DAY 10 TAPICHALACA RESERVE
This is one of those days that you look forward to more than most others. It’s a crescendo of excitement that only birders can appreciate and this was the day we had our shot at the big one. The special one (and it wasn’t Jose Mourhino), but the one and only Jocotoco Antpitta. However, we were sat at breakfast at 5.45am listening to the rain that had continued unabated throughout the night and wondering if it would ever stop. Combine this with recent tales of the antpitta not showing recently and we were certainly on edge driving the short distance to the start of the trail. It was a steep start for maybe just a 100m or so before the rest of it was relatively easy and a Black-throated Tody-Tyrant was the first bird of the day. Walking slowly into the cloud forest we enjoyed multiple sightings of Orange-banded Flycatcher, which amazingly moves around in little flocks of the same species. At the same corner in the trail a stunning Green-and-black Fruiteater posed in a nearby bush. We then had Spectacled Whitestart, several Grey-hooded Bush-Tanagers moving through the canopy of moss-encrusted trees, a fine Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, quick but decent views of Blackish Tapaculo, a brief Blue-backed Conebill and a superb Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager. As we rounded a corner a White-throated Quail-Dove walked off the path in front of the viewing hide and then we walked down to the antpitta feeding station.
We had no sooner sat down on the bench when a Chestnut-naped Antpitta appeared next to us, walked right in front of us just a metre away before cramming a whole load of worms in its beak and then moved back into the forest as it had chicks to feed. Wow! It reappeared a while later to collect more worms, meanwhile we waited quietly in edgy uncertainty as time was passing. Then a pair of Barred Fruiteaters came in to feed on worms and provided a little distraction for a few minutes. The local ranger Franco was continually whistling and calling for the Jocotoco Antpitta but after roughly 90 minutes it was seemingly apparent that the bird wasn’t around and when he told Juan Carlos that it never usually shows after 9am (and it was 9.15am by now) we felt utterly dejected. It was at this point that Brian decided to go and answer a call of nature and as he disappeared around a bend in the trail, Franco pointed excitedly into the forest and said “it’s here!” Well you couldn’t begin to understand the relief we all felt as the best antpitta in the world appeared from behind a mossy log and stared balefully around at us. Wow! Wow! and wow again! This majestic beast hopped down and fed on worms but all too quickly disappeared back into the forest and out of view. And just then Brian returned and for a moment wouldn’t believe us when we said the bird had just appeared. A tense few minutes ensued before Juan Carlos picked up the bird returning towards the feeding station and onto Brian’s life list – thankfully. In fact, the Jocotoco Antpitta remained for several minutes before once again departing and then reappearing a little while later. We were able to study it, take photos, videos and all this with the bird just a few metres away. We learnt from the ranger that it was a young bird which had disappeared a few months ago, due to the adults evicting it from their territory. But as the adults weren’t currently around, this youngster was able to come into the feeding station without fear of attack. This was undoubtedly one of our best ever ornithological experiences ever. When you consider this species wasn’t discovered by Dr Robert Ridgely until 1997, it still ranks as one of the major ornithological discoveries of recent times. And we’d seen it!
Once the bird left we walked on down the trail, seeing Turquoise Jay, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and after a tense battle we saw a Slate-crowned Antpitta in the undergrowth below the trail. We continued on with Rufous Wren, a fantastic Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Grass-green Tanager, Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, Sierran Elaenia, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Hooded Mountain-Tanager and finally a pair of Golden-plumed Parakeets at a nest box before returning to the waiting minibus. Phew, what a morning!
We enjoyed a fine lunch and some time watching the feeders where a Chestnut-naped Brushfinch appeared, along with Bearded Guan and the usual hummers before driving lower down the road towards Valladolid. The rain kept hampering us but we ploughed on with umbrellas in hand and found a superb Maranon Thrush, along with Dull-coloured Grassquit, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rufous-fronted Thornbird and a few Silver-beaked Tanagers before driving to a different area above the town. Here, at a patch of cloud forest we found it to be buzzing with activity. A Cinnamon Flycatcher, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Montane Woodcreeper, Saffron-crowned Tanager Golden-naped Tanager, Streak-necked Flycatcher, pair of Golden-collared Honeycreepers, Silver-backed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager and an Andean Solitaire were all seen close to the minibus before we left and returned to the lodge. After dinner it didn’t take us more than ten minutes to find a White-throated Screech-Owl(and I really messed up my camera settings) to end an already fantastic day on a high.