Jorupe Reserve: April 20-21, 2014

Jorupe Reserve is one of the most unique places in Ecuador, offering first-rate lodging in the surprisingly diverse Tumbes Region, the tropical dry forest that spans Northwestern Peru and Southwestern Ecuador. The landscape is subtly dramatic, with bottle-trunked ceiba trees springing out from the hillsides over deciduous scrub and woodland. It’s wonderfully verdant in the rainy season and starkly leafless otherwise, when the massive trunks of the ceiba trees constitute the only remaining green (they produce cholorphyl and photosynthesize on their bark). On my previous visit in the summer of 2008, during which Aimee and I stayed in the nearby town of Macará, the birding was lively and memorable. Since then the Jocotoco Foundation has substantially improved the infrastructure of the reserve, constructing a marvelous lodge specifically designed for birders.

My plan here was to spend a minimum of a full day and a half birding the lower section of the reserve, staying at least one night at the lodge depending on my success (the habitat of the upper section overlaps with that of Utuana, which has better infrastructure). I arranged my reservation well in advance with Jocotours, and when I arrived at midday after my visit to Utuana Reserve in the morning, the staff rolled out the red carpet for me even though I was the only guest. Leo is the senior park ranger at Jorupe, and we birded together all morning, afternoon, and evening (this is standard practice at Jorupe unlike at other Jocotoco reserves). While I typically bird on my own, I enjoyed his company immensely, as he is knowledgable, determined, and enthusiastic — and generally quiet. He also has a wry sense of humor, and I’m sure I missed the meaning of plenty of more than a few of his jokes, considering how unpracticed my Spanish is.

The lodge was constructed in the middle of mature deciduous forest with an intact understory. There are nearly a dozen beautifully crafted and well spaced cabins, each with a patio from which you can see any bird you might encounter out on the trails. The dining hall opens out on a flowering garden with several bird baths, as well as a grain feeder that regularly attracts different parrots, pigeons, and jays. There is also a hide from which you can photograph some of the more timid species that occasionally visit the feeder, such as the Pale-Browed Tinamou. Trails branch off in different directions from the cabins as well. The whole design and setting of the lodge create the impression that, for the purposes of birding, it’s better to be around the lodge than out on the trails. Indeed, in my down time I saw Pale-Browed Tinamou, Spectacled Owl, White-Tailed Jay, Rufous-Necked Foliage-Gleaner, and Gray-Breasted Flycatcher. Leo has even seen Solitary Eagle and Buff-Fronted Owl right while on the patio of the dining hall.

Although at Utuana I had already made a dent in my list of target birds for Southwestern Ecuador, there was still plenty of new species for me to record at Jorupe. Before heading out in the morning, I presented Leo with a few goals: Black-and-White Tanager, which is present in the region during the rainy season; Ochre-Bellied Dove, also which is only observed in the rainy season, although I’m not sure about it’s breeding status; and Blackish-Headed Spinetail, a relatively common species that I had simply dipped on my last visit. We walked a wide dirt track that slowly climbed back into the reserve, picking up both the dove and the spinetail as well as more typical birds of the region, including White-Tailed Jay, Scarlet-Backed Woodpecker, Streak-Headed Woodcreeper, and Collared Antshrike. Not hearing the tanager along the track in its usual haunts, we set out across some neighboring rice fields, where Leo had seen it before.

It was now late morning and getting hotter by the minute. While we kicked up a mixed flock of seedeaters, including Parrot-Billed Seedeater, there was no trace of the Black-and-White Tanager, which prefers choked ground cover found along roadsides and riverbanks, at least at this time of year in the Tumbes Region. Leo assured me we would find one later in the day at another site, and we made a long loop back to the lodge, first bushwhacking down to the highway and then heading back up the dirt track. For our efforts, we found a pair of Henna-Hooded Foliage-Gleaners, seeing them briefly with the help of playback. Then we searched for a West-Peruvian Screech-Owl roost to no avail. Further ahead we stopped to locate the nest of a Rufous-Necked Foliage-Gleaner, which was located within a bromeliad that was affixed to the trunk of a tree. During my brief stay at Jorupe, which was just at the start of the dry season, it seemed like every bird species was raising their young and that I heard the cries of hatchlings all day long.

