content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
by Mark Mulhollam
Day One :Arrival at 10:00 p.m. Night at Pifo.
Day Two : Papallacta Pass. Night at Pifo.
Day Three : Pifo to Cuenca. Stop at Lago de Colta. Night in Cuenca.
Day Four : El Cajas and Gualaceo. Night in Gualaceo.
Day Five : Cuenca to Loja. Huashapamba, Cajanuma entrance of Podocarpus Park.
Day Six : Cajanuma all day. Night in Loja.
Day Seven : Loja to Zamora. San Francisco, Bombuscara, Podocarpus Park.
Day Eight : Zamora to Vilcabamba.
Day Nine : Yangana Pass, Quebrada Honda, Cerro Toledo. Night in Vilcabamba.
Day Ten : Vilcabamba to Cariamanga. Quebrada Honda.
Day Eleven : Cariamanga to Macara. Utuana.
Day Twelve : Tambo Negro, Q. Yaguana and Suquinda, Utuana. Night in Macara.
Day Thirteen : Macara to Pinas. El Empalme.
Day Fourteen : Pinas to Naranjal. Buenaventura.
Day Fifteen : Naranjal to Quito. Laguna El Canclon marshes, Tinalandia lunch.
Online version of this trip report. [www.tc.umn.edu/~mulho005]
By my count, we saw 371 spp. and an additional 54 heard only with a handful of glimpses not put in either category. This included an incredible 42 spp. of hummers! This "high" number is probably more a result of sampling a number of habitats (although no time was spent in the eastern lowlands) than birding skill considering the longer travel times spent in the south. Of course, there are over 1,579 spp. of birds that have been recorded in Ecuador and counting!! [According to Ridgely, R.S., P.J. Greenfield & M. Guerrero G. 1998. An Annotated List of the Birds of Mainland Ecuador. Fundacion Ornitologica del Ecuador, CECIA. Quito 155pp., p. vii. - I have added one for the antpitta, see also Auk for a recent Pygmy-Owl split] ["Endemic" is used herein in the same sense as in the "Annotated List"]
As this was my fourth trip to Ecuador, I wanted to go to the south for the first time. I knew that this would result in longer drives and perhaps more hassles, such as poor accommodations. But the accommodations were quite satisfactory and in the case of the Hosteria de Vilcabamba, opulent. Even in Zamora the hotel was adequate. There was one place though where a pig was butchered very early in the next morning on the street next door. It protested. Generally, the weather was favorable. Jonas said that the rains had started earlier than usual - this may have resulted in earlier breeding and less singing. There wasn't alot of singing at the time of this trip. Nevertheless, we were able to see most of the birds quite well. In particular, I have never had a trip where I have ultimately seen ALL of the colors for as many of the hummers as I did on this trip. In addition, I was able to pick up one greatly wanted bird (Masked Mtn-Tanager, upper Gualaceo road) and get great looks at some that I had seen before but not well (such as Golden-crowned Tanagers, roadside at the Yangana Pass) and there were surprises, like the Black-crested Tit-Tyrant at Utuana and the Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper at ... (you'll see).
As I said, we missed some things because of reduced activity I think but what we did see was often spectacular and prolonged. Such as the Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaners at Quebradas Yaguana and Suquinda, the abundant Tit-like Dacnises at El Cajas, Laguna Illinocha, Giant Conebill at El Cajas and the Chestnut-naped Antpittas at Cajanuma, Podocarpus. If you are in the area, two lesser known places which I highly recommend are Utuana (Day 11) and the El Empalme decidous forest in the rainy season (Day 13). Although the birds are largely the same at El Cajas and similar habitat in the Papallacta Pass region, you are immersed in the scenery at El Cajas and the birding is better in the sense that there are places with low scattered trees or bushes that allow repeated and close looks at the birds. Plus El Cajas is 30 minutes from downtown Cuenca.
A note about the elevation reports - I have an altimeter watch which seemed to be reasonably accurate according to known elevations but take with a grain of salt. Aids to compiling this report were the aforementioned "Annotated List" and "A Guide to Bird-watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands" by Brinley Best, Robert Williams and Tom Heijnen. Finally, due to time and space constraints, I do not attempt to list every bird here seen. I won't, for example, recount where we saw Great Thrushes or the swallows or the whitestarts, etc., etc., unless I think it is noteworthy. Ditto for heard birds. I usually do not discriminate between birds seen by only one member or by multiple members. (m/f) refers to male and female seen, (f) only female seen, etc., and (h) means heard only.
DAY ONE : Arrival
Arrival at 10:00 p.m. in Quito, left Minneapolis around 10:00 a.m. Unfortunately, all of Carol's checked baggage is lost by Continental somewhere between Houston and Quito. It is my guess that it simply was not taken off the plane in Quito and went with it to Guayaquil. Wisely, Carol had her binocs, weather gear and bird books, etc. in carry-on so the loss was not catastrophic. BTW, we had originally planned to fly through to Guayaquil until Continental inexplicably raised that price by $400 each just before we booked the tickets. It actually cost $400 more to stay on the plane and go from Quito to Guayaquil then to deplane in Quito. Losing the luggage would necessitate some schedule changes. Met by Jonas at airport, transport to Pifo and Friendship Heights.
DAY TWO : Papallacta Pass
Originally we were to get up early and drive towards Cuenca this day. In the hopes that the luggage was found overnight, we decided to stay in the Quito area for a day. So we birded the Papallacta Pass region in the morning and made various luggage arrangements and purchases in the afternoon. No Seedsnipes at the top of the pass this time - reportedly the road up Antisana is a good place to see them now. Robert's veritable finca (Friendship Heights = FH below) has many flowers and a couple of feeders and quite a number of good birds can be seen right on or near his property. Continental said the luggage was in Houston - er, wrong continent, guys. The plan is to have the luggage delivered to the Cuenca airport; we will be in Cuenca for the next couple of days.
