Milpe Bird Sanctuary: June 26-27, 2008

As you descend the western slopes of the Andes, the forest becomes progressively less protected and more patchy. Cattle farms and African Palm plantations replace habitat that is home to many hundreds of bird species. Within the last eight years, Mindo Cloudforest Foundation has established two bird sanctuaries of modest size in this area covering significantly different altitude ranges. The hope is eventually to create corridors of continuous primary and secondary forest all the way into the western lowlands, but the omnipresent sound of chainsaws in the region create the impression that time is running out. Most likely these reserves will become islands of dwindling diversity in which bird lists are reduced in number each year. These are the halcyon days for birding Ecuador, then: enough infrastructure on the western slopes exists to allow access to birders, but not enough habitat destruction has occurred to severely diminish the number of bird species in the region.

Aimee and I spent part of two days walking the access road and the trails inside the reserve. While we didn't witness the mythical Moss-Backed Tanager, a supposedly common but highly localized bird, we caught the male Club-Winged Manakin in full display at the lek there. This colorful little bird has a choreographed routine in which it hops around and spreads its tail and wings while thrusting them into the air with a head dip, all set to a slightly mechanical series of musical notes. The combined effect of multiple males singing and hopping and dipping right around you is quite comical. Aimee was particularly impressed and thought the display was tantamount to those of the birds of paradise in New Guinea.

Overall, we identified over fifty species in just ten hours of birding, and if I knew my flycatchers any better that number would be closer to eighty, I imagine. I'm looking forward to returning in search of more skulking birds, including the Esmeraldas Antbird, which I didn't get a good enough look at to identify properly, as well as the rarer raptors that have been witnessed in the reserve, including the Tiny Hawk and Plumbeous Forest-Falcon. Supposedly the Long-Wattled Umbrellabird is an inhabitant of the reserve as well, but I'm not holding my breath in wait for that one.

Notable birds seen: Roadside Hawk, Squirrel Cuckoo, Bronze-Winged Parrot, Collard Trogon, Rufuos Motmot, Pale-Mandibled Aracari, Spotted Woodcreeper, Ornate Flycatcher, Golden-Winged Manakin, Club-Winged Manakin, Olive-Crowned Yellowthroat, Three-Striped Warbler, Glistening-Green Tanager, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Golden-Hooded Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Andean Emerald.

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