Across the Rio Salado from Volcán El Reventador rises a massive plateau, most of which is covered with pristine forest and protected in the Sumaco-Napo-Galeras Reserve. Part of it, though, is privately owned, mostly by poor farmers who live in El Chaco, a nearby town renowned as a base for rafting and kayaking in the area. As Mark owns some land up on Alto Coca too, it seemed like a good idea to hike up there on the day following our Reventador adventure and check up on his property, which could now be deforested or inhabited by squatters given its extreme remoteness and inaccessibility.
Although I had never heard of anyone birding up the ridge on the other side of the Rio Salado, the habitat certainly looked outstanding and undoubtedly boasted excellent subtropical forest birds. Indeed, it didn't take long for us to land in the middle of a mid-morning mixed flock with tanagers, flycatchers, and furnariids all a flutter in the canopy alongside the trail. As the rest of the group moved on, I stayed behind to marvel at a male Golden-Collared Honeycreeper, a stunning eastern slope bird that I had only seen once before at Tapichalaca Reserve. After several more glorious tanagers, including the Golden-Eared and Fawn-Breasted Tanagers, I hustled up the trail after the others, stopping momentarily to explore what skulkers were making a distinctive noise in the undergrowth.
A few rays of sunlight penetrated down to the forest floor, one fortuitously lighting up a female Bicolored Antvireo for a second as it moved along from branch to branch gleaning insects methodically. Although I had never encountered this rare and local bird before, I recognized it immediately, quickly pulling out my iPod to reel the bird back in with playback. For the next ten minutes I jubilantly chased a pair of male and female Bicolored Antivireos around the trail, completely confidant in my identification but desperately hoping for a record shot to verify my sighting as this was a new location for the bird to my knowledge. Unfortunately, the photographs didn't turn out very well, as my camera was mistakenly set to the night scenery setting, but I have posted an overexposed record shot on the observation database at Aves Ecuador, if you're interested.
Elated I ran up the ridge to rejoin the others, impressing upon Mark that he should build a birding lodge on his property if the birds up on the plateau were anywhere as impressive as those along the steep trail. Before long though I was onto another mixed flock, this one higher enough up the ridge to be compromised of a significantly different avifauna, including the excellent Rufous-Crested Tanager. Soon after we reached the ridge itself, it started to rain violently, but not before I located the subtle Olivaceous Piha loosely associated with yet another mixed flock. Aimee and I couldn't help but laugh as this large but well-camouflaged bird moved about almost invisibly among the mossy tree branches of the subcanopy. While we never made it to Alto Coca, having taken the wrong trail at some point, the birding on this day had proven outstanding, and the area itself is definitely worth further exploration.
Notable birds seen: Roadside Hawk, Yellow-Vented Woodpecker, Lineated Foliage-Gleaner, Montane Foliage-Gleaner, Bicolored Antvireo, Variegated Bristle-Tyrant, Smoke-Colored Pewee, Black Phoebe, Olivaceous Piha, Golden-Collared Honeycreeper, Orange-Eared Tanager, Fawn-Breasted Tanager, Saffron-Crowned Tanager, Flame-Faced Tanager, Beryl-Spangled Tanager, Rufous-Crested Tanager, Subtropical Cacique.