WildlifeKate in Ecuador: Day 3 – A Visit to The Refugio Paz de Las Aves – Cock of the Ro

Another very early start and Danny I I left the lovely Maquipucuna Lodge and we were back on the road track before daylight. We had an early appointment with one of the iconic birds of the Andean cloud forest; the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. This rather strange looking bird is bright red, with black and white wings, orange legs and a comical rounded head and circular eye. The males form Leks, in favourite trees, where they display to fellow males and to any females who are attracted to the spectacle. There is one excellent place to see this bird and that is at The Refugio Paz de Las Aves. (Peace Refuge of the Birds); a site owned by the Paz family.

Light was just starting to appear in the darkened skies as we arrived on a track and parked up behind numerous other trucks, with guides and their clients. This is a popular Lek site as this species has become one of the top Ecuadorian species to have seen.

The Lek site is very much set up for visitors and photographers. A sheltered hide area ensure that the Lek site is protected and that visitors are kept together without risking disturbance. We were all asked to speak in hushed tones and to move slowly. Rain pattered on the rush roof as we all stood, expectantly, searching the dense forest as the sun began to rise and fingers of light began to reach through the foliage.

Their throaty, gasping calls alerted us to the males’ presence before I actually spotted one . The light was really poor and I kept upping the ISO on my camera in a vain attempt to achieve a shutter speed that would create an image recognisable as a Cock-of-the-rock. I was more interested in actually seeing this species than photographing it, so pretty quickly, I gave up on the camera and watched through my binoculars and Danny’s scope. My images were far from award winning, but good enough to prove I was there!!!


This species looks almost comical… a bizarre shape, it bobbed its rounded head and cocked its tail. Another male responded with the same behaviour. We all hoped a female would appear, as apparently this would mean that the males would up their display, but sadly not. Their display only lasts about 20 mins – half an hour, by which time, the daylight was increasing and they melted into the forest as suddenly as they had appeared. I feel privileged to have seen such an iconic species.

Quietly leaving the hide, we made out way back up the narrow path to the road track. This exciting day still had so much more to offer! Our next species was going to be a bird I had not even heard of…  an Antpitta!

The Paz brothers are renown for the relationship they have built up with this elusive forest floor species. Barely 20 years ago, the Jocotoco Antpitta species was unknown to Science. An expedition in 1997, mainly concentrating on sound recordings, heard an unusual hooting type call.  When they played back the recording, it lured this bird into the open and they realised it was possibly a new species. A few months later another expedition captured and photographed the first live specimen and confirmed it was, indeed, a new species! It was this encounter that led to the creation of the ‘Funcacion Jocotoco’ which now works to conserve this precious habitat.

The Paz bothers have worked hard to create relationships with these rare species, luring them out of the dense undergrowth with carefully washed and chopped worms and calls.    Landowner, Angel Paz, didn’t know much about this group of birds, but first noticed a giant Antpitta eating worms on a  trail he had created years ago.  He had already discovered the cock-of-the-rock lek on his land, and begun showing it to tourists.  Angel spent the following days studying the bird, learning about its habits and what it ate.  After seeing it eat worms, he tried to feed it but at first it wouldn’t accept them or come near to him.  After much perseverance, he began to gain the confidence of this shy bird and it began to associate his presence and his call, to mean food. Realising that there were other species of Antpittas on his property as well, such as the chestnut-crowned, ochre-breasted, yellow-breasted,  and moustached, he began to ‘train’ those as well through long hours of watching them and calling them and through offerings of food. He even gave names to certain individuals, who he got to know and recognise.

Antippas, however, are prey to  other predators and are not long-lived, so the Paz brothers have to work hard to keep these species visiting and to provide tourists, such as myself, with the unique opportunity to see them up close!

As we crouched with our cameras, the brothers called to the Antpittas. Gently, he whistled and clicked to them.


We all waited, expectantly. In the half light of the forest, I watched for any movement. Having never seen an Antpitta before, I was unsure as to what exactly I was looking for. Suddenly  I saw a movement and a small, rounded bird appeared on the log! I was looking at my first Chestnut-crowned Antpitta! It already had a beak full of caterpillar! Amazingly, it posed beautifully in the low light, giving me a wonderful chance to see it clearly and to take some photos. #gallery-21749-13 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21749-13 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21749-13 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21749-13 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */



This beautiful, yet elusive, bird stayed with us for a few minutes, before disappearing once again into the dense forest underfloor.

It was time to move on to a new location, to see a different species. By now it was raining pretty heavily, but we persevered, making our way down to another small forest opening. Once again we waited…


Again, within a few minutes of calling, this Yellow-breasted Antpitta made a brief appearance to take advantage of the worms on offer. #gallery-21749-14 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21749-14 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21749-14 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21749-14 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */


This location remains one of the very best place in the world to see Antpittas… I was excited to be one of the few people to have seen one in the wild. I was delighted!

My rumbling stomach reminded me we had not yet had breakfast, and we headed back up to the main centre area. Here, there was a beautiful 3D sign that was an obvious place for photos!


This  area consists of an amazing platform with incredible views across the forest. Lots of feeders and bananas out on branches were attracting all sorts of species. A selection of hummingbird feeders were alive with activity. Despite my hunger, I was drawn to all this bird life and quite literally I didn’t know where to look first!

Breakfast was served and it was simply delicious!  We had traditional Ecuadorian empanadas, made from a special kind of cornmeal, deep fried with cheese inside….. just delicious!


The platform was a perfect spot for bird watching and we saw so many species up close. Perfect for photography!


One of the most striking was the Blue-winged Mountain Tanager….. just look at the colours!


There were lots of these Golden tanagers around too! #gallery-21749-15 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21749-15 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21749-15 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21749-15 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */


This is the flame-rumped Tanager male….

and the female…


I loved this stunner…. the Flame-faced Tanager


and this Black-capped Tanager…


The hummingbirds were simply astounding!!!! They were everywhere; all shapes and sizes, jostling for position on the feeders and flitting around the natural food sources planted around the centre. Surprisingly hard to photograph, my arms ached from holding my lens, trying to get some ‘in-focus’ images. The shade and cloud made it hard to get a really fast shutter speed. Here are a selection of the images I managed to capture…






This little jewel, on a more distant branch, gave me a chance to get a different type of shot…


I think I could have quite happily stayed in this single location for a few days… there was SO much to see and it was just a joy to be able to see so many species in such a short space of time. This video gives you a bit more of an idea of this special location….


After a few hours, it was time to move on…. but not to finish bird watching. Stopping regularly, we were able to see loads more species from the road and we frequently stopped to get a better look.

This roadside hawk was pretty distant, but super to see! #gallery-21749-16 { margin: auto; } #gallery-21749-16 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-21749-16 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-21749-16 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

We also saw  and I managed to photograph, a Golden-headed Quetzal


a wood creeper,


and a masked Trogon!


Possibly one of the most iconic birds of this kind of landscape, for me, is a toucan. This beautiful Plate-billed Mountain Toucan was spotted in the trees next to the road and I managed to get out the car and take just a few images before it disappeared. It was stunning!


A few more gems….. they certainly grow big leaves in Ecuador!


Leaving the reserve after an incredible morning, we began our journey to our next location; Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. Today, we had wracked up an incredible 73 species!!!


What a day!!!!

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