Birder's Guide

MAR 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 21 of 91

20 Birder's Guide to Travel | March 2014 this bird to cause such extreme excite- ment within a group that tour partici- pants cursed uncontrollably from sheer exhilaration! 2 • White-plumed Antbird (Pithys albifrons) One of the great Amazonian experiences is running into an ant swarm, with an attendant fock of birds preying on the feeing insects. This bird is an obligate ant-follower, meaning that if you don't fnd the ants (and you do not always fnd army ants), you probably will not fnd the bird. Watching the understory vegetation twitching under the weight of excited antbirds dashing in and out of the front edge of the swarm is exciting enough, but then this bird appears. It has chestnut-colored underparts and a crisp white headdress which forms an erect crest above the head and runs like two gleaming white sideburns down either side of the bill. This may not be the rarest antbird, but it is defnitely the dandiest. 3 • Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) With more than 130 species of hum- mingbird in Ecuador, perhaps more than two should have appeared on my list. I picked this one not because of any remarkable plumage features, but be- cause it possesses the longest bill rela- tive to body size (bill = 4.5"; body = 5") of any bird on Earth. It looks like it has been drawn from the pen of a comic art- ist, rather than formed as a result of evo- lution within the natural world. 4 • Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata) The owls are my favorite family, so there had to be one on the list. No visit to the Amazon jungle would be complete without eyeballing a pair of these curi- ous-looking owls at a day roost. With white, Groucho Marx-like eyebrows, owls do not get much stranger than this. 5 • Flame-faced Tanager (Tangara parzudakii) Flame-faced is my absolute favorite tanager—the Blackburnian Warbler of the tanager world. (As you'll see, I'm ad- dicted to Blackburnian Warblers.) It is a genuinely breathtaking bird. Flame- faced Tanager, even in a country load- ed with fashy birds, causes an intake of breath for me each and every time. It has black upperparts decorated with handsome patches of blue-green. The seduction, though, is all at the head end, which is a vivid, fre-orange, and responsible for the familiar "Blackbur- nian effect". Although this species holds its plumage all year long, it just feels like the vibrant plumage of spring. 6 • Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) To come to the cloudforests of Ecuador and not see a cock-of-the-rock could be considered a crime against birding. Sightings are special not just because this bird looks dramatic—the males are bright scarlet with black-and-sil- ver wings and a permanently-crested red head which hides the bill under- neath—but also because of the nature of the encounter. To observe an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock requires walking down muddy trails into the cloudforest before dawn, and overlooking the spe- cies's regular lek display trees. As light begins to break through the canopy, ugly, pig-like squeals betray the arriv- al of the frst male cocks-of-the-rock. Then, suddenly, a number of males ap- pear in quick succession. It's a kind of domino effect, whereby all the other males in the area also begin displaying frantically, for fear that if they do not get in on the act, a visiting female will pass them by. 7 • Ocellated Tapaculo (Acropternis orthonyx) You may be surprised to see a tapaculo on this list. After all, tapaculos are gener- ally small, gray, mouse-like birds of very limited appeal. However, the Ocellated Tapaculo breaks the mold: it is big, far from mouse-like, and instead of being dowdy and gray, it sports plumage dom- inated by a constellation of white polka dots and a bold, brick-red face. It does retain the skulking characteristics of the Photo © Glenn Bartley Photo © Pablo Cervantes 5-Ecuador.indd 20 3/4/14 2:20 PM

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