My Thousandth Bird Seen in Ecuador

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.


Unknown said...

Congratulations, Derek. En hora buena!

Howard Youth

Jerry said...

My wife and I have been following your trip accounts since last August, when we started to plan our first trip to Ecuador. We find your trip descriptions to be very interesting. So much so, that we used them as a guide for us. We spent 4 weeks in-country in Oct/Nov 09 - spending time at El Monte, Milpe, Silanche, San Isidro and other places.
As for your 1000th bird, that means we have to go back to Ecuador a few more times to catch up.

Derek Kverno said...

Thanks, Howard! Hope you've been doing some good birding yourself recently.

Derek Kverno said...

Thanks for your comment, Jerry. I'm happy that you were able to use my blog to plan your trip. I've been hesitant to include a lot of logistical information in each post, but I guess the blog provides a good enough overview of what the country offers to birders.

Do you have any recommendations about how I could improve it to make it more useful to independent birders?

Anyway, I hope you had a great trip!

Unknown said...

Hi Derek
Congratulations on your excellent publications of the Ecuadorian fauna.
God give us good morning.
Huagra Ñaupa

Renato said...

Derek: What a bummer to loose you! I am looking forward to follow you to Tanzania and live via internet some of the most exciting moments of your new hot birding spot. Maybe some day I will end up visiting Tanzania if you find it very exciting.

Thanks a million for your rich contribution to birding in Ecuador. I am sure your blog has inspired a few more birders to visit our country. Your efforts have benefited this whole country!

We wish you the best on your new adventure and please keep writting, we will certanly follow you to Tanzania.

Renato and Paola

Derek Kverno said...

Thanks as always for your supportive comments, Renato. I'll be in country for a few more months, but time's running out quickly.

Best of luck with your own birding and conservation endeavours!

Fatbirder's Top 500 Birding Websites