Ecuador: The Southern Andes Aug 12—23, 2006
Posted by Paul Greenfield
The diversity of real-life experiences encountered on trips like this year’s Southern Andes tour never ceases to amaze and thrill me; they create an often charged environment, and I think our enthusiastic group learned a true lesson in the values of patience and tenacity.
We allotted two full mornings to a dedicated search for this region’s prize species and surely one of the tour’s prime targets. As we set off just at the crack of dawn, fully equipped, complete even with our secret weapon?Franco, the local reserve guard who is familiar with this species’ territories and possesses the uncanny ability to imitate its call with perfect precision and feeling?expectations were high. As we advanced along a narrow mountain trail, the light crunching of leaves made it easy to note that it had not rained in a few days, in this normally very rainy area. The evident bright sky, even as the light conditions would not yet allow our vision to make out true colors, began haunting both Franco and me; we could sense that conditions were less than favorable. But we had come on a sacred mission and dedicated the entire morning to calling and listening, and walking and waiting.
The first response brought an electric-shock reaction to us all?could it be that we were going to see it so quickly? An Undulated Antpitta came out along a side trail and we all watched, charged with emotion; if this understory skulker was so obliging, certainly our chances of seeing our target were more than good. One bird responded at fairly close quarters and Franco gave it his all (so much so that he had to take sips of water to keep his voice in tune), but light conditions and a veritable wall of thick Chusquea bamboo separated us from seeing anything in spite of all efforts. Another very similar situation presented itself, and it became clear that aside from some other wonderful species we did see, it just wasn’t going to happen for us that day.
After a wonderfully successful afternoon birding the road downslope and south of Tapichalaca, we settled in for the night thinking about what tomorrow would bring. It rained hard all night, and at dawn we headed back up our trail?Franco and I had our hopes up as the welcomed moisture and cloud cover felt right and seemed more conducive to finding our prize. Birds were more active as we walked along a now muddy trail, and we saw many species we missed a morning ago. But try as we did?not even a peep! We walked, listened, and waited; Franco called, a very distant bird responded, time passed. We began our slow return, giving it another “shot” from time to time. “The weather conditions were just too good,” I thought, and just as our collective minds seemed to begin focusing on our return, “Hoco-co ho?ho?ho,” loud, and right behind us! We quickly moved down a narrow side trail as Franco walked on trying to entice the bird closer with his response. In an instant a majestic Jocotoco Antpitta came into view, hopped across the tangled vegetation right in front of us, and was gone. We got it?finally!
No?not quite. One of our party was sandwiched between a mossy-trunked tree and two trip mates and missed the whole thing! We tried again, but that’s the way it works sometimes?“you can’t always see everything,” we rationalized as we walked on. Just then the Jocotoco called again, somewhere ahead of us. We rushed down another side trail and Franco gave out a final imitation. Unbelievable! Another Jocotoco came in, right in front of us, and proceeded to preen and shake its feathers all about?our smiles could not be hidden as we marched out triumphantly.
That was only our third morning, and many exciting experiences still lay ahead of us. One other unforgettable experience took place in the Acanama area north of Loja where we snuck up on a treeful of feeding Golden-plumed Parakeets?how absolutely beautiful are they! As we slowly worked our way closer to them, our stalking silence was broken only by the distinct popcorn popping sound of at least 35 birds as they foraged on fruits and seeds. So many experiences?so many memories.