Today we are due to leave Rio Canande mid morning but whilst waiting for Rolando to arrive Dusan and myself took to the canopy tower after breakfast to try and rustle up some more new bird species and get further acquainted with those we had already seen.
It was a warm but dull, grey day with rain in the air but this is good for looking for birds as with hot sunny weather the birds seek cover and like the rest of us become less active. The usual crop of tanagers were still actively feeding in the flowering Cecropia Trees.The ubiquitous Lemon Rumped Tanagers seemed to be everywhere and a Guayaquil Woodpecker put in sporadic appearances on various trees spread out before us.
A Bananaquit with an attractive yellow and black facial combination flicked in and out of the tree top leaves and a Masked Tityra was a good find in yet another tree.
Flycatchers were to the fore today, not the ones we are used to, small and demure but big, bold and brash in sulphur yellows and browns, Rusty-margined, Boat-billed and Piratic Flycatchers were all on the wires along with Snowy-throated and Tropical Kingbirds. All well and good but we were looking for new species to add to the list.
|Guayaquil Woodpecker c Dusan Brinkhuizen|
|Masked Tityra c Dusan Brinkhuizen|
Dusan alerted me to a song I had not heard before. It was a Bright-rumped Attila. Don't Ecuador birds have brilliant names? He played a tape of its song. Now some birds react to a tape and come almost instantly to investigate whilst others ignore the tape completely. This bird not only reacted positively but virtually perched beside us singing for all its worth and at one point was only a foot or so above my head in a branch just above the top of the tower. It refused to move even after we stopped playing the tape and just sang on and on even giving Dusan time to go back and get his camera from the camp and return for some point blank images.
A somewhat drab bird apart from possessing a bright lemon yellow back, rump and uppertail coverts. It is a fairly large member of the Tyrant Flycatcher group and its broad based bill gives an indication of its flycatcher credentials.It also has a beautiful melodic song
|Bright rumped Attila - green morph|
The other minor triumph we had was tempting a Bay Wren almost out into the open.This species is a notorious skulker and the Ecuadorian version of our Cetti's Warbler if you like and just like the Cetti's it has a similar short explosive song invariably belted out at maximum volume from within the stygian depths of the undergrowth. There however the resemblance ends as unlike the drab overall brown of our Cetti's Warbler the Bay Wren is a marvellous combination of black and white on its head with russet brown upperparts, copious tiger stripe barring across the wings and tail and barred white underparts. A really beautiful bird if you can see it and quite big too.
Dusan played the tape and the wren responded. That was the easy part. However, by chance the wren positioned itself right below the tower and unaware of our presence up top allowed us to look down on it although it was still ensuring it was partially obscured. This was as good as it ever gets with a Bay Wren so we made the most of it. It really was a cracker to see it so well and singing.
Rolando duly arrived to collect us and it was time to say our farewells and head for our next destination, Las Penas which is on the Pacific coast. We set off back the way we had come to Rio Canande, stopping every so often when we encountered a passing flock of birds moving through the trees. On one of these stops I saw a flash of metallic, shimmering blue passing through the green leaves and when it emerged on the road saw it was a butterfly and what an incredible butterfly. It was huge, easily the size of a large saucer and moving with a combination of grace and speed as it flapped its enormous wings and deftly manoeuvered through the trees. Dusan and some subsequent research told me it was a Morpho butterfly of which there are 29 species, all to be found in the Neotropical Zone and much prized by collectors.
|Rusty-margined Flycatcher.The rusty margins are on the edges of the flight feathers|
|Ecuadorian Ground Dove|
We had some curious directions to head for a town called Ronca Tigrillo which translated means The Ocelotte that Roars. Very strange and quite amusing but we followed the directions and inevitably got slightly lost. We came to a dusty village and stopped at the police station which was no more than a wooden shack complete with a policeman asleep in a hammock underneath the awning. He was helpful enough once awake and we set off following his directions and after a very long and boring drive reached a tarmac road albeit with plenty of potholes. The journey was only enlivened by children in the small villages we passed through, trying to sell bags of limes to us each time we slowed down at the road humps that guard every village as a substitute to speed cameras. As we got nearer the sea the limes were replaced by kids proffering plates of langoustines no less and very delicious and tempting they looked too. Soon after I could see the blue of the Pacific Ocean over to my left and we stopped to look down on the sea with Magnificent Frigatebirds floating majestically and with hardly a wing flicker over our heads. This was more like it. Strange black iridescent crow like birds that perched on telephone wires with huge paddle shaped tails turned out to be Great-tailed Grackles. Another one for the list.
