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Friday, May 20, 2011

A Few Notes on Some Fascinating Birds

Tawny Antpitta (Grallaria quitensis)
Over the past few days I have written technical articles on several different bird species of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Rather than repeat this information I would prefer to provide some of my own observations on this avifauna and furnish links back to the original articles for further study.

One of my favorite birds is the Tawny Antpitta. It is neither the most colorful bird nor the most obvious but it has a certain personality that makes it unique within its habitat. The Antpitta family of birds is generally very timid, hiding amongst the dense undergrowth and grasses. But the Tawny Antpitta defies this caricature and can easily be seen along roadsides and at the forest edges. At Yanacocha they have set up a feeding area where the birds can be called in to feast upon fresh worms dug up by the rangers. This little fellow enters proudly to scarf up the juicy morsels, almost oblivious to the fascinated observers. He will approach within a couple of meters showing little concern for the human interlopers. There is a certain pride and courage that is displayed while he perches on nearby branches and peruses his domain. I have yet to encounter a bird that exhibits this kind of personality. Although I have seen the Tawny Antpitta many times I will never grow tired of watching him in his natural habitat.
Ornate Flycatcher (Myiotriccus ornatus)

The Ornate Flycatcher is a cute little bird of the tropical rainforest. It is quite common around Mindo and can be found on both slopes of the Andes. It is captivating to watch them sitting on branches around the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, sallying quickly into the air to capture small insects and then returning to the branch from where they originated. They are a very colorful bird within the Tyrant Flycatcher family and are easily recognizable due to the large preocular spot that can be seen from a considerable distance.

Stout-billed Cinclodes
(Cinclodes excelsior)
Furnariids or Ovenbirds are an extremely daunting family of birds. There are over seventy-five species, not counting Woodcreepers, and can be found throughout Ecuador at all elevations. There similarities in habitats, habits and coloring make it difficult to identify the individual species, even after extended periods of observation. They are a very obscure creature, tree huggers you might say, staying close to the trunks and branches as they seek out insects and other prey. There color allows them to blend in well with their surroundings and their constant movement makes it difficult to see that pattern or peculiar difference that aids in identification. When encountering a Furnariid in the field you have to take good notes to ensure that you have guessed correctly. I tend to take as many photos of them as possible so that I can make sure of my decision on the species.

I hope this information will help on your next visit to the neotropics. Happy bird hunting. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Black-tailed Trainbearer

Black-tailed Trainbearer - Male (Lesbia victoriae)

Although there are not a great variety of birds within the city limits of Quito Ecuador, there are some species that are quite impressive.  The Black-tailed Trainbearer (please see additional article for technical information) is a hummingbird that can be encountered within the confines of the city and will leave an everlasting impression on the observer. Its long flowing tail and energetic antics are a sight to see in the bustling environment of the downtown confines.

When I first arrived in Ecuador one of my earliest memories was seeing this magnificent creature visiting the flowers around the house where I lived. I later moved to a larger home where there was much more area for this visiting neighbor. The fruit trees in the back yard were a favorite habit for the Black-tailed Trainbearer as well as the Sparkling Violetear, a larger interloper that often resulted in quarrelsome exchanges concerning territorial disputes.

When I retired I moved to a much smaller house and I was afraid that my encounters with this lovely hummer would end. My patio area is less than the size of a normal bedroom and there are few flowers other than the tiny patch outside my front door. However, I was wonderfully surprised to see my diminutive friend resting in the ficus that I had placed outside my living room window. I have since then installed a feeder in this tree so that I can view his visits while I write my articles.

A couple of months ago I was writing an article when I heard a very familiar sound directly above my head. A female Trainbearer had entered the door that I had left open for my dog Boo. She was trying furiously to escape her confines but only succeeded in beating her head repeatedly against the ceiling. I became very concerned about the health of the little creature, as I know that the metabolism of the hummingbird is such that they can become exhausted quite easily. After several frantic moments I was able to extricate her from the captivity within the house. I later notice marks on the ceiling left by tiny feathers that had been shed from the hummer’s head.

The Black-tailed Trainbearer can be very aggressive and quite territorial. I have seen them attack much larger birds in an effort to protect their treasure trove of nectar. I myself have had close encounters with them while photographing them for my writing. They can be approached rather closely, if one is cautious, and will sit quite still while you observe and record their behavior. Last summer, while taking an early morning walk down the empty streets of Quito, I was shocked to stumble across a mating pair of birds in the middle of the sidewalk of one of the normally busiest avenues of the shopping district. The male, with his elongated tail feathers separated to form a giant “V” for victory, ignored my advance and went about his routine. Unfortunately I did not have a camera to record this unique display of disconcerting behavior.

In a country that is home to over 130 different species of hummingbirds it is difficult to say exactly which one is your favorite. However, I would have to place the Black-tailed Trainbearer somewhere within the top ten for its distinctive features and outgoing personality. Whenever you have an opportunity to visit this exciting birding paradise do not pass up the occasion to spend some time observing this phenomenal bird.