On 27 December 2008, I was birding near the town of Zapotillo with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, trying to mop up a last few Tumbesian species for their record-setting big year, “The Biggest Twitch”. We had spent a productive morning at the Jorupe reserve near Macará, and had decided to venture farther a field in the afternoon, driving an hour and a half through the hot early afternoon down into the lowlands near the Peruvian border, hoping to find a few birds that don’t make it up to Macará. Even at 3:30pm it was still sizzlingly hot and sunny, and we weren’t expecting to see much. We found a dusty road heading out of town, and after a few kilometres we stopped at a random spot where the vegetation seemed a bit more lush. A promising-looking track headed off towards a wooded gulch, so we walked along it, not hearing a single bird. I played a recording of Pacific Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium peruanum, trying to wake some birds up out of their “siesta”, and typically the first ones to respond were an angry pair of Tropical Gnatcatchers Polioptila plumbea. Soon after, a pair of Superciliated Wrens Thryothorus superciliaris responded, showing nicely. We watched them for a bit, and then Alan called my attention to a newcomer that had just appeared in the bushes in front of him. I just about jumped out of my boots when I saw it; even though I had only ever seen Tumbes Tyrant Tumbezia salvini once over three years ago, it is an unmistakable bird and I instantly knew it was probably a first for Ecuador. I started swearing and immediately went for the camera that was in my backpack. Fortunately the bird stayed around, and I was soon firing away at six frames per second. The bird never vocalized, and I didn’t have any recordings on my iPod to try playing back to it. If anyone heads down there to try to refind it, I would love to hear from you.
How to get to the site:
As you enter Zapotillo from the north (the only way), there will be an obvious fork in the road. Zero your odometer here. Take the right fork, and carry on straight, curving up and over the top of a small hill and down the other side. Keep on the main road that heads straight out of town. If you are unsure, ask for the way to the relleno sanitario (town dump). The track that the Tumbes Tyrant is on the left about 3.3 km from the fork mentioned above. The GPS coordinates are S4º22'12", W80º15'36". This track is actually just a shortcut between a sharp curve in the road, and if you miss the track, you will quickly come to the junction with the road to the relleno sanitario going off to your right. Park here, and look for the other end of my track opposite, or else just walk about 200 meters back down the road, and it should be obvious.
Nick Athanas (text and photos)
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