Yanacocha Reserve: May 2, 2010

The weather has been gruesome in the highlands during the last few weeks, but it's now or never if I'm going to lay my eyes on the endangered Black-Breasted Puffleg, one of Ecuador's very few country endemics. This rare and extremely local hummingbird resides only on the northwestern slope of Volcan Pichincha, surfacing for a few months every year at Yanacocha Reserve, located just an hour's drive from Quito. Supposedly the months of May through July are the best times to find the hummingbird at the many feeders at the reserve, although there have been occasional reports of the bird in other seasons and altitudes, including Verdecocha Reserve, which is significantly down slope, and Reserva Las Gralarias, which is way down by Mindo.

Although it rained much of the previous day and night, I figured correctly that there would be clear weather for a few hours in the morning, arriving at the entrance to the reserve just after dawn. Having encountered a Curve-Billed Tinamou along the road, I was feeling pretty good about the day's prospects, noting a few mixed flocks along the Trocha Inca as I headed straight for the feeders, which are located a few kilometers back from the entrance. A pair of Barred Fruiteaters showed well as they foraged actively in the trees along the trail, making their characteristic high-pitched whistle all the while, but I was focused this morning on finding the mythical puffleg.

There are a few birds in the reserve, though, that would stop even the most goal-oriented birder in his tracks, one of which is the Ocellated Tapaculo. This magnificent skulker is one of South America's finest birds, but it's heard way more often than seen in its temperate forest habitat. Amazingly, a pair was calling right next to the Trocha Inca, and with a little coaxing from my iPod one individual flew up into a tree at eye level and proceeded to call and display for several minutes. Aside from the spectacular coloration of the bird, note the incredibly long and pointed hind claws directed backwards in the photograph above. This observation was a fair consolation for missing the puffleg yet again, despite spending over an hour at the feeders. The park guards report that the hummingbird hasn't been observed yet this year but that last year it was seen regularly during June and July.

Notable birds seen: Curve-Billed Tinamou, Purple-Mantled Thornbill, Golden-Breasted Puffleg, Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Pearled Treerunner, Tawny Antpitta, Blackish Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo, Streak-Throated Bush-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, White-Banded Tyrannulet, White-Throated Tyrannulet, Barred Fruiteater, Red-Crested Cotinga, Blue-Backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Scarlet-Bellied Mountain-Tanager, Black-Chested Mountain-Tanager, Rufous-Naped Brush-Finch, Stripe-Headed Brush-Finch.

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