Ecuador 7. Gareno.

Gareno is a superb birding locality in terra firme forest on the S bank of the Rio Napo which can be reached with comparative ease, only the last hour or so of the drive being along dirt road. The lodge is nowadays run on an ad. hoc. basis and only opened when there are guests. This is a big shame because it means staying there, which is basic but fundamentally OK is rather unpredictable. During our stay there was no water in the rooms which was no big issue as we only stayed one night and it is situated on a river but gives some idea of how things are there. It is also difficult to contact anyone there as far as I can tell. In my old age I would prefer a things a little easier were I to visit independently but I would be seriously tempted as the birding is fantastic.

Gareno was included on our itinerary principally to go after two species. It delivered quite a few bonuses in our all too short a time there. We arrived around three on a baking hot afternoon and whilst one of the guides from the lodge went in search of our main quarry we birded the roadside. It was very quiet and whilst we searched for our other main target species at a site which has previously held it I noticed a small amount of activity in the canopy some distance along the road. Some activity was better than no activity and we wandered up to check things out. After a short while working through the few birds we could see Martin began describing something which sounded very much like one species I had in the back of my mind all along, Purple-throated Cotinga. Jonás was thinking the same way and just as we got on to it the bird flew across the road giving good though frustratingly brief views. Among the other birds we dug out of the afternoon heat were Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Dugand’s Antwren and Yellow-backed Tanager. After an hour or so our guide returned with the news that he had located a day roosting Rufous Potoo. It was just a few minutes walk in to the forest and the light was fairly good as we watched the bird which was perched low down and swaying occasionally to mimic the motion of a dead leaf. It appears to be a genuine rarity though its preference for remaining in the forest interior will make it particularly difficult to locate unless vocal. It is certainly a stunning looking bird.

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Rufous Potoo, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Our key target species in the bag we retired to the lodge to sort out rooms etc. A dusk excursion in to the forest failed to find Ocellated Poorwill and as we walked back through the gardens a low booming call in the distance was quickly identified by Jonás as that of Nocturnal Currasow! The guides reckoned they were in an inaccessible area which was frustrating but it was something to hear them and they called periodically throughout the night, audible from the cabins. The following morning our second big target species, the stunning Firey Topaz  was secured in the garden by the river. It was hard work getting views which allowed for appreciation of the glowing colours as the birds fed on insects which they caught in the air leaving them silhouetted. As they descended it was possible to see the colours against the green of the background foliage and eventually one perched up a couple of times though it didn’t allow too much time for admiration. A pair of Lemon-throated Barbets had provided distraction whilst we waited but once the Topaz show was over we headed for the road again. As we clambered out of the gulley notable inhabitants of the understorey were a very smart Yellow-browed Antbird and a flock of Fulvous-crested Tanagers

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Fulvous-crested Tanager, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

The road was productive again with excellent views of a pair of Purple-throated Cotingas, a pair of Purple-throated Fruitcrows and a White-browed Purpletuft among the highlights and a supporting cast that included Ivory-billed and Many-banded Aracaris, White-throated Toucan, Grey Antbird, Opal-crowned and Yellow-bellied Tanagers. Back near the lodge the guides had found a day roosting Crested Owl which was low down, allowing better views than I had previously had of this spectacular species and understandably popular with those who had not encountered it before.

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Crested Owl, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Good birds kept coming to the very end of our stay with a fruiting tree along the short walk back to the lodge attended by Brown-winged Schiffornis, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin Blue-crowned, White-bearded and a stunning Western Striped Manakin.

Gareno is run by the Huaorani Indians and was once popular with visiting birders as a pair of Harpy Eagles nested there. Since then it appears visitor numbers have fallen away. This is a great shame as the birding is outstanding and the forest is being degraded. The road in is an oil road and there are checkpoints to prevent settlement on Huaorani land by outsiders. It appears however that settlement is nonetheless taking place. An upgrade of the lodge would I imagine bring in revenue for the Huaorani and focus attention on the forest and what happens there. It may not be unique but how many places can there be where visiting birders can listen to Nocturnal Currasow from their bed?

Ecuador 6. Wild Sumaco

Our first destination on the E slope was the excellent Wild Sumaco Lodge. On my first trip to Ecuador there were no easily accessible birding localities in the foothills of the E slope so I was looking forward to our time here as the forests around Wild Sumaco are home to a number of localised birds which can be searched for from a great trail network. We discovered on arrival that the forests had gone comparatively quiet over the previous couple of weeks but we still managed to dig out some great birds during our two and a half day stay.

