27 August - 15 September 1995
by John van der Woude
After birdwatching trips to Central-America and Venezuela, we now went to Ecuador. We birded three regions, the middle elevations West of Quito, the high Andes East of Quito, and the Oriente, the lowland Amazon basin. We traveled by hired car, and stayed in all sorts of hotels and lodges. The weather was good, we had only a few days with some rain, and not so much wind as in previous trips. We had no problems with health or safety at all.
Quito airport is a convenient place for changing money (you get a very reasonable rate when changing the local money back to dollars), for making international phone calls (find the narrow stairways to the office), and for buying postcards and stamps (there is a small post office outside). Just outside is a reasonable hotel.
We had a car from Budget at the airport. We had ordered and payed the car, a Suzuki Swift, in Holland already. The service was good. When the key broke off in the trunk door the car was replaced the same day by an even newer one. They didn't charge us for that. After all, I think that with ample time, many of the visited birding areas could have been done by bus and taxi as well.
As usual, we loaded the car immediately with large bottles of drinking water. Güitig mineral water tastes good. Along the road we didn't buy so much, some bread, cheese (good, white) and some surprisingly scarce bananas. Again, we had our own cereals and milk powder. Meals in the restaurants are nothing special - just chicken or beef.
We were happy that we had taken along our rubber boots. They were rather convenient for many circumstances. But mostly we wore our sport shoes of course. We used loads of T-shirts, and several light trousers as well. High in the mountains, we wore a warm sweater and a light coat. We took along our own thin sheet bags and used them at several places.
The road conditions were, generally speaking, not so good, although managable by normal car, with ample time. The most important observation in this respect was that the so-called Loreto road is asfalted only for the upper first 35 km, and the remaining 100 km to Coca is not! In the lower Oriente, several roads are sort of surfaced with a byproduct from the oil companies. Also, note that there is a (dirt) road now from Sushufindi to Limoncocha.
The Bellavista lodge near Tandayapa (Nono-Mindo road) is a must. It is situated right in an important birding area, and we had a good time in the lodge itself as well. There is a web site about this lodge and reserve. You can mail to the owner (Richard Parsons). See photo. The lodge is situated on top of the wooded hillside.
The Hosteria El Bijao in Mindo is a nice but basic place, with a manager that quite understands the needs of birders, and with good food as well. Nevertheless, we had bed bugs there, and the palm frond roof was leaking here and there during a rainy night.
In Papallacta, we had a very basic but clean room in the hotel right at the western end of the village. On our way back, we had a cabin at the thermal pools above the village, and they were building a sort of cheap lodge there as well. This is a very convenient place for birders (with restaurant), also because you are entitled to pass the locked gate to the area higher up, a very good birding valley.
South of Baeza, we looked for a possibility to have a cabin high up on the Huacamayos ridge, but we could not find somebody with the keys. Nevertheless the cabins and the surrounding area looked promising. It is called Cabanas San Isidro, phone 446-404 in Quito beforehand, as we read at the entrance. The location is just 1 or 2 km N of Cosanga, at a sandy road (1 km) to the West. So we took the new hotel just at the southern tip of New Baeza. The room was good, but the service miserable and the other guests too noisy.
Hotel Auca in Tena is good, and a beautiful place to bird. Descending the Loreto road towards Coca, we noted a rather clean looking basic hotel in the first real village. Loreto itself is an ugly place, as is Coca. The hotel La Mision in Coca looks promising, but the nights are spoiled by music from their own disco, especially audible if you have a room with a view on the river.
In Sushufindi we saw a nice hotel in the centre, this may even be an alternative to Coca. In Limoncocha there is no proper lodge (although rooms are available), but in the near future they are developing something for ecotourists, and the area has been declared (too late I would say) a Reserve, with high entrance fee.
Hostal El Lago in Lago Agrio might have been a wonderful place, but the gardens have been 'improved', and the room was not so good. The night after the Cuyabeno trip described below, we had a room in the brand new hotel Araza, also situated along the road to Quito, and this was the best hotel we had in Ecuador, although not more expensive than El Lago.