The talk that evening is of the planned workers' strike which could close everything down tomorrow including the roads. Night at Pifo. Birds seen this day include: Andean Teal Variable Hawk Andean Guan (h) Andean Gull Eared Dove Scaly Ground-Dove White-collared Swift Chestnut-collared Swift Sparkling Violetear (FH) Ecuadorian Hillstar Mountain Velvetbreast Great Sapphirewing Black-tailed Trainbearer (FH) Viridian Metaltail Tyrian Metaltail Blue-mantled Thornbill Long-tailed Slyph White-bellied Woodstar (FH) Masked/Highland Trogon Stout-billed Cinclodes Bar-winged Cinclodes Andean Tit-Spinetail (h) Azara's Spinetail White-chinned Thistletail Many-striped Canastero Strong-billed Woodcreeper Tawny Antpitta Paramo Tapaculo (h) White-throated Tyrannulet White-banded Tyrannulet Tufted Tit-Tyrant Cinnamon Flycatcher Black Phoebe Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant (h) Smoky Bush-Tyrant (h) Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant Turquoise Jay Great Thrush Grass Wren (h) Plain-tailed Wren (h) Mountain Wren (h) Blackburnian Warbler Slate-throated Whitestart Spectacled Whitestart Black-crested Warbler Russet-crowned Warbler Cinerous Conebill Masked Flower-piercer Black Flower-piercer Rusty Flower-piercer (FH) Scarlet-bellied Mtn-Tanager Lacrimose Mtn-Tanager Hooded Mtn-Tanager Black-capped Hemispingus Superciliaried Hemispingus Southern Yellow-Grosbeak Band-tailed Seedeater Plumbeous Sierra-Finch Pale-naped Brush-Finch Slaty Brush-Finch Northern Mtn-Cacique Hooded Siskin
DAY THREE : Pifo to Cuenca (Lago de Colta)
Drive from Pifo to Cuenca today. Although there are lots of strike signs, still smouldering tires and various rocks and trees laid across parts of the road, travel is easy and unusually light. We stop at the Lago de Colta, where the reputed oldest church in Ecuador stands. Built in 1534. The drive from Quito to Cuenca takes place in the inter-andean zone which is quite dry, the Chiguanco Thrush replaces the Great Thrush, for instance.
The Colta provides many birds, including very close looks at a Giant Hummer perched on a cactus. Hidden in the tall reeds lurks a Subtropical Doradito, which I must confess I had no idea was a possibility on this trip - but only Jonas sees it. Two women in red and purple were stacking reeds on a reed boat. We continued on through Guamote, Alausi, Chunchi, El Tambo, Biblian with its Catholic monastery looming over the city in the mist, and Azogues. The drive from Quito to Cuenca took about 9 1/2 hours in light traffic (not including the time spent at Lago de Colta). Night at the Hotel del Chordeleg. The hostal has a large sunroofed courtyard into which most rooms open with a little restaurant just outside your room. The restaurant was not open due to the after-effects of the national strike. Lago de Colta birds: Great Egret Snowy Egret Striated Heron Cattle Egret Purple Gallinule Common Gallinule Andean Coot Greater Yellowlegs Spotted Sandpiper Lesser Rail (a possible split from Virginia) Andean Gull Giant Hummer Subtropical Doradito Barn Swallow Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch Band-tailed Sierrra-Finch Other birds seen this day : Yellow-billed Pintail (may have been at the Colta) American Kestrel Sparkling Violetear Black-tailed Trainbearer Crimson-mantled Woodpecker Vermilion Flycatcher Blue-and-yellow Tanager (a flyby)
DAY FOUR : El Cajas and Gualaceo-Limon road.
El Cajas in the a.m. and to the top part of the Gualaceo-Limon road in the p.m. El Cajas is very beautiful with many of the same birds as the Papallacta elevation and is dappled with Polylepis groves. Our first stop was at the Laguna Illinocha (3775 m) which is just past the Laguna Toreadora. It was crawling with Tit-like Dacnises (not found in the north for some reason) (in the Gynoxys trees, mixed with Polylepis), many males chasing each other and females. Other notables were an Andean Duck (m/f), Blue-mantled Thornbill, Unicolored Tapaculo, Plain-colored Seedeater and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.
Slightly lower down we had very good birding on a roadside hill which abutted a Polylepis grove which was fenced off. This gentle hill had many flat spots and scattered bushes and trees which afforded good looks at everything. The elevation was 3600 m. We had fantastic looks at a Giant Conebill, which put to shame the plate in Birds of the High Andes (sorry, a political comment, why do all the birds therein look rain-soaked?). Other birds here included: Carunculated Caracara (immature, very high) Ecuadorian Hillstar Shining Sunbeam Violet-throated Metaltail Tyrian Metaltail Andean Tit-Spinetail White-chinned Thistletail Many-striped Canastero Tawny Antpitta (yellowish throat) White-throated Tyrannulet Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant (h) Red-crested Cotinga (very good looks at a pair, white on the rump) Grass Wren (h) I think it was a female Violet-throated Metaltail that became my basic bird unit. This is a southern Ecuador endemic but not much to look at.
