Milpe Road: June 15, 2009

Driving past the entrance to the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, you can continue for approximately 10 km through several stands of disturbed but productive foothill forest. Descending slightly to the end of the Milpe Road, as its known, the bird species shift perceptibly to the lowlands end of the spectrum, making it worthy of exploration if you're not headed much lower in elevation on your visit to the Ecuadorian Chocó. As with all road birding, there are several places that offer good views of the edge of the forest canopy, which are typically bursting with bird activity in the morning. Near the end of the road, there is a fork, the left of which quickly peters out into recently cut clearings and pastureland, and the right of which offers beautiful views of the Rio Pachijal below. Bountiful mixed flocks are the norm here, and the occasional lowlands speciality such as the Black-Tipped Cotinga has also been reported.

Again, I spent my time scanning mixed flocks for the Moss-Backed Tanager, which either didn't materialize or I neglected to notice, the latter being more likely as it definitely takes more than one pair of eyes to identify every bird in a fast-moving flock. One particularly nice flock included a pair of One-Colored Becards, several White-Bearded Manakins, and a fine array of tanagers, including the Flame-Faced and Fawn-Breasted Tanagers. The noisy Band-Backed Wrens and colorful Yellow-Tufted Dacnis were typical lowlands representatives in another flock. Out in the middle of road with my scope I managed great views of the Broad-Billed Motmot and Bronze-Winged Parrot as well (it's not a highly trafficked road unless you count Yellow-Bellied and Variable Seedeaters).

I picked up a strange, contradictory vibe at the end of the road though, which is getting a reputation for being something of a grass-roots conservationist hotbed. On the right fork an old man offered to sell me his finca which still contained nice forest and many birds, he claimed. But on the left fork some tough-looking colonists were busy clear-cutting forest that I was in the very act of birding; they literally walked right by me with their chainsaws and starting clearing the land! I've thought a lot about buying some land in Ecuador for conservation purposes, and I know several wealthier ex patriots who have made just such an investment in several regions in Ecuador, but something about the Milpe Road doesn't feel right, especially on the southern side. A meaningful private purchase of land, especially with my limited savings, would almost certainly need to be adjacent to an existing reserve; a more constructive investment would probably be through a donation to an existing foundation such as Jocotoco.

Notable birds seen: Bronze-Winged Parrot, Collared Trogon, Broad-Billed Motmot, Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Pale-Mandibled Aracari, Chocó Toucan, Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Black-Cheeked Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Russet Antshrike, Pacific Antwren, Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Masked Water-Tyrant, One-Colored Becard, Masked Tityra, White-Bearded Manakin, Red-Eyed Vireo, Band-Backed Wren, Yellow-Tufted Dacnis, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Rufous-Throated Tanager, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, Flame-Faced Tanager, Silver-Throated Tanager, Swallow Tanager, White-Lined Tanager, Black-Winged Saltator.

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