Cayambe-Coca Reserve: October 17, 2009

With more specific details about the location of the recently discovered Crescent-Faced Antpitta along the road behind Termas de Papallacta, I set out early Saturday morning yet again to this entrance to the Coca-Cayambe Reserve. The antpitta is known only to occur at a few remote sites at treeline on the eastern slope, but its presence at such a well-explored site as Papallacta means that it has almost certainly been overlooked elsewhere. Excited by the possibility of seeing it this morning, but still a bit skeptical that I could reel it in, I arrived at a particular patch of roadside elfin forest. A short burst of playback later, two Crescent-Faced Antpittas responded clearly from upslope, gradually descending down to where I was standing through the dense understory and bamboo. While I didn't really see one, perhaps only cathing one bird from behind in my binoculars, they're definitely there. Hopefully, the local birding community here doesn't where them out from using too much playback.

Impressed but not very satisfied, I headed back up the road towards the park entrance, where the Masked-Mountain Tanager has been reported to occur. This scarce and local mountain-tanager is another eastern slope treeline specialty, and I have only had the chance to look for it at the Cajanuma entrance to Podocarpus National Park in southern Ecuador. Not more than a hundred meters from the antpitta site, I stumbled across a mixed flock along the forest edge created by the road. The first bird I spotted looked like some strange perversion of the Pale-Naped Brush-Finch, but it turned out to be a juvenile Masked Mountain-Tanager, which I realized when I saw an adult foraging nearby. Truly this bird is a bruiser, as guide Sam Woods described it recently in his blog. Heavy set with a bold yellow brow and blacked-out face, the mountain-tanager is intimidating as it crashes through the undergrowth, at least that's what I imagine the Golden-Crowned Tanagers were thinking as they scrambled out of its way.

With some great birds already seen and a large birding group now making its way down the road, I figured that I would try for the antpitta once more and then work my way down the eastern slope for the day, hitting Guango Lodge for a shot at the Mountain Avocetbill and the Guacamayos for a chance at the Black-and-Chestnut Eagle. Positioning myself deeper into the forest patch, I played the tape but had no response, at least not from the Crescent-Faced Antpitta. Two Rufous Antpittas were clearly annoyed by the new two-meter tall antpitta calling from their territory. They drove me out of the site with some wing flutters and calls of their own but not before I sneaked a few close-range photographs.

Notable birds seen: Variable Hawk, Viridian Metailtail, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Rufous Antpitta, White-Browed Spinetail, Pearled Treerunner, Cinerous Conebill, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Masked Mountain-Tanager, Black-Backed Bush-Tanager, Golden-Crowned Tanager, Pale-Naped Brush-Finch.

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