Since I am not interested in a bird list per se, I would trade 12 female V-thr Metaltails for one male Ecuadorian Hillstar and 45 V-thr Metaltails for one Giant Conebill, etc. At lunch outside Cuenca we added Croaking Ground-Dove and Purple-collared Woodstar (f). Jonas also introduced the European concept of the "Noble List" - a list for birds you have found yourself, no stake-outs. The airport was closed so no baggage - it was Saturday! Later, Continental claimed the luggage did get to Cuenca, but since we would be leaving Cuenca the next morning, Sunday, the plan now was to just send it back to Quito and pick it up on departure.
In the afternoon, we went to the upper reaches of the Gualaceo-Limon road @ 3220 m. just over the pass. Almost immediately we saw a Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and I caught the full colors of the beard on one turn. This was already quite a day but we were hoping for a mythical bird pictured on the cover of the Birds of Columbia - you should have guessed it by now. And soon we had a little "flock" which included a pair of Masked Mtn-Tanagers with a pretty nice bonus of Black-backed Bush-Tanagers and Glossy Flower-Piercers! Other birds here included Neblina Metaltail, Great Sapphirewing (f), Rufous Antpitta, Paramo Tapaculo, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch. All-in-all, a very good first full day of birding. Night in Gualaceo at the Hostal Molina - nice, two beds in each room, TV, gated parking. [Avenida el Parador y Los Incas, 255-048 or 255-049] Other birds seen this day: Andean Teal Andean Coot Sparkling Violetear Black-tailed Trainbearer Violet-throated Metaltail Stout-billed Cinclodes Bar-winged Cinclodes Vermilion Flycatcher Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant Turquoise Jay Black Flower-piercer Rusty Flower-piercer Buff-breasted Mtn-Tanager (h) Hooded Siskin
DAY FIVE : Cuenca to Ona to Loja. Huashapamba and Cajanuma.
We made a breakfast birding stop not far outside Cuenca. Here before jogurt we had such birds as Scarlet-bellied and Lacrimose Mtn-Tanagers, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, Pearled Treerunner and Turquoise Jays. Between Ona and Saraguro we saw our first Purple-throated Sunangel, Peruvian Meadowlark and Groove-billed Ani. We had lunch (probably chicken) in Saraguro on a Sunday. The people were out in their traditional black and blue dresses and coats - very striking. After lunch we stopped at the Bosque Nativo Huashapamba (2800 - 3000 m), a forested reserve with trails which is about 7 km south of Saraguro. The big catch here (thanks to Carol) was a Gray-breasted Mtn-Toucan feeding solitarily in a treetop, good thing too, it was the only one we would see.
Other birds included two Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles, Slate-crowned Antpitta (h), Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant (h), and White-sided Flower-piercer. We didn't get to the Cajanuma entrance of Podocarpus Park until 5:00 p.m. after first finding our hotel in Loja. It was a beautiful sunny evening and we saw quite a bit this afternoon in the short time available. It would have been a perfect day to hike up to the top on the El Mirador trail. Birds we saw this afternoon included Bearded Guan on the road in, Band-tailed Pigeons in fluttering flight display, Scaly-naped Amazon, Band-winged Nightjar, Collared Inca, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummer (Carol only), Flame-throated Sunangel, Undulated, Chestnut-crowned, Chestnut-naped and Rufous Antpittas (all heard), Chusquea and Ocellated Tapaculo (h), Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Barred Fruiteater (h), Citrine and Black-crested Warblers, Blue-and-black Tanager, and Hooded Mtn-Tanager.
We stayed at the nice Hotel Podocarpus in Loja, it has locked parking as did all hotels at which we stayed. [Jose Antonio Eguiguren 16 50 entre 18 de Noviembre y Av. Universitaria, 581-428, 579-776 or 584-912] Other birds seen this day include: American Kestrel Eared Dove White-tipped Dove White-collared Swift Chestnut-collared Swift Sparkling Violetear Shining Sunbeam Mtn Velvetbreast Gorgeted Sunangel Black-tailed Trainbearer Crimson-mantled Woodpecker Ash-colored Tapaculo (h) White-crested Elaenia Tufted Tit-Tyrant Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant Chiguanco Thrush Masked Flower-piercer Black Flower-piercer Plain-colored Seedeater Hooded Siskin
DAY SIX : Cajanuma all day.
Back through the Cajanuma entrance this morning. It takes about 45 minutes to get from Loja to the park entrance. It was foggy and windy in the a.m. and not very good birding. It cleared in the afternoon except on the top where it got worse later in the day. At lunchtime Carol and Jonas went back to town to make more calls regarding the luggage and buy some more clothes. While they were running errands I took the opportunity to climb the El Mirador trail to the top. As I mentioned it was reasonably clear when I got to the top but got progressively worse while I was there. Bad enough I saw no birds on top but the views and stunted elfin vegetation are spectacular.
The trail starts at the ranger station at 2750 m and exits forest at 2965 m and from there is gradual, at least nearby. I highly recommend walking the trail no matter the weather conditions. The trail on top can be quite narrow as it goes up a ridge edge and if particularly windy could be more than you care for. Apparently, you can "camp out" in the station if you ask, it appeared well tended - bring your own sleeping supplies and food. But the treat was the pair of Chestnut-naped Antpittas I watched on and just off the trail for as long as I wished.
I was first attracted to some Russet-crowned Warblers in the area and while peering into a trailside bamboo thicket I realized I was looking at an antpitta looking at me perched at about two feet high with another perched slightly behind it. They eventually hopped repeatedly onto the trail in good light until I finally walked off. BTW, one of the warblers had a yellow ring around its left leg. Via neoorn-l listserv I was able to track down the probable bander with the info. The Antpittas were amazing, with silvery legs, chestnut-nape, slate bellies and darker face. They are about 8.5" (22 cm) tall. This may have been the birding experience of the trip for me. We stayed at the Podocarpus Hotel again and ate at the very nice Cafe Azul about three blocks away.