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The view from the balcony at Wild Sumaco with Antisana in the distance.

Numerous good birds can be seen around the lodge itself and among the selection of hummingbirds were such spectacular species as Rufous-vented Whitetip, Napo Sabrewing, Gould’s Jewelfront and Wire-crested Thorntail.

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Wire-crested Thorntail, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Among the birds I was particularly pleased to see along the roadside were Golden-collared Toucanet, Bronze-green Euphonia, Golden-collared Honeycreeper and Orange-eared Tanager whilst the fruiting trees also attracted a pair of Pale-eyed Thrushes and migrant Swainson’s Thrushes were much in evidence. Much of our time was devoted to a long trail network which over two and a half days yielded some great birds. A pair of day roosting Band-bellied Owls were found by one of the bird guides at the lodge and by going in carefully and one at a time we were all able to get great views of these magnificent birds without disturbing them.

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Band-bellied Owl, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Among the Thamnophilidae Foothill and Yellow-breasted Antwrens, Blackish, Common Scale-backed and Spot-backed Antbirds were notable but the undisputed highlight was excellent views of the uncommon and super-attractive White-streaked Antvireo.

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White-streaked Antvireo, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Firey-throated Fruiteater had to be somewhere among all these fruiting trees and in the end Herman found a male but couldn’t get us on to it before it flew to a position right above us where only Jonás managed a brief view. He subsequently found a female but it was no more co-operative, the views again brief and I again in the wrong place. I was however fortunate in being at the front of the line when Jonas picked up a Short-tailed Antthrush walking calmly but quickly through the dappled light of the forest floor. Further heroic efforts by Jonás did eventually secure good views of another scarce cotingid which is something of a local speciality at Sumaco, Grey tailed Piha. We also saw several stunning male Blue-rumped Manakins. Other species worthy of mention include Ecuadorian Piedtail, Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, Foothill Elaenia, Yellow-cheeked Becard, Rufous-naped and Olivaceous Greenlets. For those of us who had not seen one before one of the most appreciated encounters along the trails was with a White-tipped Sicklebill. Sicklebills are not so much rare as difficult to see as they principally feed whilst perched, which may afford good viewing opportunities but their visits to given blooms can be brief and once they have landed the birds are somewhat unobtrusive.

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White-tipped Sicklebill, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

The other notable feature of birding at Wild Sumaco is the feeding station where the star of the show is Plain-backed Antpitta, reputedly one of the hardest species to see by normal means. I was fortunate enough to find one at Mindo when I first visited Ecuador but that was many years ago and I certainly did not get to watch it for a protracted period. At Sumaco a pair had clearly nested nearby and were busy snaffling up as many of the worms as possible before bouncing off to feed young. We were concerned that there would be no food left for any other birds but eventually the other regular species did come in. Ochre-breasted Antpitta is another species I have seen at Mindo but the race occurring there is the W slope form, named after the town. I saw it a couple of times there and watched one for a while but never saw them feed and was surprised by the brightness of the underwing coverts which are exposed when it flicks from side to side as it dispatches its prey. Angel famously christened one of his habituated birds Shakira after the Colombian pop star and her hip-wiggling dance moves. Periodically other species turn up and we were fortunate in that a Spotted Nightingale Thrush was appearing during our stay, though unfortunate that a Short-tailed Antthrush had recently departed.

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Spotted Nightingale Thrush, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

A good E slope bird discovered whilst we waited at the feeding station was a Black-streaked Puffbird, a representative of another of my favourite groups.

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Black-streaked Puffbird, Wild Sumaco. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

During our final afternoon I elected to stay at the feeding station in the hope the antthrush might return but most of the group were successful in an excursion to track down Blackish Rail, a species I had a least seen before at Rio Bombuscaro, lower down on the E slope. Stopping briefly in a rather denuded area as we left Sumaco I was pleased to get my first super close and unobscured views of Wing-banded Wren as well as picking up a Fulvous Shrike-Tanager. White-tailed Hillstar was added to the list during a roadside stop and then it was time to head for the Amazon.

 

Ecuador 5. La Reunion Road & Chical Road

Waiting at the jetty after our boat trip out from Playa del Oro additions to the list included a Black Hawk Eagle and a Tennessee Warbler, a scarce migrant in Ecuador. Moving on to Humedal de Yalaré which still holds some good birds but has been significantly degraded in recent years White-necked, Pied and Black-breasted Puffbirds were found in rapid succession whilst a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogon were the first and last we would see on the tour.

