Cayambe-Coca Reserve: September 26-27, 2009

Last weekend, Mark Thurber, Aimee, and I lead a trip for the South American Explorers Club to the Papallacta region, hiking, birding, and doing yoga between dips in the thermal baths at the luxurious Termas de Papallacta. Actually, it wasn't a very serious birding trip, as we missed the peak hours of bird activity and only had a handful of experienced or interested birders participating. Still, we passed through some outstanding paramo, polylepis forest, and elfin forest habitat, and for those participants with the proper equipment and degree of patience, some great birds were observed, including the Red-Rumped Bush-Tyrant, Black-Backed Bush-Tanager, Black-Chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tawny Antpitta, and White-Chinned Thistletail.

Despite a late Saturday night in the pools, I woke up well before dawn on Sunday morning to look for the Crescent-Faced Antpitta, which was found recently in the elfin and montane forest along the road up that begins behind the resort and leads up to the Cayambe-Coca Reserve. Without having exact coordinates on the bird's location, I resorted to trolling along the road for the bird, playing its call in hopes of a response. While this proved fruitless, I did find several patches of chusquea bamboo that looked like suitable habitat, though, and sat inside them for a few hours hoping for a response. This turned out to be an excellent manner in which to spot several other good skulkers, including the Rufous Antpitta and Stripe-Headed Brush-Finch, although I never caught sight nor sound of the diminutive antpitta.

Later in the morning while walking the road back and forth, I passed a mixed flock a few times that contained the stunning Buff-Breasted Mountain-Tanager, which is rather poorly named considering its shocking blue-flecked superciliary. This uncommon bird skulks deep within temperate montane forest and bamboo, and is quite difficult to get good looks at despite its gorgeous coloration. A noisy group of Black-Backed Bush-Tanagers, an eastern slope specialty, was also with the flock and equally frustrating to photograph as it stays mostly deep within cover along the forest edge. In case you're curious, mixed flock regulars along the road include Agile Tit-Tyrant, Black-Crested Warbler, White-Banded and White-Throated Tyrannulets, Spectacled Whitestart, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-Backed Conebill, Pearled Treerunner, Pale-Naped Brush-Finch, and Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager. Masked Mountain-Tanager is occasionally seen here as well, although I've never had the pleasure myself.

The hummingbirds in this valley are truly outstanding. Shining Sunbeam, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Buff-Winged Starfrontlet, Viridian and Tyrian Metaltails, Glowing Puffleg, and Mountain Velvetbreast are all seen frequently along the road. More erratic are Rainbow-Bearded and Purple-Backed Thornbills, both of which I had on this morning, which was incredibly lucky. The Blue-Mantled Thornbill is also pretty regular near the entrance to the reserve, located about 5km up the road from the resort. I don't doubt that I'm missing a few species here as well, as this area is literally packed with hummingbirds despite all the development; in fact, the best place to look for Sword-Billed Hummingbirds is from the comfort of the private thermal baths outside of the cabins.

Notable birds seen: Andean Ruddy-Duck, Yellow-Billed Pintail, Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle, Variable Hawk, Carunculated Caracara, White-Collared Swift, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Rainbow-Bearded Thornbill, Blue-Mantled Thornbill, Purple-Backed Thornbill, Pearled Treerunner, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-Chinned Thistletail, Rufous Antpitta, Tawny Antpitta, Red-Rumped Bush-Tyrant, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Grass Wren, Black-Crested Warbler, Buff-Breasted Mountain-Tanager, Black-Backed Bush-Tanager, Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager, Pale-Naped Brush-Finch.

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