Other birds we saw today included : Bearded Guan Andean Pygmy-Owl (on a telephone wire just outside town, seen at mid-day - it would still be there two days later for me to see) Mountain Velvetbreast Buff-winged Starfrontlet (f) Rainbow Starfrontlet Flame-throated Sunangel Glowing Puffleg Booted Racket-tail (h) Purple-backed Thornbill (Jonas) Tyrian Metaltail Golden-headed Quetzal (h) Rufous Spinetail (h) Pearled Treerunner Streaked Tuftedcheek Rufous Antpitta Slate-crowned Antpitta (h) White-crested Elaenia White-banded Tyrannulet Rufous-brested Chat-Tyrant Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant Black-and-white Becard Barred Fruiteater (h) Rufous Wren Plain-tailed Wren Blue-backed Conebill Masked Flower-piercer Lacrimose Mtn-Tanager Hooded Mtn-Tanager Buff-breasted Mtn-Tanager (h) Blue-capped Tanager Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager Black-capped Hemispingus Black-headed Hemispingus Grass-green Tanager Northern Mtn-Cacique Yellow-billed Cacique
DAY SEVEN : Loja to San Francisco to Zamora. Bombuscara, Podocarpus Park.
We left Loja early to stop at San Francisco (2100 m), which has an old ranger station of sorts and trails and lies along the road between Loja to Zamora. It is part of Podocarpus Park. Birders frequently stop here because it apparently represents an elevation difficult to access elsewhere in the park. The trails are narrow and steep in places. It rained quite a bit while we were there so we didn't see much. Highlights were Collared Inca, very good looks at Amethyst-throated Sunangel, a possible Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Long-tailed Slyph, Golden-headed Quetzal (h), a probable Emerald Toucanet diving through the forest, Streaked Tuftedcheek (h), Strong-billed Woodcreeper (h), Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant (h), Flavescent Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant (h), Andean Solitaire, Plain-tailed Wren (h), Blackburnian Warbler, Russet-crowned Warbler, Beryl-spangled, Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced Tanagers. We also saw Russet-backed Oropendolas along this road.
We reached Zamora around noon and got rooms at the Hotel Gimyfa which was in the process of redecorating but had cable and 2 beds per room. There is a discoteque on the ground floor but it was not operating while we were there. However, due to the celebration of Amazonas Day there was music in the town square until early in the a.m. We had dinner at Don Pepe's, a short walk from the hotel, which was very good with large proportions. After lunch we went to the Bombuscara entrance of Podocarpus Park. Keep your entrance fee receipt from either Bombuscara or Cajanuma - one fee is good at both and they will check. This was our first birding at this low of an elevation and most of the birds were new. The birding is surprisingly good here considering how close to the town and forest edge the entrance and trails are.
This afternoon's highlights were White-breasted Parakeet (an endemic which we saw well both days here) Wire-crested Thorntail Fork-tailed Woodnymph (f) Andean Emerald (tiny but in a scope) Ecuadorian Piedtail (singing and displaying) Violet-fronted Brilliant Collared Trogon Coppery-chested Jacamar (poor looks) Chestnut-tipped Toucanet Yellow-tufted Woodpecker Mottle-backed Elaenia (good looks) Ornate Flycatcher White-breasted Wood-Wren Orange-bellied Euphonia Black-faced Dacnis Buff-throated and Grayish Saltators Black-and White Seedeater Chestnut-bellied Seedeater Yellow-browed Sparrow Tanagers : Orange-eared, Paradise, Green-and-Gold, Golden, Spotted, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Bay-headed, Swallow, Blue-gray, Silver-beaked, Summer, White-lined, Ashy-throated Bush-, Yellow-throated Bush-, and Magpie.
Other birds seen at Bombuscara include: Squirrel Cuckoo Green Violetear (h) Dark-breasted Spinetail (h) White-backed Fire-eye (h) Blackish Tapaculo (h) Northern White-crowned Tapaculo (h) Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet Ochre-bellied Tyrannulet Slaty-capped Flycatcher Olive-chested Flycatcher (h) Black Phoebe Social Flycatcher Piratic Flycatcher (h) Tropical Kingbird Green Jay Brown-capped Vireo Olivaceous Greenlet (h) Swainson's Thrush Black-billed Thrush White-necked Thrush (h) White-banded Swallow Tropical Parula Bananaquit Bronze-green Euphonia (h) Blue-black Grassquit Orange-billed Sparrow (probable heard) Subtropical Cacique (h)
DAY EIGHT : Bombuscara a.m., drive to Vilcabamba in the p.m.
We started the day back at Bombuscara. I will only mention birds for this day that were not seen the previous afternoon. Many good birds were seen but not by everyone for on the gentle wooded trails we spent significant time apart. We met two American couples spending a month traveling and birding in Ecuador the day before. They were back this morning but one fellow had to stay in the vehicle nursing a bad stomach - don't eat food cooked on a street cart! Of note were the three White-breasted Parakeets that landed in view below the canopy. The previous day we saw them at the big overlook. Thereafter, Jonas had a stake-out for a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper which was nesting under a little waterfall. I saw it in flight once, low above the water, and very briefly when it landed on an exposed rock with a single fern leaf to obscure it. This bird is difficult to find in this part of Ecuador. And then, in order, one or another of us saw an Amazonian Umbrellabird (f), a Highland Motmot on the handrail of the little bridge which crosses the small creek, Black-streaked Puffbird, and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (f) - which landed very close to me for a couple of minutes while I was sitting quietly waiting for the Puffbird to move. That's four pretty special birds - I remain amazed at the selection of birds at this place so close to the city outskirts.