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Slaty-tailed Trogon, Humadal de Yalaré. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

After lunch a brief stop at a site Juan Carlos knows for Golden-chested Tanager was successful though the birds remained distant and we pushed on for our first birding session along the La Reunion Road. As is so often the case the road affording access to the forest (which runs to a village) has facilitated its partial destruction and the experience is thus a bittersweet one. Logs had been used to line the muddy road in sections and we were unable to travel all that far with the time at our disposal. Degradation along the roadside edges makes for excellent viewing in to the mid and higher levels and notable among the residents of these on our first outing were Chocó Trogon, Chocó Woodpecker (the first time the species was recorded on a Birdquest tour) and a Black-tipped Cotinga low down in a roadside tree, the latter species generally seen (by visiting birders at least) at extreme range from miradors.

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Chocó Trogon, La Reunion Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

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Black-tipped Cotinga, La Reunion Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Emerald Tanager and close up views of Golden-chested Tanager were among the other highlights along with a much appreciated Brown-billed Scythebill which performed well. For ground strata skulkers it would be necessary to find a trail in but we did manage good views of a Chocó Tapaculo in a roadside gulley.

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Chocó Tapaculo, La Reunion Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Hearing a Rufous-crowned Pittasoma the following morning was not nearly so frustrating as it might have been a few days earlier but it was annoying not to have any real chance with a Black-headed Antthrush. Birding trails in that forest (if any exist or are accessible) would clearly be as exciting as it would difficult. Close views of some Rose-faced Parrots perched was a relief after a couple of high speed fly pasts here and at Playa del Oro whilst another Chocó endemic and another first for Birdquest was a Yellow-green Bush Tanager.

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Yellow-green Bush Tanager, La Reunion Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

The previous afternoon a Tooth-billed Hummingbird found by Jonas had visited a roadside flower with such speed that nobody else really got any kind of view and so we headed back to the location as the species is a trap-liner and should return. We were somewhat short of time and thus delighted when the bird zipped in to feed for just long enough that we all had pretty good views.

Our next stop was along the Chical Road and this one at least has yet to lead to systematic stripping of the forest at the higher elevations, though clearance for agriculture is apparent. It is this feature which perhaps makes it the best locality to see another famously difficult Chocó endemic. Hoary Puffleg is a hummingbird of the forest interior which, whilst it is very occasionally seen in more open edge habitat has yet to succumb to the lure of the nectar feeders. Along a particular section of the Chical Road  it can be found using partially cleared areas making it far easier to see.

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Hoary Puffleg, Chical Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

We saw two or three in an hour or so along with three superb Purplish-mantled Tanagers which were also easily found and another Chocó endemic which has become difficult elsewhere in recent years, the appropriately named Beautiful Jay.

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Beautiful Jay, Chical Road. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

That was the end of our time on the W slope, it was all too brief but a spectacular success given that.

The Bonaparte’s Gull at Farmoor

On Saturday evening whilst doing the Draycote roost John Judge suggested it was about time he/we went to have look at the 1st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull which has now been present for some time at Farmoor in Oxfordshire. Dan Watson had called that same evening keen to get out of the county and ‘actually see something’ the next day, so after work on Sunday instead of taking the sensible course of action and going home to deal with paperwork, I drove over to Dan’s and picked up a lift to Farmoor. I’m so pleased I did as the bird was constantly on view for the two or three hours we spent there and very close in the entire time. The Bonaparte’s spent much of its time gleaning insects from the surface but was also catching numerous fish.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

This behaviour was not lost on the Black-headed Gulls present which took to trying to steal a meal, providing ample opportunities to compare the two species. Whilst the quality of the following two images is poor they are worth including for illustrative purposes. Though the size difference is perhaps exaggerated here by the ‘flattened’ posture adopted by the Bonaparte’s, one which interestingly it seemed to utilise when being defensive and aggressive (which it was with surprising frequency given its smaller size and weight), it is nonetheless remarkable. As a result of these aggressive encounters the bird was vocal too, the peculiar high-pitched tern like call quite distinct from that of any gull regularly encountered in the UK. When no other birds were available for size comparison the tiny, short narrow bill was distinctive. Though the Bonaparte’s is at a poor angle in the shot below the darker tertials are obvious.