From Lago Agrio, we had a semi-organised tour into the Cuyabeno Reserve. By car to Cuyabeno, NE of Tarapoa, then by private canoe paddling down the river Cuyabeno to the Laguna Grande, camping on two sites, and return upstream back by motorized canoe, and by bus back to L. Agrio. We found the Indian guide/leader (Galo) with the help of Edwin Ceballos of the Inefan office situated at a back street N of the city centre. We payed all-in $50 pp, per day. We had to identify most birds ourselves (which we enjoy), but our guide Fermin (photo) had sharp eyes and ears.
By sheer luck we found out that at the San Rafael Falls (Cascadas de San Rafael), a very good birding area, the former employee cabins (see photo of one) are for rent now, for a very reasonable price, about $8 pp; this includes the entrance fee for the area. In the weekends it may be crowded, but we were the only guests. The entrance road is hard to miss, the cabanas are advertised along the main road. The clear night produced, without any electricity in the surroundings, so many stars as we have never seen before, with a genuine milky Milky Way.
Sat 26 Aug. Late arrival at Quito.
Sun 27 Aug. Car hire at airport. Via Mitad del Mundo monument and Tandayapa to Bellavista lodge.
Wed 30 Aug. Afternoon on to Mindo.
Sat 2 Sep. Mindo to Papallacta, via Quito airport for money, phone etc. Photo left: Papallacta pass.
Sun 3 Sep. Papallacta to Baeza (Cosanga also).
Mon 4 Sep. Baeza via upper Loreto road to Tena.
Wed 6 Sep. Tena via Loreto road to Coca.
Fri 8 Sep. Coca to Lago Agrio via Sushufindi and Limoncocha.
Sat 9 Sep. Into Cuyabeno reserve.
Mon 11 Sep. Afternoon back to L. Agrio
Tue 12 Sep. L. Agrio to San Rafael Falls.
Wed 13 Sep. Afternoon San Rafael Falls to Papallacta.
Thu 14 Sep. Afternoon Papallacta to Quito.
Fri 15 Sep. Early flight from Quito.
Our main sources were Where to watch birds in South America, by Nigel Wheatley (Chr. Helm), and Birdwatching in mainland Ecuador by Tom Heijnen (available through DBTRS, PO 737, 9700 AS Groningen, The Netherlands; now incorporated in A Guide to Birdwatching in Ecuador, Biosphere Publications).
The Bellavista Reserve is situated along the famous Nono-Mindo road, just a few km W of Tanadayapa. This small hill forest reserve and its surroundings is a good birding area. Niels Krabbe had made a preliminary species list for the area. Of course we were proud that we could add Ocellated Tapaculo and Black Solitaire to this list. Birding just along the road is good, but there are some interesting trails as well. One goes from the lodge uphill, meeting a side road of the Nono-Mindo road on top of the hill. In the bamboo bushes a while back to the left from that point we had the tapaculo. Another trail (with Black Solitaire) goes down from the 'main' road some 30 m before the junction with that side road. Also the road N of Tanadayapa offered some good birding.
Mindo is a classical birding area (photo of vicinity), so maybe our expectations were too high. Nevertheless, we saw quite some birds along the road (not drivable by normal car) that winds up E out of the village. This is a whole day walk. A long morning walk is the so-called Garzon trail, although the entrance gate at the large yellow house was opened with some reluctance only, because the owner was not home. The entrance road to Mindo had some good birds as well, but there was of lot of work going on to improve the road.
The Papallacta pass is a large area of alpine meadows and subalpine shrubs and dwarf forest (paramo and sub-paramo). It deserves prolonged birding, it is far more than just a pass. Isolated dwarf forest patches in the pass, along the main road, are rewarding. The best birding did we have along the track up from the thermal pools (see above). Ask the personnel to let you bird that track, they have to open a gate. This is where we saw the many mountain-tanagers.
The Papallacta-Baeza road offers good views on the alder forest patches downhill. Especially the site just before the first Vulcanizador after Papallacta had interesting tanager flocks with many flowerpiercers, on both days that we came along.
The partly forested area around the Cabanas San Isidro, just N of Cosanga, S of Baeza, looked promising, but we didn't have the opportunity to bird there. The quiet Baeza-Tena road traverses the likewise partly forested Huacamayos ridge. Somehow, we didn't see that many birds here, but the area looks promising as well.
