Our final day of birding in Ecuador began with two hours of superb birding on the road near the lodge (multiple sightings of Black-billed Mountain Toucan and Crested Quetzal). Just as we were about to board the bus a pair of Masked Trogons popped up at eye level only feet from the bus. The male grabbed a huge hawk moth and after beating it vigorously, he swallowed it whole - quite a send off!
We climbed up the east slope towards Papallacta and had several superb studies of Torrent Duck today, including this juvenile (where the enormous feet are visible) and below it a nice adult male for contrast (note the difference in bill coloration in particular).
Tom, Paul and Galo all warned the group about the rigours of our attempt to find the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe at the microwave towers above the Papallacta pass. This site is notorious for being windy, bitterfly cold and wet (varying from mist to rain to sleet to snow!). As we climbed the crew steadily donned layer after layer, until we rounded the final corner to the towers in the mist. Amazingly there were two seedsnip right in the middle of the road! They flushed, but a short walk later, we were all celebrating this amazing piece of luck.
Here is our whole group (with a misty backdrop) only feet away from the seedsnipe. This site is around 4400 meters elevation, but on this day it was not windy and we were all quite comfortable - a first for me! This was a great way to wrap up our adventure in northern Ecuador.
Feb 16th: San Isidro lodge
Our first full day at San Isidro started off with a truly rare sighting of a Mountain Tapir at a salt lick right beside the lodge restaurant. The first to arrive was poor Ann who was not quite sure of what to make of the lumbering tapir in the early morning gloom!
We spent several hours just watching the steady parade of birds come in to gobble up the bounty of moths attracted by the large floodlight during the previous night. Among them were these two photogenic subjects: first, a Spectacled Whitestart and then an Inca Jay (a split from the Green Jay familiar to many from southern Texas).
Today was to be a special day for many reasons, but for Tom and Paul there was one encounter that will always be remembered. For two decades of birding in South America, the bizarre White-capped Tanager has managed to elude them. On at least a dozen occasions they have heard flocks of this gregarious species calling loudly nearby, but usually at sites enshrouded in mist. Today though, we had a stunning and memorable visual experience with a flock of at least five of these stunning birds. Indeed they came within thirty feet of us for at least five minutes and they seemed remarkably curious about us. The shutters were clicking madly and here are a few of my favourite memories of a sighting that was TRULY WORTH THE WAIT.
Feb 15th: Termas de Papallacta to Guango to San Isidro Lodge
Our 6 am pre-breakfast walk was aborted due to rain this morning. But after a solid buffet breakfast we pulled out of the picturesque Termas de Papallacta lodge to bird the nearby reserve upslope of the hotel. By the way this hotel has great rooms and, of course, hot pools, right outside your door... and I am happy to report that the food is now on par with the facilities.
We had some productive birding above the lodge and the clear highlight was three species of Mountain tanagers, including the scarce Masked Mountain Tanager. We also had great close studies of both Black-chested and this distinctive Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager.
After leaving Termas, we descended to Guango Lodge for lunch. This site is renowned for hummingbirds and it did not disappoint. One of the birds the lodge is well known for is the bizarre Sword-billed Hummingbird, and we had great studies of this female.
On our way downslope we stopped at a gas station before the town of Baeza and in the parking lot was an odd collection of recycling cans done up to look like clowns. I couldnt resist a photo (sorry Cathy!).
We arrived at San Isidro in time to bird the grounds for an hour or two and were rewarded with scope views of a singing male Wattled Guan. It was cool watching the guan sing in the scope and then waiting to hear its call 'arrive'.
On our way to dinner Galo showed the group the resident 'San Isidro mystery Owl' by one of the lights. This species loves to feed on large hawk moths attracted to the lights. It has affinities to both Black and White and Black-banded Owls, but differs from both in some plumage and voice characters and may be a separate species (hence the 'mystery'). It is hoped that DNA samples will answer this question soon. Regardless, it is an exceptionally beautiful bird.
Here are some of my top photos from Antisana... First a shot of the group taken at 13,500 feet with the snow and glacier covered slopes of the volcano behind.
One of the neatest things today was watching a female Andean Hillstar at her feathered lined nest. This is a hummingbird endemic to the high Andes, and it was nesting on an old shepherd shack (which also had a roosting Barn Owl!).
Next a truly stunning bird of prey, the Carunculated Caracara (great name too). This adult was one of over a hundred we say on the high paramo. Unlike most birds of prey, they love to walk around and dig for large insects and mice.
Our local guide Galo noted that the last time he had seen the globally threatened Black-faced Ibis was a year ago when he and I visited here. He said the birds had been absent in his subsequent visits and all the groups since had missed them. However sharp eyed Paul found one walking right near the road, and then we found another group of twelve and another singleton.
Many of the birds here are brown or gray and often hard to see and photograph. This Paramo Ground Tyrant (a type of flycatcher) was an exception. This was techinically probably by best image of the day.
