What a week we had…..it was raining and raining and raining in the past days and apparently the Banded Ground-Cuckoo doesn’t like rain too much. After I fed it last time in front of visitors on Sunday, we had our next visitors coming on Monday a bit later in the morning. Although I had seen the Cuckoo in the morning and the ants were swarming, we could not find the Cuckoo with them. There were plenty other antfollowers around, like Esmeraldas, Immaculate and Bicolored Antbirds and Plain-brown and Northern Barred Woodcreeper, as well as Tawny-faced Gnatwren, but then the rain started again and unfortunately we did not find the Cuckoo. The next day we had a French visitor and although the weather was not too bad in the morning, there was no sight of the Cuckoo. The ants started to swarm at about 9AM. We followed them into the dense undergrowth, waded trough a small creek and climbed up a steep wall, but did not get our reward at the end. No Cuckoo. The French visitor decided to stay and try again the next day. In the afternoon he was at least lucky enough to find three Wattled Guans and our first Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove on the trails. The next morning we headed out even earlier, just in case the Cuckoo could show up earlier than I would ever expect it. It was drizzling, then raining, then drizzling again. We waited at the bivouac for several hours, but again no Cuckoo….
The French guy left without a Cuckoo sighting and Rose Ann Rowlett (Field Guides), Pete Morris (BirdQuest) and his friend Alan came. The afternoon was rainy and foggy and the expectations for the next day were also quite low. The next morning we had breakfast at 5.45AM and accompanied by a drizzling from above we headed out to the bivouac again. I waited in front of the bivouac and the others waited a little bit dispersed behind me. By 8AM we hadn’t had a glimpse yet of the Cuckoo. There was only a Bicolored Antbird coming in to check the bivouac and a Rufous-breasted Antthrush walked by. A bit later we had the two Woodcreepers coming. At 9AM the ants started to swarm again. In a very nice direction actually to follow them, but there was hardly any other antfollower around, besides us. Eventually a Uniform Treehunter and two Swainson’s Thrushes attended the swarm, but these were not the birds we wanted to see. It got later and later and every drop on a leaf sounded like the bill snapping of the Cuckoo. The cows and even chainsaws from the other side of the valley were misinterpreted as a vocalization. But despite all the wishful thinking there was no Cuckoo around. At 1PM we gave up and went back to have lunch. Equipped with Walky-Talkies, the visitors walked the trails in the afternoon, just in case a Cuckoo might show up there (two weeks ago visitors found another Cuckoo on the trails after observing the adult at the ant swarm). It was raining and foggy again and apart from an Orange-fronted Barbet next to the station there were no other remarkable sightings. Pete and Alan had to leave and we agreed that I would call them if the Cuckoo showed up the next day. They had their last day in Ecuador and wanted to spend it at Angel Paz’ antpitta place.
Today I woke up and couldn’t hear any rain. A Chocó Screech Owl was calling instead. I had an early breakfast with Rose Ann and we headed out to the bivouac again. What else could we do? We did not have a clue where the Cuckoo could be and where else to search it. Maybe it had gone to another ant swarm? Maybe it was dead? All these thoughts went through my head while I was sitting in front of the bivouac again. Another day without Cuckoo?? What about the other people that wanted to come next week? The morning was nice, no rain, even some blue sky and sun, but no sight of the Cuckoo nor any other antfollower. No bivouac checks until 8AM, when I noticed that the first ants were coming out of the hollow tree trunk. A little bit later a pair of Esmeraldas Antbirds started calling and came by. I had my best looks of the female so far, perched on a thin brach and singing. Rose Ann recorded several birds around us. Then a Bicolored Antbird showed up and followed the ants. The swarm took almost the opposite direction than yesterday, into dense vegetation down the slope towards a little creek. I followed them for a while, then I switched with Rose Ann. 10AM, no Cuckoo. Where is it? What is it doing? The ants are swarming, it’s almost sunny, no rain, katydids are escaping at the swarm front and no Cuckoo. At 10.30AM Rose Ann comes back to me to the bivouac site, we’re chatting about the Cuckoo, where could it be, what shall we do, shall we give up? Click!! Click I hear! I look over Rose Ann’s shoulder and see something crossing between the the leaves in the understorey. It’s the Cuckoo!! Oh my god. I could scream. It’s here! It’s back! It circles us and shows up in front of us. I get my first grasshopper and throw it and the Cuckoo does what it always does. Then I get my cell phone and call Alan. Fortunately in that spot I’ve got reception. But I’m calling a British phone, hopefully it gets through. Then I hear Alan and I say: “Hi Alan! I’ve got the Cuckoo right in front of me.”-“We’re coming, we’re getting into the car right now!” They are at Angel Paz, normally that’s a 90 minutes drive.
Rose Ann took some photos and videos of the Cuckoo and then she recorded some of the bill snapping. I still had some grasshoppers, but I kept two big ones for later. The Cuckoo still hang around for a bit, but when it noticed that there are no more grasshoppers for it, it left and followed the ants. I gave Rose Ann a Walky-Talky and decided to try to get to the front of the swarm, to have it ready for Pete and Alan when they come. The ants were covering almost the whole ridge but on a side I could pass them without too much risk. I always need to be very careful. I’m allergic and don’t want them to sting me in the middle of the forest. But everything was ok and I could reach the little creek without major problems. The front of the ant swarm was just 3 meters away from the creek. I squeezed myself through some vines to get to the creek and there I saw it again, the Cuckoo. I decided to stand in the water and wait there.
40 minutes after my call to Alan, Pete calls me. They’re on their way, just 3km away. “I’ve got the Cuckoo here! Come!” Rose Ann stayed at the bivouac and shows them where to go when they arrive. They almost run down the slope, no matter that the ants are there and no matter that they sting, although Alan is also allergic.
When Pete and Alan arrive, the Cuckoo just got down to the creek as well. It drinks some water and then flipps away some leaves, finding a huge cockroach. It takes it and then flies over the creek to the other side. While it is busy with this nice snack, the birders position themselves with their cameras in the creek and I get out the last two grasshoppers.