Tena was nice birding, especially the track to the left after crossing the hanging bridge below the hotel Auca. The hotel grounds are also good. An afternoon visit to the road S of the Rio Napo (some 7 horrible km S of Tena) was not worthwhile, except maybe for the very first (straight) part. Photo to the right: the bridge at Tena.
We had nice birds along the upper Loreto road, the beginning of which is easy to find. Would time have permitted, we might have birded the middle section as well, esp. along the very long (some 8 km) descending part of the road before entering the more cultivated lower part. Also did we see some interesting birds along the lowest semi-forested stretch, i.e. the last 15 km or so before taking the incredible ferry across the Payamino near Coca.
From Coca, we made an interesting trip to the other side of the wide Napo river, SE down the road with all the pozo's (oil wells). Most pozo's are situated amidst a rather undisturbed forest patch (apparantly a zone where agriculture is prohibited). This offered some good birding, esp. at the pozo's AU 4 and AU 6 + 39.
The second night that we stayed in Coca we might better have stayed in Sushufindi. The last 10 km or so before this small and cosy oil town offered some good roadside birding, as did the first (rather forested) 3 km or so S down the road to Limoncocha. Limoncocha itself was not so good late in the morning, although an interesting place to be, with a nice view on the great lake.
The area around Lago Agrio offered some nice roadside birding too. The last 17 km along the road from Coca has nice forests, although we didn't really have time to bird there. Also the road sides W of Lago Agrio were interesting, esp. around Sta. Cecilia. There we took a side road South, ending after some km at an army post. The semi-open area just before the army post was good birding.
The Cuyabeno reserve is in a class by itself, also because of the way you travel there: by canoe. Quietly paddling down produced many birds, and the trail that starts in c. the NW corner of the Laguna Grande was very good. Also, the camp sites offer some close birding. Photo to the right: igapo forest at Laguna Grande, Cuyabeno reserve.
A very rewarding and pleasant birding area was the Cascadas de San Rafael. The mostly forested trail from the cabanas down to the magnificent falls was worth birding on several moments during the day. The warden told us that there is a long trail going up on the vulcano as well. Also the trail from the W end of the compound down to a small citrus plot was good forest birding. But just walking along the rim of the compound produced many forest border birds already.
The roadside scenery further on from San Rafael towards Baeza was
and again looked promising for birding for at least the first 20 km or
BIRDS (some highlights; see species list below for more details)
Sickle-winged and Wattled Guan were the more spectacular game birds, being rather range-restricted. A group of fifteen American Swallow-tailed Kites cheered up a rather dull road in the Oriente. We had some close encounters with the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and heard the range-restricted White-throated Screech-Owl from our balcony at Bellavista. We saw many Sungrebes. An Andean Gull was the only gull or tern we saw this time.
We saw some groups of Blue-and Yellow Macaw, although not in good light conditions. In several parrot genera we added species to our list. We saw parrotlets with characteristics of both Dusky-billed and Blue-winged. In a crevice at a steep waterfall of a brook we saw a group of White-collared Swift hanging huddled together against the wall. The local Chaetura swifts were Gray-rumped in the mountains, and Short-tailed in the Amazon lowlands. The more spectacular hummingbirds were Collared Inca, hovering at arm length towards me, and the dignified and range-restricted Wire-crested Thorntail (at Cascadas de San Rafael). Shining Sunbeam reigned over the dwarf forest near the paramo. Also, we had 'the other' Fairy (Purple-crowned). Photo left is from near Cascadas de San Rafael.
Golden-headed Quetzal was rather common in the North-West. The uncommon Blue-crowned Trogon was sitting in a tree above the loo of a camp in Cuyabeno. A Coppery-chested Jacamar at the San Rafael Falls was one of the most important observations of the trip. It is classified as a vulnerable species, but has been seen at this spot in recent years. Pygmy Kingfisher was rather numerous in Cuyabeno. We saw one with a tiny fish.
Conspicuous were the many nunbirds, especially the Black-fronted, and we saw White-fronted and the range-restricted Yellow-billed as well. The Toucan Barbet was inevitable wish list bird. Apart from that one, we saw four other barbet species. We were very lucky with a specimen of the endemic Pale-mandibled Aracari, perched in a tree overhead near Mindo. The same holds for a bit more distant Golden-collared Toucanet in Cuyabeno. In the Oriente we saw four species of Aracari: Chestnut-eared, Lettered, Ivory-billed and Many-banded. West of Lago Agrio, we saw a group of twelve playing Chestnut-eared Aracari's in a dead tree along the road.
