Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cover Your Ass!

Tapaculo has got to be one of the best bird names ever. In Spanish, “tapaculo” literally translates to “cover your ass.” Tapaculos are so named for their habit of having their tails cocked, thus exposing, their, well, ass.

Tapaculos are in the family Rhinocryptidae (so named for the fleshy covering on their nostrils, leading to the “hidden nose”). They are sub-oscines, and are found from souther Central America south to southern South America, found in a wide variety of habitats.

Chile has some of the greatest tapaculos in t he world, with some incredibly charismatic, large, showy species, including the Moustached Turca (Pteroptochos megapodius), Black-throated Huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii), White-throated Tapaculo (Scelorchilus albicollis), and Chucao Tapaculo (Scelorchilus rubecula). In total, Chile is home to 8 species of tapaculo, including two Scytalopus, a second species of Huet-huet, and the Ochre-flanked Tapaculo (Eugralla paradoxa). Where I would be in Chile, only 4 species occurred, and I had hopes of only seeing two, at most. Sadly, the Turca, a Chilean endemic, is found farther north near Santiago, so that’s a bird that will have to wait for my next trip.

On my first full day in Chile, I had already heard 3 of the 4 species that were possible in the area, so I already thought I was off to a good start. This also included a relatively close encounter with an Ochre-flanked that just refused to show himself. After a few more days, I finally at least heard a huet-huet. However, it wasn’t until nearly 2 weeks into the trip that I finally saw my first tapaculo, a Chucao. I was ecstatic, since this bird came out of the bamboo, watched us, foraged on the trail, watched us some more, climbed up onto a branch, and yelled at us, all without any provocation from playback.

The next tapaculo that would show itself was a Magellanic Tapaculo, the only Scytalopus in the area. This first Magellanic I had to coax out of the bushes with some playback, which he did not appreciate. As payment, he pooped on my computer. Later that evening, I had another thrilling encounter with several Chucao Tapaculos, including a pair that was dueting trailside, which Nate and I were able to get a recording of. It isn’t something I was expecting, but Chucaos are incredibly loud birds, and when they decide to call next to you, it is startling. I found that they were also very curious birds, and if they were close enough, they would come out of the bushes to investigate you, often providing superb views.

On our first day off, Nate and I and a couple of other friends went on a trip to the north of the island and checked out La Senda Darwin Biological Station. At the station, there are some trails going through some remnant patches of second growth forest, some swallow boxes, and, apparently, enough habitat for a pair of Black-throated Huet-huets, which found my pathetic attempt at whistling offensive, and they decided to yell at me and give me some views.

On the last couple of days of our trip, Nate and I went to Parque Nacional Puyehue, a beautiful national park about 2 hours outside of Puerto Montt, which covers some great old growth Nothofagus forest on the west slope of the Andes. While I will recount our fun in Puyehue in more detail later, I will share the relevant details about tapaculos here. First off, we got to see several of our last species, Ochre-flanked Tapaculo at close range, without playback. Now, while Ochre-flanked doesn’t have spectacular plumage, it is still quite an interesting bird, and has a very oddly shaped head and bill. In addition to seeing 3 Ochre-flanked, we also had a total count of ~60 Chucao, ~40 Magellanic, and 20 Ochre-flanked Tapaculos, with perhaps 8 Black-throated Huet-huets. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I was shocked at the tapaculo density here, and just had a blast.

Now, enjoy these few pictures of my first fun experiences with the Rhinocryptidae!

Chucao Tapaculo (Scelorchilus rubecula)

Black-throated Huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii)

Magellanic Tapaculo (Scytalopus magellanicus)

Ochre-flanked Tapaculo (Eugralla paradoxa)... can't you tell? Somewhere in this picture is an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, honest! Actually, I can't even find it for certain in the photo. For a good picture of an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, click here.

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