Other countries in South America like Brazil, Peru, and Colombia have significantly more bird species than Ecuador, but none exhibit a higher density of avian diversity. Imagine a country the size of the state of Colorado that has over sixteen hundred bird species spanning several distinct endemic bird areas. Add the unique avifauna of an isolated archipelago like the Galapagos, and you're envisioning a birder's paradise, where just a few hours, and a few dollars, can leave you surrounded with over a hundred new birds. Seeing a thousand species in Ecuador over the course of a few years is actually a pretty reasonable goal, and I've even heard of visiting birders ticking over nine hundred in just over a month of hardcore birding.
Looking back at my country list as it's grown longer, I've become increasingly more critical of some of my observations, especially those from years ago. Really, I've seen both the Green-Fronted and Blue-Fronted Lancebills? As I haven't noted them on my own in the last few years, what if my bird guide from long ago was mistaken? And was that truly a Red-Billed Tyrannulet that I saw in a clearing below Sumaco, I wonder, or was it just highly likely? Some sightings I was absolutely positive about at the time, but now they seem so rare and unusual that I must have been mistaken, such as the Peruvian Antpitta I spotted during my first visit to Cabañas San Isidro and haven't heard or seen since. Ultimately, ninety-five percent of my ticks are certain, and who knows how many species I've seen without realizing it anyway. The number is only special, then, for its plausibility, not its actual value.
Fortunately, the bird itself was a special one. The Andean Potoo is one of those extremely local and rare birds that is probably more widespread than ornithologists think but is almost impossible to find. This nocturnal bird rarely vocalizes, roosts during the day in perfect camouflage, and is only know in Ecuador from three locations according to the field guide, one of which is the Guacamayos Ridge Trail and Cabañas San Isidro area. I found a pair of these potoos while walking the Las Caucheras Road the other night in search of a much more common nightbird, the Rufous-Banded Owl. Swooping out over the road in the moonlight and silently returning to its perch having caught a moth, the potoo seemed as if it was from another world. Indeed, when I illuminated it with my spotlight thinking it was an owl, I was first baffled by the sight of this alien-looking bird, its long layered tail, general mottled appearance, and eyes glowing in the dark like hot coals.