I also saw an Olive Finch when by myself (Jonas teased me later when I described the bird, that I hadn't got the others, but in my defense they walked away from me when we were still seeing birds - I didn't realize this is a difficult bird to find). We also saw a female Scale-backed Antbird and two male and one female Blue-rumped Manakins. Other new birds for the day were Ruddy Pigeon, Blackish Nightjar, Booted Racket-tail (h), Black-billed Treehunter (h), Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Blackish Antbird (h), Short-tailed Antthrush (h), White-capped Dipper (I'm still not sure I believe they don't go underwater?), Barn Swallow, and Buff-rumped Warbler. We then made our way to Vilcabamba by way of Loja and Malacatos picking up Torrent Tyrannulet on the way.
In Malacatos, the painted sign gives you the year-round temperature, 19 degrees C, and the altitude, 1700 m. Malacatos calls itself the "Valle de la Eterna Primavera." Along the way we saw Plain-breasted Hawk and that Andean Pygmy Owl was still perched on the telephone line on the outskirts of Loja for me. We reached Vilcabamba and our base for two nights at 4:00 p.m. We stayed at the luxurious Hosteria de Vilcabamba with huge rooms in a separate building for all of $12 per night per person. [P.O. Box Loja 107, Vilcabamba-Loja-Ecuador; (593-7) 580-271 or 272; fax: -273] The only bad note was their habit of washing down the stone floors of the restaurant with gasoline - sit near the door if they are still doing this! The food was excellent. On or near the Hosteria grounds themselves were Saffron Finch, Amazilia Hummer, White-bellied Woodstar, Yellow-tailed Oriole (h), Pacific Hornero, Scrub Blackbird, Shiny Cowbird and Ecuadorian Thrush (h).
DAY NINE : Yangana Pass, Quebrada Honda and above Valladolid.
Yangana Pass is between Vilcabamba and Quebrada Honda and lies at approximately 2700 m. It is roughly 45 minutes from Vilcabamba. We had good weather in the morning and saw three Golden-crowned Tanagers right along the roadside. I had seen these before but only from a distance and not well as they seem to like to forage quite low in bushy areas. The Golden-crowned is one of the most beautiful of tropical birds in my estimation. Deep velvety purplish-blue backs and bellies, black head, chestnut vent and golden skull caps! We also heard Mouse-colored Thistletails and Rufous Antpittas and saw White-sided Flower-piercers and Black-headed Hemispingus here.
We continued on to Quebrada Honda, home to the Jocotoco, aka the _____ Antpitta. This bird was only recently discovered, it is one of the large Grallaria - white bellied and cheeked, black on the rest of the head and back, kind of like an Emperor Penguin - I am judging from the Fundacion Jocotoco, Limite de la Reserva signs that mark the borders of the reserve set aside for protection of its habitat. Jocotoco is the local name for the bird based on its call, a low repeated "hoot". Unfortunately, this bird of the trip (or millenium) never materialized - although I heard a cow imitating its call once, does that count? There were a lot of mules carrying fresh wood planks up the trail the two days we were there. Also possible here are White-capped Tanagers and Red-hooded Tanagers.
We took the trail opposite the cinder block hut at 2530 m. Birds we did see or hear were Bearded Guan (h) Golden-plumed Parakeet Collared Inca Amethyst-throated Sunangel (great looks) Flame-throated Sunangel Tyrian Metaltail Long-tailed Slyph Crimson-mantled Woodpecker Azara'a Spinetail Pearled Treerunner Chestnut-crowned and -naped and Rufous Antpittas (all h) Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant Rufous-crowned Tody-Tyrant Black-throated Tody-Tyrant Cinnamon Flycatcher (h) Smoke-colored Pewee Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant (higher) Dusky-capped Flycatcher (h) Green-and-black Fruiteater Mountain Wren Tropical Parula Blackburnian Warbler Bluish Flower-piercer Blue-and-black Tanager Lacrimose and Hooded Mtn-Tanagers Buff-breasted Mtn-Tanager (h) Blue-capped Tanager Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager Superciliaried Hemispingus Grass-green Tanager Rufous-naped Brush-Finch Northern Mtn-Cacique (h) Yellow-billed Cacique It was also here that Mark perfected his umbrella imitation of Gray-breasted Mtn-Toucan wingbeats (as identified by Jonas!).
We continued on to the town of Valladolid and beyond for lunch and more birding. The area beyond and above Valladolid is where Paul Greenfield found a Chestnut-crested Cotinga on a tour a few years back. We didn't see that but did see Red-billed Parrot (perched), White-capped Parrot (perched), White-crested Elaenia, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Bananaquit, Capped Conebill, Yellow-whiskered Bush-Tanager (h), Yellow-browed Sparrow and Giant Cowbird. BTW, we had no trouble finding marmalade for the rest of the trip. ;^)) We headed back towards Vilcabamba intending to find the road to Cerro Toledo this afternoon to take early the next morning. At the Yangana Pass area we again saw the Golden-crowned Tanagers. The Cerro Toledo road is just past the little town of Yangana (as you head towards the pass) on the left side of the road. The locals were familiar with the road.
