Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bulletin 243 - Ecuador #6 - Antbirds and friends, Ovenbirds

The antbirds and relatives are New World families of birds that tend to associate with army ant swarms, at least some of them do. There are 3 families, antbirds, antthrushes and antpittas and the names suggest the habits of the other bird families. There are 234 antbirds, 12 antthrushes, and 53 antpittas.

The large antbird family includes antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos and plain antbirds. If you have ever birded in the tropics and looked for these birds, the only ones that are easy to see are the antshrikes as they tend to be in the trees, The rest stay on or close to the ground and hide in thick brush.

The antpittas and antthrushes are even worse. To see either well is about 50% as difficult as seeing the Loch Ness monster. Getting a photo of one is even less likely.

My first tropical trips in the 1990's was with groups of 12 - 16 people plus a couple of guides. It was impossible. Now just by myself and a guide, I finally am able to see some of them.

The antbirds tend to be black for male and brown for females, so not too colorful. The challenge is the pursuit!

The female 4" Slaty Antwren (Myrmotherula schistocolor) is all brown. The guide IDs them by voice.

Slaty Antywren - female
The 7" Zeledon's Antbird (Myrmeciza zeledoni) is a recent split from Immaculate Antbird. The male is charcoal and there is a blue bare skin patch around the eye. The guide book says it is heard much more often than seen.

Zeledon's Antbird - male
The 6" male Blackish Antbird (Cercomacra nigrescens) stayed very hidden.

Blackish Antbird - male
I did get one antbird in the open! The 5" female Chestnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsulis the same genus as the Zeledon's above and has the blue patch around the eye. The female has a gray head and brown body.

The Blackish Antbird was photographed near Copalinga Lodge. The rest of the above birds were at Buenaventura Reserve.

Antpittas are another story. I had never seen one well and certainly was hoping to on this trip. In the bulletin with the parrots, I mentioned that Buenaventura Reserve was established to protect the El Oro Parakeet. Well the Tapichalaca reserve in the cloud forest was established to preserve the habitat for an antpitta.

Robert Ridgely (coauthor of Birds of Ecuador guide book) who found the parakeet also found a new antpitta in 1997. The story is that he asked the natives people what they called the bird. The voice sounds like the hooting of an owl and when he played it for them to see if they knew the bird, they said it was a jocotoco (an owl). So he mistakenly called the bird the Jocotoco Antpitta. In 1998, the Foundation Jocotoco was established and bought the acreage for the preserve. They also own the Buenaventura reserve.

So that bird is the star attraction at Tapichalaca Reserve and I was hoping to see it. It is one of the world's rarest birds with an estimated 300 birds in the reserve. Another small population was found in adjacent Peru in 2006, but the area is inaccessible.

Antpittas are plump birds with long legs and appear almost tailless. They have been described as an egg with legs.

To facilitate observation of the bird, they have an antpitta feeding station, so I was excited when I saw that on the trail map. My guide didn't tell me any more the night before. As we walked a long slippery muddy trail in, he heard another antpitta and played the tape. The bird flew to the edge of the trail. I looked through my camera and saw well my first antpitta, the 4" Slate-crowned Antpitta (Grallaria nana). 

We continued down the trail and finally came to a shelter with benches and a roof. I was not prepared for the most amazing birding experience of my life. The attendant from the lodge that accompanied us, had a Tupperware container of chopped earthworms which he put on a stump, while we made ourselves comfortable and readied the cameras. Then he started calling the antpittas like you would call your dog! Sure enough a couple of them started walking down the path to get their breakfast. So here was a 9" Jocotoco Antpitta (Grallaria ridgeleyi) walking past our feet about 7-8 feet away. I was mesmerized. We sat there for about 1/2 hour and 2 or 3 birds made repeated trips to feast on the worms. It is an attractive bird with a black head and white spot below the eye.

Jocotoco Antpitta
One of the called while we were watching and it really does sound like an owl.

Jocotoco Antpitta
The funarids or ovenbirds is another New World family of mostly brown birds. There are 312 species. Most are difficult to see well except for the 60ish species of woodcreepers that climb up tree trunks.

The first one we found was in the preserve for the Horned Screamer. It was easy to see on the ground in the open. It was the 7" Pacific Hornero (Funarius cinnamomeus). It kind of looks like a large wren.

Pacific Hornero
If you wonder why this family is known as ovenbirds, here is his nest. Hornero is Spanish for oven.

Pacific Hornero mud nest

The 6" Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner (Anabacerthia variegaticeps) is all brown. Foliage-gleaners tend to be difficult to see well. This must be an easy one as we had several different species, but this was the only photo.

Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
The 6" Pearled Treerunner (Margarornis squamiger) is the only one that I IDed myself. It has its whole underside with white spots.

Pearled Treerunner
Finally, xenops are 7 species of small funarids (4-5") with white stripes across the face.. The Plain Xenops (Xenops minutis) has plain brown underside.

Plain Xenops
The Streaked Xenops (Xenops rutilans) has streaked underparts.

Streaked Xenops
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.

No comments: