content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
26 September - 15 October 1998
by Garry George (with Joseph Brooks and Joe Thompson)
Our third trip to Ecuador was planned to access relatively unexplored areas in the Northwest - Jatun Sacha Bilsa and Cotocachi-Cayapas wet coastal forest reserves which are finally drying out from El Nino and locations along the recently opened road from Quito to San Lorenzo near the Colombian border. We also hoped to clean up on birds of the East slope and West slope that we had missed on two previous trips. We were gunning to see 1) rarities including Banded Ground-Cuckoo and Long-wattled Umbrellabird; 2) more Choco endemics and 3)more antpittas.
On two previous trips to Ecuador we covered the Galapagos, Mindo-Nono area and Pedro Vicente Maldonado (PVM) on the West slope; Papallacta, Baeza, Cabanas de San Isidro (both trips), Guacamayos Ridge, (both trips), Loreto Road (both trips), Coca Falls and Tena on the East slope; Sacha Lodge and Yasuni National Park (both trips) on the Rio Napo in the Amazonian Oriente; Guayaquil (Cerro Blanco), Pinas, Loja, Podocarpus National Park (Cajanuma, Rio Bombuscara & San Fracisco sectors), Loja-Zamora Road, Utuana, Sabiango, Sozoranga, Tambo Negro, Macara, Acanama, Gualaceo-Limon Road and Catamayoin the South; and Yanacocha, Papallacta Pass (both trips), El Cajas and Gualaceo Pass in the paramo and high altitude habitat of both North and South.
On those trips we were fortunate enough to bag some of Ecuador's specialties including 13 of the 21 endemics and 15 of the 22 (with the new one in Zamora) species of Antpitta, our personal favorite target group of species. Our mainland Ecuador list now stands at 1187 species seen (heard birds are not counted), 929 of them seen in Ecuador and the remainder seen on trips to Panama or Venezuela, and our Galapagos list at 120 species (including 22 of the 25 endemics), 53 of them seen in the islands.
The taxonomy of the birds in Ecuador is in constant flux which makes the trip more interesting. The current trend by ornithologists seems to be to split species, especially by location East or West of the Andes. A few lumps are being presented i.e. Puna Hawk and Variable Hawk lumped to Red-backed Hawk. Some birds on the Ecuador list are being questioned.. Bare-crowned Antbird was listed from one sighting which apparently has been challenged as the bird has been dropped from the list. Ridgely and Greenfield's forever forthcoming field guide Birds of Ecuador must be delayed partly because of the expanding and contracting list of sightings (real and strung) in this country of such diverse habitat. I used the taxonomy from the upcoming book as published in A Guide to Bird-watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos published by Biosphere Publications to make sure that I was aware of every possible lump and split when I was in the field, especially for the Tapaculos which are expanding like Stephen Hawking's universe. I knew it would be too hard to go back and figure out which one I saw when up to three can occur in any altitude. Late breaking taxonomical news I heard while there (which is probably not yet accepted by your favorite authority: there is a new Cloud-Forest Pygmy-Owl (heard at Bellavista), Puna Hawk lump (above), Long-tailed Hermit split to Barron's in the West and maybe Great-billed in the East so that Long-tailed no longer occurs in Ecuador, Little Hermit split to Stripe-throated in West and Black- throated in East so that Little Hermit no longer occurs in Ecuador, Bare- crowned Antibird dropped from Ecuador list, Sepia-brown Wren now Sharpe's Wren in Ecuador, and Neils Krabbe's paper on the population of Moustached Antpitta found in Ecuador on Guacamayos Ridge and above Mindo (previously thought to be only in Colombia from two skins) should be published in upcoming IBIS. I would appreciate any additions, corrections or further information on this taxonomic news.
