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Always bring a camera to a lek visit!

September 13, 2016

It can be hard to wake up for visit to the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  The sun hasn’t risen and the birds aren’t singing, and your bed can feel so comfortable at 4:45 AM…

But the thing that always gets me out of bed early for a lek visit is the knowledge that I never know quite what I’m going to get. Walking up to the lek, you have to wonder – when will the birds start calling? How many will we see? And will there be banded birds?

If you’re bringing your camera (and you should bring your camera), you might be thinking about your equipment, or dreaming about that perfect shot.

And you are also wondering – what else will show up to the lek? Theoretically, a regular gathering of the largely fruit-eating Andean Cock-of-the-Rock should lead to a healthy growth of fruit-bearing trees in that part of the forest (thanks to their feces). So, maybe a toucanet will show up, hopping along a branch. Dwarf squirrels and coatis very occasionally make an appearance. Hummingbirds and wrens can also be seen from the hide – but you never know! That’s the exciting thing about lek visits. Sometimes the best way to explore the jungle is to sit quietly in a good hiding place and let the wildlife come to you.

And sometimes, you just get lucky.

The Cocks-of-the-Rock showed up right on time and displayed for about half an hour.


That’s shorter than average, but no female showed up, so perhaps the males were only displaying half-heartedly. By the late morning, the birds were leaving the lek. I had resigned myself to a subpar experience, and was looking forward to breakfast back at the lodge.

But the trees near the hide started to shake, and the branches began to move in such a way as to indicate something heavy – something climbing – a mammal moving through the trees. From the movement I could tell that it was too big to be a squirrel. Was it a kinkajou? I had seen one down by the river, crossing the bridge and foraging in the trees near the water.

When I finally got a glimpse…


And that, folks, is why you always bring a camera on a lek visit.


My breath caught in my throat. It was a white-fronted capuchin!

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Too excited for an in-focus picture…

Now, white-fronted capuchins are not particularly rare, but they are very uncommon at Reserva Las Tangaras. This may be due to the fact that this forest, like most of the forest around Mindo, was recently farmland, and so only represents secondary growth. Perhaps these monkeys prefer older, more mature jungle. So while this is an exciting sight at our reserve, dedicated mammal-watchers probably wouldn’t be too impressed.

That being said, watching monkeys climb and leap through the trees as they forage is one of the great joys of tropical wildlife watching.

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I stared, hardly believing my luck, as one monkey emerged, then another. Five in total – two juveniles and two adults – one with a baby clinging tightly to her back. It was very clear that at least one of the monkeys knew I was in the hide, from how it looked intently in my direction. Even though I was silent and only moved to take pictures or get better looks, I could tell that it knew someone was there.

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I knew I couldn’t leave until they did, because I didn’t want to disturb them (and because watching them was too much fun). So when they moved off, I packed up and left, walking back to the lodge by the typical route.

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And who did I find on my way?

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I crossed paths with the family of monkeys again, and this time they definitely knew I was there. The juveniles made high, squeaking calls, and the adults hurried to their defense, climbing low in the trees – as low as two meters above my head! – screeching, baring their teeth, and shaking branches at me. Even at three times their size, I’ll admit I was intimidated.

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This monkey is not happy to see me. Bared teeth is not a good sign.

Only by staying perfectly still and crouching low behind a tree could I avoid their notice.

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After the group had passed by, I made my way back down to the lodge, exhilarated. I was happy that I had woken up early that morning – but I was much happier that I had remembered to bring my camera!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Corey Callahan permalink
    September 13, 2016 9:14 pm

    These are actually pretty rare. They are the critically endangered sub-species that occur mainly on the coastal lowlands but venture up to Las Tangaras at almost their upper limit of distribution. I did a little digging when I was there. 🙂


  2. Terry L Harmon permalink
    September 14, 2016 6:33 pm

    Wonderful story; even better pictures!!


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