• Bill West

ECUADOR OCTOBER 2010


Our tour to Ecuador overcame a rocky start with the closure of the Quito airport two days before the planned start. Carmen Bustamante, our co-ordinator in Ecuador, convinced me that things would quickly return to normal-and so they did. The trip began only about an hour later than planned on Oct. 1. YANACOCHA: Our first day took us up to 11,000 ft on the northwest slope of Volcan Pichincha, one of the volcanos that looms over the city of Quito. The level walk along the road through the Jocotoco Foundation Preserve was welcome given the altitude we were functioning at. We were quickly treated to great looks at an Andean Guan clambering through the lush vegetation on the slope above us. Seems too tropical a bird to be that high! Almost immediately, our guide Gabriel called in a Rufous Antpitta. With great patience, he lured the bird into one of the few openings on the slope. Amazingly, the bird lingered just long enough for all to have a decent look. After some further walking, a mixed species group swirled past with Hooded Mountain Tanager and Superciliared Hemispingus (say that 10 times fast) being the most prominent members of the group. Perhaps our best treat was the feeders at the end of the road where we savored the likes of Great Sapphirewing (big enough to almost count the wingbeats!) and Sword-billed Hummingbird as well as two dazzling pufflegs, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted. Though our walk back to the bus was through a hail storm, we stayed quite warm with the memories of what we had seen. RIO SILANCHE: Day two provided major contrast as we descended to the edge of the western lowlands with the Milpe Cloudforest Foundations' Rio Silanche Preserve our goal. Indeed, we began to sweat some but I think we hardly noticed as we observed White-bearded Manakin, Purple-chested Hummingbird and Purple Fairy in our first 15 minutes. Once in the forest a group of Western White-tailed Trogons "tailed" us for awhile, a Crimson-bellied Woodpecker drummed persistently enough for most of us to get a look at this impressive Campephilus, and a pair of Dot-winged Antwrens gave all good looks. A bit later, the group got split with the lead party enjoying a tangara flock that included Gray-and-Gold Tanager, while the laggards found a lively flock that included Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and two species of Myrmotherula antwrens: White-flanked and Checker-throated-hard to see but real gems when you get your bins on them. MIRADOR LOS BANCOS: While the fruit feeders were somewhat disappointing (though we had great looks at the Crimson-rumped Toucanet that had scared off all the tanagers) the hummingbird feeders were quite lively with great looks at Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Woodnymph and Andean Emerald. MILPE RESERVE: Just outside Los Bancos, we headed west to the Milpe Reserve. Lots of activity near the entrance with Swallow Tanager, Snowy-throated Kingbird, and Yellow-tufted Dacnis being the highlights. At the feeders, we enjoyed repeated visits by White-whiskered Hermit-a real treat when any of this group of forest trap-liners visits a feeder. Along the trails activity was good as we found Pallid Dove, Collared Trogon, Scaly-throated Foliage Gleaner, and a great scope view of Spotted Barbtail. SACHATAMIA LODGE: Our base for the time on the west slope provided numerous great encounters on the trails and, especially, in the parking lot. Hummers included Empress Brilliant, Sparkling Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, and, one of my favorite show-stoppers, Velvet-Purple Coronet. Even on drizzling, overcast days this hummer lights things up. The tanager show was compelling with Golden, Black-capped, Golden-naped the Flame-faced all present. The trails were quiet but we managed to call in and watch, spellbound, as Club-winged Manakin did its mind-blowing 80 taps a second drumming of its wings just a few feet over our heads. Wow. RANCHO PAZ DE AVES: What a beautiful name for a ranch and what a sanctury the Paz brothers, Angel and Rodrigo, have created. From a pre-dawn viewing (and hearing) of a raucous group of displaying Cock-of-the-Rocks, to close up views of Giant Antpitta, to Black-chinned Mountain Tanagers feeding a few feet away, to an impossible to see nest of Olivaceous Piha, to jaw-dropping views of Toucan Barbet this was certainly a magical morning. And we weren't done for on our way back to the ranch house, Angel found a pair of Orange-breasted Fruiteaters. Not to be sexist, but that male is something else! TONY AND BARBARA NUNNERY'S PLACE: Overlooking the cloud forest of the Tandayapa Valley, this property is worth a stop for the views alone. But, of course, we appreciated the hummingbird feeders, great trails and the graciousness of Tony and Barbara. Collared Inca, Violet-tailed Sylph, Buff-tailed Coronet and even the rare Little Woodstar all showed, the latter courtesy of Tony's persistence. In addition, we came upon White-winged Brushfinch, Barred Becard, and Metallic Green Tanager. Though we could hear a group of Beautiful Jays downslope, we were never able to catch a glimpse. What a great couple hours! ANTISANA NATIONAL PARK: Now on the east side of Quito, we ventured to our highest elevation of the trip (shade under 13,000'). Of our many rewards for the effort (actually easy since we drove), the most memorable were our views of Andean Condor. First one came low over a grassy ridge quite near in one of those "time stood still moments". I suppose if I said it blocked out the sun I would be guilty of gross exaggeration but I did see a daunting shadow as it flew by. Later, we watched a pair on the ground with the male performing a wing-spreading, chest bumping ritual with the female. The majesty of these birds is hard to describe. Hope they survive. Other raptors were numerous up in the paramo (ie tundra) including Variable Hawk, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle and Carunculated Caracaras. The caracaras did a bunch of walking on the ground, not sure if they were pursuing insects or rodents. I suspect the latter as it was pretty cold up there. Another plus of venturing that high was seeing a field full of Andean Lapwings with just one lone Black-faced Ibis-another endangered species of the highlands. CABANAS SAN ISIDRO: Although it seemed we drove downhill forever from Papallacta Pass (itself over 12,000'), we were still over 6,000' when we reached CSI. Our first dawn at the lodge, we didn't need alarm clocks