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Monday, September 17, 2007

Velvet-Purple Coronet, Ecuador

The success and popularity of our ‘Cock-of-the-Rock tour’, in north-central Ecuador, has prompted us to expand our selection in this bird-rich country. Whilst many birders are familiar with such sites as Mindo, Bellavista and Tandayapa, the chocó and lowland forests of north-western Ecuador are less well known, yet home to many range-restricted and endemic birds.

When the Andes were formed, the Chocó region (wet lowland coastal forests stretching from Ecuador through Colombia and into Panama) was cut off from the Amazon rainforests in the east, leading to a divergent evolutionary path. It is now thought that between one-fifth and a half of all the species found in this area are endemic. In the last 60 years however, over 95% of Ecuador’s Chocó forests have been destroyed; it now has the dubious honour of being the most intensively farmed area in Ecuador, covered mainly with monoculture African palm oil plantations. The Chocó Endemic Bird Area (EBA), as defined by BirdLife International, traverses the length of western Colombia and Ecuador. The EBA, characterized by wet forest and with up to 16,000mm of rain per year, is arguably the wettest place on earth! The Chocó has one of the world’s richest lowland biotas, with exceptional richness and endemism in a wide range of taxa, including over 50 endemic bird species.

This is the area on which this tour focuses; an ideal itinerary for repeat visitors to Ecuador in search of new and exciting birding horizons. The tour is also a chance to support a critically-important self-sustaining ecotourism enterprise run by the region’s poor Afro-Ecuadorian population.

Purple-Throated Mountain-Gem, Costa Rica

The Purple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus) is a hummingbird which breeds in the mountains of southern Nicaragua, northern Costa Rica and western Panama. It is replaced in southern Costa Rica by its close relatives, the White-throated and Gray-tailed Mountain-gems, with which it is sometimes considered conspecific. These three species form a closely-related group that evolved some 3.5 million years ago and has diversified since (García-Moreno et al., 2006).

This bird inhabits forested areas in hilly terrain, and is found at altitudes from 800 m to 2500 m. It is 10.5 cm long. The male weighs 6.0 g and the female 4.8 g. The shortish black bill is slightly curved.

The adult male has bronze-green upperparts and underparts except for a brilliant green crown, purple throat and dark grey tail. The female lacks the bright crown and throat, and has rich cinnamon underparts. Young birds resemble the female but have buff fringes to the upperparts plumage.

The female Purple-throated Mountain-gem is entirely responsible for nest building and incubation. She lays two white eggs in a deep plant-fibre cup nest 0.7-3.5 m high in a scrub, small tree or vine. Incubation takes 15-19 days, and fledging another 20-26.

The food of this species is nectar, taken from a variety of small flowers, including epiphytic Ericaceae. Like other hummingbirds it also takes small insects as an essential source of protein. Male Purple-throated Mountain-gems defend flowers and scrubs in their feeding territories, and are dominant over most other hummingbirds. The call of this species is a sharp buzzy zeet.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are small birds in the family Trochilidae, native only to the Americas. They are known for their ability to hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings, 15–80 times per second (depending on the species). Capable of sustained hovering, the hummingbird has the ability to fly deliberately backwards (this is the only group of birds able to do so[1]) or vertically, and to maintain position while drinking nectar or eating tiny arthropods from flower blossoms. They are named for the characteristic hum made by their wings.