There is “early” and there is “even earlier”. Today our start was even earlier, with breakfast at 5:00 a.m. so we could get to the Cock of the Rock lek by 6:00 a.m. It worked out pretty well, setting the stage for another great day in Ecuador. Wikipedia (a workable source here) defines a lek as “an aggregation of male animals gathered to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals, known as lekking, to entice visiting females which are surveying prospective partners with which to mate. A lek can also indicate an available plot of space able to be utilized by displaying males to defend their own share of territory for the breeding season.” There are not a lot of bird species that use leks, but a very spectacular species of the Andes does – the Andean Cock of the Rock, and that was our first target for the day at a site associated with the Refugio Paz de las Aves. We went there hoping to find the males surrounded by females who might get interested.
I had seen an Andean Cock of the Rock in Peru in 2013 with great views and a decent photo. It is the national bird of Peru and is a “must see” on any trip to the part of the country where they are found. So, too, is it the case in the Andes of Ecuador with the interesting twist that the species in the West is orange and the ones in the East are red. We did see both males and females but unfortunately we did not get great looks as the birds were distant and generally buried in the dense forest. They are bizarre and brilliantly colored but rather than up close and personal it was more like looking at orange Christmas ornaments on a distant fir tree. Here are three photos from our morning – one of the area as we saw it through the camera (remember already magnified through the 500 mm lens) – another further magnified by photo editing and the third a photo from the Refugio Paz showing the male in full splendor.
Of course we would have liked it close up, but still a fun experience which was shortly followed by Angel Paz, the owner of this private land, calling us over to a Dark-backed Wood-Quail that he had called out in the dense undergrowth. Not the best photo but in the dim light and a tough bird – very exciting. While waiting for Angel to find this prize we heard a Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl and a Rufous Bellied Nighthawk.
The Wood Quail and Cock of the Rock are prized birds, but there was much more at the Refugio Paz de las Aves including what it is really famous for – the chance to see a number of Antpitta species – generally secretive dark birds of the dense understory that are very hard to find. The story here is that Angel Paz still a farmer on this land, has patiently trained individual Antpittas to come to him by giving them food sometimes by hand or placing them at favored spots on the ground – and calling them by name. More than 3000 visitors come to the refuge drawn by this unique opportunity, the Cock of the Rock, and the chance to see some of the other 180 species reported there.
We spent almost 4 hours at Refugio Paz de las Aves, some of it in the company of Angel Paz and his family and the rest at feeders or with our guide. We were able to see 64 species including good looks of three of the Antpittas as well as a number of other very appealing species plus yet again many hummingbirds and tanagers – 11 species of each. First the Antpittas. There are five possibilities. Rarely does anyone get all five but three is common and four not unusual. We were in the common category seeing Chestnut Crowned, Yellow Breasted and Ochre Breasted Antpittas. There was great disappointment by Angel that the Giant Antpitta was not cooperating this morning. We were happy nonetheless.
There is also a lovely restaurant and a place to stay overnight at the Refugio as well as optional guided tours for anyone considering a trip on their own.
We walked the road in the refuge and visited the feeders. Here are some of the great birds we saw saving a couple for special comment and not including photos of birds either included in earlier blogs or perhaps seen later in the trip and better included in those blog posts.
Two species that are featured at the refuge deserve their own group of photos. The Toucan Barbet and Plate Billed Mountain Toucan are just incredible examples of colorful species that are so appealing. We had great looks at both with many close in photo opportunities, We would see them elsewhere later, but the first impressions made here were memorable and remain some of our favorites for the trip.
While at the refuge we had our first look of one of my favorite birds, a Swallow Tailed Kite. In the Everglades in 2017 two of these gorgeous raptors flew within feet of me for several moments allowing me to get probably my favorite photo ever. This Kite was quite distant but still magnificent with its eponymous swallow tail. We would see many more later in our trip.
Although I included a picture of the Crimson Rumped Toucanet previously, I have to include another one here – a fun close up photo of a very cool species.
Eighteen of the 65 species we had at Refugio Paz were Lifers for me and half of the 64 were new for Ecuador. That is only one of the reasons that this place was among our favorites and this morning was perhaps our best. Now we would bird our way back to Sachatamia Lodge and would bird there as well. With apologies I did not track which of the 27 species we saw that afternoon were seen where so they are covered as a group over the entire area/afternoon. Basically most of the birding was along Milpe Road and then back to Sachatamia.
No matter where we were in this part of Ecuador there were many hummingbirds and tanagers and this afternoon there were again 11 of the former and a dozen of the latter. Most of the birds seen in the afternoon had already been seen elsewhere earlier. Only five new species were added: Guayaquil Woodpecker, Cinnamon and One Colored Becards, Slaty Spinetail and Wedge Billed Woodcreeper. Even though we had seen many of the species earlier, it still made for a total count for the day of 81 species.
Back to the lodge for another good dinner and working on lists and photos. We later learned that our guide, Jorge Luna and his family had encouraged Angel Paz to establish his refuge and Jorge’s family has land not too far away – maybe another refuge will follow. At the end of the day, our Ecuador list stood at 191 species and I had added 86 species to my World Life list.