Thursday, March 13, 2014

Saga of the Orange-throated Tanager

After our boat trip, we're eager to head to the forest, even though it's already late afternoon. Maycu Reserve is only about 3 km up the road from Cabañas Yankuam. And it has a spectacular resident –– the Orange-throated Tanager. I wasn't able to photograph the tanager, but you can see it here.

Cordillera del Cóndor from Maycu Reserve (Photos by Narca)

The tanager was unknown to science until a collecting expedition from Louisiana State University found the bird in northeastern Peru in 1963. Then for nearly 30 years, it was known from only a few small localities in that corner of Peru, and over time the local Awajún, or Aguaruna, tribespeople became hostile towards outsiders, because of unethical exploitation of their land by international mining companies. Seeing this rare and stunning tanager became difficult indeed. Then in 1990, the bird was discovered in neighboring Ecuador in the Cordillera del Cóndor –– right here!

Sign designating Maycu Reserve

Maycu Reserve was established in Ecuador to protect the habitat of this very special tanager. (The reserve also protects the watershed and many other species.)

The driver for a birding group has told us exactly where to park and walk. We find a pullout at the top of the hill and walk down the road for about a mile. It is growing dark when I see the tanager briefly, and not far away, although the clouds rolling through the forest obscure the view. Even through the mist, its orange throat glows.

Viewing conditions at dusk in the forest!

We spend the next day and a half birding the thick forest along this short stretch of road, and only see the Orange-throated Tanager after we've given up, and are ready to continue to our next destination. Then a British birding group locates the bird, and calls us back for a superb scope view of this truly beautiful species. Thank you, thank you!

During these two days of scrutinizing a short stretch of quiet road, many other species wow us. Flocks include exquisite Paradise, Turquoise, Blue-necked, Green-and-gold, Yellow-bellied, Swallow-, and Masked tanagers. Ecuador's tanagers are as stunning as its hummingbirds!

A male Swallow-Tanager

A few migrant refugees from the northern winter are also here –– Canada Warblers and an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Vultures have found something small but apparently yummy by the roadside, giving us a great side-by-side comparison of Greater Yellow-headed and Turkey vultures.

The heads of a Turkey Vulture and its Greater Yellow-headed cousin

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture

One of the big woodpeckers, a Crimson-crested, is very distant but no less fetching.

A female Crimson-crested Woodpecker, through the fog

Flycatchers, like these below, hawk insects.

Ornate Flycatcher, fairly common

Gray-capped Flycatcher

A Squirrel Cuckoo is nibbling at a vine entwined around a tree.

A big Squirrel Cuckoo, often skulking but not today!

We must have been right above the nesting burrow of a pair of Purplish Jacamars, for a female is at eye level on a low perch when we walk down the road, and an hour later a male occupies the same perch.

A female Purplish Jacamar shows a cinnamon throat-crescent...

...while the male Purplish Jacamar sports a white necklace

Finally, after the tanager excitement, we head on for Loja, then Vilcabamba, which is our launching pad for exploring the western side of Podocarpus National Park and the flagship Jocotoco reserve, Tapichalaca –– home to another rare and fabled species.

On the drive out, lots of these orchids and a few introduced ginger plants line the road.  The ginger is introduced from Southeast Asia, but does not seem to be the scourge here that it is in Hawaii.

A flowering ginger

This lovely Cattleya orchid is common in southeastern Ecuador.

A heavy downpour has begun, and the drive out becomes rather exciting!

Flood conditions along the road

By the way, Ecuador has been pursuing a major program for improving its highways, so most of the main roads are now in very good shape, away from the construction areas.

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