Monday, May 22, 2017

Camella's Back

We were invited by our neighbor and fellow birder, Chin, to go with him to Camella Homes in Bulacan. We've been to that place before and we had a great time with the Jacanas. Inasmuch as one of our target birds, the White-winged Tern, had been seen there lately, going back would be a good opportunity.

For almost three hours we stayed by the pond looking at a number of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and Whiskered Terns cavorting all over the place. However, the hoped for flight of the Jacanas did not happen as we expected - only some short hops from one end of the pond to the other.




While waiting for our target bird to appear I observed an uncommon behavior from what I believe is a Clamorous Reed Warbler. Normally this species is a skulker -darting in and out of tall reeds while looking for insects. This one, however, was acting more Pipit-like, standing on top of waterlilies and grabbing an unfortunate bug. It looked like a Pipit, behaved like a Pipit, but Pipits are migrants and were supposed to be back up northern Asia by now. Our friend, Adri, later confirmed that this was indeed a Clamorous Reed Warbler.



Anyway, another interesting avian activity I observed was playing "king-of-the-hill" (or should I say a "king-of-the-pole") between two species. The Blue-tailed Bee-eater would perch on said pole then fly off to chase of an insect. A Whiskered Tern would then perch on the said pole before the Bee-eater could return. The smaller bird would then harass the tern albeit to no avail. Eventually the tern would also fly off to join its comrades in swooping for tiny fish. That would be now an opportunity for the Bee-eater to reclaim its throne, so to speak, and fend off the returning tern. But then the Bee-eater would of course had to eat so off it would fly again. That would be the go signal for the tern to return (pun intended). That scenario was repeated several times.





As in most of our birding trips there would be a bonus bird. This time it was a pair of Greater Painted Snipes! For a short while both male and female got out of hiding from the reeds and enjoyed a few moments in the sun.


female 
male
A little after 8 am, with the White-winged Terns not showing up and the heat and humidity becoming unbearable, we all agreed to call it a day. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Lay Over Birding

Our return flight from Ecuador to Los Angeles has a lay over in Panama. When we booked our flight we asked the travel agent to give us an extra day in Panama before we continue to LAX.  This was to avoid spending the whole night at the airport. The flight from Ecuador arrives Panama at 5 pm but the connecting flight to Los Angeles leaves at 7 am the following day! So why not extend the lay over for one more day and use that time to go birding.

And birding we did. Thankfully, the Parque Metropolitano was not that far from the hotel where we stayed. We visited this place last year and were amazed at the number of birds here - at a forest smack in the middle of the city.

The relatively short time that we spent here was still fruitful. Although we did not see as many birds as we had seen last year, we still added two lifers to our list. The first was a bit of a sad story: It rained hard the day before and most likely because of the heavy downpour an owl fledgling was dislodged from its nest. We found it perched on a branch about two feet from the ground looking so haggard. We notified that park's staff and they took the owlet assuring us that they will take care of it and release it once it has recovered from whatever ails it. That was a Striped Owl.


The other lifer was a bit of a surprise. I only realized it when I was processing our photos back home in the Philippines. I knew it was an Oropendola but was it the Crested one which we saw last year? Further research showed that what we got this time was the Chestnut-headed kind.


As I mentioned before, although we did not see as many birds as last year, this time I was able to get some closer shots of a few species. (Notice that it was only me who was taking pictures. It was due to an unfortunate incident - the autofocus mechanism of Cynthia's 300mm lens died here in Panama.)

The Keel-billed Toucans were friendlier this time.


The same can also be said about the Crimson-crowned Woodpecker


And the Cocoa Woodcreeper


Even the usually shy Green Honeycreepers were out in the open.

male 
female
At about 3 pm we were sweating from the high humidity and our stomachs were grumbling, having had only cup noodles for lunch. We returned to our hotel and prepared for the long trip back to the U.S.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Birding in Ecuador - Information and Logistics

Whenever my wife and I go birding abroad we regularly search the internet first to find out possible places where we could stay and birding areas we could visit. We are what could be termed as "budgetarians" when it comes to traveling overseas. Which basically means we don't avail the services of professional bird tour companies. We pretty much do stuff on our own. That said, here are some information on our experience in Ecuador:

Accommodations:

Puembo Birding Garden ( https://puembobirdinggarden.com/ ) is a cozy place not far from the international airport. Mercedes, the owner, really made us feel at home. Being an expert birder herself, she recommended the places we should visit and even provided a driver/guide for us. As the name implies, the place has a garden where there are feeders for hummingbirds, seed-eating birds and fruit-eaters. Scrub Tanagers, Eared Doves, Rufous-collared Sparrows and Black-tailed Trainbearers are sure sightings here.


