Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary: October 4, 2008

My second visit to Rio Silanche, a bird sanctuary in the western lowlands managed by Mindo Cloud Forest, was again well short of being perfect. It rained all day without showing signs of letting up in the early evening, so what was going to be an eighteen-hour weekend of birding turned into just an eight-hour day. Despite the poor weather, the birds were still out and about, and I saw quite a few of them in several different contexts.

The best part about birding at Rio Silanche is alternating between short walks in the dense humid forest and scouting the treetops from the canopy tower. I can't think of any other site in western Ecuador where one can see half a dozen species of antbirds and twenty different tanagers in a single morning, all at close range.

Most exciting was witnessing my first antthrush, the Black-Headed Antthrush. Like antpittas, these secretive but vocal terrestrial birds are rarely seen without the use of playback, and I had to basically lay on the ground and peer into the undergrowth to catch a glimpse of this furtive bird, which was calling loudly only two meters away. I also ran into several antwrens during the day, including the Checker-Throated, Dot-Winged, and White-Flanked Antwrens, all of which are tiny undergrowth birds but not terrestrial.

While I missed out on the puffbirds again, I did bring into view a few species of trogons by imitating their calls (the Collared and Western White-Tailed Trogons are uniquely vocal). Trogons aren't the most exciting birds to observe as they hang out in the subcanopy and are mostly sedentary, but they usually occur in mating pairs, and most species exhibit striking sexual dimorphism.

Aside from seeing the antthrush, the highlight of the day came in the early afternoon while I was up in the canopy tower. I had just made a cup of coffee on my camping stove and was enjoying the hot beverage in the rain when I noticed several different flocks around me had converged in one huge tree. During the next thirty minutes I could hardly believe my eyes as hundreds of individual birds compromising at least forty different species darted in and out of various treetops around the tower. Was this the famous mixed flock I had heard about, which some claim is the largest mixed flock in the world? Humbled by the intense action, I only managed to identify about twenty species, but these included some new birds for me such as the Rufous-Winged and Blue-Whiskered Tanagers, the former of which I scored some nice photographs.

Notable birds seen: Swallow-Tailed Kite, White-Whiskered Hermit, Western White-Tailed Trogon, Collared Trogon, Pale-Mandibled Aracari, Lineated Woodpecker, Black-Striped Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Checker-Throated Antwren, White-Flanked Antwren, Dot-Winged Antwren, Black-Headed Antthrush, Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Streaked Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Yellow-Tufted Dacnis, Guira Tanager, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, Blue-Whiskered Tanager, Rufous-Winged Tanager, Scarlet-Browed Tanager, Orange-Billed Sparrow, Scarlet-Rumped Cacique.

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