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1st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull and 1st W/S Black-headed Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

The cleaner inner upper-wing of the Bonaparte’s is well illustrated here, the narrower, neater darker trailing edge and carpal bar and cleaner inner primaries combining to create a distinctive appearance. Black-head Gull of the same age typically shows a more extensive and more diffuse trailing edge to the wing and more extensive white in the primaries and outer greater primary-coverts resulting in a larger, cleaner white ‘wedge’ along the outer forewing.

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1st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull and 1st W/S Black-headed Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

Photos taken at closer range and with more time to steady the camera show the spread wing pattern well. The clean underwing lacks the dark grey primaries typical of Black-headed Gull of the same age (see previous flight shot) but Malling-Olsen and the Collins Guide both warn of the potential for worn individuals to show rather translucent primaries (a photo of such a bird can be found in Gulls). These authors also point out that 1st W/S birds may be slightly smaller and I have certainly seen ‘runt’ Black-headed Gulls a few times in the Draycote roost and one bird with translucent primaries which gave me a scare during brief views at extreme range.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

The greater primary-coverts show an inverse pattern to that of Black-headed Gull in that they have dark bases to the outers but are otherwise pale whilst Black-headed Gull typically has white outers and dark centres to the inners.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

On the water the dark bill and extensive grey on the hind-neck and upper breast sides were obvious features but would be far harder to be sure of at range and in the failing light of a gull roost. Having said that we had originally gone to the wrong place and when Dan first picked the bird up across the width of the reservoir in the heat shimmer the latter feature was just about discernible. Black-headed Gull can show something similar and though typically less obvious in that species I have found its appearance exaggerated in poor light. The ear spot was also very neat and only a minority of Bonaparte’s Gull will develop a (blackish) hood in their first summer.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

There was no sign of tail moult although the extremely long tail-coverts overlaid the central tail feathers and sometimes gave the impression of replaced feathers.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

Finally, and for no reason other than the fact that it was so pretty here are a couple more photos, long shots with a bit of background for ‘mood’.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

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1 st W/S Bonaparte’s Gull, Farmoor Reservoir.

Ecuador 4. Playa del Oro (in to the Chocó Lowlands)

Leaving Mashpi a long drive followed by a fairly short boat journey finally brought us to Playa del Oro just before darkness descended. Playa del Oro is the premier accessible birding locality in the Ecuadorian Chocó lowlands but is still somewhat remote compared to many sites in the country. Located at the edge of the largely uninhabited Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, Playa del Oro is precisely the kind of forest locality I love in that it is undisturbed and extensive.

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Tigrillo Lodge is basic but comfortable and surrounded by excellent habitat with many of the areas best birds occurring close by. Our first morning began with a pre-dawn excursion of no more than a few hundred metres to see Chocó Poorwill. This  was one of my favourite caprimulgids of the entire trip, the dark plumage serving to highlight the conspicuous white spots on the wing-coverts. This species was formerly considered conspecific with Ocellated Poorwill and both are forest dwellers but Chocó Poorwill will vocalise close to the forest edge which is helpful when trying to track one down. This individual was clearly audible from the lodge every morning during our stay.

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Chocó Poorwill. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

In the lodge garden there is a tree at the top of the slope leading down to the jetty which, when fruiting, can attract some spectacular visitors. We were fortunate enough to discover after breakfast that it was fully in fruit and a steady procession of birds were moving in and out of the canopy. That the best of these on our first morning was a stunning male Blue Cotinga gives some idea of just how remarkable and exciting is the birding at Playa del Oro. It was time to head for the trails and we boarded the boat full of anticipation soon to be realised.

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We began our exploration of the trail system on the famous Cascada Trail and one of the first local speciality birds we encountered was one I had long wanted to see, Stub-tailed Antbird. We enjoyed great views of a singing male at close range.

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Stub-tailed Antbird. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Spotted and Bicoloured Antbirds followed but Ocellated Antbird was uncooperative and only a couple of people managed glimpses. This was however the only real disappointment of the morning and we soon tracked down our first Sapayoa. I am not a family collector but I do love many of the sub-oscine passerines especially cotingas and manakins, originally developing an interest in Sapayoa as it was formerly placed in the latter group. Recent work has now decreed that it belongs in a monogeneric family and its closest relatives are the Old World broadbills, another favourite group of mine. Thus, dull as it is, I was pretty keen to see it. Playa del Oro is arguably the most reliable site in the world for Sapayoa which is fairly common there and we saw three that morning. The photo below illustrates the feature which contributed to the species former common name and hinted at its then unknown affinities, Broad-billed Sapayoa.

