Today, Jan 27th, was a free day before the start of my Amazon basin and east slope tour here in Ecuador. Bruce Dilabio, Paul Pratt and myself spent the day checking out two new birding sites near the town of Nanagalito on the west slope of the Andes about two and a half hours from Quito. Our driver Mauricio who we had worked with in southern Ecuador picked us up at the Sheraton around 6:30 am. It was a full great day of birding with lots of good birds, a grand adventure and some good laughs.

The first site we visited proved a bit elusive. Roger Altman had given us good directions but that is not always all that is needed here. But after several tries we found a section of road with good forest near the town of Delicias. This site has recently become well known because of the presence of the extremely rare Indigo Flowerpiercer. It has several other great birds that have been discovered by people looking for this rarity. We didnt get there until 11:15 am but in the hour and a half there we had great success. Best of all an unfamiliar song inspired me to spish and in came a gorgeous INDIGO FLOWERPIERCER! Paul and Bruce managed to get some decent photos as the bird stuck around for nearly a minute. Other highlights here included several ORANGE-BREASTED FRUITEATERS, a gorgeous male GOLDEN-WINGED MANAKIN, female HOOK-BILLED KITE (perched and again photos by Paul and Bruce), heard CHOCO TAPACULO and seen NARINO TAPACULO. I had Kathis point and shoot and managed to get good digiscope shots of one of two OLIVACEOUS PIHAS that first fought and then perched quietly in the open.

The next site we visited was an OILBIRD nesting site in a deep cavern along a fast flowing stream. It is near the hamlet of Chontal about an hour from Nanagalito. This is definitely not an adventure for the faint of heart, but for anyone who wants an outstanding birding experience and is good shape - IT IS NOT TO BE MISSED! Again we got lost finding the site but managed to find Mr. Morales as he waited by his gate. He took us onto his property and then we took our 4 wheel drive down a rough track to a small parking area and garden. From here we walked on foot down a steep muddy trail. Fortunately it was relatively dry so rubber boots were not needed, but ordinarily I think they would be good. After a few hundred meters we reached an area where we could see into a deep cavern below and with the help of the scope and some guidance we found the oilbirds sleeping below in the side of the steep rock walls. Not such a thrill because the views were okay, but OILBIRDS nonetheless. However, now the real adventure began! Mr. Morales produced a long rope and three harnesses for us to put on! I opted to pass but Paul and Bruce opted for greater safety. We descended down more trail right to the stream level. From here there were three waterfalls in the narrow cavern. To get down them Mr. Morales had built three long narrow bamboo ladders!!! The harnesses were attached to the climbers and then the ropes to the harnesses as you climbed down the narrow bamboo ladders which were near vertical. The longest ladder was probably thirty feet long!

Above you can see yours truly on the ladder (sans harness). It was definitely worth this adventure because once we reached the bottom there were at least a dozen OILBIRDS close by including this pair of six that were at eye level no more than 8 feet away sitting quietly!!! And not far from them was a nest with a cute little BABY OILBIRD. Here is the best photo I managed to get (before I turned off the flash on the camera -oopps).

Today we fly to Coca and then transfer to Napo Wildlife Center. If we have internet I will post some images from our visit there!


New Years Day birding

Kathi and I started 2010 by spending the morning birding around the north shore of Lake St. Clair. We revisited some areas we had spent time in on the Anchor Bay Christmas Bird count.

The day started off with Kathi spotting a gorgeous adult Bald Eagle on fresh ice along the lakeshore. It had a smaller dark female duck which we couldnt get a firm ID on. This also turned out to be the first photography lesson of the year. Why? Well when I grabbed my camera I couldnt get it to focus in either auto OR manual. After struggling and wrestling with the lens the eagle eventually got tired and flew off. Subsequently I discovered that I had left an extension tube on the camera... I decided to post the picture of the EMPTY ICE where the eagle WAS to remind myself not to do this again.

The lesson? Always unpack your gear from previous shoots and always prepare BEFORE you head into the field! Despite this humourous gaff we decided this should be the 'year of the eagle'.

We also checked in on the Gray Catbird we had found on the Anchor Bay CBC a few weeks prior. It was in exactly the same rose patch as before. I managed to get a crappy image of the bird hiding in the thickets, but you can at least tell what it is. This was one of a number of catbirds seen on CBCs in southern Ontario and Michigan this season. In fact, the Pelee count tallied four individuals!

It was pretty chilly this morning but we spent about a half hour walking around the trails of Algonac State Park. It was quite birdy and at one point we encountered a large group of birds including more than 20 YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, 60 CEDAR WAXWINGS, 2 ROBINS, 4 HERMIT THRUSHES and 3 NORTHERN FLICKERS. Other birds of note we found this morning were two LONG-TAILED DUCKS on the river, and four PIED-BILLED GREBES. All in all a great start to the 2010 birding year!