In February of 2019 I visited Leticia in the Colombian Amazon for a third time. Although Mitu and Irírida are very popular destinations for birders, I've always felt that Leticia, with the large number of Amazon river and várzea specialists, was just as interesting. Most of the records described in this article were seen with local guide Otto Linares, who has excellent eyes and ears for finding secretive birds.
In 2017 we encountered an ant swarm around kilometer 14 in Leticia, and I was able to obtain photos of both a male and female Black-headed Antbird. Most maps do not show this species in Leticia. The 'jensoni' subspecies is in northeast Peru and the 'minor' subspecies is in east Colombia. The female I saw resembles the female 'jensoni' (from HBW information) because it has a lot of grey, but it seemed odd to see the subspecies on the other side of the Amazon river. There are now a few other records on eBird of the Black-headed Antbird in the 'tierra firma' forests in Leticia, but I have not seen another photo of the female.
In February 2019 we visited a new vàrzea site near Lago Tarapoto, because most of the usual sites were flooded. On the way we passed through a section of forest on a boat, and recorded a pair (male and female) of Band-tailed Antbirds. They did not respond to the recording I had for a Black-chinned Antbird, and I didn't have a recording for the Band-tailed Antbird. Both sexes clearly show a band on end of the tail. I had seen a pair of similar antbirds in 2017 in almost the same place, except during low water, but was not able to photograph the tail or hear the song. They somehow seemed different than the Black-chinned Antbirds I had seen in Inírida because they were out of the forest at the water edge, and moving as a pair, so in 2019 I was on the look out for Band-tailed Antbirds.
In the vàrzea forest we found a male Black-tailed Antbird on the first visit, a female on the second visit a few hundred meters further along, and both sexes together on the third visit. I didn't know what species it was until the third visit, and the female at least responded to playback and then disappeared, almost as if it had encountered playback before (which seems unlikely). This patch of várzea was especially dark and wet and full of mosquitos.
Given these three pairs of birds that had previously thought to be species or subspecies only found on the south side of the very wide Amazon river, I am wondering how much of a barrier the Amazon river really is. How often does an antbird cross the Amazon river? Perhaps they cross some of the Amazon tributaries further west, or places where islands shorten the crossing? Could they cross on floating vegetation?
Thanks to Orlando Acevedo-Charry for improving greatly the cell phone audio file, recorded by the Bird Data app.
Black-headed Antbird (male)
Black-headed Antbird (female)
Black-tailed Antbird (male)
Black-tailed Antbird (female)
Black-tailed Antbird (female)
Band-tailed Antbird (songs)
Band-tailed Antbird (female)
Band-tailed Antbird (male)