Having found the road, the first part is not good but it soon becomes quite acceptable. Unfortunately, there had recently occurred a small landslide which prevented passage. If this has not been cleared when you get there, I would recommend parking here and walking the remaining distance to the forest, which I would roughly estimate at an hour's quick walk on a very gently sloping road to the beginning of the forest. The Cerro Toledo forest looks very good. Optionally, with shovels, the landslide could be made passable in an hour's time by a couple of people (using 4WD). We changed our plans to try Quebrada Honda again in the morning, but in retrospect, I would recommend trying to get up to Cerro Toledo - of course, I've never been there so ...
Night at Hosteria de Vilcabamba after coasting into town on our first flat tire. Other birds seen this day include Broad-winged Hawk Ruddy Pigeon Scaly-naped Amazon Glowing Puffleg White-banded Tyrannulet Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet Common Tody-Flycatcher Black Phoebe Green Jay Andean Solitaire (h) Glossy-black Thrush Fasciated Wren Citrine Warbler Black-crested Warbler Russet-crowned Warbler Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager Superciliaried Hemispingus Rufous-naped Brush-Finch Subtropical Cacique (h) Northern Mtn-Cacique (h) Hooded Siskin (h)
DAY TEN : Quebrada Honda, drive from Vilcabamba to Cariamanga
We got up at 4:40 a.m. to drive straight to Q. Honda. This takes about 1 1/2 hrs. We tried the same trail. No Jocotoco and only a few new birds for this area, notably Bearded Guans seen, the Golden-plumed Parakeets were heard today, Amethyst- and Flame-throated Sunangels seen again, Emerald Toucanet (h), Powerful Woodpecker (h), Barred Antthrush (h), Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Turquoise Jay (h), Rufous Wren, Plain-tailed Wren (h), Capped Conebill, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus, and Plushcap (always a stunner with its neon yellow headlamp). Upon returning to Yangana on the way to Vilcabamba, we saw a White-throated Hawk. Between Yangana and Vilcabamba, there are some beautiful eroded cliffsides with acacia-looking trees in the foreground. The material appears to be a soft stone that has formed many spires of different heights. When I get this on my web page, I have some nice pictures of this.
Although we had planned another day in Vilcabamba, we were always trying to gain some of the time lost due to the luggage problems, so we headed off to Cariamanga and into the deep south of Ecuador. We definitely took the back way on a little dirt road that took us through Purunuma (~ 2000 m) and Gonzanama. This passed through gradually rising dry scrub habitat in the heat of the day and yielded Eared Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Pacific Parrotlet, Groove-billed Ani, Elegant Crescent-chest (h), Chiquanco Thrush, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and Saffron Finch. We stayed the night in Cariamanga. Other birds seen this day include White-capped Parrot (h) Amazilia Hummer Mountain Velvetbreast Purple-throated Sunangel Golden-olive Woodpecker Vermilion Flycatcher Smoky Bush-Tyrant (h) Fasciated Wren Masked Flower-piercer Blue-black Grassquit
DAY ELEVEN : Cariamanga to Utuana to Macara.
Utuana was our first birding stop of the day. It is about 1 hour from Cariamanga. There are a number of specialty birds here on which we were fortunate to do well. The area lies at 2500 meters elevation. I think the entrance road is some 700 m from the edge of town. One of the first birds we saw was a Black-crested Tit-Tyrant which could be the trip bird on most trips and was for Carol on this. It has a black-streaked white breast and many black sprigs of feathers spiking up and then falling over atop its white crest. It was very beautiful sitting exposed in the sun. Another of the area specialties is Gray-headed Antbird which with a little work we saw well. Jelski's Chat-Tyrant occurs here but only Jonas saw that. The place was crawling with Rainbow Starfrontlets and with a little patience I was able to get incredible looks at all the colors. This bird is about Shining Sunbeam size with a rufous body and tail, red, yellow and green on the forehead of the otherwise green head, black throat and chest.
Well, these birds were enough but we also saw Plain-breasted Hawk White-rumped Hawk White-throated Quail-Dove (h) Red-masked Parakeet (probable) Speckled Hummer Mountain Velvetbreast Purple-throated Sunangel (many) Smoky-brown Woodpecker Rufous Spinetail (h) Line-cheeked Spinetail Spotted Barbtail (h) Montane Woodcreeper (h) Chapman's Antshrike (f/m - an endemic) Undulated, Chestnut-crowned, Watkin's and Rufous Antpittas (all h) White-crested Elaenia Dusky-capped Flycatcher (h) Red-crested Cotinga Turquoise Jay (h) Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush Black-crested Warbler Masked Flower-piercer White-sided Flower-piercer Blue-and-black Tanager Blue-capped Tanager Black-cowled Saltator (another Tumbesian endemic found only in the south) Stripe-headed Brush-Finch (h). With that list for a morning you can see why I highly recommend Utuana if you are at all close. Utuana can be easily reached from the Macara area - we did just that the following afternoon.
In the afternoon, we headed towards Macara in the far south and birded along the way. We also did some scoping out of birding spots or a river crossing near the town of Tambo Negro. Here are some of the birds we saw between Utuana and Macara: Great Egret Striped Cuckoo (h) Azara's Spinetail Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner (h) Golden-faced Tyrannulet (to be the "Loja" split?) Black-and-white Becard (m) Rufous-browed Peppershrike Brown-capped Vireo (h) Long-tailed Mockingbird Chestnut-collared Swallow Fasciated Wren Black Flower-piercer (h) Saffron Finch Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch White-winged Brush-Finch Bay-crowned Brush-Finch Yellow-billed Cacique (h) Scrub Blackbird Yellow-tailed Oriole Night in Macara, Hotel Espiga - cold water only, TV, twin beds, quiet perhaps because it rained quite hard this night. Dinner at the Restaurant D'Marcoss was good.