|Magnificent Frigatebird female|
|Brown Pelican adult and juvenile|
So we pressed on to Las Penas and Dusan was as good as his word as we drove slightly past the town and came to a vast swampy wetland by the side of the road called Laguna de Cuidad on the La Tola Road.
|La Tola Road in the rush hour|
|Rolando and his trusty pickup while Dusan scopes the wetlands|
We drove further down the road which thankfully only had light traffic passing along it to a flooded area that Dusan said was particularly good and he was right. Our main aim was to see a Pinnated Bittern, described as rare, and much desired by birders visiting Ecuador. This apparently was the place to see one but we could not locate it. So we concentrated on identifying the wealth of waders and wildfowl that were frequenting this favoured spot. There were flocks of Fulvous and Black bellied Whistling Ducks, Wattled Jacana's, both adult and immature, Semipalmated Plovers, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Southern Lapwings and singles of American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Pectoral Sandpiper.
We continued looking and as usually happens in such situations we began to find more and more good birds, Tricolored Heron, Black crowned Night Heron and Striated Heron all revealed themselves but the best find was three properly wild Muscovy Ducks. Not a trace of the ugly swollen red skin on their faces thank you but ducks sporting a beautiful, iridescent bottle green plumage with a prominent white wing flash and only the hint of a knob of bare skin on their bill. These were a really good find as they are becoming scarce in Ecuador now. Some Wood Storks flew across and a Purple Gallinule emerged from a ditch. Dusan found a Peruvian Meadowlark, slightly smaller than a blackbird with brown upperparts but with a crimson red throat and breast, its bright underparts competing with the vivid red of the Vermilion Flycatchers. Two Harris Hawks flew over creating the expected panic on the marsh as everything took off but they passed on and the birds settled once again. Dusan took one final look and at last found a Pinnated Bittern, not too dis-similar to our bittern being the same overall brown but with numerous horizontal black bars of increasing width across its plumage from head to tail. It did what bitterns do best, just stood motionless in the wet grass with its head uptilted but we had seen it and that is all that mattered at the moment.
The light was slowly fading so we left, with more familiar Barn Swallows and Sand Martins steadily heading south on migration low over the marsh, to find our hotel for the night, planning to spend the next morning back here at the Laguna and possibly if time permitted at a nearby shrimp farm. Las Penas is a ramshackle town of rickety wooden houses contrasting with a few modern brick constructed hotels built amongst them. It has the seedy charm that only very close proximity to the sea can bring. Put all this inland and you would not even consider stopping. The main street is a dusty, sandy road fringed with a line of tiny restaurants, well, that is a bit of an exaggeration, they are basically wooden shacks open at each end with one end open onto the road and the other opening directly onto the white sand beach. We drove past these without stopping but planned to come and eat at one of them later after checking into our hotel.
Our visit to Las Penas was definitely out of season but that was good as I would imagine the town would be far busier and consequently less attractive during the holiday season. We decided to stay further out of the town as it would be quieter and found a large, modern, slightly run down hotel imaginatively called Hotel Las Penas. It had two floors and looked directly out onto the beach, and after rousing the person in charge we booked three rooms on the second floor. I think we were the only three people staying there as it was quite spooky and silent in the dark but the joy of a proper bed, a shower and all facilities after the privations of the days before was not to be underestimated. We dropped off our stuff, each of us had a cold shower and then Rolando, Dusan and myself drove into town and cruised the restaurant/shacks until we settled on one we fancied - Bar Manibita.
The whole road was now, at night, a blaze of gaudy coloured lights from the restaurants and shops selling the usual seaside tat Ecuadorian style. Vibrant with life, music with a Latin beat and televisions on full volume blared out from some of the establishments and each shack had someone 'front of house' to beseech us to favour them with our custom as we cruised past.
The smell and sound of the ocean just yards from our table in Bar Manibita and the promise of extravagant seafood dishes was a heady mix and for the first time on the trip we had a beer, to celebrate Dusan's lifer - the Speckled Mourner. In Las Penas incidentally many of the people were of African origin rather than South American. According to Dusan they are all descended from a slave ship that was wrecked on the coast here centuries ago.
