Friday, 26 April 2019

Cerro Mongus (NW Ecuador) - 26th April (Day 2)

I was up at 04:45 had a much needed shower and packed my bags ready for a morning in the field. After coffee we headed from our hotel and after a short way turned off the tarmac and onto a cobbled road weaving its way through a dry Andean Valley with spectacular hills either side and spreading into the distance as far as one could see. At each junction of the road Gabo slowed and asked for directions just to check he was heading the right way, it was some time since he had visited Cerro Mongus. Eventually, after winding up the cobbled road for almost an hour the road turned to a steep dirt road and we climbed as far as we could before parking at the furthest limited we could drive. The weather was superb, so often it is wet and foggy here but today it was clear, with a light breeze and dry. From the car we walked the last kilometre or so to the Elfin Forest at Cerro Mongus. It was moderately steep and muddy and at 3700m the oxygen was a little thin and I found it fairly tough going. But we soon entered decent habitat and started seeing a few birds, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Tyrian Metaltail and Great Thrush. Conscious that the main target here can be very difficult we pushed on through the forest and into the Espelitia dotted grassland of the paramo, here we fairly quickly came across a female Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, my first new bird of the trip and while a little dull the striking orange crest was a standout feature. We pushed on trying to locate the drainage channel which marks the only ‘trail’ into the forest. After a while we located the trail and followed this into the forest which was not much more then 4m tall. At the first clearing we scanned for a while and then Gabo played the tape of our main target, Chestnut-bellied Cotinga and to our amazement after a few plays a bird responded very near to where we stood. It wasn’t long before a superb male popped out onto a nearby twig and we had amazing views of this near mythical bird which was first discovered as recently as 1989. Over the next 30 minutes we enjoyed prolonged views of a male and two females as they fed in the canopy of the forest.

We then birded around one kilometre of the trail seeing Andean Guan, Western Tawny-bellied AntpittaMasked Mountain-tanager, Stolzmann's Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanagerBlack-breasted Mountain-tanager and White-throated Tyrannulet but as the heat gained the bird activity died and so we decided to move on. As we left the forest we spent some time admiring the beautiful paramo habitat with its abundance of Espelitias and watching a group of Andean Siskin. In the next forest patch we tried for our next key target, Crescent-faced Antpitta and after a few plays of the tape a bird responded downslope, a few more plays of the tape and a few more responses but the bird stayed put and so we opted to head downslope through the forest to located our target. We stopped and played again and after a short while a movement, not our target but a fine Rufous Antpitta. Gabo explained that the Rufous Antpitta is dominant over Crescent-faced and often the latter will not appear if the former is present. We descended further downslope to a bamboo thicket and tried the tape once more but again the Rufous Antipitta appeared. We decided to head for the next territory and after pushing our way through the bamboo and settling we again played the tape but little happened, a Grey-browed Brush-finch appeared and Gabo caught a brief glimpse of a bird that he thought may have been an Antpitta but nothing showed. We decided to head back to the first territory but had no joy, we resigned ourselves to a dip and headed back to the car and made our decent along the cobbled road and dry inter-Andean valley back to Urcuqui. We arrived at 13:30, packed bags had a quick lunch of Talapia and rice and set-off on the 1.45 drive to Casa de Eliza, Limonal. By the time we arrived it was 16:00 and too late to head to the Chical Road and so we relaxed and birded from our balcony adding Scrub Tanager, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and a few other scrappers to the list.

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Grass Wren - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Red-crested Cotinga - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Chestnut-bellied Cotinga - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Chestnut-bellied Cotinga - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Chestnut-bellied Cotinga - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Black-chested Mountain-tanager - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Masked Mountain-tanager - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Masked Mountain-tanager - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Rufous Antpitta - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Beautiful paramo grassland habitat with numerous Espelitia - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador

Espelitia - Cerro Mongus, Carchi, Ecuador