Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Giant Mega!

The Giant Antpitta was once considered one of the most elusive birds in the Neotropics – an absolute mega! That is, until Ángel Paz in western Ecuador trained a female Giant Antpitta named Maria to come in to his call feed on worms. Maria, however, has since passed on and the Giant Antpitta is once again an extremely difficult bird to see. The “eastern” Giant Antpitta (subspecies on the eastern slope of the Andes), which might warrant full species status, is even more of an enigma. For that reason this sighting of a bird I identified as an Eastern Giant hopping along the trail in the early morning on the Guacamayos trail near Cosanga, Ecuador (3 km below the shrine according to my GPS) got my heart racing! Here is a collage of three photos of that truly magic moment. This is one of the 14 antpitta species I saw on my trip to Ecuador (9 on trails, 5 to worms) and definitely the biggest and most “mega”.

It turns out, however, that the identification of eastern Giant Antpitta is not at all straightforward as they are very similar to Undulated Antpitta and, since I didn’t hear this bird call, I have had to pour over my photos and the literature. The result is that I believe this truly is an eastern Giant due to the warm buffy throat with barring all the way up to chin, only a hint of a malar stripe (not an obvious dark strip as would be expected from Undulated), rich chestnut on forecrown and also ear coverts, narrow barring on underparts, and green tones to upperparts. The presence of a wing bar is also an interesting feature that is not noted as a feature of this subspecies but based on comparison of other subspecies seems to point to Giant as well. The elevation of this sighting also ought to be too low for Undulated, although apparently Undulated has been recorded near the start of the trail, which is already on the lower edge of their elevation range. That is my conclusion but expert opinions are thoroughly welcome – please let me know what you think!


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