Cuvier's Toucan was abundant in Cuyabeno, and we even found a dead one (see photo; was still warm, just seized by a raptor that flew off when we arrived at the spot).
We got two species of the impressive woodpecker genus Celeus (Chestnut and the wish-list Cream-colored). The beautiful Spot-breasted Woodpecker was really common in the Oriente. To our list of large black woodpeckers we added the Powerful Woodpecker. Spot-crowned and Olive-backed Woodcreepers belong to the West- and East-Andean slope respectively. Also, we saw the two largest (Dendrocolaptes) woodcreepers, the Black-banded and the Strong-billed.
It took us twenty minutes or so to locate the incessantly singing Azara's Spinetail; afterwards we heard it on many sites in the North-West. Unexpectedly we spotted at just 3 m distance, after a long chase through a bamboo bush in the Bellavista Reserve, an Ocellated Tapaculo. As far as we know, it had not been described before for the area (Nono-Mindo road).
Lined Antshrike, once identified (male and female), did we hear afterwards at several sites. A difficult to spot but unmistakable antbird was the White-backed Fire-eye at the San Rafael Falls. Tawny Antpitta showed off in the high mountains, and Slate-crowned Antpitta looked at us from a well hidden place in a bush in its narrow altitudinal zone. The White-lored Antpitta of Tena did we identify only back home on the tape.
The sound of the Green-and-black Fruiteater, after the first identification, did we hear at several sites. It was nice to see the Red-crested Cotinga again, the high-elevation bushes where they live are a pleasure to bird. The prolonged sight of an (albeit female) Amazonian Umbrellabird meant an intense relief for us - a typical wish-list species. Only dreamed of, but actually seen as well (although also female only) was the Black-necked Red-Cotinga in its own reserve (Cuyabeno), right next to the Golden-collared Toucanet. This was along the trail starting at the spot of the photo left.
The Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant was one of those special high-altitude birds, sitting on a post in the Papallacta pass. Streak-necked and Olive-striped Flycatcher form a twin pair, we saw the first one at the West slope, and the second one at the East slope. The closely related Ornate Flycatcher did we see as well. Rufous-headed and Cliff Flycatcher were other outstanding flycatchers, with precise habitat requirements. At Tena, in the Oriente, we saw three Tody-Flycatchers - Common, Black-headed and Golden-winged, all along the same path of some 200 m length. At several small rivers we saw the Torrent Tyrannulet.
Black-capped Donacobius did we sea on all sites in the lower Oriente. Thrush-like Wren was a new Campylorynchus wren for us. The most remarkable wren was the Southern Nightingale Wren, with its incredible song of gradually descending separate notes with ever increasing very long intervals. Although we were happy on hearing the Andean Solitaire at several sites, seeing the impressive Black Solitaire deep down in a moist slope forest is quite another thing.
Two Neotropical montane forest warblers were Black-crested and Russet-crowned. The Buff-rumped Warbler flashed between the bushes on the Tena river side. Other warblers were the not so common Olive-crowned Yellowthroat and the high Andes Spectacled Whitestart.
The yellow-eyed Deep-blue Flowerpiercer was seen in several East-slope flocks. We saw many Conebills: Cinereous, Capped (blue crowned male and the quite different female), and the Giant Conebill. The latter was the last tick of the trip, in the ultimate half hour of birding. The Andes of Ecuador is a true tanager country. To mention a few: West slope only: Rufous-chested, Saffron-crowned, Flame-faced, Beryl-spangled, Rufous-throated, Grass-green, Blue-capped and Lemon- or Flame-rumped Tanager. East slope only: Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Green-and-gold, Yellow-bellied and Masked-crimson Tanager. Of these, especially the Orange-eared, Golden-eared and Rufous-throated are rather range-restricted. At the Papallacta pass we saw the rather local Black-backed Bush-Tanager (several groups), as well as the likewise rather local Black-headed Hemispingus. Extremely lucky have we been with the mountain-tanagers, those splendid birds. In the beginning we were already happy that we saw the Blue-winged of Henri Pittier (Venezuela) again. This was soon followed by the new Hooded. But at the Papallacta pass (photo; area above the sulphur pools) we managed to tick Scarlet-bellied, Buff-breasted, Black-chested and Masked Mountain-Tanager, and all four seen very well. The latter is one of the two threatened (vulnerable) species we've seen on this trip.