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Sapayoa. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Stripe-throated Wren and Lemon-spectacled Tanager were also picked up in the flock before we moved on to a mirador for lunch.

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We secured our primary target here with distant views of  three Black-tipped Cotingas and a spectacular bonus in the form of a group of five Great Green Macaws. This species is rare in Ecuador where it is restricted to the W slope and I was particularly pleased to see it as whilst serving as Conservation Officer of the Neotropical Bird Club I awarded a small parcel grant to an environmental education project dedicated to protecting Great Green Macaw in the country. Another good find here was a showy Rufous Piha. Birding the canopy along the ridge was hard work and we craned our necks at horribly acute angles as birds flitted rapidly from tree to tree. The rewards were however great and chief among them were the Chocó endemic and super attractive Scarlet-and-White and Blue-whiskered Tanagers. Other good birds seen over the course of the afternoon included Cinnamon Woodpecker, Gartered Trogon, Yellow-margined and Pacific Flatbills, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-browed and  Rufous-winged Tanagers and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. Chief culprit among the ‘neck breakers’ was a spectacularly difficult Five-coloured Barbet whilst among the avian highlights of the lower strata were Checker-throated Antwren, Southern Nightingale Wren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Dusky-faced and Tawny-crested Tanagers.

During the pre-breakfast walk on day two a torch beam picked up a pale grey lump which turned out to be a vent on view of a roosting Great Tinamou, a species I had previously seen but nowhere near as well as this.

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Great Tinamou. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

Post-breakfast the vigil at the fruiting tree produced both sexes of Scarlet-bellied Dacnis, another stunning looking Chocó endemic for which Playa del Oro is renowned and which I had been desperate to see. Another W slope bird new to me in the garden that morning was Purple-crowned Fairy. Back in the forest and starting the trail from the other end one of the first really good birds we encountered was another I had been hoping for, Green Manakin. I kind of like the odd dull representative of otherwise colourful groups, though of course female manakins are dull and present the challenge in identifying Green Manakin. On the W slope the only form occurring is litae which is duller and even harder to identify accurately. Larger and longer tailed than females of other manakin species Green Manakin has a pale yellow central belly not shown by Sapayoa. We had gone in from the other end of the trail to try again for the Five-coloured Barbet which performed marginally better this time around. Lita Woodpecker, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Western Woodhaunter, Black-crowned Antshrike, White-tailed and Black-throated Trogons were among the best of the birds found during the walk. We added Moustached Antwren and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant to the list before heavy rain stopped play early in the afternoon. The downpour left everything so wet we opted for a boat ride the key encounter on which was a frustrating one involving the boat men picking out a small party of guans which dropped out of a riverside cecropia before we could get any kind of a look at them. Luckily the rain had stopped before the planned evening excursion on the loop trail behind the lodge. Juan Carlos Cavalchi who had joined us as a second guide for this section of the tour had a trick up his sleeve for securing views of our target species, Streak-chested Antpitta. It involves luring one in at dusk and then spotlighting it. Our bird responded enthusiastically enough but circled for some time and when it eventually settled right in front of us remained blocked from view. It was now dark and the bird went silent. I thought we had cashed in our chips but I hadn’t reckoned on the skill of Juan Carlos who correctly guessed the bird had dropped down to roost and stepping in to the forest quickly found it.

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Streak-chested Antpitta. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.

So ended the second of our days at Playa del Oro, nowhere near long enough but we did spectacularly well with them.

It seems a shame the Tigrillo Lodge which is run by local villagers does not get more visitors. It is a little basic but a great place to stay and the food is good. It really is a premier birding destination and given the popularity of family collecting and the relative ease with which Sapayoa can be found there it would perhaps be an idea to rename it Sapayoa Lodge and develop a marketing strategy designed to attract birdwatchers. Other eco-tourism initiatives could then follow on. It strikes me as critical for Playa del Oro, the forests of the W slope already largely lost and the people of the area somewhat remote from the capital and the regular tourist routes incorporating the high Andes and Amazon. Over exploitation of the W slope based on unsustainable agriculture has done untold damage but the people have to make a living and the brutal truth is that in the absence of an alternative and sustainable economic model the destruction is likely to continue. Places like the Tigrillo Lodge are the best hope the lowland forests of the Chocó have.

