With the academic year complete and the Lakers rightfully crowned champions once again, it was finally time to begin the summer with a birding trip to the Chocó foothills and lowlands. My week-long itinerary would take me to several sites in northwestern Ecuador, culminating in a multiple-day visit to Rio Canandé, a critical reserve managed by the Jocotoco Foundation with many specialities and Chocó endemics. First, though, it was important to get warmed up and to re-familiarize myself with some of the region's more common birds and their calls. Located at approximately 1000m, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, a key holding of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, was a good place to get started.
The sanctuary is justly famous for its Club-Winged Manakin lek, a display site for one of the world's most delightful birds. Here, colorful males prance daintily on tree branches, flipping their wings above their head in a striking show of skill and song. The mechanical sound that accompanies their dance is actually produced by their feathers, which rub against each other rapidly during the wing lift. Despite their diminutive size, the birds aren't difficult to find when they're displaying thanks to this odd, metallic sound effect. Manakins in general offer considerable fodder to those birders with a speculative interest in evolutionary biology; Darwin himself used them as evidence to support his theory of sexual selection.
Milpe is also famous for being a reliable site for the Moss-Backed Tanager, which is an unassuming and rather stolid bird that has somehow become a lusted-after target for birders in northwestern Ecuador. I'm no stranger to this strange desire myself, and I spent most of my time in the sanctuary sifting through mixed flocks hoping to find this subtle but celebrated tanager. Of course I missed it, just like I had on my previous half-dozen visits, but working over flocks was good practice, and I was soon able to parse the difference between Buff-Fronted and Scaly-Throated Foliage-Gleaners with a mere glance. The Tawny-Breasted Flycatcher was spotted with several different flocks as well, a wide-eyed, attractive flycatcher with a playful habit of fanning its tail and dropping its wings when perched to show off its sulphur yellow rump.
As the following week would prove, summer in the northern hemisphere is indeed the dry season in northwestern Ecuador, but that doesn't mean it still can't rain all afternoon, which it did on the first day of my trip. The wet conditions all but eliminated bird activity on the trails, and I saw little except for a beautiful Indigo-Crowned Quail-Dove that I flushed and then relocated nearby. Fortunately, the hummingbirds don't seem to mind the rain, and I at least had the opportunity to observe carefully the regular visitors to the feeders: Green Thorntail, White-Whiskered Hermit, Green-Crowned Brilliant, Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, and Green-Crowned Woodnymph.
Notable birds seen: White-Tipped Dove, Indigo-Crowned Quail-Dove, Maroon-Tailed Parakeet, Bronze-Winged Parrot, Collared Trogon, Broad-Billed Motmot, Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Spotted Barbtail, Streak-Headed Woodcreeper, Russet Antshrike, Pacific Antwren, Immaculate Antbird, Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Tawny-Breasted Flycatcher, Dusky-Capped Flycatcher, Club-Winged Manakin, Ecuadorian Thrush, Buff-Rumped Warbler, Purple Honeycreeper, Rufous-Throated Tanager, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, Dusky-Faced Tanager, Dusky-Bush Tanager, Tricolored Brush-Finch, Orange-Billed Sparrow.