As always, Quito was our hub and we returned to Café Cultura (email@example.com) every three or four days to wash and change clothes, store unneeded baggage in the bodega, eat real food, then set out again. Our itinerary was flexible enough to accommodate the unexpected events that added a surreal background to the trip. We lost a morning when our flight aborted the night landing in Quito (approximately 10 minutes from the runway) and was diverted to Guayaquil for 12 hours, national strikes blocked the roads to the North for two days and the volcano Pichincha woke up which caused us to rethink our itinearary every few days. The news around the upgrade to orange from yellow was discussed in every remote area we travelled where there weren't radios or television or telephones. Word of mouth was the form of communication so the accuracy was in question and some myths began to develop. We heard one story that the volcano was going to blow on a certain date as punishment for something that happened that day one hundred years ago. This was delivered as fact. We dreaded hearing that the volcano was upgraded to red alert which would mean 48 hours to evacuate. Luckily, it wasn't. The Mindo area, one of our destinations, is directly in the projected path of lava and ash.
Despite our plans, our itinerary ended up as follows:
Day 1 - to Bellavista on the old Nono-Mindo Road, 2300m on West slope
Day 2 - Bellavista area, then to PVM (Pedro Vicente Maldonado), 500m, overnight in La Concordia
Day 3 - PVM on the way to Jatun Sacha Bilsa off of the Quito-Esmeraldas Hwy
Day 4,5 - Jatun Sacha Bilsa
Day 6 - Jatun Sacha Bilsa, to Quito
Day 7 - new Quito-San Lorenzo Road stopping at North end of Cotocachi-Cayapas Reserve, then overnight at Lita
Day 8 - drive to San Lorenzo from Lita stopping at 900m, 500m and 150m to fix flats
Day 9 - New road near San Lorenzo to Rio Mataje on Colombian border, overnight in Ibarra
Day 10 - Cerro Mongus, 3300m, evening to Quito
Day 11 - Papallacta Pass, 3900m, then new lodge, 2600m, then Loreto Rd 13 km trail, 1300m, Tena-Baeza road, overnight new lodge in Tena
Day 12 - Tena Auca trail, 540m, Sumaco Road off Loreto Rd, 1100m, overnight Cabanas de San Isidro
Day 13 - Guacamayos Ridge, 2200m, Tena-Baeza Road, 2000-1100m, Loreto Road
Day 14 - San Isidro, 2000m, Guacamayos Ridge, 2200m
Day 15 - San Isidro, Papallacta Pass, Quito
Day 16 - Bellavista on West slope, 2300m
Day 17 - Bellavista area - Tandayapa Valley, road to Nanegalito
Day 18 - Bellavista area - road to Nanegalito, Mindo area, to Quito
Day 19 - Home
TRIP BY LOCATION:
*is a lifer for me
(h) is heard only
WOW is mind-boggling looks at mind-blowing bird
We didn't stop to work for birds we had already seen on prior trips although we didn't walk by them without looking either!
Feeding flocks were mixed species especially tanagers, warblers, furnarids, dacnis and sometimes a woodpecker and/or fruiteater Please contact me for further information, comments, corrections or contacts
1. Bellavista, old Nono-Mindo Road, road to Nanegalitos, Mindo area - 2000-2300m
We were here twice (beginning and end of trip) and visited our old friends Tony and Barbara from Tarcoles Lodge in Carara Costa Rica who just bought land and are building a house in the Tandayapas Valley near Bellavista. Tony is a bird guide and Barbara manages Bellavista. We birded with Mitch, then Tony, then Vinicio Perez (firstname.lastname@example.org) a Mindo resident who has a great location for Giant Antpitta as well as other species. It took us four and a half hours to see the Antpitta and we heard and had to ignore Barred Forest- Falcon and Orange-breasted Fruiteater, both of which we needed, in order to focus on the Giant Antpitta. We got below him on the slope and as he (slowly) circled above us he luckily hopped into my binoculars as I was focusing on one of the tunnels of vision and I got him full frame from head to belly, looking left then right, beak covered in dried grass. The breast is a field mark. He hopped left and I lost him so couldn't get Joseph on him until he hopped onto a limb in a dark hole (of course) about six feet from the previous location and I was able to get Joseph on him - the dark back, golden rufous breast, large size. A milestone in birding for me. We also saw Yellow-bellied Antipitta well bringing our total to 15 Antpittas in Ecuador seen well and 3 more that occur in Ecuador we've seen in Panama. Hummingbird feeders and trees around Bellavista were amazing.
