Tapichalaca: July 27-29, 2008

The original Jocotoco reserve, Tapichalaca is sort of a holy land for birders in Ecuador. This is the home of the Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered only within the last decade, and birders travel from all over the world to this remote corner of Ecuador just to have the chance of seeing this magnificent skulker. In fact, the discovery of the bird revolutionized the conservation movement in Ecuador, as a variety of foundations, including the newly created Jocotoco Foundation, all scrambled to buy up as much remaining forest as possible. If such a spectacular bird as the Jocotoco Antpitta could go undiscovered for so long, who knew how many other rare and unique species might be lost unknowingly to habit destruction?

Yes, this is the bird that changed everything, and now you can see it, guaranteed. With the help of Angel Paz, the famous "Antpitta Whisperer" from Mindo, a park guard named Franco has habituated a group of Jocotoco Antpittas that come to feed every morning around 8am on freshly dug worms. Visitors sit under a shelter, not even in a blind, and watch as sometimes as many as five Jocotoco Antpittas saunter about in the open, eating the worms that Franco has meticulously prepared for them; often the Chestnut-Naped Antpitta will make an appearance as well. It's an incredible sight, especially to someone who has spent many hours crouched in the mud, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of some other species of antpitta darting about in bamboo in the semidark. For better or worse, gone are the days of trolling around Tapichalaca looking for the famous antpitta, and usually missing it.

Due to bad weather, Aimee and I didn't spend much time birding here. We encountered a couple of nice mixed flocks from the road at different elevations, we spent a fair amount of time at the hummingbird feeders, and we birded the trail to the antpitta site. The overall birdcount from the visit was quite low then, but it included some amazing birds, including the Jocotoco Antpitta, Chestnut-Naped Antpitta, Gray-Breasted Mountain-Toucan, Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, and Flame-Throated and Amethyst-Throated Sunangels. The toucans were particularly special in that I was able to follow a group of three for about fifteen minutes along a trail as they raucously worked their way up the ridge from fruiting tree to tree.

Notable birds seen: Jocotoco Antpitta, Chestnut-Naped Antpitta, Gray-Breasted Mountain-Toucan, Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, Flame-Throated Sunagel, Amethyst-Throated Sunangel, Saffron-Crowned Tanager, Metalic-Green Tanager, Golden-Collared Honeycreeper, Golden-Crowned Tanager, Grass-Green Tanager, Long-Tailed Sylph, White-Bellied Woodstar.

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