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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. 


  1. What a beautiful site. The photographs are wonderful. I even found some interesting ads. I am envious.

  2. Been there . . .loved it. Dipped on the Giant, but had great looks at Ochre-Breasted and Yellow-Breasted Antpittas. Going back to EC in july to bird Cotopaxi, Papallacta/Guango, and a few days at RLG.
    Galapagos the next week!
    Great blog you've created.

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