17 - 27 November 1995
by Jim Danzenbaker
November 17: San Jose, CA to Quito via Miami
November 18: Quito to Reserva Bellavista on the old Nono-Mindo Road
November 19: Reserva Bellavista environs
November 20: Reserva Bellavista environs
November 21: Reserva Bellavista to Quito via old Nono-Mindo Road and highlands around Quito
November 22: Quito to Baeza via Papallacta Pass
November 23: Loreto Road and Sierra de Huacamayas
November 24: Trail on Loreto Road
November 25: Trail on Loreto Road and then to Quito
November 26: Quito
November 27: Quito to San Jose, CA via Miami
To begin, this trip (my fourth to Ecuador and the first on my own) was not meant to be a "see every bird 'til I drop" trip. I enjoyed many great birds but built in relaxation time as well. Also, I made many contacts which will facilitate future trips to this fascinating country. I tried to record numbers as well so that you can general idea of the relative abundance of some species.
I arrived at 9:15 pm in Quito on 11/18 to find that the Budget Rental Car office had closed which was unfortunate since my first hours of birding on the 19th hinged on my picking up the rental car and driving to a nearby reserve. I spent the night at the Hostal Los Frailes which was only a 15 minute drive from the airport via taxi. $12.00/night included breakfast. Quite comfortable and quiet. I recommend it for your first night in Quito.
Woke early on the 19th and went for a quick walk (without bins!)
I saw some old friends:
|Eared Dove||Rufous-collared Sparrow|
|Sparkling Violetear||Hooded Siskin|
|Great Thrush||Cinereous Conebill|
|Black-tailed Trainbearer||Blue-and-white Swallow|
Got a taxi and got back to the airport
to pick up my two wheel drive rental car. Immediately hit the road on
way to the Nono-Mindo Road and Reserva Bellavista. No problem getting
of the city (I did this part by memory from my last trip in February of
'94). Since birding started late, the activity had significantly
by the time I got off the main road and into birdable habitat. However,
first bird flock had
|Blackburnian Warbler||Golden Tanager|
|Orange-bellied Euphonia||Smoke-colored Pewee|
|Blue-winged Mountain Tanager||Three-striped Warbler|
NOTE: etc...... means other things that got away
As I journeyed up the road beyond the town of Tandallapa, the birding improved.
My first mega-flock consisted of:
|3 Blue-capped Tanagers||2 Stripe-headed Brush Finches|
|3 Blackburnian Warblers||2 White-sided Flowerpiercers|
|5 Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers||3 Masked Flowerpiercers|
|2 White-tailed Tyrannulets||5 Plain-tailed Wren|
|1 Female Booted Rackettail||3 Dusky Bush-Ttanagers|
5 SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRDS (diagnostic white eye strips not unlike the mark on a White-eared Hummer)
several GREEN VIOLETEARS (very common hummer)
1 woodcreeper (sp) - Montane? Am researching this...do any birdchatters know of something called a Montane Woodcreeper?
I finally arrived at km 62 and Reserva Bellavista. Thanks to fellow birdchatter Phil Johnson (I think) who sent out an e-mail about Bellavista in June, I made reservations for three nights at Bellavista and enjoyed my entire stay. The lodge is situated at the end of a small ridge along the old Nono-Mindo Road and affords a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside in all directions. The lodge has four levels: The first level is the dining hall and bar and has a 360 degree view outside with a walkaround balcony. The second floor comprising 5 private rooms with two beds, each with its own bathroom and private balcony. The third level is a common sleeping area with a bathroom and the fourth is a "throw your sleeping bag on the floor" area and has a 360 degree view of the entire valley.
The vegetarian food was delicious and the entire experience was relaxing and quite enjoyable. I highly recommend it! FYI, the finca one kilometer up the road was just purchased by the author of "The Birds of the High Andes" and, therefore, the grounds will be returning (hopefully) to their natural state. More land needs to be purchased by nature/bird/earth loving folks (like ourselves) before it becomes one big bovine theme park. Other fincas in the rae are up for sale and may fall into the hands of the bovine lovers.
The first afternoon, I went for a walk
up the road and on one of the trails that owner Richard Parsons had
into the surrounding forest. Birds included:
|4 Rufous-collared Sparrow||1 Spectacled Redstart|
|1 Toucan Barbet (Videos Taken of this spectacular bird when it was close!)|
|2 Crimson-mantled Woodpecker||1 Beryl-spangled Tanager|
|2 Montane (?) Woodcreeper||3 Brown-capped Vireo|
|5 Blackburnian Warbler||4 Masked Flowerpiercer|
|4 Plain-tailed Wren||2 Plush-capped Finch|
|2 Russet-crowned Warbler||3 Cinnamon Flycather|
|2 Black-crested Warbler||4 White-tailed Tyrannulet|
|1 Pearled Treerunner||4 Dusky Bush-tanager|
|2 Three-striped Warbler||-|
Afterwards, headed back for a delicious meal which definitely filled up any space that may have existed in my stomach.