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Early Spring in the Leam Valley

It has been pretty good by local standards of late so I am punctuating the Ecuador posts with a Leam Valley round-up. My first good bird of the season came courtesy of a Dunchurch resident who called excitedly on the morning of 28/03 to tell me he had seen a Black Redstart in his garden. The bird had gone but I guessed it may not have gone far and dropped by after work to have a look. It appeared on a rooftop a few doors along from its original address and performed well in the sunshine for about an hour or so before disappearing when cloud cover set in. By that time I had spoken to most of the residents in the small cul-de-sac and whilst they were not unhappy once they knew what I was up to they were not willing for the news to be  made publicly available. In any event the bird was not seen subsequently.

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M Black Redstart, Dunchurch.

An evenings birding along Farborough Bank at Draycote Water paid off on the evening of 30/03 with a Rock Pipit exhibiting a greyish head and mantle, clean underparts with a pale buff wash and extensive whitish edges to the outer tail feathers typical of the Scandanvian form littoralis.

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Rock Pipit, A.p.littoralis, Draycote Water.

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Rock Pipit, A.p.littoralis, Draycote Water.

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Rock Pipit, A.p.littoralis, Draycote Water.

Arriving at Draycote Water on the morning of 02/04 I thought it best to try Farborough Bank first and was proven spectacularly wrong when a group of three Black-necked Grebes were found off Hensborough, which had been Dan Watson’s favoured option all along. Still at least we got to see them.

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Black-necked Grebe, Draycote Water.

The long-staying Red-necked Grebe was still present having moulted in to summer plumage and whilst we chatted to Richard and James Knightbridge who were also admiring the grebe fest I picked up two waders over the north shore which turned out to be a summer plumage and a moulting Black-tailed Godwit. These birds spent something like twenty minutes trying to land and so desperate were they to do so that they even tried to put down in the water. Ultimately they were thwarted by the fact that not a single bit of shoreline was left unoccupied by fishermen. After an interesting afternoon checking ‘marginal sites’ I returned to Draycote in the evening to meet up with John Judge. Again I picked up waders over the north shore, a group of five Grey Plovers this time, the largest group I have seen inland. Again they tried to land and again they failed, giving up after just three minutes or so but not before John remarkably managed to get some dot shots in which the black auxiliaries could be seen (if you squinted hard enough) at a range of about 0.5km! The power of the bridge camera demonstrated admirably. A 2nd S Mediterranean Gull at one of the smaller water bodies was the afternoons other highlight.

The following Saturday, nearly a week after the original find the Black-necked Grebes were re-located by John Judge and we were able to confirm that they were the same individuals, one having paler flanks than the others. Dan and I were just cursing our luck on Sunday afternoon having found nothing good and having just discovered that two Sandwich Terns had dropped in to Brandon Marsh less than hour after we left there when I caught a glimpse of something odd in my peripheral vision. ‘What the bloody hell’s that?’ shouted Dan who was already on it and after a brief pause for my brain to process the image I heard myself reply ‘It’s a Long-tailed Duck!’ John Judge and Bob Hazel duly turned out and it is good for them they did as the bird was not present the following day, having returned to Stanford Res. from whence it came. There are now several instances of good birds moving between these sites (the Red-necked Grebe referred to earlier had since travelled the other way) and it suggests that my hypothesised route between the Avon and the Leam (select Leam Valley from the menu bar above) has some validity.

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Long-tailed Duck, Draycote Water.

Checking a hill on the southern catchment of the Upper Leam Valley after work on 13/04 I quickly found a M Ring Ouzel. It was not alone it transpired and the two birds spent the next three days there. I told pretty much any of the local birders I thought may be interested but decided against putting it on-line fearing repeats of the atrocious behaviour exhibited by some photographers when the species was reported from Burton Dassett in 2012. A cracking M Northern Wheatear was in the same field on 14/04, my first of the year.

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M Ring Ouzel, Upper Leam Valley.

I failed to get out on 16/04 which was another mistake, John Judge calling in the afternoon to break the news of a summer plumage Slavonian Grebe at Draycote. All three rarer grebes within a couple of weeks of each other and in full summer plumage. How smart?

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

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Slavonian Grebe, Draycote Water.

A surprise find whilst surveying Pleasance Farm at Kenilworth on 17/04 was a Short-eared Owl whilst a singing Grasshopper Warbler was just 50m or so from where I saw one in 2014 and a Northern Wheatear was only the second I have seen at the site.