Reserva de la Paz, Ecuador – The bird whisperer

“Manuela, Pancho, Maria” Angel calls, and then again with high voice “Manuelita, Panchito, Maria”. What happens then is almost incredible. Two Giant Antpittas that were already thought to be extinct – Maria and Pancho – appear from the undergrowth and allow Angel to feed them with a kind of woodworm. The nearly one foot big brown birds that mainly live on the ground are extremely rare and so timid that they always hide in the dense undergrowth of the tropical cloud forest. Maria is the grandmother, Manuela who doesn’t show up today the daughter, and Pancho the only eight months old grandson who didn’t yet give up this baby begging call.

Angel Paz is the man who performed this miracle. He is co-owner of the private nature reserve Reserva de la Paz and our guide. Angel baited different birds as well, among them several other, smaller insect eating Antpittas and the vegetarian Wood Quails. All of them are birds that can fly but usually stay hidden in the undergrowth, looking for food on the ground. For birdwatchers like the two American women who accompany us today and nature lovers this is a small sensation.

The baiting seems to do harm to the Antpittas as much as fat balls hanged outside in winter for other birds. During their breeding season the birds retreat for two months in higher elevation and are hard to lure after their return during the four months long rainy period since they easily find enough food on their own then. Besides we simply have to welcome those initiatives, because they protect the last pieces of primary forest from deforestation.

Other birds get lured by Angel’s rich repertoire of calls or can be watched from shelters at the right places; like the also rare Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (up to 40 cm / half yard) with their conspicuous plumage: bright red tuft hood reaching down halfway of the torso, black belly and grey wings. The female is inconspicuously brown. There are numerous kinds of hummingbirds and other birds as well. Despite a fast telephoto lens this kind of animal photography is difficult in the dark forest. The fun isn’t too inexpensive: Angel takes 20 $ per person, and if visiting another site belonging to his brother after that to see two more rare kinds of Antpittas there will be another 5 $.

For that we receive a seven-hour program (from morning 5:30 to 12:30) with a coffee break and hearty breakfast, consisting of a deep-fried plantain dumpling with chicken stuffing and other Ecuadorian specialties. We make an acquaintance with Angel Paz and his family, a super nice, genuine, nature loving Indígena who really performs hard work when seeking and luring the birds. He is supported by his brother. I somehow lose track of the family as so many men introduce themselves as Angel’s brothers during yesterday’s evening and today. As Angel tells me that they are nine I don’t wonder anymore. At the starting point of the hike there is a kitchen, bathrooms, and a dining area. We may camp here for free as long as we want; we are even offered to use the kitchen.

An appointment is essential for a visit at Reserva de la Paz. Use a tourist agency or call Angel Paz directly if you speak Spanish: +593 (0)87 253674. Coming on route # 28 from Quito to Los Bancos turn left into a gravel driveway 10 km / 6 mi after Nanegalito at N 00°01’59.0’’ W 78°43’14.7’’. After 4.5 km / 2.8 mi you reach a small parking lot (N 00°01’12.3’’ W 78°42’26.0’’). You can also sleep at Angel’s finca in Nanegalito if you don’t want to drive up yourself. Some clearance should be o.k. for this road in dry season. You can go through the shallow river if you don’t trust the wood bridge. Angel plans to build cabañas on the mountain next year. The overnight place deserves 5* since it is completely lonesome and quiet, not even traffic noise and no dogs can be heard.

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