Wednesday, March 14, 2018

the opposite hummingbird

I'm going to continue on the hummingbirds of Yanacocha theme, today's is Shining Sunbeam.

Most hummingbirds are green, this one ... orange.

They would frequently hold the wings back for a moment upon alighting.

The other opposite effect?  Most hummingbirds have an iridescent throat.  This one? An iridescent ... rump.

Because who doesn't want rainbows emanating from their posteriors?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sick. but not of starfrontlets.

I've never really had serious problems with illness in the tropics, but in the early morning hours (ironically after eating in the nicest hotel we would stay at the entire trip) of our overnight in Quito I was incapacitated by the most raging case of food poisoning I've ever had in my life.  Two others on the trip were effected, one nearly to the extent I was.  I was pretty disheartened to miss the morning's birding but at least after a few hours I started being able to keep down some Sprite.  The driver circled back to pick me back up and while I missed the trail at Yanacocha reserve I at least spent an hour or so at one of the hummingbird set-ups while the others were finishing up the trail and eating lunch.

And there were hummingbirds.  This is Buff-winged Starfrontlet. 

 The name confused me.  Not the Buff-winged part, that one is easy.  I was thinking it was in the same family as the Starthroats of Central America, combining starthroat and starfrontlet in my mind.  I couldn't figure out why their bill was so much differently shaped.  Duh.  Because they're different.  Oh well.  The Starfrontlet is actually in the same genus as the Incas that were present at somewhat lower elevations.

Not sure if the forehead or the throat is the star, but it was green and blue in the right light.

The female has the same long straight bill and the buff wing as the male

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Back over the Andes

After spending the morning at Guango in upper mid elevations of the eastern Andes we headed back towards Quito to spend the rest of the trip on the Andes' west slope.  But not before crossing back over the high elevations.  Needless to say, we found some birds.

Great Thrush is one of the most common birds in the brushy scrub right at the treeline.

We found some elevation specialties, like Black-backed Bush-tanager and worked hard for some brief looks at Masked Mountain-tanager.  A Pale-naped Brushfinch was a lot more cooperative while Tawny Antpittas continued to serenade us.

Viridian Metaltail is another specialty of the dry paramo in Ecaudor and Colombia

When a person thinks of cotingas they usually picture bright blue and purple birds.  Apparently Red-crested Cotinga fits into that tribe somehow. 

We again ascended to the 14,000 foot range of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.  After striking out on Giant Conebill on the way up we struck out on the seedsnipe for the second straight day despite covering a lot of rolling tundra on foot.  We were headed back to Quito when a bird flew directly in front of the bus.  There were definitely mixed emotions in Jose's voice as he called out Blue-mantled Thornbill, another very elevation limited Ecuadorian endemic.  There turned out to be two birds and they were quite cooperative chasing each other about the limited perches.

It was a really cool bird to end the day with.

Monday, March 5, 2018

East slope hummingbirds

After our morning walk at Guango we spent about 20 minutes at the hummingbird feeders before having to pull ourselves away.  The Andes Mountains are consistently tall enough that there's not a lot of habitat corridors to allow birds to bleed over from one side of the mountain to the others so the same elevation can have very different birds on the two sides.  (Or maybe it's a moisture difference; the west side is a lot wetter than the east side).  Either way there were a handful of birds at these feeders that were unique to the trip.

First up is Long-tailed Sylph, actually fairly common at Guango.  The long-tailed hummingbirds were not easy to photograph.  It was very difficult to get the face in focus but still get the iridescence of the upper surface of the tail.

Next up is Tourmaline Sunangel, a short-billed, dark, medium-sized hummingbird.

Speaking of degree of difficulty, it's really hard to get the focus locked up on a moving bird very close to you.  It was a little bit of a bummer this White-bellied Woodstar has some scruffy molt going on.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet is another east slope specialty.  We saw I think 3 species of coronet on the trip, they would typically extend their wings when they would land.  I also saw both Chestnut-breasted as well as a west slope species do this display where one bird would extend its wings and bill from below the other.  I think it was likely a courtship thing since it was fairly protracted.  Sexes are identical in coronets though so hard to say for sure.

This is Buff-tailed Coronet, a species found on both sides and honestly one of my favorite pics from the tip.

Incas are fairly large hummingbirds with long heavy bills, this is Collared Inca.

One more view of one of the smaller species, Tyrian Metaltail that we'd seen at higher elevations the day before.