The girl that served us was certainly African and what a meal we had. Delicious soup and seafood from a kitchen that would never make it through an official food inspection in the UK but who cared as they served up a concoction to die for followed by a type of almost creamy white milkshake called I think Guanabana. It was a white, sweet and utterly irresistible concoction.
|Bar Manabita - myself and Rolando|
|Yours truly and Rolando getting down to eating. The entire meal was $8.00 each|
Note the obligatory fried bananas on the blue plate.They are served with virtually
Leaving the bright lights we retired to our hotel, driving back through the side streets, passing whole families sitting outside their homes just chatting or eating in the cloying warmth of the evening whilst some kids played a game of football, utilising the entire street as a pitch, illuminated by the streetlights and cheerily ushering us to drive between their makeshift goalposts as they carried on kicking the ball around.
|A Hedge - Ecuadorian style|
h = heard only
ec =Choco Endemic
Little Tinamou (h); Magnificent Frigatebird; Neotrpic Cormorant; Brown Pelican; Fulvous Whistling Duck; Black bellied Whistling Duck; Muscovy Duck; Blue winged Teal; Pinnated Bittern; Cocoi Heron; Great White Egret; Snowy Egret; Tricolored Heron; Cattle Egret; Striated Heron; Black crowned Night Heron; Wood Stork; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture; Hook billed Kite; Swallow tailed Kite; Harris's Hawk; White throated Crake (h); Purple Gallinule; Common Gallinule; Wattled Jacana; Greater Yellowlegs; Lesser Yellowlegs; Willet; Spotted Sandpiper; Hudsonian Whimbrel; Semipalmated Sandpiper; Least Sandpiper; Pectoral Sandpiper; Stilt Sandpiper; Short billed Dowitcher; Black necked Stilt; Southern Lapwing; American Golden Plover; Semipalmated Plover; Pale vented Pigeon; Ruddy Pigeon; Dusky Pigeon (ec) (h); Equadorian Ground Dove; White tipped Dove; Rose faced Parrot (ec); Bronze winged Parrot; Little Cuckoo; White collared Swift; Violet bellied Hummingbird; Purple crowned Fairy; Western white tailed Trogon(h); Ringed Kingfisher; Green Kingfisher; Broad billed Motmot(h); Choco Toucan (ec); Chestnut mandibled Toucan; Lineated Woodpecker; Black cheeked Woodpecker; Pacific Hornero; Slaty Spinetail (h); Streak headed Woodcreeper; Sooty headed Tyrannulet; Yellow crowned Tyrannulet; Yellow bellied Elaenia; Common Tody Flycatcher; Bran colored Flycatcher; Western Wood Peewee; Vermilion Flycatcher; Masked Water Tyrant; Bright rumped Attila; Boat billed Flycatcher; Rusty margined Flycatcher; Streaked Flycatcher; Piratic Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; Snowy throated Kingbird; Cinnamon Becard; Masked Tityra; White bearded Manakin; Red-eyed Vireo; Lesser Greenlet; White thighed Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; Sand Martin; Barn Swallow; Bay Wren; House Wren(h); Southern Nightingale Wren(h); Bananaquit; Red legged Honeycreeper; Yellow tufted Dacnis; Gray and Gold Tanager; Blue gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Lemon rumped Tanager; Summer Tanager; Dusky faced Tanager; White lined Tanager; Tawny crested Tanager; Buff throated Saltator; Slate colored Grosbeak(h); Lesser Seed Finch; Slate colored Seedeater(h); Variable Seedeater; Yellow bellied Seedeater; Scarlet rumped Cacique; Great tailed Grackle; Red breasted Blackbird;
108 species(49 new)
03 0ctober 2014
After a good night's sleep we were up at the comparatively late hour of 6am to make our way back to Laguna de Cuidad. Whilst waiting for Dusan and Ronaldo to appear I used the deserted hotel balcony to do a bit of birding. A Grey Plover flew north over the beach calling in its usual mournful way. A Yellow crowned Night Heron was a good find on a bush by the hotel fence and a couple of Vermilion Flycatchers were chasing insects around the hotel buildings. Along the adjacent beach, lines of Brown Pelicans stoically flew along looking for a suitable fishing spot and a Great tailed Grackle sat at the top of a television aerial. Blue gray and Lemon rumped Tanagers bounced around in the bushes.
