Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orange-throated Tanager – From Fabulously Rare to Fairly Easy

On the the scouting trip to southern Ecuador that I did late last month with Jon Feenstra, I was amazed to learn that we had a chance to see Orange-throated Tanager. And see it we did. On the road south of Yankuam Lodge, not only is this gorgeous bird findable, it was the most vocal and conspicuous bird in the area while we were there. We saw multiple family groups immediately upon arrival, and I got some nice sound recordings.

Only discovered about 50 years ago in northernmost Peru, that area has been difficult to get to ever since (and currently there is little access controlled by suspicious native communities), and the species has been one of the most sought after, elusive jewels of the Andes. It's known distribution was expanded recently when it was found in equally remote southeastern Ecuador, an area that was strictly off limits when I last visited this area in 1992. There was an active border dispute with Peru at the time, and the area was considered very unsafe. Even then, it's entire range is still a miniscule spot on a map of South America. See the Cornell species account here.

Things have sure changed. There's been a decent dirt road most of the way there for a few years, and only in the past two years the road been improved and extended, a bridge built, and more improvements are on the way. And Yankuam Lodge is only a few minutes from where these birds are. As a result of the improved access, birders have been making quite a few exciting discoveries here recently. White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant was one of the most unexpected, but Gray-tailed Piha, Royal Sunangel, Zimmer's Antbird, and puzzling Tolmomyias flycatcher are among the other goodies.

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