We did glimpse a few other species, including Sword-billed Hummingbird and, for some members, Moutain Velvetbreast, but those will have to wait for later posts (or for the Velvetbreast that I missed later trips!)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ecuador proper

Starting at the highest of elevations was somewhat of an odd introduction to South America.  The above-the-treeline paramo was a very unique habitat, scenery that was different from anything I'd ever seen.  It really did feel like a different continent.  We stayed at Guango Lodge for the night after our first day of birding.  The thin air allowed a moonset bright enough to hurt your eyes with a sudden direct look.  It was striking though.  But the moon soon set and the Sun quickly rose, casting early morning light on a forest that felt far less alien than the starkly beautiful paramo. 

Trogons are common throughout the tropics, Masked is the red-bellied version for the higher elevations of the Andes.  There was certainly familiarity here with its resemblance to several Central American cousins.

This is Black-crested Warbler, a bird that was singing fairly persistently early on our walk
This is one of the Basileuterus warblers (Rufous-capped which just gets into Arizona some years from its Central American haunts is another).  With plain wings and not much of a face pattern it didn't really resemble any of our breeders or migrants.

Probably no class of birds is more widely represented in South America than the flycatchers.  Fortunately for us, on this trip there weren't a lot of difficult to separate species pairs the way a person has to work for several groups of elaenia or flatbill on previous trips.  Of course as soon as I say that I can't remember if this next bird is White-tailed or White-banded Tyrannulet.
 My notes say it's White-banded.

Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant was our 2nd chat-tyrant of the trip, another cleanly-marked, neatly-patterned bird.

Cinnamon Flycatcher is perhaps the most boldly brown bird I've ever seen.

Finally the bird of the day for me, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, our second species of antpitta in as many days. 
The first 2 days of this trip therefore equaled the total number of antpittas I'd seen on every other trip I've made to the neotropics combined.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I guess Seedsnipes need oxygen too

Because 11,000 feet at Antisana was just entirely too low for a chance at a couple birds, we went higher.  How does 14,000 feet sound to you?  Pikes Peak, Mt Ranier and the other highest summits in the continental U.S. are also ... 14,000 feet and change.  It's high enough that the barometric pressure is 1/3 less than sea level.  That means you get 2/3 of the oxygen you're used to.

Our target bird was a Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, a member of the sandpiper tribe that acts (and looks) like a ptarmigan.  I'll skip the suspense, despite a lot of effort we didn't see one.  The scenery was pretty fantastic though.  This is the Antisana volcano in the distance.

As a frame of reference its elevation is just a shade under 19,000 feet, Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) in Alaska is 20,000 feet.

There were birds though.  Here's Chestnut-winged Cinclodes in a more natural habitat than a gabled roof.

Honestly these next ones are more about the scenery than the birds, first a distant Plain-capped Ground-tyrant and then a Tawny Antpitta.

 The antpitta is standing atop the little lime green patch in the center.

We were high enough up that a Variable Hawk flew past beneath us.  They were usually really high up. 

Finally a few last pics of some of the craziest scenery that I've ever seen 

While the headache I developed was likely early altitude sickness, even without the Seedsnipe it was a really memorable afternoon

Monday, February 19, 2018

condor lunchdate

After a pleasant morning in the Antisana reserve I think most of us at least dozed (if not napped outright) as we descended a little to our lunch stop.

 It was a little restaurant (maybe with lodging possible?) which had a few hummingbird feeders arrayed in the landscaping surrounding the building

We'd seen Sparkling Violet-ear earlier in the morning but this was the first chance to see it well.

 A cousin to Green (now Lesser) Violet-ear, it filled a similar niche as a fairly dominant bird at the feeders and a prominent feature of the soundscape.

Tyrian Metaltail is a smaller more subtle species.

Nothing subtle about the next 2 birds.  First is Black-tailed Trainbearer.

Next is Giant Hummingbird, the largest hummingbird in the world.  The violet-ear gave it as much room as it wanted.

But we were looking for black birds.
 Maybe I should say big black birds (the Blackish Flowerpiercer was interesting, but not exactly meriting a restaurant to be named after it.).

About half way through the meal Jose (or one of the employees) started shouting CONDOR! CONDOR! in tones previously reserved by guides for HARPY EAGLE, HARPY EAGLE!

The bird landed on a cliff face half a mile distant.  We watched it through the scope until it again took flight.

It wasn't a great view, but a view nonetheless.