One chook’s distinctive voice punctuated the morning’s pure soundtrack. It appeared like a rubber ball dropped onto a hardwood flooring: bop bop bop bop bop bop bop-bop-bopbopbopbopbop and a generally barely audible ultimate ahhhhh, as if the chook expelled (or inhaled) one final phase of air.
For weeks, I had questioned what chook made the distinctive sound — typically fairly shut but undetected by my novice eye. Orange-fronted Barbets typically appeared on the identical time, however they appeared mysteriously silent when foraging close by.
“What. IS. That. Fowl?” I questioned.
With childlike curiosity and a quest to study this protected tropical humid forest, I tuned into the environment that cocooned my house and commenced the duty of figuring out the new-to-me species.
How did I begin? The place did I begin?
One chook at a time.
It’s a lesson I took to coronary heart; it might be helpful a number of weeks later, when a very surprising chook walked into my life.
Earlier than I get to that story, I admit to being one of many luckiest folks on the earth. Immersed in wrap-around nature just some minutes of latitude south of the equator, I reside the place temperatures by no means dip to freezing and barely attain 90 levels Fahrenheit. The positioning is close to the Poza Honda Reservoir in western Ecuador’s Manabí Province.
Ecuador is likely one of the most bird-rich international locations on Earth; greater than 1,640 species have been tallied. Based on eBird, 557 chook species have been recorded in Manabí, which is about equal in measurement to New Jersey.
Poza Honda is a spot the place wild heliconias stretch their fingers towards the skies whereas Lengthy-billed Hermits dart from flower to flower. Petite Amazilia Hummingbirds flit between many types of flowers, then patrol from increased perches like little Napoleons.
I finally decided that the proprietor of the thriller voice was the Nice Antshrike, a scarlet-eyed chook of the tropics that provides its staccato name to the day by day soundtrack. The male, attired in crisp black and white plumage, contributes an aesthetic presence to the scene whereas the equally good-looking feminine attire down in cinnamon.
Tree-top rainforest views
A seldom-used gravel highway turned my large and simple path, the place White-necked Puffbirds watch from particular perches with beautiful views of the reservoir. Pockets of inexperienced maintain on in opposition to deforestation that claims extra of this supposedly protected forest annually.
A Huckleberry-Finn childhood within the Mississippi Delta prepped me for all times within the Neotropics. I discovered to be eternally watchful for snakes and to navigate the woodlands in stealth mode whereas searching for birds, animals, and reptiles. My inventive coaching fine-tuned these commentary abilities. This artist’s eyes by no means relaxation, and the 150-plus chook species at Poza Honda maintain me nicely entertained.
My house supplies tree-top views of a tropical humid rainforest that borders the 7-kilometer-long reservoir. A number of meters from one window, beautiful Orange-fronted Barbets pattern the ripened starfruits earlier than darting to a close-by orange tree. The feminine barbet’s black bib is as beautiful as her mate’s bib of pale yellow. At a safer distance within the bird-popular tamarind tree sit the yellow-bellied Gartered Trogons with tails painted with daring black-and-white stripes. In barely extra daring apparel, the Ecuadorian Trogon sports activities splashes of vivid pink with matching eye rings. The Pale-billed Aracari drops in for an occasional roll name, loiters lengthy sufficient for a number of picture ops, then breezes again out of the scene.
As I write, the near-threatened Pale-browed Tinamou’s distinct whistle broadcasts its shut presence, whereas a second solutions from afar. “Catch a glimpse of me in case you can,” it taunts. Stripping threads from palm leaves, Scarlet-rumped Caciques weave pendulous nests in straightforward view. They probe heliconias for selective morsels however appear equally comfortable on the fruit feeder. Black-cheeked Woodpeckers typically problem the caciques for the bananas, but a pair of Whooping Motmots go to the feeder most frequently.
Groove-billed and Clean-billed Anis present continuous chatter from their loosely knit clusters. Each species seem nearly day by day and supply straightforward picture ops. Sky-high and immobile on a damaged stick of bamboo, the Widespread Potoo holds its covert pose for hours.
