Saturday 28 December 2019

Reserva Yanacocha snipe hunt

My alarm went off at 3:20 AM and by 4:00 AM I had hit the road. The streets were mostly devoid of vehicles at this early hour and at just after 5:00 AM I turned down the 10 km-long entrance road leading to the Yanacocha Reserve. 

This reserve protects habitat on the northwest slope of Volcán Pichincha between 3200 and 3700 masl. It is probably most famous among birders as being the only place in the world where the Black-breasted Puffleg can be found with some regularity, though it only appears from roughly April to July. It is not really known where this Critically Endangered species spends the rest of the year. 

There were four species that I had on my wish list for the morning. These were the Imperial Snipe, Jameson’s Snipe, Tawny-breasted Tinamou and Bar-bellied Woodpecker, the only likely “lifers” I could potentially see here. The snipes necessitated the early wake-up call since they mostly perform their displays in the pre-dawn hours. 

I drove up the entrance road in the dark, stopping periodically to listen for snipes. The conditions were absolutely perfect with no wind at all. I flushed two Band-winged Nightjars from the road. The photo below is one I found at Yanacocha during daylight hours last November. 

Band-winged Nightjar - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Finally, at 5:25, I struck gold. I had just passed through a big gate near a building complex about 7 km up the road when I heard a Jameson’s Snipe rollicking away during one of my stops. While it did not quite make up for dipping on this species in the high paramo near Papallacta, at least I had now heard the species. 

I raced the rest of the way up the hill, already running a bit late if I wanted to get to the Imperial Snipes while they were still displaying. The sky was getting light much too quickly! I hastily parked my car at the reserve, grabbed my camera and backpack, and began speed-walking down the main trail (La Trocha Inca). The dawn chorus had started and I noticed a few things flitting in the undergrowth, but they would have to wait. The scenery at this early hour was beautiful, however, and I could not resist snapping a few photos with the big lens. 

Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

I arrived at the “snipe spot” based on what I could glean from eBird. While the vast majority of eBird users decline to put any useful details in their checklists, at least 5% of them had some valuable tidbits about the snipes. The area around and beyond the start of the Masked Trogon trail seemed to be the best location to find displaying Imperial Snipes. 

My fears that I was a little bit late were quickly put to rest, since two Imperial Snipes were displaying from between the Masked Trogon trail and Black-breasted Puffleg trail when I arrived a few minutes after 6 AM. I could not get eyes on them, and they stopped at exactly 6:11. 

Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

With the snipe quest successful I now had time to seek out the other birds, all the while keeping an ear out for tinamous. However, they remained silent. 

I birded the main La Trocha Inca as well as part of the Masked Trogon trail. Flocks were few and far between but eventually I observed many of the regular species found at Yanacocha. These Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers were almost too close for photos! It seems that mountain-tanagers love this particular fruit since I had now seen Scarlet-bellied, Black-chested and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers feeding on it. Interestingly, each of these species holds the fruit in its beak and works it around, sucking out the fleshy inner parts and then discarding the skin. 

Black-chested Mountain-Tanager - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Antpittas are some of the most commonly heard birds at Yanacocha and I ticked four species. Walking the narrow Masked Trogon trail seemed like a good way to hopefully see an antpitta and I carefully set down the path, clearing all the spiderwebs with my face in the process. 

I surprisingly observed six different antpittas during the walk – much better than I was expecting! Four of them were huge Undulated Antpittas, while the other two were Rufous Antpittas. Only the Rufous stuck around for photos. I had only ever heard these two species before!

Rufous Antpitta - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Following the antpitta quest I walked back down the La Trocha Inca to the headquarters/feeders. It was fairly quiet for birds but I had one major highlight – a pair of Bar-bellied Woodpeckers chasing each other around and calling. Awesome!

Andean Guans were vocalizing along my walk as well. 

Andean Guan - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Back at the headquarters I staked out the feeders for a bit. They were surprisingly quiet with only a few hummingbirds present. A far cry from when I visited last November. Shining Sunbeams were by far the most common, and the most aggressive.

Shining Sunbeam - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Flowerpiercers took advantage of the sugary water. They were mostly Masked Flowerpiercers but a few Glossy joined in as well. 

Masked Flowerpiercer - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Masked Flowerpiercer - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Glossy Flowerpiercer - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Below are a few other photos of hummingbirds and other birds at the Yanacocha feeders, taken last November. 

Shining Sunbeam - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Great Sapphirewing - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Sapphire-vented Puffleg - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

Sapphire-vented Puffleg - Reserva Yanacocha, Pichincha, Ecuador

With another successful morning in the books I began the long drive down into the Chocó lowlands, ready to begin the final leg of my trip.

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