Refugio Paz de los Aves: June 6, 2010

My third trip to Refugio Paz de los Aves was definitely the most spectacular. Having already seen all four species of antpitta that Angel Paz has successfully habituated, I was hoping instead to located the Cloud-Forest Pygmy-Owl, a Choco endemic that I've been chasing the last few months that is seen occasionally on his property. Like other pygmy-owls, this species is mostly diurnal and moves about unpredictably, often associating with mixed flocks as it's bombarded by hummingbirds, euphonias, and other small birds that it predates upon. Also like other pygmy-owls, it has a highly distinctive and repetitive call, a series of pu-pu's that can last upwards of a minute. When I called Angel on Saturday night from Mindo, he reported that the pygmy-owl had been seen that morning calling frequently right near the fruit feeders, so Aimee and I decided to pay him one last visit.

There was one other group of birders there, guided by Vinicio Perez of Birdwatchers' House in Mindo. Angel directed them to the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek while we explored the trails in search of the pygmy-owl. Just as he locates the antpittas, Angel would whistle the call at various points along the trails, hoping for a response (he hasn't named the owl yet like he's named the individual antpittas, such as Maria, Willy, and Susan). Getting no response, we decided to wait out the early morning and try again around 8:30am, which he explained was a more common time to hear the pygmy-owl vocalize. So, Aimee and I next spent an incredible half hour at the lek, watching two male Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks playfully chase each other in front of the viewing blind.

We returned to walking the trails with Angel afterward, continuing our search for the pygmy-owl as well as the Dark-Backed Wood-Quail, another very difficult Choco endemic that appears regularly at the site. Again not getting a response, Angel surprised me when he asked me to use playback on several occasions, breaking his own strict rules about the use of playback on his reserve. Perhaps these rules only apply to more territorial birds like antpittas, or perhaps he just really wanted to please us. Regardless, we still failed to get a response as the morning grew later; however, we did meet Susan, a female Moustached Antpitta, who responded quickly to some hand-tossed worms alongside the upper trail.

We descended back to the new fruit feeders that Angel and his brother built a few months ago, just in time for a fantastic gathering of birds (the old fruit feeders attracted too many Sickle-Winged Guans, which in turn disturbed the nearby Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek). Black-Chinned Mountain-Tanagers and Toucan Barbets aggressively fed on the bananas, some even perching on the hand of Vinicio Perez to feed, while Dark-Backed Wood-Quails and White-Throated Quail-Doves skulked along the ground picking up the left overs. Then a pair of Crimson-Rumped Toucanets and a group of Blue-Winged Mountain-Tanagers came in, as cameras continued to click away, capturing this splendid show, truly one of the best natural spectacles in Ecuador.

After getting an eyeful of the wood-quail, we dropped back down the trail to try for the pygmy-owl again, this time finally getting a response from a tree just overhead, where a mixed flock was busy foraging about. With a bit more effort, we finally located the Cloud-Forest Pygmy-Owl, stolidly perched on an open branch as Fawn-Breasted Brilliants and Slate-Throated Whitestarts mobbed it from above. Thrilled with our luck, we all patted each other on the back and made our way up the hill for breakfast, a feast of bolones and empanadas. On the way, we ran into Rodrigo, Angel's brother, who had located the Ochre-Breasted Antpitta that Angel has named Shakira. This diminutive grallaricula has a distinctive bobbing display that it makes as it calls, shaking its body much like the popular Colombian singer.

Notable birds seen: Dark-Backed Wood-Quail, Cloud-Forest Pygmy-Owl, Empress Brilliant, Velvet-Purple Coronet, Toucan Barbet, Red-Headed Barbet, Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Moustached Antpitta, Ochre-Breasted Antpitta, Olivaceous Piha, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Black-Chinned Mountain Tanager, Golden-Naped Tanager.

1 comment:

Renato said...

Angel is amazing! On a recent visit he pulled out another bird out of his hat: the Rufous-breasted Antthrush.

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