Cabañas Yankuam: March 30-31, 2010

Aimee and I last visited Cabañas Yankuam in the Cordillera del Condor in remote southeastern Ecuador two years ago, and since then it has lost its status as being at the end of the road. Indeed the road now continues on the other side of the Nangaritza River and will eventually loop around through the southern part of Zamora-Chinchipe province, linking up with Palanda, a small town several hours south of Tapichalaca Reserve. The growth is representative of the dominance of the mining industry in this region, as domestic and international companies increase their foothold in Ecuador and provincial leaders experiment with their newly found power and influence, building roads and infrastructure projects not because they're needed, but simply because they can.

The next few years, then, should lay bare the region to birders as well, and it's expected that knowledge of bird distributions in this region of the Andes will alter significantly as endemic species to the Marañon drainage and Cordilleras del Condor and Cutucú shift their populations as deforestation increases. The spectacular and highly-localized Orange-Throated Tanager will be among the most notably tracked birds as it responds to changing environmental pressures in both Peru and Ecuador. Already at Cabañas Yankuam, which has become the best base in either country for seeing the bird during the last five years, the situation is changing. No longer do visiting birders who want to find the tanager travel upriver to the Shuar community of Shaime, and then trek hours through deep mud and pastureland to a distant, forested hill, which we did ourselves two years ago. All that's required now is a twenty-minute boat ride and a gentle stroll along the new road from Miazi back to Cabañas Yankuam. With good weather, and a bit of luck, seeing the tanager is almost a sure, and easy, thing.

Aimee and I made the trip to Cabañas Yankuam during Semanta Santa last week, breaking up our stay at Cabañas Copalinga to attempt the Orange-Throated Tanager again, having missed it last time. We were the only guests at the time but benefited from the recent experience of visiting birders who left outstanding accounts of their observations at Shaime and along the new road. The local guide and boatman was happy to take us up river to Miazi for $20, walking with us far enough to indicate where the tanager is frequently seen along the road. Within thirty minutes of being in good habitat, we heard the bird's distinctive call as a small group of three tanagers foraged in the canopy far overhead. Although it's of a monotypic genus, the tanager looks and behaves much like the mountain-tanagers of the Andes, being large and chunky like a Hooded Mountain-Tanager and colored strikingly like a Blue-Winged Mountain-Tanager. The bird's orange throat is truly a wondrous feature, seemingly glowing when seen in front of a background of green. We encountered another active group of five tanagers shortly afterward that was foraging even closer to the road, searching through the mossy and bromeliad-laden branches of mature trees.

During the rest of our walk we enjoyed some large mixed flocks, one in particular that contained Red-Billed Scythebill and another that was loaded with tanager species, including the lovely Turquoise Tanager. Although it seems sacrilegious to say, the highlight of our excursion was seeing a group of Military Macaws flying overhead and then land in a fruiting tree well over a kilometer away. Setting up the scope in the middle of the road, we watched these gorgeous parrots feed for over an hour as they maneuvered about in the canopy of the tree, their splendid long tail feathers trailing behind them awkwardly. (The photograph of the macaws was the product of hand-held digiscoping but is worth including here as a record shot, I think.) There is a lot more birding to be done from Cabañas Yankuam, including visiting the top of the tepui nearby, which supposedly offers Bar-Winged Wood-Wren, Roraiman Flycatcher, and Royal Sunangel; however, Aimee and were happy to return to Copalinga that afternoon, where the birding is just as good and the comfort much greater. The trip was supposed to be a vacation, after all.

Notable birds seen: Laughing Falcon, Black Caracara, Spotted Sandpiper, Military Macaw, Blue-Headed Parrot, Gray-Breasted Sabrewing, Glittering-Throated Emerald, Collared Trogon, Violaceous Jay, Gilded Barbet, Black-Mandibled Toucan, Channel-Billed Toucan, Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Yellow-Tufted Woodpecker, Red-Billed Scythebill, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Streaked Xenops, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Golden-Faced Tyrannulet, Olive-Chested Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Golden-Winged Tody-Flycatcher, Short-Creseted Flycatcher, Black-Crowned Tityra, Thrush-Like Wren, Black-Capped Donacobius, Buff-Rumped Warbler, Purple Honeycreeper, Black-Faced Dacnis, Yellow-Bellied Tanager, Paradise Tanager, Green-and-Gold Tanager, Bay-Headed Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Masked Tanager, Blue-Necked Tanager, Magpie Tanager, Grayish Saltator, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-Rumped Cacique, Orange-Throated Tanager.

1 comment:

Renato said...

Dam!! I can´t stand this deforestation story that repeats itself everywhere. It is about time that people start thinking about conservation. We (birders) must find a way to stop this madness, stop human expansion beyond reasonable limits, stop sacrificing the earth for economic benefits. Stop everything and start birding, the only activity that promotes conservation.

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