At night time, the Spectacled Owl, West Peruvian Screech-Owl, and Widespread Potoo watch over the world. The potoo affords an eerie melancholy wail that may immediate chills if one doesn’t know the proprietor of the voice — or a smile from one who does. If I had perched fully immobile for a lot of the day, I would whimper and cry with equal emotion.
It’s not the antshrikes or the puffbirds or the trogons and even the aracaris that make this essentially the most wonderful place I’ve lived; most day by day presents a non-public present that appears to be orchestrated only for me. I discovered to disregard the neighbor’s chickens, which roamed the yard in quest of bugs and fallen fruit. They generally leaped to the dragon fruit trellis and devoured the bananas positioned for the tanagers.
Have you ever ever “recognized” one thing but don’t know the way you knew? Some inside nudge faucets in your unconscious and says, “Listen.” I did simply that after I observed a brown chicken-like chook mingling with the chickens one August day a number of years in the past.
“What. Is. That?”
I reached for my digital camera.
Click on. Click on. Click on.
The chook rapidly darted out of the scene. A poor picture is best than no picture, and the digital camera captured sufficient particulars to match with my reference supplies.
Flipping by way of my Birds of Ecuador Discipline Information, I contemplated the chook’s identification and eventually reasoned that it should be Aramides wolfi, a Brown Wooden-Rail. It’s a species with a restricted vary — western Ecuador and Colombia — that’s listed as susceptible. It rapidly turned the darling of my birding expertise.
Since I moved there in August 2017, two skittish grownup Brown Wooden-Rails used the thickly vegetated ravine beside my home as their major residence. The birds’ raucous daybreak yelping typically nudged me from a deep sleep, and even when I had painted for half of the night time, I embraced their wakeup name. Stealth-like, they typically hurried to the thick woodlands on the other aspect of the home.
I requested my neighbors about them.
“Sure, they eat the bananas,” they shrugged.
And so they did!
The rails visited the yard incessantly for about 5 months till the wet season arrived the next January. Life-giving rains triggered a frenzy of nest constructing by Scarlet-rumped Caciques, One-colored Becards, Masked Tityras, and Pacific Horneros. Many birds turned silent — even the loud-mouthed Rufous-headed Chachalacas and rails. A number of months later, I spotted why the rails had been quiet. In a number of seconds’ time, 5 younger wood-rails darted throughout the yard and again to their secure zone. Yippee! 5 treasured infants!
A private emergency referred to as me away from house for nearly a month, and after I returned, the younger ones introduced themselves within the rank floor cowl of the again gardens. The juveniles foraged, darted, and dashed — and have been generally bullied by the territorial chickens.
As soon as, I deliberate to go for an early-morning run, however a wood-rail tipped onto the stage. It strutted throughout the yard, jumped right into a low-growing clump of bananas, and commenced to interrupt its quick. It was a beautiful sun-filled morning, and the wood-rails conspired to delay my outing. The juveniles foraged, performed, leaped into the bananas, nibbled at fallen star fruit — and offered all-day leisure.
How fortunate am I? Would you say that’s luck? No, we might in all probability all agree: I’m blessed.
Brown Wooden-Rail has a style for bananas
The birds gave the impression to be hooked on bananas. Because the low-growing bananas started to ripen, a number of Brown Wooden-Rails foraged across the perimeters of the yard. Pumping its stumpy tail, one strutted throughout the close-cropped areas, circled the bananas, then darted again to safer areas. At random moments all through the day, a lone rail would move the fruits, then hurry again to wilder areas. I anticipated observing the rails as a lot as they anticipated these ripened bananas. As soon as the bananas matured, the birds ate their fill. I marveled at my luck to witness and doc the habits and quirks of this elusive and extremely entertaining species.