*Buff-tailed Coronet (very common at the feeders allowing approach up to 6")
*Velvet Purple Coronet
Plate-billed Mountain Toucan
Black and white Becard
Andean Solitaire (h)
Black-eared Hemispingus (the one on the West slope doesn't have a black ear!)
2. Pedro Vicente Maldonado (PVM), 500m, the beginning of the lowlands.
A piece of forest crammed with Choco endemics - the last refuge from
all of the logging and development in the area. High diversity of
species in such a small area and we talked about the future of this
- whether the species would crash soon since there is no contiguous
for dispersal. This deserves study. How long will it be
We picked up a few species
that we had missed on our first trip here some five years ago.
Little Tinamou (heard)
Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove (heard)
Plain Brown Woodcreeper
Western Slaty Antshrike
S. Rough-winged Swallow
*Scarlet-and-white Tanager (WOW)
3. Reserva Jatun Sacha Bilsa
We drove four hours to the turnoff, then about an hour to five wooden shacks known as El Y ("el yea"). The next 13 km to the reserve was impassable by vehicle and could only be hiked. We hired mules for the bags, then hiked the 5 hours to the Research Station through huge ruts and sometimes ankle deep wet mud. It was the most strenuous hike I have ever done. We hiked out the same way, only it was noon and the usual cloud cover disappeared and it was HOT. We were harassed and challenged by barrachos (drunks) on the way in offering to take us in by horseback. We smiled and waved like we didn't understand them. The sight of the dining hall lit by candles of the sixteen volunteers that were staying there as we slogged through the final 100 yards of mud will be in my mind forever, as well as the news that they hadn't expected us (despite five reconfirmations) and they had no room and no food. We ate day old bread with jelly and a piece of cheese for dinner that night and slept on the floor of a storage room in the staff headquarters. Condensation dripped on the corrugated tin roof all night. When we finally moved to a room with bunk beds, Joseph got chiggers from the sheets and we kept candles lit all night to keep the fruit-eating bats away, although Joe Thompson wasn't as successful. One roosted on the bunk right above his head after eating his bananas! I could hear the wingbeats as soon as the candles burnt out at 3 a.m. We were happy that we had loaded in a few bottles of Concha y Torres Castillero de Diablo 1996 Cabernet Savignon which welcomed us each evening. The trails behind the research station were extremely muddy and steep from all the volunteer traffic, the habitat is the wettest coastal hill forest probably in the world, and the only shower was a long climb downhill to a stream (we used buckets behind the research station).
After a long day of climbing down and up and seeing only a partial view of the rump of a female Long-wattled Umbrellabird, we were resting behind the staff cabins when a male flew into view and perched fifty feet away eye level and looked left then right expanding and contracting his long wattle - a perfect view and a National Geographic cover if I only had a camera! We missed the Banded Ground-Cuckoo which has been seen here five or six times, but we never saw ants or peccaries. I have no luck with Ground-Cuckoos having travelled to sites in Panama and Venezuela where they are seen frequently but not by me. I guess I'll stick to Antpittas.
Tiny Hawk (a pair looked like they were on a nest)
Sunbittern (bathing in a waterfall)
Blue-fronted Parrotlet (decent looks in a flyby)
Striped Cuckoo (taking dust baths on the road in)
Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail (h)
Scaled Antpitta (heard but we'd already seen it)
*Long-wattled Umbrellabird - WOW
Thrush-like Schiffornis (very common and doing well here)
S. Rough-winged Swallow
4. North end of Cotocatchi-Cayapas Reserve, 500m
Eastern Wood Pewee
5. Drive from Lita to San Lorenzo with stops to fix flats at 900m, 500m, and 150m
Each stop was an opportunity to explore the immediate surroundings, one of which yielded a pair of Scarlet-and-white Tanagers just above us in a fruiting tree. Our final flat took place 3 km outside of San Lorenzo in front of a wooden house with loud music. As Vicente was changing the tire, three drunken men came out of the house and came to us to shake our hands and welcome us. They were followed by three children who tried to sneak into the van while the men were talking to us. Joe and Joseph hid in the van while Mitch and I tried to deflect the energy from Vicente so he could finish changing the tire. They offered us cane alcohol and yelled at someone in the house to bring it. A drunk woman did and we drank. They told us a long story about a son who left and how they had repented for what they had done to him. When Mitch answered that he liked music, the drunkest screamed to his wife to get the guitar, she did, and he played a sorrowful pasillo about how horrible his life is. We watched carefully, and as the song ended, we applauded, jumped in the van, locked the doors and drove off to San Lorenzo.