DAY TWELVE : Tambo Negro area, Q. Yaguana, Q. Suquinda, Utuana.
We considered crossing the river, the Rio Sabianga, just downriver from Tambo Negro - the forest across looks quite good. But with the heavy rains the night before, we decided not. I walked across to get an idea, it was up to my knees in places. As we were leaving, a truckful of workers roared across. This must be the river crossing near Tambo Negro mentioned in Best, et al. But the birding on the road between Tambo Negro and the Yaguana Road was good. Birds seen near Tambo Negro include: Pale-browed Tinamou (h) Striated Heron Great Egret Pacific Parrotlet Ringed Kingfisher Streaked Saltator Further along the road towards the Yaguana Road turnoff we saw: Harris Hawk Spotted Sandpiper Ecuadorian Ground-Dove White-tipped Dove Pallid Dove Red-masked Parakeet (binoc-filling views of just the head of one eating fruit) Gray-cheeked Parakeet Pacific Pygmy-Owls (2, one perched at roadside) Blue-crowned Motmot Collared Antshrike (many) Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet Tropical Pewee One-colored Becard (f/m) White-tailed Jays (many) Rufous-browed Peppershrike (lots at roadside eye-level, odd orange eyes) Ecuadorian Thrush Variable Seedeater Fasciated Wren
The main destinations for the day were the wooded ravines (quebradas) along the Yaguana Road. The first of these is called Quebrada Yaguana. Here we saw Rufous-headed Chachalaca chachalacking-up a hubbub, Band-tailed Pigeon, Amazilia Hummer, Golden-olive Woodpecker, the spectacular and frenzied Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner (bird of the trip?), Great Antshrike (h), Scaled Antpitta (h), Rufous-winged Tyrannulet, Smoke-colored Pewee, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, Three-banded Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, and Yellow-rumped Cacique. The next stop was just down the road at Quebrada Suquinda. Birds seen at this ravine were Squirrel Cuckoo, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, the suddenly ubiquitous Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Gray-and-gold Warbler, Thick-billed Euphonia, Hepatic Tanager again, and White-winged Brush-Finch. The Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner is another rare Tumbesian endemic. Seeing it so well now rendered the rest of the day pure gravy.
Tumbesian endemics are limited to a small portion of northern Peru and southern Ecuador. Possibilities for the quebradas calling for a return, i.e., misses, include Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner, Silver-backed Tanager, Black-and-white Tanager and Andean Slaty-Thrush. Lunch was in the town of Sozoranga which has Saffron Finches in the street and Chestnut-collared Swallows nesting on the church. We also saw Gray-breasted Martins and Rusty-margined Flycatchers here. We had planned to try to get to the El Tundo forest patch near here - the road leaves from Sozoranga, but we were told that due to the recent heavy rains, the road there was impassable even for a 4WD. So we decided to drive back to Utuana it was so good yesterday. As luck would have it, it rained heavily at Utuana, I worked on these notes. Nothing new was seen in the little time we attemped to bird, we did see lots of Bay-crowned Brush-Finches and a Slaty-crowned Nightingale-Thrush and heard Stripe-headed Brush-Finches. On the way back to Macara in the late afternoon, one roadside stop yielded good looks at a pair of Watkins' Antpitta. These birds are chestnut-capped, medium sized with streaking on the sides. My notes state that they reminded me of Kookaburras - I don't remember why though. Night at the Hotel Espiga and dinner at Restaurant D'Marcoss.
DAY THIRTEEN : Macara to El Empalme to Pinas.
The primary birding destination today was the decidous forest in the El Empalme to Celica region. Since this was in the rainy season, the trees were leafed out and the birds were quite active. Ceiba trichistandra and an acacia tree predominate. The ceibas have green swollen trunks and grow scattered over the hillsides with the smaller acacia and some tall cactus sparsely mixed in. The effect is very much one of an African dry forest, except for the fog which drifted through in the early morning. In this season White-headed Brush-Finches were all over the place and Elegant Crescent-chests and Pale-browed Tinamou were calling.
We also saw: American Kestrel Croaking Ground-Dove White-tipped and Pallid Doves Red-masked Parakeet Pacific Parrotlet Ecuadorian Piculet (just a glimpse) Azara's and Line-cheeked Spinetail (both h) Collared Antshrike Undulated and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas (h) Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant Vermilion Flycatcher Baird's Flycatchers White-tailed Jay Plumbeous-backed Thrush (Carol) Long-tailed Mockingbird Gray-breasted Martin Fasciated Wren Superciliated Wrens in the cactus Tropical Gnatcatchers and Parulas Black-lored Yellowthroat Three-banded Warbler Hepatic Tanager in Celica Saffron Finch Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch Tumbes Sparrow Saffron Siskin (one male)
We backtracked to El Empalme, had lunch in Catacocha and continued on our way through Chaguarpantha (perhaps my favorite place name on this trip), Balsas, and Zapote to Pinas. Birds seen between El Empalme and Pinas included Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets, Swallow-tailed Kites (this summer one lingered in southeastern Minnesota for some time, the first one seen in a long time, they once bred in Minnesota), Eared Dove, Striped Cuckoo (h), Short-tailed Swift, Smoky-brown Woodpecker (h), Yellow-rumped Tanager, Bay-crowned Brush-Finch, and Shiny Cowbird. Night in Pinas in the Hotel Las Orquideas.
DAY FOURTEEN : Pinas to Buenaventura to Naranjal.