After our swing down the west slope we are briefly back in Quito before heading to the east slope for the second half of the trip. Hummingbirds have been a hit as expected with a respectable 35 species already tallied by the group. This Booted Racket tail male is one of the showstoppers!
FEB 13th: MINDO to
Well it is the rainy season...
Well it is the rainy season...
Friday the 13th finally saw our luck with rain change. After three days of mostly dodging the rain, we struggled with trail and roadside birding for the entire morning, though we had good success at Mindo Loma, Bellavista and Tony Nunnerys in the Tandayapa valley. Of course, all three of these locales provided covered shelter to watch superb hummingbird feeders! The shutters were clicking today and we got not one, or two, but three coffee breaks. I used my new camera to try and get a few hummer pics. Here are the ones I liked the best.
The day ended well when we returned to the drier central valley near
Today we had a really early start with the coffee hounds meeting at 4:15 am for their first jolt and then everyone on the bus by 4:30 am. Just about everyone dozed during the ninety minute drive to the beginning of the gravel access road to Rio Silanche reserve (a Mindo Cloud Forest reserve).
The day began well with a wonderful first light chorus of Little Tinamous, Common Potoo and both Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots. After our box breakfast we started things off with a bang when everyone got to watch a Scaly-breasted Wren sing its haunting song from a mossy log in the forest understorey. Wow!
Today was a big day for the list to swell and we had many great birds. We found a great ant swarm with both Bicolored and Immaculate Antbirds. I couldn’t get a pic of either but below is a shot of Bicolored from
It was definitely an antbird day and almost everyone got to see six species of antbirds today: Bicolored Antbird, Immaculate Antbird (male and female), Checker-throated Antwren (male and female), Dot-winged Antwren (male), White-fringed Antwren (male and female) and Chestnut-backed Antbird (male). Another three species were heard but not seen. Other top sightings today included a showy band of Purple-throated Fruitcrows, a band of White-fronted Capuchin monkeys (a life mammal for Tom and Paul), and crippling views of a male White-bearded Manakin.
Perhaps the most exciting find was a gorgeous small colubrid snake (to be identified) that I spotted sunning on the road. This pic was taken by Paul though the finger in there is mine!
We pulled out at 6 am this morning and headed directly to
We lunched at the restaurant Rio Los Blancos, which has great fruit and hummingbird feeders. We tallied eight species of tanagers (and allies) including this male Orange-bellied Euphonia.
FEB 10th: ANGEL PAZ (morning) and RIO LOS BLANCOS (lunch and early pm)
A very early 4 am breakfast call this morning and 4:30 am departure for Angel Paz antpitta reserve. This privately owned site is famous for the work of brothers Angel and Rodrigo who bait in several species of antpittas with worms.
The road in can only be described as tortuous! Still our driver Luis got us to the trailhead to meeting the brothers at 5:30 am. There were many highlights today but Maria the Giant Antpitta was certainly the best for most folks. Other highlights were not one but two White-faced Nunbirds, several Olivaceous Pihas, Toucan Barbets, Cock of the Rocks, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, and Golden-winged Manakin! Here are a couple of photos showing Maria close up, and the group in the shelter waiting for Maria.
Our trip began this morning with a 5:30 am breakfast buffer at the Sheraton (opened early for us) and then a 6 am meeting with Galo, our guide, and Luis our bus driver. We packed up the bus and headed out of the city before traffic began, winding our way up the towards the Jocotoco reserve at Yanacocha. This is one of the few places where high temperate forest still persists, as much has been cleared for pastureland.
One of the highlights this morning was scope views of a Tawny Antpitta singing from the top of a bush as soon as we got off the bus.
Among the many great birds today one of the most popular was the incomparable Sword-billed Hummingbird. I didn’t tote my camera all the way down the trail, but this is a pic I took the previous year of the same species. It gives you a clear idea of why the bird makes such an impression… As my good friend Paul says “the beak, with the bird attached”.
Another highlight was a nice male Barred Fruiteater which had good close views of on our return walk from the hummingbird feeders. Again no camera, but this photo was taken at the same place at the same time of year, just two years prior.
We flew in Guayaquil and got a transfer with a rather crazy driver. He had a propensity for spending far too much time in the oncoming lane, and surely must have gone through at least one set of brakes a week! Our journey with him ended short of the lodge when the only access road was blocked by a protest at a small beach town. This was a blessing in disquise!
The protest was over the closure of the local fish plants due to contamination of waters in the area.
We were allowed to wheel our luggage along the road past the protest, but no vehicles were allowed to pass. On the other side we were met by another (much better) driver. We arrived at the Atamari and had two and a half great days of relaxation there. The birding was pretty good and it was fun to watch the constant parade of vultures and frigatebirds that passed by at eye level.
After lots of cloud and some rain in the mountains it was great to enjoy some nice heat and sun at the resort. Here is a sunset just for you Ethan!