When mature bananas as soon as coaxed 4 wood-rails into straightforward view, the birds rotated shifts, approaching the bananas and leaping as much as the ripest cluster. A clump of bananas supported one rail however turned crowded when two ate on the identical time. Neither competed for a similar banana however feasted in concord whereas balancing and adjusting till one of many two leaped to the bottom. All the time on alert, the birds pecked on the ripening fruit, then raised their heads to look at for hazard, then pecked once more. Many occasions, they paused as if to hearken to a nuance of sound, then resumed. Or they may immediately bolt to the bottom and race throughout the yard.
Typically one rail waited within the shadows till the feeding chook returned to the bottom. They appeared to respect each other, and the banana-stuffed chook often fluffed its feathers as if to say, “That was tasty,” whereas the second circled the bottom of the vegetation, paused, after which leaped to the highest of the cluster. From time to time, a feeding rail barked, very like a squirrel, then jumped down and hurried to the sting of the yard, the place one other chook appeared. The just-fed rail typically pale into the background, and the opposite jumped to the cluster of bananas.
The banana vegetation develop close to a slab of concrete that coated the shut-off valves for the water system. The wood-rails typically circled the bananas, marched to the slab, then leaped from the concrete to the bananas. After depleting the ripe bananas, they forcefully stabbed greener fruits with their payments. Wham-wham-wham. Very similar to a woodpecker, they pecked, paused, regarded round, pecked once more — repeating till they broke by way of the robust husk.
The rails additionally foraged alongside the shady path that related the yard to the reservoir. The chickens used the identical areas, so the dusty-swept areas of path may counsel each species. Rails sorted by way of fallen leaves with their payments, but they stayed alert, elevating their heads, wanting left and proper, holding frozen poses, then pushing extra foliage. They clung to areas with gentle cowl with easy-to-reach hiding locations. They foraged beneath cascading leaves of tall gingers and heliconias or within the dense forest edge close to the reservoir. I typically questioned which chook did such an ideal job of cleansing the within of fallen mandarin oranges. From afar, I watched a pair of rails feasting on comparable fruits. The fallen lemons remained untouched.
The Brown Wooden-Rails darted from standing nonetheless to full throttle with lightning velocity. Typically a sound startled them, and different occasions they appeared to get pleasure from training their escape abilities. They sensed and dodged any low-flying chook, and one rail as soon as ducked when a Whooping Motmot handed low over the yard. One other time, a rail marched towards its subsequent space of canopy, then immediately darted after a low-flying butterfly, which eluded the rail however offered a comical zigzagged chase.
The rails typically foraged in free clusters and generally shadowed the chickens. If a rooster immediately cackled and scattered, the rails additionally bolted for canopy. The bigger chickens generally claimed all rights for yard feeding privileges.
A wood-rail as soon as displayed a serene yoga-like stance because it stretched and bowed within the solar. It appeared to have fun the robust rays of sunshine after a cool and misty morning. About half an hour after the rail departed, a White-tipped Dove carried out an analogous ritual in nearly the precise location.
In the future, a juvenile rail jumped from the bananas, fluffed its feathers, then meandered to the far aspect of the yard. A second chook appeared from dense cowl and approached the primary chook. They fluffed feathers, prolonged their wings, poked and nuzzled one another in what gave the impression to be a really tender trade.
Non-public eureka moments
Taking a break from the rails, I ready for a straightforward stroll to the reservoir. Hoping to sneak up on a hard-to-photograph Limpkin, I pulled on my boots, positioned the digital camera bag over my shoulder, and tucked an empty cardboard field underneath my arm. It could maintain the peat-like composted water hyacinths to make use of as potting soil. If fortunate, I’d additionally return with higher reference photos of the loud-mouthed Limpkins.
The squeaky chatter of anis drew me nearer to the water, and I paused to substantiate the species – Groove-billed. Additionally close by have been the forever-cheerful Masked Water-Tyrants. These good-looking black-and-white members of the flycatcher household flitted from low branches to shrubby herbs to the lake financial institution and water hyacinths. Nearly at all times in perpetual movement, they danced and sang whereas trying to find bugs. So rapt with appreciation for this good-looking species, I forgot all about my Limpkin quest till a bigger chook revealed its presence within the hyacinths.