My m.o. on both days at Bellavista was to get up early and take a walk before breakfast. Then breakfast, then a longer walk looking for video opportunities, then a late lunch. Afterwards, a shorter walk, then darkness, dinner, trip journal, bird list and bed.
My first full day at Bellavista
of a walk down the road in the direction of the town of Tandallapa.
was slow but included:
|Rufous-crowned Tody-tyramt||Green-and-black Fruiteater|
|Uniform Antshrike||Gray-breasted Wood Wren|
|Metallic Green Tanager||Collared Incas|
|Blue-hooded Euphonia||Brown Inca|
|Yellow-bellied Seedeaters||Booted Rackettail|
|Streak-necked Flycatcher||Gorgeted Sunangel|
My afternoon was a delight. An hour and
a half of glorious birding along another trail close to the lodge
some of the best birding I've ever had in the tropics as the following
|1 Sickle-winged Guan||10 Blackburninan Warbler|
|2 Red-billed Parrot||10 Slate-throated Redstart|
|1 Tawny-bellied Hermit||4 Three-striped Warler|
|8 Speckled Hummingbird||1 Spectacled Redstart|
|3 Collared Inca||1 Capped Conebill|
|1 Buff-tailed Coronet||2 Golden Tranager|
|4 Gorgeted Sunangel||12 Beryl-spangled Tanager|
|H Toucan Barbet||3 Orange-bellied Euphonia|
|1 Azara's Spinetail||2 Blue-capped Tanager|
|3 Streaked Tuftedcheek||6 Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager|
|2 Striped Treehunter||12 Dusky Bush Tanager|
|2 Montane Woodcreeper||3 Oleaginous Hemispingus|
|3 White-tailed Tyrannulet||1 Rufous-chested Tanager|
|1 Streak-necked Flycatcher||3 Grass Green Tanager|
|2 Rufous-headed Pygmy-tyrant||1 Chestnut-capped Brush Finch|
|5 Cinnamon Flycatcher||3 White-sided Flowerpiercer|
|2 Smoke-colored Pewee||5 Masked Flowerpiercer|
|1 Plain-tailed Wren||2 Rufous-collared Sparrow|
|H Andean Solitaire||2 Plush-capped Finch|
|6 Brown-capped Vireo||-|
The birding only stopped bcause the fog became so thick that it was defiicult to discern the outlines of the trees let alone the birds!
The following morning, I accompanied Richard Parsons on a milk run and a phone run (yep, the nearest phone is 12 kilometers away). Birding en route yielded SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULET (call is similar to that of Northern which made it an easy id), MOUNTAIN ELEANIA, and assorted TANAGERS, EUPHONIAS, etc. After the phone thing, headed to Mindo. Unfortunately, the road from the main paved road down to Mindo was undergoing "improvements" and, therefore, was not a good 2 wheel drive option. Therefore, I stopped at the head of the road and birded there. Quite a flock greeted me which included GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (one of few records for Ecuador as far as I can tell), two more TOUCAN BARBETS, 2 RED-HEADED BARBETS, a probable GLISTENING GREEN TANAGER, ORNATE FLYCATCHER, BROWN INCA, BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER, SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER, assorted TANAGERS, and other birds seen around Bellavista. Earth moving vehicles made it too noisy for much additional birding so I retreated back in the direction of the lodge.
On the way back, I finally saw two PLATE-BILLED MOUNTAIN TOUCANS (a big blue Toucan!!) along with several RED-CRESTED COTINGAS, ANDEAN SOLITAIRE, BALCK-CHINNED AND BLACK-CHESTED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERS, STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEK and STRIPED TREEHUNTER. It started to rain so I beat a hasty retreat to the car and finished my drive back to Bellavista for a late lunch. The afternoon was spent wandering around the road in the rain....not much happening but GREEN VIOLETEARS are a great bird to study! At dusk, RUFOUS-BELLIED NIGHTHAWKS (split from Short-tailed Nighthawk) winged over Bellavista as a COMMON POTOO, WHITE-THROATED SCREECH-OWL, and MOTTLED OWL called.....ah...heaven....Dinner came quickly after nightfall and I enjoyed the company of five other guests who had arrived earlier that afternoon.