Icterids did we mainly see on the East slope and the lower Oriente. Local icterids of the East slope were Mountain and Scarlet-rumped Caciques, and in the Cuyabeno lowlands Velvet-fronted Grackle and Moriche Oriole. The rather local Black-winged Saltator was a pleasant alternative for the wide-ranging Buff-throated and Grayish. Red-capped Cardinal was one of the few bird species we only saw in the igapo forest of Cuyabeno. Local brush-finches were Tricolored and Pale-naped. The uncommon and local Olivaceous Siskin was conspicuous at the upper Loreto road. Photo left is of East-slope forest along Loreto road.
Abbreviations of sites:
TA = W of Tandayapa (along aold Nono-Mindo road), esp. Bellavista
MI = Mindo area
PP = Papallacta pass area
PB = Papallacta village to Baeza (road)
HU = Huacamayos ridge (incl. Cosanga)
TE = Tena area
UL = Upper Loreto road
CO = Coca area
SU = Sushufindi area
LA = Lago Agrio area
CY = Cuyabeno reserve
RF = San Rafael Falls
|Cinereous Tinamou||TE, CY|
|Undulated Tinamou||CO, CY|
|Variegated Tinamou||TE, CY|
|Cocoi (White-necked) Heron||CY|
|Striated (Green) Heron||CO, LA, CY|
|Speckled (Yellow-billed) Teal||PP|
|American Black Vulture||HU, TE, CO, LA|
|Turkey Vulture||MI, HU, TE, CO, LA, CY|
|American Swallow-tailed Kite||MI, SU, CY, RF|
|Roadside Hawk||TA, MI, HU, TE, UL, CO, RF|
|Black Caracara||CO, CY|
|Speckled Chachalaca||CO, SU, CY|
|Sickle-winged Guan||TA, RF|
|American Purple Gallinule||LA|
|Wattled Jacana||CO, LA|
|Spotted Sandpiper||TA, TE, CY|
|Band-tailed Pigeon||TA, PB|
|Plumbeous Pigeon||TA, CY|
|Ruddy Pigeon||MI, HU, CY|
|White-throated Quail-Dove||MI, RF|
|Maroon-tailed Parakeet||CO, SU, LA|
|Cobalt-winged Parakeet||CO, LA, RF|
|Blue-headed Parrot||CO, SU|
|Speckled-faced (White-capped) Parrot||HU|
|Squirrel Cuckoo||TA, MI, CY|
|Smooth-billed Ani||MI, CO|
|Striped Cuckoo||MI, PB, HU|
|Great Horned Owl||PP|
|Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl||CO, SU|
|Chestnut-collared Swift||TA, MI|
|White-collared Swift||TA, PB|
|Grey-rumped Swift||MI, HU, RF|
|Short-tailed Swift||TE, CO, LA|
|Sparkling Violet-ear||MI, HU, TE, RF|
|Blue-tailed (Common) Emerald||TA|
|Mountain Velvetbreast||PP, PB|
|Collared Inca||TA, PB|
|Gorgeted Sunangel||TA, MI|
|Golden-headed Quetzal||TA, MI|
|White-tailed Trogon||CO, CY|
|Ringed Kingfisher||LA, CY|
|Green Kingfisher||TE, UL, CO, CY|
|American Pygmy Kingfisher||CY|
|Black-fronted Nunbird||CO, SU, LA|
|Black-spotted Barbet||UL, CO, CY|
|Red-headed Barbet||MI, UL, RF|
|Toucan Barbet||TA, MI|
|Crimson-rumped Toucanet||TA, MI|
|Lettered Aracari||SU, CY|
|Chestnut-eared Aracari||CO, SU, LA|
|Many-banded Aracari||CY, RF|
|Cuvier's Toucan||SU, CY|
|Yellow-tufted Woodpecker||CO, SU, RF|
