Ecuador was made for birdwatchers! A tiny country filled with biodiversity which can be easily reached in a short drive… Well, maybe that is a little exaggeration but in comparison to other countries like Colombia, Peru and the giant Brazil, our Ecuador seems tiny. This proved to be true this last week when I got news that the Banded Ground Cuckoo had been seen only two hours away from my home.
My wife and I made arrangements immediately and went for a short drive (2 hours) and overnight-visit to Un Poco del Choco a new private conservation site which I had never heard off. We arrived and met Nicole Buetner and Wilo Vaca, a pair of conservationist that have made this remote primary forest their home. They told us the details of this rare sighting and after dinner and amenable conservation talk we retired to dream of seeing the Banded Ground Cuckoo. We slept very well and woke up early to begin our search for the rare bird. By 6:30 am we heard the repeating mooing call of the bird which only lasted a few moos and then it all went quiet. Breakfast came at 7:30 am and then there was no trace of the bird. For the rest of the morning we enjoyed the company of this Ecuadorian-German couple and even visited their home which was an impressive work of wood-art carved out by Wilo. Finally we had to leave empty handed due to previous commitments.
Two days later I wrote to Nicole about the bird and got the news again that they started feeding this bird at their gardens! This was unbearable and left the next morning at 5 am so I could get a second chance to see this diamond in the rough! I arrived at 7 am and while I sipped on the first cup of coffee offered by Wilo, I got the pssst psst from Nicole who waved me toward the garden. There I saw the rare bird for the first time walking near the feeding spot but a little shy of the other two fellows who got there before me. A few rays of sun penetrated the dense forest and bounced from his dark and shiny tail. He walked further from us and confidently stopped in a open patch of sun where he exposed himself without any fear.
The possibilities of seeing this bird have been very slim, and only a few lucky ones have gotten some glimpses in the past. What caused this bird to surface and stay near their home? Some other birders have seen two of them around their gardens so it could be a parent and a baby, or two parents looking for a nesting site… After a couple of minutes the bird disappeared in the undercover and stayed there for the next three hours while more people reached the site with hopes to see the unseen.
The persistent calls and noises imitating the bird made by other birders finally scared the bird who walked away toward an area of the site that was more quiet and giving us some final glimpses.
Some of the birders left and others like me stayed behind hoping to experience more of this mysterious bird. By 11 a.m. I took a short walk on the trail from the station to their home and heard one snap of the bill that drew my attention to the bird only a few feet away from me. Luckily Nicole was not far and she quickly communicated with Wilo in hope that he could find some food for the bird. The lucky moment arrived and Wilo brought us a small baby snake he found under a rock. Nicole presented the gift and the bird approached her with confidence, she threw the snake, the bird lounged and grab it before it could wiggle away from sight. The cuckoo took the snake to a more private area maybe 10 feet away from us and started shaking it to death. The bird would shake it and pause to see if the pray was dead, he repeated the process many times until the snake was barely moving.
By this time a couple of other birders had join us and we watched the Banded Ground Cuckoo swallow the snake from tail to head. Here is a compilation of short takes I was able to get from this amazing experience.