Each year around Christmas, communities throughout Ecuador and other parts of the world take part in Christmas Bird Counts run by the Audubon Society. This way the bird species and populations in the area can be estimated and changes from year to year can be observed. Additionally, Bird Counts are a way to bring people together and raise awareness about the importance of conserving local bird species.
This year we traveled to Chical and Mindo to be part of their bird counts. For most of us, it was the first time that we had ever taken part in something like this. We also had a lot to learn about the bird species to be expected in these areas, as there is a lot of variation in Ecuador bird species, especially as elevation changes.
We arrived in Chical on December 13th, and met up with a large group of birders, some who were local and some who had traveled from further away. We were divided up into 14 different routes that covered the area around Chical. Most of the routes were in the mountains, but a few were in lowland agricultural areas. The bird count in this area has been going on for 5 years and so there are certain rare species that are expected for each route.
Chical is on the border with Colombia, and so a few routes were actually in this country as well, making it the only Christmas Bird Count to span two countries. The slogan for this bird count is “Contando aves, hermanando pueblos”, which roughly translates to “Counting birds, connecting people.”
We were split up into two groups for this bird count. Maia, Mees, Roel, and Jens went with a group that went up into the mountains just outside of Maldonado. We left from the village before light and hiked up a series of trails and cow pastures on the mountainside. Along the way, we saw an oilbird flying around the light from our headlamps. It was also calling, and has a very distinct vocalization that we were able to use to identify it. This is the first time an oilbird has ever been seen on this bird count, and so we had to fill out a report detailing our sighting and our level of confidence.
We stopped about halfway up the mountain to watch the sunrise over the valley and identify birds at the forest edge. Then we continued on through more pastures and climbed through the forest for the rest of the morning. It was a beautiful day to be out, especially as we could see the mist rising from other valleys. Having a combination of open habitat and forest habitat was also helpful and we ended up finding over 60 species. We saw Purplish-mantled Tanagers, Toucan Barbets, and Saffron-crowned Tanagers. In the afternoon, it began raining and we hiked back down the mountain without finding many more birds.
Nicole led a route that went through the lowlands and agricultural areas. The route also included a Cock-of-the-rock lek that the group visited just after sunrise. They also found over 60 species, although many of the forest species that we are used to seeing at Un poco del Choco were missing from this route. The group’s highlight of the day was the sighting of a Black Solitaire.
The next day, we helped out with the recount, which is when all of the data collected by each group is compiled. We went through a list of all of the possible species and marked whether or not that species had been found this year. Later, the exact number of each species will be counted and included in the Audubon Society report.