The next day we were to fly home - 10:00 p.m. flight - so we could bird in the morning but needed to eat into the distance back north in the afternoon. We spent the morning in the Buenaventura forest patch off the blue roadside chapel. We could not drive very far in and hiked the main trail where we saw some good birds including: Gray-headed Kite Hook-billed Kite Swallow-tailed Kite Gray-backed Hawk (perched, endemic) Crested Caracara American Kestrel Bronze-winged Parrot (probable) White-whiskered Hermit Tawny-bellied Hermit White-tipped Sicklebill (alas, not by me) Emerald-bellied Woodnymph (f) Booted Racket-tail Violet-tailed Slyph Wedge-billed Hummer Collared Trogon (h) Rufous Motmot (h) Crimson-rumped Toucanet Azara's and Slaty Spinetail (both h) Red-faced Spinetail Pacific Tuftedcheek (hanging on a moss bundle) Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner Uniform Treehunter Streaked Xenops Wedge-billed Woodcreeper Spotted Woodcreeper Great Antshrike (f) Uniform Antshrike (h) Russet Antshrike Slaty Antwren (f/m) Immaculate Antbird (a beautiful female or immature seen at trailside) Plain-backed Antpitta (h) Golden-faced ("Loja") Tyrannulet Rufous-winged Tyrannulet Slaty-capped Flycatcher Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant (h) Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (very active) Common Tody-Flycatcher White-throated Spadebill (h) Ornate Flycatcher Bran-colored Flycatcher Smoke-colored Pewee Black-and-white Becard (f) Golden-winged Manakins (2 males, but no Club-winged Manakins were heard) Brown-capped Vireo Lesser Greenlet (oh boy) Swainson's Thrush Southern Rough-winged Swallow Whiskered Wren Bay Wren Olive-crowned Yellowthroat Orange-bellied Euphonia Golden, Bay-headed, Glistening-green, Silvery-throated, Golden-naped, Yellow-rumped, White-winged (f), Ashy-throated Bush-, and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers Buff-throated and Black-winged Saltators Yellow-bellied Seedeater Orange-billed Sparrow Scarlet-rumped Cacique (h) Scrub Blackbird. Retreating to Pinas we made our way towards Machala.
New birds for the day seen on this stretch included Muscovy Duck, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Wattled Jacana, and Pale-vented Pigeon. We drove until late, passing through Zapote, Santa Rosa, Pasaje, Goabo and stopping in Naranjal. Here Jonas was able to talk an inn-keeper into opening two rooms for us which would have been iffy if not for the ceiling fans which I left on all night. The other inn in town was unacceptable and noisy due to another local "Carnival".
DAY FIFTEEN : Naranjal to Laguna El Canclon and marshes, Tinalandia to Quito.
Our last day and we had to get back to Quito for late evening flights. We stopped at the Laguna El Canclon, part of the Reserva Ecologica Manglares-Chirute, but there was nobody there willing to accompany us around - an apparent necessity. We birded from the roadside which is busy and passes through a large marsh. We were fortunate to see four Horned Screamers perched on bushtops and many other birds including: Least Grebe Neotropic Cormorant Fulvous Whistling-Ducks in flight Muscovy Duck Cocoi, Great, Snowy and Cattle Egrets Striated and Black-crowned Night-Herons Osprey Snail Kite White-throated Crake (h) Purple Gallinule Limpkin (one in flight) Wattled Jacana Pale-vented Pigeon Pacific Parrotlet Squirrel Cuckoo Smooth-billed Ani Pacific Pygmy-Owl Ringed and Green Kingfisher Masked Water-Tyrant Fasciated Wren (h) Blue-black Grassquit Variable Seedeater Yellow-bellied Seedeater Chestnut-throated Seedeater Peruvian Meadowlark
We were able to make it to Tinalandia just in time for lunch. We were the only people there - I don't think anybody was staying there either. The place has expanded considerably since I was there some ten years ago but it is well done. Lunch was excellent and provided a Crimson-rumped Toucanet at the fruit feeder. We had time for some birding on the grounds before and after lunch which yielded: Swallow-tailed Kite Maroon-tailed Parakeet Bronze-winged Parrot White-collared Swift White-whiskered Hermit Stripe-throated Hermit Green-crowned Woodnymph (f/m) Rufous-tailed Hummer Pale-mandibled Aracari Black-cheeked Woodpecker Streak-headed Woodcreeper Pacific Streaked-Antwren Chestnut-backed Antbird (h) Golden-faced ("Loja") Tyrannulet Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet (h) Slaty-capped Flycatcher Yellow Tyrannulet Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (h) Common Tody-Flycatcher Black Phoebe Gray-capped Flycatcher Purple-throated Fruitcrow (3) Swainson's Thrush Bay Wren (h) Choco Warbler Russet-crowned Warbler Palm Tanager Yellow-rumped Tanager Dusky-faced Tanager (h) Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager Yellow-rumped Cacique Oh, and a Pacific Hornero thanks to Carol! Whereupon we suffered our second flat tire.
The highway back to Quito was bumper-to-bumper because someone reportedly went over the edge. We still made it back to Quito in time for a leisurely dinner at the airport. Continental upgraded me to first-class for the overnight to Houston. Carol got her luggage delivered to her door in Minnesota one week later. Epilogue : I was able to get through this without mentioning Roadside Hawk, Tropical Kingbird or Chestnut-collared Sparrow! Oh, darn ...
Click here for photos of Ecuadorian birds on Martin Reid's web site.
Click here for some nice maps of the south (and another trip report covering many of the same places), at John van der Woude's web page.