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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paz de las Aves - Jewel of the Cloud Forest

Crimson-rumped Toucanet
(Aulacorhynchus haematopygus)

Paz de las Aves is a small private reserve located well off the beaten path but one of the most popular in northwest Ecuador. I would just like to add some personal comments to the article that I wrote for HubPages, which you can read here.

The small farm of Angel Paz is not an easy location to find and the 5:30 AM arrive time requirement can be rather daunting, but the ability to observe species that are endangered or seldom spotted is well worth the effort. Giant, Yellow-breasted and Mustached Antpitta, among other obscure birds of the cloud forest understory, make a visit to this simple farmland a twitcher’s dream.

My first visit to Paz de las Aves was with a friend several years ago. Our primary interest was the Cock-of-the-Rock lek where we were told a view of these exotic birds was almost guaranteed. It was a little difficult driving my sedan along the 4 km. stretch of dirt road to get to the reserve but we arrived without mishap. There was another group of birders at the entrance preparing for the trek through the forest so they could arrive at the hide before dawn.

Maria: Giant Antpitta
(Grallaria gigantea)
When we arrived at the desired location we were in for a disappointment. Not a squawk or grunt could be heard from the amorous males. We had come on one of the few days out of the year that they all appeared to have secured a date with a mate. Our disenchantment was short lived, however, when this bulbous, brick colored bird came hopping down the trail to meet us. Angel introduced us to Maria, a Giant Antpitta that he had trained to come out in the open for morsels of worm. She would come quite close, within 4 to 5 meters, and pose for photos. The sight of this endangered species helped us forget about our previous quarry, instead concentrating on admiring this beauty of nature. We saw several other rarities during our morning adventure and spent a wonderful time conversing with the other travelers over breakfast. It was a good day with new ticks added to our lists and friends appended to our email register.

My most recent visit to Paz de las Aves brought some new revelations. The Cock-of-the-Rock were very active that morning, much to the delight of the young lady I was guiding. Maria had not been seen in several months but there was another Giant Antpitta that came for the spoils. Angel had built a new fruit feeder, the original being abandoned because the Sickle-winged Guans had taken it over. The road into the property was a little easier to drive, although it will probably never be paved. (I much prefer it that way)

On this visit I was able to spend a considerable amount of time with Angel and his brother Rodrigo who is now helping with the groups. Neither of them speaks English so I interpreted for my companion. Angel had just secured a loan with the bank so that he could build a lodge on the property to accommodate visitors. He sounded a little apprehensive about this endeavor but I understand that this is a big step for a former farmer/new conservationist. I am sure that with the encouragement of his family and friends that this will be a success.

Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager
(Anisognathus notabilis)
The best part of my visit with the brothers Paz was when we talked about the birds on the reserve. Angel’s demeanor changed from that of an apprentice businessman to the gentle manner of a father. When he talked about the Antpittas it was as though he was bragging on his children. There is such a close connection between him and his wards that one can almost hear a tear in his voice. I saw this also when we were out on the trails; the way he protected his charges from too close encroachment from the less sensitive visitors. It is this empathy that he has with his environment that draws me back.

I recommend a visit to Paz de las Aves for any birder who wishes to observe nature at its finest. But I also advocate watching Angel and his brother as they lead you around the reserve. You may not understand the words that he speaks, but you can definitely feel his heart as he expounds on the virtues of his children. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Yellow House Trails - Hacienda San Vicente

I have been very busy lately and haven’t had much time for writing so I have gotten behind on my blog updates. I hope to remedy that over the next few weeks.

I just completed an article on Yellow House Trails (Hacienda San Vicente) in Mindo Ecuador. In that article I concentrated on describing how to reach the area and the birding trails available. I try not to promote any particular lodge in my articles as they are more for general information, but here I can express my personal opinion.

Yellow House has become my place to stay when in the Mindo area. The rooms are very spacious and inexpensive and you cannot beat the Garzon family for hospitality and friendliness. I recommend it to everyone who asks me for a place to stay in the area and I have never heard a complaint about the accommodations or the birding opportunities.  I know of no other place that can be beaten for price and comfort.

Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
The few articles that I have seen concerning the Yellow House trails state that they see more birds on the walk up to the main primary forest than they do once entering. To some extent I can agree with them but I have to explain why I believe this to be the case. You can, on average, see over 50 species of birds around the lodge itself on a daily basis. There are several Squirrel Cuckoos that visit the trees in the early morning and there are also Rufous Motmot on a regular basis. Many people spend time observing these beautiful species before setting out on the 20-minute walk up to the forest.

The problem is that the hike up the hill has such an abundance of birds that the 20 minutes turns into an hour or more. By the time most visitors get to the main trail it has become late morning and the activity has slowed down considerably. You also have the fact that more species are observed at the forest borders than in the dense foliage. However, if you take the time to search the understory you can be rewarded with some great discoveries.

There is a Cock-of-the-Rock lek on the reserve but this requires an early morning start time and a walk through the darkness to get there at the proper moment. If you have to have breakfast before starting your day then this is easily remedied. If you mention this to Maria Elena the night before she will prepare you a bag breakfast to take with you and will set it out on the porch for you to carry along.
Be prepared for biting insects, whether at Yellow House or any other area of Mindo. The mosquitoes are not as much of a pest as the no-see-ums. The itch from their bite can last a week or more. I suggest long pants (no shorts) and long sleeve shirts in addition to some form of insect repellent.

Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)
The charge for taking the trails is minimal if you do not stay at the lodge, and access to the reserve is included in the price of lodging if you do spend the night. I find that this is a great place to set up a base when birding the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest. When I return to my room at night I still have the opportunity to see various species from the porch or go out in the evenings in search of owls or the Common Potoo that frequents the area around the main house.

If you can speak a little Spanish I recommend spending a little time talking with Maria Elena, her sister Inez and her mother Carlotta. They are wonderful people and will make you feel like one of the family. Even if you don’t speak Spanish you will still enjoy sitting with them and smiling. They serve breakfast in their home and this is a great way to start your day. They grow fruit on the property and they serve fresh fruit juice any time of the day. Sit down, savor the sweet nectar and enjoy a wonderful time in the rainforest.