I froze. The cardboard field wedged between my left arm and hip; my digital camera balanced in my proper hand. Two arms would assure higher pictures, however dropping the field would startle the Limpkin. I snapped a number of unsteady pictures, then eased decrease and decrease till hid behind meter-high vegetation. Lastly, the field touched the bottom. I crawled nearer, then took a number of extra pictures. Unaware of my presence, the chook hobbled to the sting of its hiding place and moved into the water.
The Limpkin then illustrated a expertise I used to be not beforehand conscious of — it swam!
As swish as a swan, it floated throughout the floor of the water, meandered alongside the hyacinths, then aimed for one more island of floating vegetation.
“Limpkins can swim,” I continued to marvel whereas taking pictures and video. “Limpkins can swim!”
Certainly Audubon skilled comparable surprises – as if nature orchestrated non-public “eureka” moments for a one-man (or lady) viewers. I understand how fortunate I’m to watch and doc the adjustments on this fragile forest in Ecuador. I mirror how every chapter in my life prepped me for the following.
A passage from the creator and poet Wendell Berry’s e-book Given appears apt: “I dream of a quiet man who explains nothing and defends nothing, however solely is aware of the place the rarest wildflowers are blooming, and who goes, and finds that he’s smiling not by his personal will.”
I typically understand that I’m smiling as I meander to the water’s edge, and I smile whereas watching the Limpkins and Masked Water-Tyrants and the anis and the caciques. I smile when the barbets drop in for a star-fruit feast and when the Nice Antshrike tasks its distinct voice. I undoubtedly smile when the wood-rail bolts after the butterfly! My whole physique smiles as a result of my soul is comfortable and at peace. Observing nature supplies the key oh-so-calming ingredient.
Meet the Brown Wooden-Rail
Based on the web useful resource Birds of the World, Brown Wooden-Rail is a “very poorly recognized species which has a restricted vary and seems to have grow to be extraordinarily uncommon, not less than in Ecuador, owing to intensive destruction of its mangrove habitats.”
A 2011 paper in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology on the rail’s breeding behaviors notes that the species “is reclusive, onerous to watch, and vocalizes occasionally; its fundamental biology stays poorly recognized.” The researchers, led by Tulane College ecologist Jordan Karubian, reported that the rails nested from February by way of April and laid about 4 eggs per nest. Two-thirds of 16 studied nests efficiently produced younger. A radio-tracked chook used a house vary of 13.5 hectares (about 33 acres).
On eBird, data of the chook at Poza Honda posted by creator Lisa Brunetti and others characterize the southernmost sightings of the species. She speculates that birds at Poza Honda have tailored to residing close to folks “maybe due to their desire for ripe bananas. It’s wonderful to see how briskly they zero in on ripe bananas, and when the bananas are ripe, the rails are there nearly continually.”
In October 2020, birder Roger Ahlman, one in all eBird’s Ecuador reviewers and hotspot editors, visited Poza Honda to view the rails. They represented species No. 1,300 on his mainland Ecuador listing.
5 information concerning the chook:
- Certainly one of eight species within the genus Aramides, a bunch of rails which can be discovered from Mexico to Argentina
- Listed as susceptible on the worldwide Purple Listing
- Inhabitants estimate: 1,000-2,500
- Vary: Western Colombia and western Ecuador
- Habitat: Mangroves and swampy woodlands
Touring to Poza Honda
As a result of coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate has a Stage 3 journey advisory for Ecuador: “Rethink journey.” When it’s secure to journey once more, right here’s what you want to find out about visiting Poza Honda.
The closest worldwide airport is within the metropolis of Guayaquil in southwestern Ecuador. The drive to Poza Honda takes about 4 hours. A number of birding areas and reserves could be present in southwestern Ecuador, so that might add extra chook variety, and time, to your journey.
Other than in a single day lodging on web site at Casa Poza Honda, the place this story takes place, lodging in and round Poza Honda are fundamental. For details about journey, birding guides, and extra, go to the web site Blessed by Birds produced by creator Lisa Brunetti.