Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary: June 16, 2009

I've visited this western lowlands site multiple times and despite seeing some excellent birds each time, I've always felt ambivalent about my experiences there, as if they didn't live up to the high standards that I've read about in various trip reports. My frustration with the site has been manifest in the manner in which I've described it, generally as a hopeless woodlot destined to become a postage stamp of a reserve in a sea of African Palm plantations. Well, I'm still convinced that's the fate of all western lowlands birding reserves in northwestern Ecuador, but after my last visit to Rio Silanche, I'm simply ecstatic that reserve exists in the first place. What a tremendous day I had there with almost one hundred birds seen and several shockers, such as the Rufous-Fronted Wood-Quail, Blue-Fronted Parrotlet, and Blue-Whiskered Tanager.

Although most birding tours stop at several places along the road on the 8km drive to the reserve, I don't bother anymore, preferring instead to take my early morning chances on the trails and in the tower instead of standing along the road vulnerable to being preyed upon by any logger, colonist, or vagabond who sizes me up. Birds that have been reported along the road are outstanding though, including Stub-Tailed Antbird, Brown Wood-Rail, and various rare hawks and falcons. If I had spent an hour birding the road though, I would have missed encountering two calling coveys of Rufous-Fronted Wood-Quail, one straggler of which crossed the wide trail right before my ready eyes. This raucous, gorgeous bird is no doubt prized game, and I can't imagine the reserve is large enough to support such a population, making this encounter a lucky one, not bound to happen for much longer at the current rate of deforestation along the road.

Whether walking the trails or standing in the observation tower, I scored one mixed flock after another for most of the day. The second that passed by the tower was certainly the most spectacular as a number of the reserve's special tanagers descended on one cecropia tree momentarily just below: Blue-Whiskered, Scarlet-Browed, Emerald, and Guira Tanagers, Scarlet-Thighed Dacnis, and assorted antwrens among others were swarming about for some reason, while I could only stand there dumbfounded without even raising my binoculars to the sight. I encountered another interesting group of birds midday on the loop trail: a pair of White-Whiskered Puffbirds were cantankerously dealing with foraging Checker-Throated Antwrens and Wedge-Billed Woodcreepers, while a single Ruddy-Tailed Flycatcher gleaned unobtrusively nearby. A subtle but lovely group of birds indeed.

The weather held all day as I waited in the tower for a final late-afternoon flock that never came. There's a famous mega flock in the area that sometimes comes through, and while I think I've experienced it from the tower, I can't actually be sure. How big is a mega flock anyway: fifty different species? two-hundred individual birds? Sharper eyes than mine have supposedly picked out the extremely rare and local Double-Banded Graytail from the legendary flock, foraging in the dense tangles of vines in the canopy. Regardless, it was unique to leave the reserve after a long day of birding finally feeling satisfied.

Notable birds seen: Striated Heron, Rufous-Fronted Wood-Quail, Dusky Pigeon, Blue-Fronted Parrotlet, Bronze-Winged Parrot, Band-Tailed Barbthroat, Purple-Chested Hummingbird, Purple-Crowned Fairy, Western White-Tailed Trogon, Collared Trogon, Broad-Billed Motmot, Rufous Motmot, White-Whiskered Puffbird, Orange-Fronted Barbet, Pale-Mandibled Aracari, Red-Rumped Woodpecker, Black-Cheeked Woodpecker, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Streaked Xenops, Plain Xenops, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Checker-Throated Antwren, White-Flanked Antwren, Dot-Winged Antwren, Yellow Tyrannulet, Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Masked Water-Tyrant, Streaked Flycatcher, Ruddy-Tailed Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Blue-Crowned Manakin, White-Bearded Manakin, Slaty-Capped Shrike-Vireo, Red-Eyed Vireo, Blue Dacnis, Scarlet-Thighed Dacnis, Guira Tanager, Gray-and-Gold Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Blue-Whiskered Tanager, Golden-Hooded Tanager, Rufous-Winged Tanager, Dusky-Faced Tanager, Tawny-Crested Tanager, Scarlet-Browed Tanager.

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