Chase Day – Antpittas and Cock-of-the-Rock

English: Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola per...

Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana) in the wild. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To calm a period of upheaval in my life, I started chasing* birds beyond my backyard. In 2011, after years of gathering a life list*, I had the chance to travel to the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, a birding mecca for serious listers*. Since 2005, birders have flocked to Refugio Paz de las Aves. Why would I travel thousands of miles to this remote 74-acre property? Antpittas and Cock-of-the-Rock.

Antpittas, a family of reclusive birds rarely seen, reside dense forest, rarely venturing from cover. Encouraged by birders, Angel Paz cultivated a special relationship with these rare birds only after the discovery of yet another highly desirable “tick”* on his property—the brilliantly red Cock-of-the-Rock.

The challenge of traipsing down to the preferred habitat of these rarities involves rope-assisted hiking on mucky, difficult slopes. Even my high dollar hiking boots didn’t find sure footing at times. As our group descended for 20 minutes from a ridge, I flinched at quick-passing shadows and marveled at the increased sounds I didn’t recognize. The thick canopy above brought down the temperature and raised the humidity. I brushed past large and small palms, orange and red heliconia, and pink-hued orchids dripping from trees with exotic names I didn’t recognize.

From a rustic wood blind, we spotted several male and female Cock-of-the-Rock as the males displayed and the females pretended to not be impressed. After our fill of these raucous birds, we went in search of the secretive treasures, the Antpittas.

Single file, we eased our way toward the sound of a trickling river well-hidden behind blooming bromeliads, elephant ears sized leaves, delicate ferns of all shades of green, and trees so thick and tall the tops were unseen. Reaching the source of running water, the rocks were worn from years of smoothing. Surrounded by walls of jungle, our view of the stream was limited. I watched as leaves danced around rocks and flowed beneath overhanging branches and then disappeared from my sight.

At Angel’s silent signal, we stopped and I searched for movement in the foliage. I was awe-struck as Angel whistled a unique cadence and song for several minutes, calling for the Moustached Antpitta he’d named Jose. From the corner of my right eye, I saw a giant leaf dip and my gasp alerted others that Jose had appeared on a moss-laden stump at my feet. Too close for binoculars. They would have been useless to me anyway as tears overflowed onto my cheeks.

Although hundreds of birders visit this oasis, no one I personally knew had made the journey.  And, although I’d fantasized about standing in the spot, I found the reality overwhelming.

Angel pulled a worm from his container of bird goodies and lightly tossed it in the direction of the normally shy bird. Jose bent and gobbled the morsel, and then rose up to its full height of approximately 10 inches, and with an expectant tilt of its head, eyed Angel for another delicacy. Angel gently cajoled the bird in Spanish while he dug out another treat.

After this 10-minute thrill, the group herded to another location. At the appropriate elevation and habitat, Angel signaled the group’s silence. With another unique set of whistles, Angel called in Maria, a Giant Antpitta. At different locations, Angel repeated the process calling Willie, a Yellow-breasted Antpitta and Shakira, an Ochre-breasted Antpitta.

English: Giant Antpitta Grallaria gigantea at ...

At Reserva Paz de las Aves in Ecuador, Maria, the Giant Antpitta poses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The birds alone would have made this my favorite vacation but in addition, I survived the treacherous ascent back to the car, where I shed a few more tears over the surreal experience.

*Chase: Find out about a specific bird, grab binos, drive to location, see bird, backtrack return trip.

*Life list: Keeping track of individual species seen within a city, county, state, continent, boat, yard, office, and specific silly location as assigned by an individual birder.

*Lister: Obsessive, compulsive birders who tally a life list of species seen.

*Tick: A birding term from Great Britain applied to a species when first seen by an individual birder. The species is then tallied to a life list kept by the lister.

Antpittas on view at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQqEoLoTClk

Once in a lifetime experience at http://refugiopazdelasaves.com/

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5 comments

  1. No wonder you have twinkle in your eyes – how lucky to be able to travel to these distant enchanting places and to be able to see God’s creations in all their beauty and surroundings. Thank you for sharing.

  2. […] of us drove straight through from Texas to Minnesota because that’s what addicted birders do (Life lister defined).  It was an irruptive year, a season when birds travel further than usual due to harsh […]

  3. I was just in Mindo and am starting some tours there myself. Great article here.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Hope the tours go gangbusters!

  4. Gail, you’re my hero. What an opportunity! Can you imagine what our first view of the heavenly scene will be? Our first look at “the man who suffered, bled, and died” for us. We’ll shed tears together.

    DiAne

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