Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Mitú - 11th Hour Surprise

March 7, 2022

Just like that, our Mitú trip was nearing its conclusion. Our flight was not scheduled until the afternoon of March 7 and so we had the entire morning for exploration. We had done quite well finding our target birds and so there were only a few potential new species remaining. The big one was, of course, the Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. This enigmatic species has a patchy distribution in the western Amazon basin. It is usually found in the interior of mature forests, and is often associated with army ant swarms. It appears to be a rare species and its shy behaviour means that encounters are few and far between, even at sites where the species is known to be present. Bar-bellied Woodcreepers are found in Mitú but most birding groups that visit Mitú miss this species. I had been periodically trawling for this species during our week in Mitú without success, and March 7 would be our final chance. 

We returned to Sendero Bocatoma due to its proximity to town. This ensured that we could maximize our time out in the field, especially with an afternoon flight booked. And this turned out to be an excellent decision based on all of the birds that we found.

 Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

The first highlight was a vocalizing Gray-legged Tinamou that we heard not far from the path. While this was not a lifer (we had heard one a few days earlier at Pueblo Nuevo), it was still a bird that we had not seen. We followed its haunting song into the forest and hid my bluetooth speaker on the ground. Miguel, Laura and I positioned ourselves out of sight behind a downed tree and played the tape. 

It worked like a charm. The tinamou approached us to within 10 metres and we were sure that we would soon catch a glimpse of it. But tinamous are extremely secretive and this one was no different. Despite our best efforts, the tinamou somehow remained out of sight. Eventually, we had to call it and move on. At least I managed some decent recordings!

Gray-legged Tinamou habitat - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

The next highlight occurred a short while later. I thought I heard the song of a Rufous-capped Antthrush and so we approached the area. We were in luck - the antthrush soon popped up onto a horizontal branch and sang for the next fifteen minutes! 

Rufous-capped Antthrush - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Antthushes are generally shy and skulking birds, making photography difficult. This was a fantastic way to see a lifer antthrush!

Rufous-capped Antthrush - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Rufous-capped Antthrush - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

We experienced a productive morning of birding with many other highlights, including the Campina race of Fuscous Flycatcher, a Gray Elaenia, a vocalizing Brown-headed Greenlet, some Paradise Tanagers, photogenic Spot-backed Antwrens and a Ringed Antpipit. 

Fuscous Flycatcher (Campina) - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Spot-backed Antwren - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Paradise Tanager - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

This leaf-footed bug was rather eye-catching.

Molchina sp. - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

As 9:00 AM approached, we had been hiking for around three and a half hours. We knew that we would have to turn around soon if we wanted to make it back to town in time for our flight. Of course, we did not know it at the time, but our flight would be delayed by the customary three hours.

I played the call of the Bar-bellied Woodcreeper once on my phone, as I had already done a half dozen times that morning. You could probably guess what happened next. 

Yes, a Bar-bellied Woodcreeper immediately responded! I was absolutely taken aback, not at all expecting to connect with this rare species. But within a few seconds, we were looking at not one, but two Bar-bellied Woodcreepers!

Bar-bellied Woodcreeper - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

The pair were extremely responsive to the tape, making me think that they aren't "taped out" in Mitú, but they just happen to be quite uncommon and thinly distributed in the forests here. Laura, Miguel and I experienced amazing views of the pair, though most of my photos ended up like this (or worse!).

Bar-bellied Woodcreeper - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

The stout reddish bill was easy to appreciate, though the barring on the belly was rather subtle unless the bird was in good light. The pair were quite curious but after a few seconds, they would take off to a safer perch deeper in the forest. Eventually, I was able to obtain one photo which I was pretty happy with. 

Bar-bellied Woodcreeper - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

You could imagine that I was quite ecstatic with this find - it was an incredible bit of luck that we finally caught up with this species just hours before we had to leave Mitú. Miguel was thrilled as well!

Josh and Miguel - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

We had some pep in our step as we backtracked to the start of the trail to meet Felix. We even picked up one final lifer: a Grayish Mourner that we first heard singing from the canopy. This is a widespread Amazonian species, and it isn't exactly the showiest bird, but a lifer is a lifer!

Grayish Mourner - Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

We added a few more birds to our Mitú trip list during the walk back, including White-vented and Rufous-bellied Euphonias, King Vulture, and Slender-billed Xenops. But the sun was now high in the sky, bird activity was dwindling, and we were running a little late and so we did not make many stops. And just like that, our Mitú trip came to a conclusion. 

Sendero Bocatoma, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

If anyone reading this is planning a Mitú adventure, don't hesitate to reach out to me (joshvandermeulen AT live.ca) and I will be able to provide you with some intel. Miguel was a phenomenal guide and I would whole-heartedly recommend his services. We absolutely loved Mitú - it is an exceptional location that every birder who enjoys the Amazon should visit at least once! 

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