Las Penas was coming awake at the same time as we slowly made our way back down the sandy track to the La Tola Road on a sunny, already warm, early morning. Another Yellow crowned Night Heron wandered around on some waste ground and a very bedraggled Smooth billed Ani sat on some wires above the road. These birds are a bit like our magpies, often found in groups and with a similar mischievous demeanour about them.
|Smooth billed Ani|
|Great White Egrets|
|Wood Storks and Great White Egrets|
|Vermilion Flycatcher male|
|White rumped Sandpiper|
|Common Tody Flycatcher|
A brief look over the other side of the road revealed some more pools and a nice North American wader trio consisting of a Short billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs were wading about accompanied by Wattled Jacanas and Least Sandpipers.
|Short billed Dowitcher|
|Short billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs|
|The track back to La Tola Road from the village|
|Disco shack on the left!|
|Drained lagoons on the Shrimp Farm. Waders bottom left|
|Full lagoons on the Shrimp Farm|
|Wilson's Phalarope with Western Sandpipers|
The beach was literally at our door and sitting at the table we seawatched from our seats whilst waiting for breakfast. Two shacks down they were already partying, couples dancing to that Latin beat at 9am! Magnificent Frigatebirds soared supreme in the azure sky, ponderous lines of Brown Pelicans flew in line past us or settled around small fishing canoes out on the sea awaiting the chance of scraps. A couple of Royal Terns cruised past and then best of all a Blue Footed Booby crash dived gannet fashion into the green sea. Absolute bliss. I could imagine sitting here all day shaded from the warm sun, seawatching and eating seafood till I burst. As if it could not get any better the food arrived at the same time as a Peruvian Booby, the latter well out of its normal range presumably storm blown and wandering from Peru. The food was on hold for the brief time the booby was in view but then down to business and we tucked into enconcado a traditional fish dish consisting of a concoction of seafood in a coconut sauce and the inevitable side plate of fried plantains and rice.
I accompanied this with some more Guanabana juice, that gorgeous, sweet, white viscous drink I had last night and is made from the Guanabana fruit which is native to South America.
We sat and chatted and then sadly we had to be on our way. We had a long way to go and our next stop was to be very, very different. Playa de Oro and back to tropical rain forest birding
Birds seen and heard today
h = heard only
ec = Choco Endemic
Great Tinamou (h); Little Tinamou (h);Least Grebe; Pied billed Grebe;Magnificent Frigatebird; Blue footed Booby; Peruvian Booby; Neotropic Cormorant; Brown Pelican; Fulvous Whistling Duck; Black bellied Whistling Duck; Muscovy Duck; White cheeked Pintail; Blue winged Teal;Pinnated Bittern; Fasciated Tiger Heron; Cocoi Heron;Great White Egret; Snowy Egret; Little Blue Heron; Tricolored Heron; Cattle Egret; Striated Heron; Black crowned Night Heron; Yellow crowned Night Heron; Wood Stork; Black Vulture; Turkey Vulture;Osprey; Swallow tailed Kite; Harris's Hawk; Roadside Hawk; Rufous headed Chachalaca; Gray breasted Crake(h); White throated Crake (h); Purple Gallinule; Common Gallinule; Wattled Jacana; Greater Yelowlegs; Lesser Yellowlegs; Willet; Spotted Sandpiper; Hudsonian Whimbrel; Sanderling; Semipalmated Sandpiper; Western Sandpiper; Least Sandpiper; White rumped Sandpiper; Pectoral Sandpiper;Stilt Sandpiper; Short billed Dowitcher; Wilson's Phalarope; Black necked Stilt; Southern Lapwing; Gray Plover; Semipalmated Plover;Gull billed Tern; Royal Tern;Pale vented Pigeon; Ecuadorian Ground Dove; White tipped Dove; Pacific Parrotlet; Red lored Amazon; Smooth billed Ani;Striped Cuckoo (h); Rufous tailed Hummingbird; Ringed Kingfisher; Green Kingfisher;Olivaceous Piculet; Black cheeked Woodpecker; Pacific Hornero; Streak headed Woodpecker; Great Antshrike (h); Pacific Antwren (h); Yellow bellied Elaenia; Common Tody Flycatcher;Black Phoebe; Vermilion Flycatcher; Masked Water Tyrant; Rusty margined Flycatcher;Gray capped Flycatcher (h); White ringed Flycatcher; Tropical Kingbird; White bearded Manakin; Gray breasted Martin; Blue and White Swallow; Southern Rough winged Swallow; Barn Swallow; House Wren; Southern Nightingale Wren(h);Tropical Gnatcatcher; Mangrove Warbler; Bananaquit; Red legged Honeycreeper; Blue gray Tanager; Palm Tanager; Lemon rumped Tanager; Tawny crested Tanager;
Variable Seedeater; Chestnut throated Seedeater; Scrub Blackbird; Great tailed Grackle;House Sparrow;
104 species (30 new)
to be continued