Yanacocha Reserve: March 20, 2010

Although I haven't birding Yanacocha Reserve for over a year, coming back here, which just an hour's drive from Quito, is like coming back home. With dozen's of visits under my belt, I've birded at this site more frequently than any other site in Ecuador, having seen most of the birds on the list as well as adding a few of my own, including Gorgeted Sunangel a few years ago. Still, I've yet to see the star bird of the reserve, the endangered, endemic Black-Breasted Puffleg, an extremely rare hummingbird only found on the northwestern slope of Volcán Pichincha. While March is not the time to see it, I still thought the reserve was worth a Saturday morning visit as a warm up to May through July, the critical months for observing the puffleg at this altitude.

Of course, I've missed plenty of other birds here too, including the Andean Pygmy-Owl, which I tried for on several occasions this morning with the aid of playback. While I did here it calling once in the temperate forest far below down slope, the recorded call did stir some other bird activity, including a single Golden-Crowned Tanager, which perched cautiously in a tree nearby at eye level. Perhaps a group of male Barred Fruiteaters were also roused from their foraging as they started calling incessantly just along beginning of the Trocha Inca, the main trail through the reserve. These striking cotingas are always easy to hear and nearly impossible to find, except this morning, on which I had some unusual luck.

Missing the Rainbow-Bearded Thornbill that often haunts the open shrubby habitat along the next section of the Trocha Inca, I stumbled on to a Black-Chested Mountain-Tanager that was acting even shier than usual. Maybe it was due to the Plain-Breasted Hawk that was perched on a bush nearby, flushing quickly as I rounded a bend in the trail. Amazingly, this was my first time encountering this common raptor, although I would see it again the following weekend, strangely enough at the urban Quito Botanical Garden. Shortly after ticking this lifer, I ran into a mixed flock with an excellent mating pair of Barred Woodpeckers. Also present was the Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-Backed Conebill, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Grass-Green Tanager.

As most of the hummingbird feeders were empty in the hummingbird gardens at the end of the first stage of the Trocha Inca, I decided to continue through the tunnel to another stretch of good habitat, finding some flowering trees containing a number of Purple-Mantled Thornbills. These unique hummingbirds have the shortest bills of any in the world, having adapted perfectly for feeding at these very trees. I watched them for over an hours, trying my best to capture the striking purple mantle of the male but only managing a few passable images. The hummingbirds, though, were continually chased off their territories by an aggressive group of tanagers and flycatchers, including a pair of Rufous-Breasted Chat-Tyrants that were calling incessantly.

Notable birds seen: Plain-Breasted Hawk, White-Collared Swift, Purple-Mantled Thornbill, Sapphire-Vented Puffleg, Barred Woodpecker, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Blackish Tapaculo, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, White-Banded Tyrannulet, White-Throated Tyrannulet, Barred Fruiteater, Rufous Wren, Glossy-Black Thrush, Masked Flowerpiercer, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Red-Crested Cotinga, Blue-Backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager, Black-Chested Mountain-Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Golden-Crowned Tanager, Rufous-Naped Brush-Finch, Stripe-Headed Brush-Finch.

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