Cabañas San Isidro: November 7-9, 200

On my previous visit to Cabañas San Isidro just over a month ago, I experienced excellent weather and saw many terrific birds, including the rare Peruvian Antpitta. What brought me back so soon, aside from the lodge's great service and delicious food, was the prospect of observing two specialties from the area: the White-Capped Tanager and the Black-Billed Mountain-Toucan. What luck, then, to hear both birds calling from the canopy while I was walking the Cock-of-the-Rock Trail on my first morning! And what greater disappointment to have them move on without offering the slightest view.

This is the nature of birding in the neotropics, I'm learning. The more experience you have and the more time you spend studying distributions and calls, the more aware you are of what you miss. If I hadn't known how to distinguish the calls of both birds, which are pretty obvious by the way, then I would have simply moved on to the next bird this morning without any pang of regret. (The next bird was a beautiful female Golden-Headed Quetzal, I believe.) More experienced birders claim this is true everywhere, but I can't believe there can be more natural obstacles to observing birds then in the towering bromelia-laden forest of the neotropics.

As it turns out, I got lucky later in the afternoon on the Rock Trail, as a group of White-Capped Tanagers were lethargically perched in a clearing far off the trail. As it was drizzling the resulting photographs are a little weak, but it's clear how unique the over-sized white cap appears, even on the female. This afternoon hike up the Rock Trail ended up being remarkably productive as I encountered the Chestnut-Breasted Chlorophonia, Crested Quetzal, Andean Solitaire, and a large flock of White-Capped Parrots on the ridge. I also ran into the Long-Tailed Antbird and White-Throated Quail-Dove on the way down while nearly missing the Barred Antthrush, which was calling nearby as darkness fell.

With the weather having been so clear in the morning, I decided to risk it and walk the Guacamayos Ridge Trail the next day, and I only picked up a few more birds between when I returned to the lodge and left for Quito. Happily, though, this visit I had the chance to meet Carmen Bustamante, a most gracious host and avid birder, and her husband, Mitch Lysinger, who is a resident expert on Ecuadorian birds and an important contributor to the compilation of the sound recordings of bird calls. Noting the sweet life they lead as lodge owners, naturalists, and conservationists, I can't help but wonder if Aimee and I aren't in the wrong businesses.

Notable birds seen: Broad-Winged Hawk, Sickle-Winged Guan, White-Throated Quail-Dove, White-Capped Parrot, Rufous-Bellied Nighthawk, Band-Winged Nightjar, Crested Quetzal, Golden-Headed Quetzal, Emerald Toucanet, Crimson-Mantled Woodpecker, Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, Tyrannine Woodpecker, Long-Tailed Antbird, Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta, Rufous-Breasted Flycatcher, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Green-and-Black Fruiteater, Black-Chested Fruiteater, Black-Billed Peppershrike, Andean Solitaire, Three-Striped Warbler, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Chestnut-Breasted Chlorophonia, White-Capped Tanager.

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