Refugio Paz de las Aves
The Refugio Paz de Las Aves is a private property of 120 hectare, of which 70 hectare are the forest protected by the Paz family. The site is located at roughly 1850 m in elevation. Most of the protected area consists of steep primary forest. The Paz brothers, Angel and Rodrigo, are the local guides on their land, and are certainly well able to look for the best places to find the bird specialties protected at their property. Many of the birds from Refugio Paz de Las Aves can be also seen in the Mindo Valley, but their place is world famous because is one of the few places anywhere to see at least four antpitta species without disturbing their behavior by means of sound play back. The brothers, nearly miraculously, call these species in with food and gentle calls.
Strangely this description does not even mention the Cock-of-the-Rock lek, I am not sure why. Anyway upon arrival we walked up a short forest trail to reach the blinds from where we watched these spectacular birds. It was pre-dawn and very dark, but after a short wait our patience was rewarded by the arrival of a superb male Cock-of-the-Rock. It was somewhat frustrating that the light was so poor that I had to set my ISO up to 6400 to even get an exposure.
I had actually seen a Cock-of-the-Rock a couple of days earlier. We stopped in passing at a nest site quite near Tandayapa Bird Lodge and were fortunate to see a female fly out. I remember at the time wondering why our guide Gabriel described her as "Dull". Well everything is relative, compared to the fiery red of the male her orange plumage was put in the shade. Today all we saw were males being generally noisy and posturing to attract the females. Once they have mated the female does all the work, nesting, incubating and rearing the chicks. Does all this remind you of another species? No obvious comments welcome.
Once the Giant Antpitta was out in the open she was joined by a much more timid bird, a little Ochre Breasted Antpitta. This little lady was a lot more nervous than her larger cousins and consequently hung well back in the undergrowth, hence the poor quality of the image. nevertheless it is an excellent record of an otherwise very hard to get bird. Not exactly "Hunting" in the truist sense, but great sightings anyway.
To be honest I can't quite remember in which order all these birds showed up, I just remember being delighted to see so many secretive forest species being fostered and nurtured by some very astute individuals who used infinite patience and dedication to pull this off. Good on them.
Finally, the last of the Paz brothers' little flock, a Yellow Breasted Antpitta appeared, another very timid individual but one whose desire to take the grub was greater than the instinct to run and hide.
This place is a lister's paradise, so many hard to get wild forest species in one go. I'm pretty sure Ruth Miller & Alan Davies came here when they set the World birding record in 2008 (see The Biggest Twitch). Incidentally I see that this record has been well and truly broken now, check this site
Anting behaviour is when birds open their wings and lie down over an active anthill allowing ants to climb up onto them for reasons not fully understood, but it does seem that one part of anting remains consistent: birds prefer using ants that produce formic acid. Ants use the formic acid as a defense mechanism, they spray it at their attackers, but it seems to provide birds with a certain something that scientists would love to discover.
One theory is that the formic acid could be a fungicide, bactericide and/or an insect repellent, while others choose to believe that it's the vitamin D content in the acid that birds are after.
Whatever the reason this Crested Guan was definitely anting, and I only managed to get a reasonable photo when it finally folded its wings.
There happened to be a small rocky river running through the refuge where we were pleased to see a White Capped Dipper plying its trade amongst the rocks. Very nice.
Plenty of small birds about too, a Slate Throated Whitestart comes into view.
One final treat was in store for us on the way home. At a routine stop and scan we picked up a Toucan family bird in the distance. The rain was steady now as I recall and Gabriel said "Pale Mandibled Aracari". We looked at it briefly from a distance, I fired off a few long range shots and we continued on our way home to the Lodge. It is only now that I can see on my computer that they were not Pale Mandibled Aracaris at all. The markings are entirely consistent with the Collared Aracari - pteroglossus torquatus. This is also consistent with data in the Field Guide which says it's the only Aracari in the Western subtropics, which is where Mindo is located. Strangely this species is not even included in my Mindo Bird Tours list of species. I have emailed Gabriel for an opinion and await his reply.