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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg

Female Black-breased Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis)

Since the first of June I have made two trips up to Yanacocha Reserve to observe the Black-breasted Puffleg. I have written a technical article on this very rare and elusive bird as well as mentioned it in my blog on the birding areas of Ecuador. However, I would like to add some personal observations that might help others to locate and view this critically endangered species. (There is a large article on the Yanacocha Reserve in my recently published e-book on titled “Birding Northwest Ecuador”. or )

The Black-breasted Puffleg has an extremely limited range on the northern slopes of the Pichincha volcano near Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Little is known about it but there is much that has been presumed although not verified. During the months of May through September it can occasionally be sighted at the Yanacocha Reserve near Quito and the Verdecocha reserve a little further west. Outside of these months it is assumed to migrate to higher altitudes where it breeds during the months of January through March.

My first observation of the Black-breasted Puffleg was on June 5, 2012 while at the Yanacocha Reserve. I had looked for it many times in the past, during its more prominent months, but had always come away empty handed. This trip was different and I not only observed a young female but also was able to acquire several good photos. Most of all I spent much time observing this little creature in hopes of learning more about its habits and increasing my chances of encountering it again. After several emails with Jane Lyons, a local ornithologist, about my sighting, I decided to return to gather more information. On June 16 I viewed both a male and female in the same area as the first.

I will admit that my first sighting was by luck. It had everything to do with being in the correct location. The Black-breasted Puffleg does not vocalize much, a tiny chirp perhaps every few minutes while perched. It made no sound while flying other than the hum produced by its wings while fluttering from flower to flower. This is what attracted my attention and allowed me to see it for the first time. Once it was located it was a matter of following its flight, which was generally short in duration.

Ericaceae Cavendishia
This little hummingbird has a short beak and was feeding on flower buds from the surrounding trees. (Ericaceae Cavendishia) There were larger flowers in the area but it remained at the blossoms that had shorter depths. It would forage for a minute or two and then perch for several minutes. When seeking out this species it would be necessary to sit quietly for a period of time to give it a chance to fly before it can be observed. Patience is the key.

During my first visit I observed a female feeding about 2 – 3 meters off the ground and perching 2 meters high on bare branches. The day was slightly overcast but generally warm for the area. (10o C) During the second sighting I watched both a male and a female feeding in the same area but when it rested it was generally in heavy cover and no more than 1 meter from the ground. This day was cooler (7o C) and overcast with clouds rolling in during the observations.

Both sightings were in the same location along the black-breasted Puffleg trail about 50 meters from the main path. The foliage is fairly dense but opens into a clearing of roughly 20 m diameter. There were several other understory bird species in the region including Rufous Antpitta, Rufous Wren, Barred Fruiteaters and Stripe-headed Brush-finch. Both Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers could be heard higher in the trees but were never seen in contact with the Puffleg.

I know that I have not provided a lot of information but hopefully it is enough that a person might have a better chance of spotting this seldom seen bird. It is always a pleasure to observe a species of this caliber. I know of many avid birders who have searched for years without ever seeing this magnificent creature. If all goes well, with this data, a little luck and a lot of patience others may be rewarded with a peek at the Black-breasted Puffleg.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barred Fruiteater

Male Barred Fruiteater (Pipreola arcuata)

I remember the first time I saw the Barred Fruiteater (see full article here). I was walking the Black-breasted Puffleg trail at Yanacocha Reserve when I heard some rustling in the tree above me. It was a female. I could see some movement but it was the bright orange beak and feet that helped me recognize that it was something other than the breeze affecting the leaves. She was about 6 feet over my head, sitting quietly amongst the damp moss. My position was not the greatest for observation or photography but I was afraid any sudden movement would send her on her way. So I watched and enjoyed the moment as the morning dew dripped on my neck and trickled down my back.

I often wonder why some birds will remain in these more disagreeable climates. They have wings; so why not seek a better location? I probably ponder about this most when I am fighting the wind and snow flurries up at Papallacta Pass. (I also debate why I am there.)

Female Barred Fruiteater
(Pipreola arcuata)
The Barred Fruiteater prefers the high altitude rainforest of the Andes Mountains, hiding amid the damp leaves and moss at mid heights. It is not an exceptionally active bird so it is difficult to spot in its surroundings. It is one of those species whose habits and environment need to be studied before you can point it out to someone else. Many times people will walk past, not noticing this beautiful inhabitant eyeing them from a safe perch.

Although the Barred Fruiteater can be found on both the eastern and western slopes of the Andes, I do not recall seeing it anywhere other than at Yanacocha during my explorations. There I have seen it on several occasions, generally back near the hummingbird feeders prior to the tunnel. They were not at the feeders themselves but in the heavy foliage along the paths leading from the area.

I enjoy birding in the company of others, either while guiding or just out observing with friends. But there are times when it is advantageous to bird alone. The first time I saw this handsome bird was one of them. I believe that had I been with someone else I might have missed seeing this beauty. Since then I have been able to share this experience with others by know what and where to look for this illusive bird.

Places where you can observe the Barred Fruiteater are Guango Lodge & Reserve, Huashapamba Forest Reserve, Podocarpus-Cajanuma, San Isidro Reserve, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Yanacocha Reserve.