Since we would have a 2 1/2 hour drive today, we had to get up even earlier than usual. After a comfortable night’s rest, it didn’t seem like quite as difficult.
Today we were headed to another Jocotoco Foundation Reserve: Tapichalaca. Our target bird: the Jocotoco Antpitta. Once at Tapichalaca, we would still have a long hike in order to arrive at the viewing site by 8:30 AM. A bit of irony that we had to get up so early but the bird got to sleep in…
Off the bus, we walked up a dirt road to the trail entrance. The trail was steep and made muddy from rain. Definitely a boot day.
First stop along the trail was a blind to try for a couple of local specialties: White-throated Quail-Dove and Andean Tinamou. Owing to the small size of the blind and the narrow approach, we had to move one person up at a time. The problem with this plan was that the chances for people further back of seeing the birds would be greatly diminished. These species are skittish so any disturbance would likely spook them. That’s exactly what happened. About two-thirds of the group got to see either both or one or the other of the birds. That’s the trouble with group birding on narrow trails. It is what it is.
Pushing on we came to a small covered viewing station. Similar to our 2008 visit to Angel Paz’s to see antpittas, our “antpitta” guide at Tapichalaca, Miguel, used the same technique to lure in “Pancho”, the nickname given to the male Jocotoco Antpitta. “Venga, venga, venga, Poncho!”, Miguel called out as he dropped cut-up mealworms on the trail. Within a few minutes, Pancho crept (hopped) out of the jungle. Oblivious to clicking camera shutters, Pancho downed the worms within four feet of us. Pancho’s mate “Vivi” has been known to make appearances but this morning it would be one of the recently hatched chicks, a now nearly adult bird.
Very little is known about the breeding cycle of the Jocotoco Antpitta but on July 19, 2009 a second nest was discovered at Tapichalaca. Data from nest monitoring are far from complete but over time it is hoped a good deal more about Grallaria ridgelyi is gleaned.
Leaving Poncho behind, we pushed forward on the trail. It quickly became obvious that this portion of the trail was less developed. At times we found ourselves calve-deep in sucking mud trying to keep our balance. Where the trail split into other trails, signs for the new trailheads rated them as “difficult”. Ours was rated “easy.” Easy? You must be kidding! Fortunately no one took a serious tumble.
Aside from what turned up at the blind - a Highland Tinamou (not an Andean as it turned out) and a White-throated Quail-Dove, plus taking into account "Pancho" and one offspring, our trail walk added other bird species: Pearled Treerunner, Black-capped Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Turquoise Jay, Brown-bellied Swallow, Plain-tailed Wren, Mountain Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Red-hooded Tanager (heard only), Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, Northern Mountain-Cacique. Walking slowly made quite a difference (not that we could have walked any faster if we had wished to!)
Another of the reserve's specialty species is the Golden-plumed Parakeet. We found a small flock at the bottom of a deep valley where a few nesting boxes have been placed. Their population ranges from Columbia to Peru but are most notably impacted in Ecuador. They are found only in far southern Ecuador in temperate cloud and elfin forests. The birds rely heavily on Podocarpus cones and nest in dead wax palms. Cutting of dead wax palms is impacted largely by the palm's use for Palm Sunday services. Replanted young palms are subject to increased browsing by cattle.
We had to take the same trail back and saw many of the same birds we had going out. Another (or the same) White-throated Quail-Dove was seen very briefly walking ahead on the trail for a short distance before it evaporated into the underbrush. A Chestnut-naped Antpitta popped up out of nowhere – and popped back just as quickly. An added bonus: We found fresh Puma tracks on our muddy trail!
Back at the bus we boarded then drove a few more kilometers to the main lodge where we ate our box lunches while watching the lodge’s hummingbird feeders. We added: Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Velvet-purple Coronet, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Flame-throated Sunangel, Glowing Puffleg, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph. Other bird species picked up in surrounding cover include: Blue-backed Conebill, Bluish Flowerpiecer, White-sided Flowerpiercer (better looks than the day before). The lodge also had a small gift shop – more like a gift cabinet – where most everyone bought Jocotoco Antpitta T-shirts (now that we had all seen the bird!)
Field research is conducted at all Jocotoco reserves but we rarely got to meet any of the folks collecting data. Tapichalaca proved to be the exception. Two brothers - their parents originally from Wisconsin - were collaborating on an antpitta study under the direction of Harold Greeney from the Yanayacu Biological Station in northern Ecuador (we had met Harold during our 2008 tour). The lads were entering data on their laptops when we bumped into them. They had recently collected video of a Jocotoco Antpitta vocalizing on a nest – the first ever video recorded. We were able to watch part of the video – how exciting! Carol took their photo and got their parent’s email address, promising to send their photo (she did upon our return – the brother’s parents were very pleased).
Owing to the length of our return drive to Hosteria Izhcayluma, we needed to leave Tapichalaca. Several of had hoped to return before dark. It was still very light when Niko pulled into the lodge's entrance, then stopped. Richard posed to us a birding option. Would we be interested in trying for a local specialty, a Plumbeous Rail? It would probably take less than a half hour. Hey, we’re on a birding trip right?
We drove up the road for a few kilometers and stopped along a busy street next to a remnant wetland. We walked a short distance up a side road while José played a recording to pull the bird out. That didn’t work, but he had heard a rail calling in another location along the wetland. We walked back out onto the busy road to another vantage point along side the wetland. A rail-like bird suddenly jumped up and flew to another location and quickly disappeared. Many missed seeing the bird. We continued on to a section of barbwire fence that allowed José access. He forged into the tall grass playing the rail’s call. Suddenly the rail jumped up, posed nicely on some reeds then just as quickly, disappeared. Good enough for field marks to be ID’ed by most in the group. The bird would not be coaxed out again.
Even with our day's end birding opportunity detour, we managed to get back to the lodge in time to relax, regroup, collect our clean laundry (it had been turned in the night before) and just hang out a bit before dinner. José had mentioned another possible bird – a Western Peruvian Pygmy-Owl. Richard had heard one calling near his cabin the night before. We agreed to meet at 7:00 and if it were dark enough, we would try for the owl.
7:00 PM came and went but it wasn’t dark enough. At dinner we agreed to meet the next morning near the swimming pool before breakfast to try again. After Richard presided over the daily checklist tally, we learned we would be heading back to Tapichalaca. But because we had already seen the Jocotoco Antpitta, we didn’t have to leave as early. Yeah!