And still counting birds...
On the count day in Mindo, we all left before sunrise and drove to the starting points of our routes. Jens, Mees and Roel went early to Bellavista (~2300 m), while Nicole, Wilo, Pablo, Maia and Silja took the route that went through the grounds of Sachatamia Lodge, which is at a lower elevation.
At Sachatamia Lodge we started out our morning by listening for bird species as it was still too dark to use binoculars. The entire route was in the forest, which is a more difficult habitat for seeing birds. They are especially hard to find later in the day, so we tried to use the time when they were still vocalizing. Some of the first birds that we observed were Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Rufous-breasted Antthrush and Golden-olive Woodpecker. We walked along a trail through the forest next to a small river during the early morning. In a few places we found flocks of birds and were able to tally around 50 species. Eventually we reached a cut in the forest where an oil pipeline was. This has been controversial in the area and it was interesting to see how the forest habitat changed at this part of the route. One of the highlights was that we saw a Double-toothed Kite building a nest in a fork of a tree next to the oil pipeline. A few minutes further down the trail we found a female Umbrella Bird in the understory. While these birds are fairly common in places, they are secretive and hard to see. This is a typical problem while birding in tropical forests. Although we heard a Golden-headed Quetzal calling several times, we never were able to catch sight of it.
By mid-morning, the forest was getting very quiet. Although we found a few more flocks, there were also times when we didn’t observe a single bird. After taking a break for breakfast, we went back to the starting point of our route which was next to the lodge. This area was more open and there were bird feeders which made it possible to observe many more species. By the end of the day we had heard or seen 93 species. In Ecuador there are many species of tanagers and flycatchers, and we were able to see quite a few of these, including Beryl-spangled Tanagers.
At Bellavista, the boys got divided into two routes, one which went up to an even higher elevation and another that went down from the lodge. The high elevation group tallied 110 species, including Golden Grosbeak, Turquoise Jay, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Western Hemispingus. They were also able to see the Tanager Finch, which in Ecuador only occurs in the small area around Bellavista. At the lower elevation, Roel saw a Cock-of-the-Rock nest with two chicks. There were 104 species on this route, including White-rumped Hawk, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and Metalic-green Tanager.
The next day, people from each group met to tally up all of the species that had been found on the 40 routes. This process took most of the day, and the exact number of every species was recorded, unlike at the count in Chical. In the end, a total of 446 species and over 15000 individuals were counted. But as there were still a few lists from other routes missing, this isn't the final number yet and we all hope that a few more species were counted that day. Bird counts in this location have been going on for 22 years and these numbers were quite consistent with past years. No new species were observed this year. However, one of the groups heard a Rufous-browed Peppershrike, which was last recorded in this area in 2001.
We returned to the station Sunday night after the recount, inspired by the community of birders in Ecuador and impressed by everything that we had seen. As we will have our own Christmas Bird Count at Un Poco del Chocó on January 3rd, we are excited to host birders from all other parts of the country and hopefully have another amazing experience like this one.