Sachatamia Lodge ( http://www.sachatamia.com/ ) is another favorite of birders. It has a main building with rooms upstairs and also several cottages within its property. They also have feeders for hummingbirds and fruit-eating birds. The forest and waterfalls hosts many different kinds of birds. The cuisine at the restaurant is quite good. A little bit of quirkiness is that you have to remove your shoes and put on a cloth covering on your feet before entering the main building which houses the office/concierge and the restaurant.


Birding Places:

Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve ( http://www.alambicloudforest.com/) is a hummingbird heaven about an hour away from Quito. There is an entrance fee of $5 per person.


Bellavista Reserve and Lodge ( http://www.bellavistacloudforest.com/ ) really is a lodging place and is favorite stop over of tours and birders. It is located in the Tandayapa Valley which is famous as a top birding destination. We just did a short visit here and purchased the birds of Bellavista book.


San Tadeo Birdwatching (they don't have a website) is a comparatively new and small birding spot not far from the Sachatamia Lodge. It is famous for the various kinds of tanagers and hummingbirds that come to their feeders. The entrance fee is $5 per person.


El Mirador Rio Blanco ( https://www.faintlake.com/trips/EC/Mirador.html ) is a restaurant and hostel that caters to birders. Patricio, the owner, is an avid birder himself. Food is good in this place with good views of the feeders.


Milpe Bird Sanctuary (they don't have a website but a good resource is here: http://www.exoticbirding.com/ecuador/milpe-sanctuary/description.html )
Entrance fee here is $12 per person. Inside the sanctuary are several trails which harbor bird species of lower elevation forests. The road going to/from the sanctuary is also rife with birds.

Refugio Paz de las Aves   ( http://www.refugiopazdelasaves.com/ ) is internationally known to birders. Here sightings of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is guaranteed. Seeing four different species of Antpittas is also a strong possibility. The entrance fee is $35 per person.


Antisana Ecological Reserve is a huge grassland with a lake high up in the Andes. It has an elevation of more 3500 masl.  Again they don't have a website but here is an informative link http://www.exoticbirding.com/ecuador/antisana/description.html . Located inside the Antisana Ecological Reserve is the Tambo Condor Restaurant. This is the best place to observe the Andean Condor. Food is not bad too.


Transportation:

The airline we used was Copa. It has a stopover in Panama City which we availed by staying one extra day to do some birding in Panama.

Our transportation had been provided by the lodges we stayed in for a fee. Puembo Birding Garden was responsible for picking us up and taking us to the airport. They were also the ones who contacted Luis, who did not only drive for us but acted as our bird guide as well. Sachatamia Lodge provided the car and driver to take us to the Refugio Paz de las Aves.

Summary:

Apparently the last half of April was the onset of the birding off-season. Mercedes of the Puembo Birding Garden admitted to us. Rain had been pouring almost on a daily basis thus limiting our birding outings. It could also be a factor but it was holy week when we came to Ecuador and it being a predominantly Catholic country, such a time was devoted to spirituality. Maybe that was why the fruit feeders were not replenished the three days we stayed at the Sachatamia Lodge (which included both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday).

All in all it was still a productive trip for us, adding about 100 new species to our lifelist. Big thanks goes to Luis our driver/guide and excellent spotter.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Birding in Ecuador - Day 6 - Andean There Were Birds

When our host, Mercedes, suggested we go to Antisana on our last full day in Ecuador so we can see Caracaras and Ibises, we politely declined. Our excuse (which was really lame) was that we were exhausted. "We'll just bird around your neighborhood," we told her. We returned to our room while she prepared our dinner. I gave it much pondering and the thought of garnering more lifers persisted on my mind. I discussed this with my wife. While having dinner, we told Mercedes that we changed our mind and please contact Luis so he can pick us up tomorrow.

Bright and early the following day as we were about to embark, Mercedes noticed that we only had three layers of clothing on. "You will need more than that" she said. Then she quickly rushed to her house and brought two sweaters - one for me and one for Cynthia.

The road to Antisana was quite birdy. Thanks to Luis' keen eyes we got Paramo Ground Tyrant, Plain-colored Seedeater, Chestnut-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, and Plumbeous Sierra Finch. These were all added to our life list, among others.

One of the highlights was the Carunculated Caracara. There were lots of them walking on the grassland.



As we approached La Mica Lake, one could say: And then there were birds....most of which had their names begin with "Andean":

Andean Coot



Andean Teal



Andean Duck



Andean Lapwing



Andean Ibis



And the most memorable of all:

Andean Condor




To cap an already exciting trip, Luis' sharp eyes gave us our final lifer: the Red-crested Cotinga.



When we returned to Puembo, we thanked Mercedes profusely not just for insisting that we go to Antisana but also for providing an extra layer of clothing for us. It was indeed very cold up there almost to the point of freezing. After all, we were more than 3500 meters above sea level high up in the Andes mountains.

