of the brilliant red and gray birds can be seen.
   On our return hike, Angel uses banana to coax out a small flock of Dark-backed Wood-quail, including 2 chicks, onto the trail.  Then, in response to his cries of "Maria!  Venga, venga, venga!" comes a Giant Antpitta for a breakfast of worms and/or chicken.  A dozen cameras click furiously as the bird poses for us.
   Antpittas are named for their similarity to pittas, a group of Old World birds that inhabit dim forest floors and prey on insects and the like.  Like many other birds in the Thamnophilidae family, antpittas follow army ant swarms and pounce on the insects scared up by the ants, but almost never eat the ants themselves.  In addition to antpittas, we also have antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos, and just plain antbirds.


Giant Antpitta
Toucan Barbet

Although much more reluctant than the show-boating Maria, Angel and his brother eventually entice two other species, Ochre-breasted and Moustached Antpitta, into view.  Then we stop near trays where bananas are put out.  This brings Toucan Barbets in for a quick bite.  I manage one okay photo.  However, Angel does not allow the use of flash at the refugio.  This makes sense.  Ground-dwelling birds like antpittas surely have sensitive eyes! 

After pausing for a look at Angel's hummingbird feeders, which have about the same species as Jane's, we enjoy a brunch of coffee and empanadas at an open-air structure overlooking the valley and the river.  The area has good birds, including Crimson-backed Woodpecker, Beryl-spangled Tanager, and Yellow-faced Grassquit.  The Finns leave, but after our snack Angel takes us to another spot down the road where he produces the 4th species of antpitta, Yellow-breasted.  The highlight, however, is a nest of Orange-breasted Fruiteater, whose dietary preference is self-evident.
   Fruiteaters and the Cock-of-the-Rock are both cotingas, a large and diverse group of New World birds related to manakins and flycatchers.  The female is incubating at least two baby fruiteaters.  Then she leaves the nest and perches nearby for a little preening.  The handsome male, alas, fails to show.



Orange-breasted Fruiteater (female)





Rufous-tailed Hummingbird


In the middle of the bustling market town of Los Bancos is El Mirador restaurant, another don't miss for birders.  The terrace at the back of the restaurant features a splendid view of the Rio Blanco, not to mention both hummingbird and tanager feeders.  We are greeted by Patrick, the manager.  After coffee and carrot cake, we get out our cameras.
   The tanager feeders have delightful birds, including the lovely Blue-necked Tanager along with Golden and Blue-gray.  But it is situated under dense cover, and must be viewed through a plate glass window.
   The hummer feeders on the edge of the terrace are better suited for photography.  My best photo is the common Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, found from Mexico to southern Ecuador.  But it does pose very obligingly.






10 November 2011
Meanwhile, back at Las Gralarias, I get my last photo, White-sided Flowerpiercer.  Along with Masked Flowerpiercer, it is one of the most common birds here. 
   It's a bit disconcerting to see all these flowerpiercers.  As the name implies, they "cheat" by using the modified tip of their bill to poke a hole in the base of a flower, such as this Abutilon pictum, and drink the nectar without effecting pollination.
  Is it just me, or does the little scamp have a smirk on his face?

White-sided Flowerpiercer


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