*Rose-faced Parrot - WOW
S. Rough-winged Swallow
Scarlet-and-white Tanager - WOW again this time closer
6. Road N. to Rio Mataje and the Colombian border, near San Lorenzo, 150m.
This new logging road is wide and there is forest on both sides set back from the road. The undisputable highlight was the sighting of three species of dacnis and two honeycreepers about ten feet away eye level in a fruiting tree. The Scarlet-breasted Dacnis we had missed so many times before was very cooperative here, and we renamed it the Blazing Sunset -Breasted dacnis. What a bird. A Rufous-winged Tanager male popped in and joined them.
Little Tinamou (heard)
7. Cerro Mongus, 3300m, 3500m at top
The day arrived for our second attempt at the Crescent-faced Antpitta, a most wanted bird we had missed in December of 97. Our first try was unsuccessful and we were starting to get dispirited when we hopped into another dark hole and played the tape again. In popped the bird looking at us with one side of his face as they do - perched on a limb in full view in the light eight feet away - just enough distance to focus binoculars on the amazing scaling on the breast and the crescent on the face. We also got lucky with the Cotinga and the Puffleg. A great day of birding. Our driver talked to one of the locals while we were birding, and told us later that two men who said they were from a German zoological society had been there two days before and captured birds in cages to take back. We had heard a very loud, calling Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan and wondered why it was calling so much. Perhaps the mate had been captured. This thought made the long drive back to Quito very quiet.
8. Loreto Road 13 km trail, 1300m (East slope),NE
*Gray Tinamou - lucky when we saw this on the trail ahead -
rufous headed race
Plain-backed Antipitta (heard but seen before)
N. White-crowned Tapaculo
*Gray-tailed Piha - WOW
Golden-winged Manakin - juvenile males on lek - no females - rehearsing?
poss. new Elaenia sp.(to be described by Paul Coopman)
*Spotted Nightingale-Thrush - WOW
*Musician Wren - WOW
9. Tena, Auca trail, 540m - our second trip here.
Black-banded Crake (h)
*Wing-barred Seedeater (recent split of Variable)
10. Sumaco Road off of Loreto Road, 110m (East slope)
*Fiery-throated Fruiteater - WOW
Deep blue Flower-piercer
11.Tena-Baeza Road and Loreto Road, 1100-2000m
12.. Guacamayos Ridge - 2200m
Moustached Antpitta (heard but seen before)
Citrine Warbler - feeding flock leader?
13. Cabanas de San Isidro - Log Trail and Road - 2000m
*Plain-breasted Hawk - with Blue-and-white Swallow in talons
White-bellied Antpitta (heard but seen before)
Rufous-crowned Tody Trannulet
14. Pallacta Pass and Papallacta area 3000-over 4,000m
Red-backed Hawk (lump of Puna Hawk)
Mountain Avocetbill - at new lodge (2600m) on Papallacta-Baeza road
A glowing click beetle in the dining room at Bilsa. The belly lit up orange and two areas on the head like eyes lit up green. When we turned it over on it's back the lit areas faded slowly, then roared back.
Family group of Mantled Howler-Monkeys at Bilsa
Saddle-backed Tamarind at Tena
Sloth at Tena
Night Monkey (captive) at Tena
Marmosets (captive) at Tena
Capuchin (on chain very sad) at Tena