Suddenly, a dark shadow passed over us, and Leo and I both snapped our gaze towards the sky, where a Solitary Eagle was soaring overhead. We both had enough time to pick out features that distinguish it from a vulture, but the sheer size alone was a dead giveaway, even from far below. A few minutes later we had another look at it before it rose even higher on a thermal and disappeared behind the ridge. Leo explained that several groups had seen a Solitary Eagle this year and that one had taken a liking to a snag not far from the lodge. We headed back for lunch with a sense of accomplishment and planned to range beyond the reserve during the afternoon. After my repast, I first spent some time in the hide photographing White-Tailed Jays and then ticked the Gray-Breasted Flycatcher nearby on one of the trails. Both Yellow-Tailed and White-Edged Orioles lingered near the nectar feeders; occasionally, an Amazalia Hummingbird would also dart in for a few seconds.

In the early afternoon, we drove back to Macará and looked for Comb Duck on the sandbars in the river that forms the border between Ecuador and Peru here. Missing the duck, we then birded a few clearings on the other side of the highway in front of the reserve. We immediately flushed a mixed flock on the entrance track, and from the car we had great looks at a Dark-Billed Cuckoo perched just ahead. Leo encouraged me to play some tape for the Black-and-White Tanager, and after a while a male flew by us and across the road. It looked like a Black-and-White Seedeater to me, but he was confident in the identification. A few minutes later we did see a Black-and-White Seedeater, and afterwards I agreed that we had most likely seen our target. Further along the track we spotted a Baird’s Flycatcher on an electric wire, and then we dug out a Superciliated Wren from a dense tangle of vines. Later, along a different dirt tracking leading into the reserve we ticked the Tumbes Pewee and the Tumbes Swift, neither bird being particularly remarkable but both obviously unique to the region.

I planned to stay in Macará that night, rising early to bird even drier tropical forest at El Empalme, which is about an hour north back along the highway; however, Leo was happy to keep birding with me until nearly 10pm as we searched for owls. We were successful the previous night seeing Spectacled Owl right from the lodge but dipped on the screech-owl.  Again, we tried for several hours to see it at different places along the dirt track, and while multiple individuals responded to playback, none revealed themselves to us. Finally, we set out for the site where a researcher had recently stumbled upon the roost of a Buff-Fronted Owl. While we had found it vacant earlier that day, we had a nice response to playback tonight, with an individual emitting its elongated trilling call from nearby. Unfortunately, that would be as close as we would come, a thrilling close to an excellent visit to Jorupe Lodge, the Jocotoco Foundation’s most inspired reserve.

Notable Birds Seen (heard only): Pale-Browed Tinamou, Neotropical Cormorant, Hook-Billed Kite, Solitary Eagle, Laughing Falcon (h), Harris’s Hawk, Rufous-Headed Chachalaca, Ochre-Bellied Dove, White-Tipped Dove, Blue Ground-Dove, Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Eared Pigeon, Pacific Parrotlet, Gray-Cheeked Parakeet, Red-Masked Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Dark-Billed Cuckoo, Spectacled Owl, West Peruvian Screech-Owl (h), Buff-Fronted Owl (h), Tumbes Swift, Amazalia Hummingbird, Long-Billed Starthroat, Ecuadorian Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Blue-Crowned Motmot, White-Tailed Jay, Scarlet-Backed Woodpecker, Ecuadorian Piculet, Guayaquil Woodpecker (h), Streak-Headed Woodcreeper, Blackish-Headed Spinetail, Rufous-Necked Foliage-Gleaner, Henna-Hooded Foliage-Gleaner, Great Antshrike, Collared Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Watkins’s Antpitta (h), Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-Olive Flatbill, Pacific Elaenia, Black-Crested Tit-Tyrant, Tumbes Pewee, Gray-Breasted Flycatcher, Sooty-Crowned Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Baird’s Flycatcher, One-Colored Becard, Black-and-White Becard (h), Fasciated Wren, Speckle-Breasted Wren, Superciliated Wren, Long-Tailed Mockingbird, Plumbeous-Backed Thrush, Gray-and-Gold Warbler, Orange-Crowned Euphonia, Blue-Gray Tanager, Black-and-White Tanager, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Saffron Finch, Blue-Black Grosbeak, Parrot-Billed Seedeater, Black-and-White Seedeater, Variable Seedeater, Black-Capped Sparrow, Yellow-Rumped Cacique, Peruvian Meadowlark, Yellow-Tailed Oriole, White-Edged Oriole, Scrub Blackbird.

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