Monday, 16 January 2017

Western Ecuador Endemics

In November I led an Ornitholidays group to Western Ecuador, from Guayaquil southwards to the Peru border. Here I illustrate a few of the local endemics we saw - species confined to Western Ecuador or the Tumbes region: an arid area that south-west Ecuador shares with north-western Peru. Here, at Buenaventura Reserve, the Rufous-headed Chachalaca is a regular visitor to the feeders. The hummingbird feeders here are amazing, attracting over 50 individuals of six or seven species at a time during most hours of daylight. 

Next, we visited Jorupe, a small reserve close enough to the Peru border to see its hills across the river below. The feeders here attract many local specialities, such as the White-tailed Jay. Buenaventura, Jorupe and Tapichalaca - three of the lodges we visited - are run by the Jocotoco Foundation, which has ensured the survival of many species by buying reserves in important bird areas.

 The Jorupe staff scatter corn below the feeder for species such as the Pale-browed Tinamou. In common with all tinamous, only the male incubates the eggs and protects the young. This species is heard much more than seen in most parts of its range, but at Jorupe one or two have become habituated to regular hand-outs. 

 The tour proved an Antpitta bonanza, with five species seen and a sixth heard. Here, the normally shy Watkins's Antpitta is persuaded into the open at Jorupe. This is just one species of antpitta that is now venturing out for food. Following the pioneering techniques of Angel Paz, various rare and local antpittas can now be whistled into view with the promise of fresh worms. Angel, once a struggling farmer in the High Andes, is now a well-known conservationist with a thriving eco-lodge on his property. 

 At Tapichalaca in the High Andes, we enjoyed point-blank views of this Jocotoco Antpitta at a feeding station. Angel Paz was brought here to advise on how best to conserve and showcase this rarity, whose total population may be as low as 100 individuals. Named after its call, this bird was the raison d'etre of the foundation that has now taken its name, and runs 11 reserves in various parts of Ecuador. At this reserve and at our next, Copalinga, we had a week of hot, sunny weather. Sounds great, but was anything but ideal for bird activity. These cloud-forests are so called for a good reason, and when the clouds fail to form, many species disappear - either by falling silent and staying out of view, or by migrating elsewhere. 

The Pale-headed Brush-Finch has a tiny population too, probably even smaller than Jocotoco's. It is confined to one small reserve in a dry valley near Cuenca. Luckily it was discovered in time to save the scrubby hillside from cultivation. So, The Yunguilla Reserve is another success story of the Jocotoco Foundation. Many more brightly coloured species can be seen here too, but I have gone for the rarity value here! 

Finally, here is a male Tit-like Dacnis, a tiny bird in the family of tanagers and honeycreepers. It occurs in Polylepis, a small-leaved shrub that grows near the tree-line in the High Andes. Note that this individual has a ring (band) on its right leg. We found it in the El Cajas National Park, before we returned to Guayaquil for the flight home. Many thanks to Howard Gorringe for allowing me to use his images.   

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