as the Inca Jays and Subtropical Caciques handled that chore. Birding right around the lodge is great as we didn't even break a sweat while finding Highland Motmot, Black-billed Peppershrike, Azara's Spinetail and Emerald Toucanet. Besides the numerous Chestnut-breasted Coronets at the hummingbird feeders, we were shown a nice female Gorgeted Woodstar by one of the guides. After a close up of White-bellied Antpitta at the local "chumming" spot, we headed up on the road above the lodge. Marcelo, our east slope guide, displayed his great vision by spotting a Semi-collared Hawk up in the canopy. Although a member of the accipiter genus, the hawk did not deter a nice mix of songbirds foraging right below it. Good thing, as we had our only view of Plushcap for the entire trip. This bird favors bamboo which makes for tough viewing. But these two individuals came right out. Keeping them company were Bluish Flowerpiercer, Black-eared Hemispingus and Streaked Tuftedcheek. That night we ventured out in the rain on a nightjar search and, once again, Marcelo played superman and found a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar without seeing eyeshine. Despite the rain, we all had mesmerizing views of this preposterous creation through the scope. Next day we were rained out for part of the day but headed out mid afternoon for the Baeza By-pass Road. Sun came out and the tanager flocks were rockin' Saffron-crowned, Golden-eared, Beryl-spangled, Blue-necked-well, the names pretty much say it all. Throw in Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Olivaceous Siskin, and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and its safe to say we were all glad to be alive. When we finally reached the river, a Fasciated Tiger Heron was waiting for us in the middle of the torrent. Actually it was waiting for some of the small fish we watched it catch. A Cock-of-the-Rock fly by was a nice way to end the day. WILD SUMACO: Further down the east slope, in the shadow of Volcan Sumaco, is a relatively new lodge that provides an opportunity to see a host of species not seen (or not easily seen) elsewhere. The hummingbird show alone is worth a visit. Species we saw only at Wild Sumaco included Golden-tailed Sapphire, Napo Sabrewing, Wire-crested Thorntail, Gould's Jewelfront, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-throated Brilliant to name some. Other highly memorable encounters included Sapphire Quail Dove (a lifer for Marcelo), Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Black-mandibled Toucan, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black Hawk Eagle (soaring right over us), Spotted Nightingale Thrush (it's song putting me in a trance), Gilded Barbet, Blue-browed Tanager and Blue-naped Chlorophonia. SACHA LODGE: Finally we made it to the Amazon. Over half of Ecuador lies in the western Amazon Basin but it makes up only 2% of that basin!. Our boat ride down the Rio Napo got us away from the "boom" town of Coca and all the other signs of oil exploration. Sacha Lodge preserves a mix of terra firme (non-flooded) and varzea (flooded) lowland forest. With our new guide extraordinaire, Oscar Tapuy, we had three days of top notch birding. Our first morning was spent on the famed canopy tower. Actually, three solid towers connected by two not so solid suspension foot bridges. I expected to be able to bird from the walkways-no way! But the middle tower platform accomodated our group. (Sacha makes sure to schedule trips to the various parts of their preserve so that two groups aren't competing for the same spot). So many great sights-a Double-toothed Kite carrying nest sticks from a close tree to its waiting mate in another close tree; both Plum-throated and Spangled Cotingas in treetops displaying their breath taking plumage in the morning sun; a King Vulture soaring directly over the tower; Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris re-writing the rules of color combinations; Eastern Kingbirds swirling in after a long migration from eastern North America. Our forest birding on the way back to the lodge was eventful as well. Oscar knew spots for Screaming Piha, Chestnut Woodpecker and, best of all, a day roost of a pair of Crested Owls. Watching those two ancient spirits staring at us without blinking was a stirring sight. Several canoe trips were included, giving us opportunities to experience varzea birding. Plumbeous, Silvered, and Dot-backed Antbirds, Orange-crested Manakin, Little Cuckoo and a superbly beautiful Agami Heron were the highlights of that habitat. Of course, having a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys jump over the boat as they crashed through the forest was quite special as well. Our second tower experience, this time to a wooden tower built around a 4-500 year old Kapok tree, was a great way to watch the sunset while being dazzled by the likes of Opal-crowned and Opal-rumped Tanagers, Yellow-browed Tody Flycatcher, Moriche Oriole, Black-bellied Thorntail, and Black-faced Dacnis. Descending to the forest floor, Oscar led us to a night roost of Marbled Wood Quail. Hard to believe such an average size quail could have such a loud song. The last segment of our stay at Sacha was a foray back across to the south side of the Rio Napo to visit parrot licks and to look for species not found on the north side of the river. (there are a lot of specialists in the tropics!). The first clay lick was being visited by Dusky-headed Parakeets, Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons, and the most lovely Blue-headed Parrots. After we paid our entry fee to Yasuni National Park, we hiked to the second lick. Here the action was just as lively, but with a different cast-Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, and Orange-cheeked Parrot-a bird that simply explodes with color when it takes flight. Some of us then hiked up the ridge above the lick and found treasures such as Golden-headed and Striped Manakins, Yellow-browed Antbird and, lucking into a small antswarm, two White-plumed Antbirds-a bird very different from all its drab cousins. As we returned to the boat, we encountered a mixed species flock that swirled by but not before we had good looks at Cinereous Antshrike, Grayish Mourner, and Yellow-throated Woodpecker-a bird that Oscar said he rarely sees. Our Amazon time was topped off by Oscar calling in(with great persistence) a Rusty-belted Tapaculo for all to see. Viva Ecuador! Bird List Ecuador October 2010.pdf


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