I would be amiss not to mention the return journey from the lodge to Quito. We decided to get a transfer to the Manta airport which was only a two hour drive. Our driver was supposed to arrive at 5:30 am but was late... and yes it was the maniac who had brought us most of the way from Guayaquil... a recipe for stress to be sure. The two hour ride was terrifying at times as he hurtled around corners at high speed, several times almost hitting a horse... a mule... a dog... and finally we were sure that a pig was surely toast. However a screeching four wheel skid saved the porkers appointed date with the bbq for another day. We both were massively relieved to arrive at the airport and bid this idiot goodbye! The flight on Tame to Quito was a smooth and comfortable contrast to this and we now are happily relaxing at the Sheraton.
Finally back in Quito after a long bout without email. Here is a brief update on the last few days which have been great. We wrapped up the southern trip today and I am heading to the Atamari resort on the beach for a few days r and r, then back for a tour of the north next week.
COPALINGA - Feb 2
My final full day here began with a real exciting find. Spotlighting before breakfast produced a life mammal - a tiny tree possum. I managed to get decent enough images to hopefully identify it with the help of Catherine, the property owner.
We spent the morning at the national park and although we picked up some specialties we got rained on and were pretty much soaked. In fact the heavy rain had brought down a tree across the road so we all had to tug and pull to get it off the road. Here is a photo of our driver Luis, who clearly does not like the rain!
We dried off back at the lodge and spent several hours just enjoying the steady parade of birds at the feeders. One of the neatest birds that visited occasionally was this Orange-billed Sparrow.
Another surprising visitor for some of the group was the Swainson's Thrush. This bird is a common migrant in southern Ontario in May but spends winters here.
COPALINGA (near ZAMORA) - Feb 1
We arrived at the comfortable and birdy Copalinga lodge mid afternoon yesterday. This site is on the east slope of the Andes at around 1000 m and offers a totally new set of birds. Catherine and Baldwin, the owners, have done a superb job of catering to the needs of birders and ecotourists here - one of the best places I have ever visited. The birding on the grounds is superb, with fruit and nectar feeders, plantings around the grounds and trails on their extensive property - it is pretty much paradise. In fact it was hard to pull the group away to bird the nearby national park.
This stunning Green and Gold Tanager is one of the host of colorful species that are regularly seen here.
The planted verbana hedges here provide feeding sites for several scarce hummingbirds including the Spangled Coquette. This was a new bird for me.
In addition to hummingbirds the plantings attract many insects including a wide variety of butterflies. This skipper is not one of the most colorful but I liked the image because you see the butterfly nectaring.
TAPICHALACA - Jan 30th
Today was to be one of the earliest and most memorable days of the trip. We left the Tierra Madre at 5 am and headed south to the Jocotoco foundation reserve of Tapichalaca. Our target here was the bird that changed the face of ecotourism forever in Ecuador - the Jocotoco Antpitta. This distinctive species rocked the birding world just ten years ago when it was first discovered in southern Ecuador. The Jocotoco foundation was created to save this globally rare species. Since then the foundation has grown in just ten years to hold 50,000 acres in eleven reserves in some of the most important habitats in the country.
We made the forty minute difficult hike into the area where the antpittas are regularly fed with worms collected by foundation staff. It was a magical experience as both Jocotoco Antpittas and Chestnut-naped Antpittas fed at our feet... something we will never forget.
Here an adult (known as Panchita) stands waiting for a worm!
Here is a close up of the adult taken with the G9 point and shoot!
Here is a juvenile Jocotoco which is fully grown. Note the fine brown barring on the crown and less distinct while cheek patch.
Here is the happy group of Jocotoco watchers at the feeding station.
After viewing the antpittas we enjoyed some great birding on the road down to the town of Valadolid. At the foundation lodge we enjoyed coffee and some great hummingbird viewing at their feeders. This male Flame-throated Sunangel was one of my favourites.
MACARA to VILCABAMBA Jan 29th
After leaving Buenaventura we spent two nights in the crusty border town (with Peru) of Macara. Luckily we were booked into a brand new hotel which was spotless and roomy (good rooms are impossible here). We birded Jorupe reserve and did well with most of the local specialties. The highlight for me was the day we left though, when we ascended through the fog in early morning towards Utuana reserve. We began at 500 m elevation in Macara in rain and fog, but when we reached about 2000 m elevation above Sorozanga we emerged from the fog and below us lay a magical layer of clouds and early morning light. Simply breathtaking. If Ethan was here he would have done it true justice, but even the little G9 gives a good image.
We arrived in the 'blue zone' town of Vilcabamba (known for the longevity of its residents) in late afternoon, and checked into the Tierra Madre spa and hotel. It was a great base for accessing the Jocotoco foundation reserve about an hour to the south. Here some of the ladies enjoy a nice glass of white wine in the bar (who says we only watch birds?)