|Little Woodpecker||TE, LA|
|Spot-breasted Woodpecker||TE, CO, SU, LA, RF|
|Lineated Woodpecker||MI, SU, CY|
|Spot-crowned Woodcreeper||TA, MI|
|Striped Woodhaunter (Fol. gl.)||MI|
|Lined Antshrike||TE, UL|
|Long-tailed Antbird||TA, MI|
|Red-crested Cotinga||TA, PP|
|Green-and-black Fruiteater||TA, UL|
|Andean Cock-of-the-rock||MI, RF|
|Southern Beardless Tyrannulet||MI|
|White-tailed Tyrannulet||TA, PP, PB|
|Torrent Tyrannulet||MI, HU, UL|
|Cinnamon Flycatcher||TA, HU|
|Smoke-coloured (Greater) Pewee||TA|
|Tropical Kingbird||MI, PB, TE, LA|
|Boat-billed Flycatcher||CY, RF|
|Social Flycatcher||CO, LA, CY|
|Lesser Kiskadee||TE, CO|
|Great Kiskadee||UL, CO, LA|
|Black-tailed Tityra||UL, CO|
|Masked Tityra||MI, UL|
|Black-crowned Tityra||MI, LA|
|White-winged Swallow||LA, CY|
|Brown-bellied Swallow||PP, PB|
|Blue-and-white Swallow||TA, PB, HU, UL, CO, LA, RF|
|White-banded Swallow||TE, CO|
|Southern Rough-winged Swallow||HU, TE, CO, LA, RF|
|Black-capped Donacobius||TE, CO, SU, LA, CY|
|Plain-tailed Wren||TA, MI|
|Southern House Wren||TE, LA|
|Grey-breasted Wood-Wren||TA, HU|
|Southern Nightingale-Wren||MI, TE|
|Andean Solitaire||TA, RF|
|Great Thrush||PP, PB, HU|
|Black-billed Thrush||TE, UL, CO, LA|
|Violaceous Jay||CO, LA, CY|
|Green Jay||PB, HU, RF|
|Spectacled Redstart||PP, PB, HU|
|Black-crested Warbler||PB, HU|
|Bananaquit||MI, UL, RF|
|Blue-backed Conebill||PP, PB|
|Magpie Tanager||UL, CO, LA, RF|
|Grass-green Tanager||TA, MI|
|Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager||MI, UL|
|Masked Crimson Tanager||CO, CY|
|Silver-beaked Tanager||TE, UL, CO, LA, RF|
|Flame-rumped Tanager||TA, MI|
|Blue-grey Tanager||MI, UL, LA|
|Palm Tanager||TE, CO, LA|
|Hooded Mountain-Tanager||TA, PB|
|Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager||TA, MI, PB|
|Golden-rumped (Blue-hooded) Euphonia||HU|
|Orange-bellied Euphonia||MI, UL|
|Orange-eared Tanager||UL, RF|
|Turquoise Tanager||TE, CO|
|Paradise Tanager||UL, RF|
|Golden Tanager||TA, MI, UL, RF|
|Bay-headed Tanager||MI, UL, RF|
|Golden-naped Tanager||TA, PB|
|Blue-necked Tanager||MI, TE, UL, LA, RF|
|Beryl-spangled Tanager||TA, MI|
|Blue-and-black Tanager||TA, PB, HU, RF|
|Swallow Tanager||TA, MI, TE|
|Rufous-collared Sparrow||TA, PB|
|Yellow-browed Sparrow||HU, TE, RF|
|Yellow-bellied Seedeater||TA, MI|
|Chestnut-bellied Seedeater||HU, TE|
|Lesser (Thick-billed) Seed-Finch||TE, CO, LA|
|Black Flower-piercer||PP, PB|
|Deep-blue Flower-piercer||UL, RF|
|Masked Flower-piercer||TA, PB|
|Black-winged Saltator||TA, MI|
|Greyish Saltator||TE, CO, LA|
|Russet-backed Oropendola||TA, MI, HU, CO, LA, RF|
|Yellow-rumped Cacique||TE, CO, LA|
|Giant Cowbird||MI, CO, LA|
John van der Woude, The Netherlands: mail