So it’s official: Un poco del Chocó has its Banded Ground-Cuckoo back….and it’s not alone!!
It has been about two months that we had not seen our Banded Ground-Cuckoo in the reserve and even longer that we had seen some army ants around here. But then, about two and a half weeks ago, we even found two army ant colonies. Well, or let’s say they found us! One colony almost invaded the station house one day and just a few days later another colony showed up next to our house. The first colony became statary on the other side of the road in a cattle field (!) while the colony next to our house was still in its nomadic phase and crossed from the open area next to our house into the forest. A few mornings we observed this second colony, but besides some Immaculate and Bicolored Antbirds with their chicks, there were no other “big” ant followers around.
Unfortunately the colony got into steep terrain and Wilo gave up following them for a few days. Last week then, we (or let’s better say Maartje, our intern) found the army ants again further down in the forest, next to the river. Wilo started tracking them again and just a day later he found the Banded Ground Cuckoo again, tame as always. We observed it several times that day next to the ant swarm and it didn’t mind our presence at all. That was on Thursday.
Friday morning, Wilo and I went down to the ant’s bivouac in order to see if our little friend would be doing its bivouac check. There were plenty of Bicolored Antbirds coming to the spot and the ants started swarming early. After an hour or so, I also spotted a Banded Ground Cuckoo on the trail. I went towards it thinking that it would come for my grasshoppers as usual, but the Cuckoo saw me and ran away. I approached it a bit more and I just got a glimpse of it diving into the dense undergrowth. I was surprised. Had I done something unusual? Wilo also saw it running away from me and he was surprised as much as I was. He looked at me and said: “That’s a different one!” And that was exactly what I thought, too.
Saturday morning we went down to the bivouac again, but that morning we didn’t see any Cuckoo. The ants were swarming down into a steep ravine and it was impossible to follow them. On Sunday only Wilo made it out of bed early enough to go down to the ants. He came back for breakfast two hours later with the news that he again had seen the shy individual. The ants were swarming in a somewhat easier direction that morning and later Wilo found the Cuckoo again next to the ants swarm. He observed it for about an hour. When it is together with the ants, it is not as shy and observations are possible, though a lot more difficult than it is/was with our tamed individuals. Yesterday morning Wilo got up early again and went for his “bivouac check”. Around the same time like the other mornings a Cuckoo approached the bivouac site. Wilo stayed quiet because he didn’t want to scare the shy Cuckoo, but this time the Cuckoo came closer, obviously expecting him to feed it with grasshoppers which Wilo did then. The behavior of the two Cuckoos is so different that it is now easy for us to tell which individual is which. Observing the shy one, it is no surprise why this bird was or still is called a mythical species. It is so secretive and even to us that we are quite familiar with these birds now, it is sometimes so difficult to make it out between all the dense undergrowth.
As for now we have not seen both Cuckoos together. They seem to be taking turns at the ant swarm and who knows why that is. We can only speculate, but maybe they are taking turns with breeding or brood care and that’s why we don’t find them together at the ants. We will see what happens in the next days and weeks and hopefully we’ll find some answers.