Palabra del día: Tomasito
We wake up at 4:30am, ready to start the day with a trip to Refugio Paz de las Aves, commonly known as Angel Paz, a private reserve with a cock-of-the-rock lek, several rare birds, and a very intriguing family of owners. We arrive at the cock-of-the-rock lek just before sunrise and meet one of the owners, Angel, who explains to us that we will have a fantastic day today and that we will also be joined in the blind by a professional photographer. In only a few moments, I am impressed by Angel’s candor and fervor for his land and the creatures living on it. Our guide for the day interrupts our short conversation to tell Angel I don’t understand a word he’s saying. Before I can respond, Angel pops off that I know perfectly well what he is saying and that the guide should ask before he assumes there’s a language barrier.
I already know it’s going to be an interesting day.
We pass a large bat returning to its roost on the way to the blind, though it is too dark to get a picture. We wait at the lek for the first of the Andean Cock-of-the-rocks, or gallos de la peña, to begin their courtship. We count 14 individual red and grey males plus 2 plum-colored females skulking in the low brush.
Andean Cock-of-the-rocks exhibit sexual dimorphism as well as geographic disparities. The western slope subspecies we see today are red, grey, and black, with wine-colored females, while on the eastern slope of the Andes, orange and black males court umber-colored females. No matter what subspecies they are, the males sound like parrots with laryngitis as they cavort through the brush in their designated leks.
When the males have quieted for the day, we excitedly follow Angel up the road to a recently-constructed bridge over a small river. A small, low islet reaches into the river, and we wait here while Angel begins the process he has become famous for. He crosses to the other side of the river before carefully clearing some low-hanging brush and placing several chopped earthworms on an exposed log. Then he begins calling a yellow-breasted antpitta from the forest by name. Each of his birds has a name and an associated call, and we are rewarded after only a few minutes by the sight of two tiny antpittas scrambling out of the brush.
Angel makes sure we have plenty of opportunity to view, appreciate, and photograph the birds before we head away from the water and back up the road. We are halfway up to see the the other species of antpitta in the area when the Other Half is suddenly struck with nausea. We head back down the hill to the van, and the driver takes us to the farmhouse, where there is clean water and a place to sit. We miss out on an Andean pygmy-owl and another antpitta, but the Other Half is in much better shape with a break and some TLC. Also, while waiting for the group in the morning sunshine, we are treated to freshly filled bird feeders which attract toucan barbets, crimson-rumped toucanettes, and several species of tanager. While we are enamored by the local wildlife, the family works to fix their tractor. The farm’s hummingbird feeders are at a different elevation than Bellavista Lodge, so we see a different set of hummers here, including the beautiful velvet-purple coronet.
After breakfast, we walk up the hill to find Tomasito, the ocellated tapaculo and Angel’s most recent addition to the named birds. The walk is short and refreshing, and with the sunny morning, we have beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
I am distracted from the tapaculo by the sight of a lizard dropping to the leaf litter next to me. I have a brief glimpse of a black lizard with a long tail and a white dorsal stripe that bleeds rainbow colors at the edges before it scurries under the leaves and away. The lizard is a rainbow langelot, a terrestrial lizard of sunny cloud forest areas (I know, an oxymoron if ever there was one).
After thanking Angel, we load up in the van for a trip to Alambi Hummingbird and Tanager Reserve for lunch. A low-set porch with a long bench looks out over over a dozen hummingbird and tanager feeders. While we eat, we watch for and discuss the many species we are seeing. We spot hummingbirds for each other before becoming distracted by the arrival of a small mammal.
The Robinson’s mouse opossum is a small marsupial common in the northern Andes stretching upward to Panama. Our trip is the first time our guides have seen this small, normally nocturnal critter.
We walk along the river, finding white-capped dipper and a nesting cock-of-the-rock feeding her chick, among other birds. I am holding out for a torrent duck, but we have apparently had enough luck for one day.
When we return to the lodge, the Other Half and I are inside discussing the day when I hear the familiar sound of a toucan calling from close by. The plate-billed mountain toucan has a distinctive call which sounds like a rusty gate sticking as it opens and closes, and a pair of them are calling to each other on a tree right outside of our window.
After dinner, we are treated again to the olinguito, and this time we have the luxury of playing with our camera settings to get better pictures of the big male. Afterward, Cristina shows us where the lodge’s common potoo hides throughout the evening.
All in all, the day is so busy that our heads barely hit the pillow before we fall asleep next to each other.