It was an awesome end to our birding trip to Ecuador.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Birding in Ecuador - Day 5 - Milpe Way

Today we will be transferring from Sachatamia Lodge into the Finlandia Hotel in the city of Quito. This is so that we can be close to the church where we will be attending the Easter Sunday Service tomorrow. We had already arranged with our expert driver/guide Luis to pick us up and take us to the capital city.

Our first stop was at the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. Being short on time and energy (we're senior citizens after all) we did not explore the lenghty trails. Nevertheless we had some good views of two kinds of Toucans that looked similar to each other - the Choco and the Yellow-throated.

Choco Toucan
Yellow-throated Toucan
We also had some surprises - we didn't know what they were until I was already home and doing some digging in the internet. What we thought was just an oriole that we've seen before turned out to be a lifer!

Yellow-tailed Oriole
And then there was this bright reddish brown bird that kept displaying on the branch above us. It was a Cinnamon Becard - a totally unexpected encounter.


Near the office were the usual feeders. One of the hummingbirds that go there was new to us - the Green Thorntail.


From the sanctuary we proceeded to our destination: the El Mirador Restaurant to have lunch. That strip of road that we traversed was quite productive bird-wise as we added more lifers to our list. Among them was the Masked Water Tyrant - a kind of flycatcher that stays mostly on the ground.


A similar terrestrial bird with a strange name was the Pacific Hornero. The term "hornero" was derived from the Spanish word "horno" which means oven. That was because the nests built by this species were shaped like wood-fired ovens.


Another bird with a quaint name was the Black-crowned Tityra. The word "tityra" was derived from the name given to the satyrs in Greek mythology who were known for their raucousness - a trait that this species definitely has.


Then we had the all-black Smooth-billed Ani. "Ani" was adapted from the Tupi (an ethnic tribe in the Amazon) which means "social" - an apt description for the habits of this bird.


At El Mirador, we were welcomed by Patricio, the owner, who is a bird lover himself. Beside the dining place were feeders where tanagers and hummingbirds were plentiful. After lunch we birded the surrounding area and got the female Red-headed Barbet.


Although not a lifer, the Lineated Woodpecker gave us good views.


The star of El Mirador was the very active Bananaquit.


Before we left we were honored to have met Hal & Pat Michael who were members of a foundation responsible for the conservation of birds in Ecuador.

Then it was a long drive to the city of Quito. Again we thanked Luis for being such a great bird spotter. Tomorrow we will see him again when he will take us back to Puembo where we will be staying for our last two days in Ecuador.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Birding in Ecuador - Day 4 - Rock On!

Refugio Paz de las Aves is an internationally renowned birding place in Ecuador. No self-respecting birder would go to this country and not visit the Refugio. The owners, Angel and Rodrigo Paz, are reputedly the Antpitta whisperers. At least three species of Antpittas inhabit their property and these birds usually appear at their beck and call. Another "guaranteed" sightings are the unbelievably gaudy-colored Andean Cock-of-the Rocks.


 It was unfortunate that our visit to the Refugio was a little short of our expectations. The heavy downpour was basically the reason for that. Thankfully the day started well. Early in the morning we headed to the "lek" to watch the fabled Cock-of-the Rocks. They were there all right, albeit far even for my zoom lens. As the sun rose higher, the gorgeous birds flew closer and displayed their beauty to a group of awestruck bird photographers.




From there we moved on to where the Antpittas were. It took a lot of prompting from Rodrigo before the Yellow-breasted species came out.



It took even longer to coach the Moustached Antpitta to show itself before the expecting birders.



And then it rained. That signaled the end of our trip.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Birding in Ecuador - Day 3 - Such a Time We Had

This day we birded the grounds of the Sachatamia Lodge where we were staying. Prior to our trip to Ecuador we already researched the quality of birding that can be experienced here. It was quite promising! 

Now we were enjoying it first hand. This despite an occasional shower and the feeders not replenished by the hotel staff. The leisurely walk around the area garnered 15 more lifers for us. One of the challenges of birding in Ecuador was identifying the various kinds of Treecreepers. These birds have practically the same rufous-brown plumage and the same habit of creeping on the trunks and branches of trees (hence their name). Here are a few samples:

Montane Woodcreeper
Stout-billed Woodcreeper 
Tyrannine Woodcreeper
The other highlight of the day was when we chanced upon a Birding Tour Guide showing a group of lady birders a Guayaquil Woodpecker not far from our cottage.


Then while we were relaxing by the parking lot we saw one of the target birds in this area - The Red-headed Barbet.


Yesterday our driver/guide, Luis, told us to look for the resident owl. So we asked Joni, one of lodge's staff if such bird still inhabits the area. "Yes, it comes around 7 at night," he assured us. That evening we ventured out in the dark from our cottage hoping to see the nocturnal bird. As we neared the main lodge we heard the loud screams from a nearby tree. Cynthia called Joni who then came with a flashlight and shone it on the Black-and-white Owl.


It was a relaxing birding day for us and we had such a wonderful time seeing more lifers.