Monday 16 December 2019

Ayampe - Esmeraldas Woodstar and more

Ayampe is a picturesque little beach town about two hours up the coast from Ancón, where we had spent the previous night, and just over the border into Manabí province. Ayampe is popular with surfers but we were there for other reasons. It is famous among birders as one of the better places to search for the scarce Esmeraldas Woodstar, a tiny hummingbird that spends the wet season in coastal Ecuador, but that seemingly vanishes for the rest of the year. We were a month or so too early but still held out hope, especially when we saw how humid the environs were. Maybe the rains had come early this year.

Cachabi Robber Frog (Pristimantis achatinus) - El Pital side-road, Santa Elena, Ecuador

Our first stop on the evening of November 13 was a muddy side-road, twenty minutes south of town, that led east into the hills. Unfortunately our rental car was not equipped to handle the muddy road and so we parked it on the shoulder and walked. We had an hour or two of light and were hopeful that we could find maybe one or two of our target species. Not surprising given the time of day, the birding was quite slow but the cicadas were something else. A symphony of them were singing their oscillating song in unison that would crescendo at such a high decibel, it would force us to cover our ears for 10 seconds out of every 30 seconds. It was incredible, if a little annoying!

But we did find some things. Several Pristimantis rain frogs, including the one pictured above littered the paths. We heard our first Ecuadorian Trogons, but they remained hidden. I got on a Gray-breasted Flycatcher, one of the target species, but it unfortunately disappeared before I could get the rest of the group on it.

The prized find however was a Bicolored Hawk that flew in and perched at the top of a bare tree. This Accipiter is thinly distributed throughout the tropics and this was in fact the first time that I had ever laid eyes on one. We were watching some tanagers in a tree when the hawk flew in, and all of the tanagers froze in place, hoping that the bird-eater would not notice them! A pretty cool moment.

Bicolored Hawk - El Pital side-road, Santa Elena, Ecuador

The next morning we were up early with plans of birding a dirt road that heads east from Ayampe, flanking the river and passing through several protected areas. It is along here that the Esmeraldas Woodstar is often reported, along with a wide variety of other species. The eBird hotspot for the Ayampe area has 379 species listed at the moment.

The morning was highly productive and we tallied 112 species. Part of the reason was that we traversed several habitat types, from farmland to river edge to cecropia-dominated secondary forest to nice primary forest. Mixed flocks were frequent and dominated by flycatchers, Lesser Greenlets and Plain Antvireos, along with a decent variety of Furnariids such as Plain-brown Woodcreeper, pictured below.

Plain-brown Woodcreeper - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Wrens were commonly heard as we walked along, especially Speckle-breasted and Superciliated (pictured below), but also House Wren and Fasciated Wren.

Superciliated Wren - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

We did quite well with Tumbesian specialties, and we encountered several of them that had been missing up to this point. Ochre-breasted Doves were heard vocalizing, providing a nice comparison to the other Leptotila that were present (White-tipped and Pallid Doves). A pair of Gray-backed Hawks circled above during midday. We heard a couple of Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaners, and finally got eyes on some Ecuadorian Trogons. But best of all was a good look at a male Esmeraldas Woodstar, feeding on a flowering vine in a clearing near the trail. Fortunately we had great looks, though I have some regrets that I went for the binoculars instead of the camera! We staked out the bush for a while longer, as well as in the afternoon when we returned by the spot, but did not catch another glimpse. During our afternoon stop a pair of Spectacled Owls were calling from the valley below us.

Ecuadorian Trogon - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

By late morning the sun tried its best to cut through the cloud cover, causing many insects to appear on the trail-side vegetation.

Lamplight Actinote (Altinote ozomene) - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Eulaema cingulata - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Greta sp. - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Staphylus sp. - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

We had fun catching this lizard which I believe is a young Stenocercus iridescens. 

Stenocercus iridescens - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

At one point we found a Northern Schiffornis, a species I do not run into too often.

Northern Schiffornis - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

And a few more herp friends...

Seven-lined Ameiva (Holcosus septemlineatus) - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Giant Toad (Rhinella horribilis) - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Near the end of our hike I stopped to bird a small mixed flock and was excited to see a Slaty Becard. Laura had gone up ahead, while Dave and Siobhan were a few hundred meters back of me. I yelled for them and soon Dave came running down the path. Luckily we were able to re-find the bird, while we later heard one as well. A great way to finish the hike!

Slaty Becard - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

We returned to our AirBnB and had lunch but Dave and I were feeling a little restless. We decided that we would return to Ayampe to walk a section of beach scrub. There were some eBird reports of Scrub Nightjars roosting here so we figured that we would give it a shot.

Ayampe beach scrub, Manabí, Ecuador

Yellow Warbler - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

The estuary was teeming with birds - herons, shorebirds, gulls and more. We gave them just a cursory scan before we set out for the task at hand.

Black-necked Stilt - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Our walk through the scrub was quite productive and we flushed quite a few Caprimulgids. Unfortunately, every single one of them was a Lesser Nighthawk! We took some time to photograph this one that we had noticed before it flew. This first photo is almost a self-portrait, if you look really closely at its eye.

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

It is too bad that we could not turn up any Scrub Nightjars here and it makes me think that perhaps the eBird checklists had the species mis-identified. Scrub Nightjar can be a really tricky one; at the time we thought we had seen a couple until we reviewed photos and field guides later that day. Still, it was a neat opportunity to photograph and study Lesser Nighthawks from up close.

Dave and Lesser Nighthawk - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

With evening approaching, we went back to the river-side scrub in hopes of turning up Saffron Siskins, Plumbeous-backed Thrushes, Watkin's Antpittas or Elegant Crescentchests - some of our few remaining targets for the area. Dave heard a very distant Watkin's Antpitta that I missed, but fortunately we also found a cooperative Elegant Crescentchest. A dapper little bird.

Elegant Crescentchest - Ayampe, Manabí, Ecuador

With our birding in Ayampe done for the day, we returned to our cabin and then headed into town with the girls for a well deserved dinner of pizza and beer. Another great day in the books.

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