Last week, a group of ornithologists and botanists went with me to our new Dracula Reserve, on the road between Chical and El Carmen in northwest Ecuador. I wrote about that visit recently, and posted photos and videos of a Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan we saw there. Now I’d like to share some of the other beautiful birds of that trip, including some rare ones that are hard to see anywhere else in Ecuador.
The most special bird of the Dracula Reserve is the Purplish-mantled Tanager (Iridisornis porphyrocephalus). This subtly iridescent bird just barely reaches Ecuador. The Chical-El Carmen road is probably the best spot in Ecuador to see it, and serious birdwatchers often make a special trip to the area to look for it. We see it on most of our visits. My photos from this visit show one of them wrestling with a big white ericad (cranberry family) fruit. I also include a better photo by Roger Ahlman, robably also taken along this road.
This genus, Iridisornis, contains some of the most beautiful of all the tanagers. They don’t have the bright gaudy color patterns of things like the Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilense), but their delicate blends of iridescent blues, purples, and velvety black, always with a splash of warm yellow or gold somewhere on the body, are somehow more interesting. On our way home to Quito after our field work, we encountered my favorite Iridisornis, the secretive Golden-crowned Tanager (Iridisornis rufivertex).
We were headed to Quito via the strange paramo (alpine grassland) of Volcan Chiles studded with Espeletia, fuzzy tall white aster relatives known locally as Frailejones. In the shrubby treeline vegetation just below this paramo, the ornithologists knew the Golden-crowned Tanager should be there. Even though these were some of the most experienced ornithologists in the world, they were eager to see this bird again, for the n-th time. So they played tapes of its song in the hope of attracting one. They also tried another ornithologist trick, playing a tape of a small owl so birds would come out of the shrubbery and try to mob it. This worked too well- we were quickly overwhelmed with dozens of Masked Flowerpiercers and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers who came to mob the owl they thought they heard. But sure enough, there was one Golden-crowned Tanager mixed in with them, and the ornithologists were able to lure it out into good view. This was the first time I was able to photograph one, thanks to the ornithologists’ tricks. I also include one of Roger Ahlman’s photos of it to show the colors better.
The other rare bird we saw in the Dracula Reserve was the Black Solitaire (Entomodestes coracinus). In my twenty years of birdwatching in Ecuador, I had only seen this species once before. In and around our reserve we heard them often, and saw several. Here is a great photo of the species. My photos aren’t worth showing, but here is a photo by Roger Ahlman:
Some other birds we saw and heard were not especially rare, but were fun to look at anyway. On our last evening in the reserve we tracked down a Masked Trogon (Trogon personatus) calling in the mist. At the same time we could hear a close relative of the trogon, the Golden-headed Quetzal (Pharomachrus auriceps), though we didn’t see it.
One of our strangest sightings was this recently-fledged albino Blue-and-white Swallow (Notiochelidon cyanoleuca). It was flying around with its parents, but its tail feathers looked damaged or not fully developed, and it seemed weak.
I’ll close this post with another bird from the Volcan Chiles paramo, the aptly-named Great Sapphirewing (Pterophanes cyanopterus), a huge hummingbird. I photographed it getting nectar from a giant terrestrial bromeliad (Puya sp.) in the fading evening light. Then we somewhat reluctantly drove home.