The following morning, a persistent fog which was accompanied by rain had shrouded Bellavista so I decided to make it my travel day. After breakfast, I headed down the hill through Tandallapa and travelled the old Nono-Mindo Road back to Quito. Highlights included a male ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK on top of a tree(!), several beautiful WHITE-WINGED TANAGERS (not uncommon along this road), assorted other TANAGERS, a beautiful SLATY-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT, and three stunning WHITE-CAPPED DIPPERS among other birds. Several SWAINSON'S THRUSHES reminded me of home.
Past Nono (don't let maps fool you, Nono is REALLY small), the road climbed higher and bumpier (why do people make cobblestone roads anyway?). I took a slight detour to bird near the Inca Ditch. Based on directions in Clive Green's "Birding Ecuador", I found the road with no problem. Maneuvering along the first 1.5 milometers was no problem in my two wheel drive Suzuki Farsa (or is that farce?). However, I soon realized that this was not the best place I could choose to get stuck so I walked the rest of the way in the intermittent rain and fog. Walking was labored (up a steep angle at ca 11,000 ft elevation) but I made headway stopping at regular intervals to view the GREAT THRUSHES and assorted SEEDEATERS.
Finally, a row of bushes appeared along the side of the road and immediately, I spotted a SWORD-BILLED HUMMER feeding on some flowers. It then came over and sat on a branch in full view 30 feet over my head. If you've never seen this bird, check out the drawing on page 282 in "The Birds of Colombia). I stared at it for about 10 minutes before it disappeared which allowed me to continue. Other birds in the area included MASKED and WHITE-SIDED FLOWERPIERCERS, SOUTHERN YELLOW GROSBEAK, SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEGS, BRONZE-TAILED THORNBILLS, TYRIAN METALTAILS, ANDEAN SISKINS, and calling TAWNY ANTPITTAS. After careful searching, I finally located a TAWNY ANTPITTA perched on an exposed dead snag five feet off the ground. It was fascinating to watch this bird as it belted out its distinctive three note call, head thrown back, bill opened wide, enjoying the high paramo terrain which is Ecuador (looked a bit like the lead in to "The Sound of Music" with a change of characters). It was a sight I will never forget. As it was getting late, I returned to the car and completed the last 8 kilometers to Quito and the overpriced, noisy (but it had electricity!) Savoy Inn.
The next day, I headed for Papallacta Pass and great scenery and birds. For those leaving Quito, allow an hour just to get to the Pass (which doesn't include time out for stops for BLACK-BILLED SHRIKE-TYRANT, SEEDEATERS, CHIMBORAZO HILLSTAR, CHAT TYRANTS, etc. Cuayambe was visible when I arrived but was soon covered by clouds. At the pass, I drove up a dirt road which angled off to the left which led into some good birdy areas. Birds included STOUT-BILLED and BAR-WINGED CINCLODES (common), PLUMBEOUS SIERRA FINCH (common), BLUE-MANTLED THORNBILL, STREAK-BACKED and MANY-STRIPED CANASTEROS, PLAIN-BACKED GROUND-TYRANT, BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE and more Tawny Antpittas including one which jumped up on a bush in clear view at 15 feet (no my video skills weren't good enough to capture the moment).
ANDEAN CONDORS can be viewed from the end of this road at the telecommunications installation and CORDILLERAN SNIPE can be found in the marshy areas on both sides of the road. Check the groves of polylepis on the eastern side of the pass (especially about 1 km down from the pass on the left) for flocks which may contain the incredible GIANT CONEBILL (videos!!!), WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULETS, and other accompanying species such as BLACK-BACKED BUSH-TANAGER. Lower down, in a pullout across from the reservoir which is above Papallacta, two SHINING SUNBEAMS interacted while a pair of BROWN-BACKED CHAT-TYRANTS came in for their chance at video fame. The remainder of the day between Papallacta and Baeza was uncharacteristically dull. The usual variety of MOUNTAIN-TANAGERS, HUMMINGBIRDS, CRESTED QUETZALS, and CACIQUES were not around since the weather was too nice. The memory that I now have of this area is a winding, dusty, rocky road which cuts through very disturbed andean forest. I wonder what it was like 100 years ago?
Baeza is a small town with several hostals, a few bar/restaurants, and Ecuador's answer to the 7-11. The Hostal San Rafael ($5.00/night) is passibly comfortable but VERY noisy. I lasted two nights before moving my base of operations. The afternoon of my arrival, I made a wise decision to travel the 70 kilometers north to Coca Falls just to find out where it was and get an idea of the logistics. Half way there, I encountered the dreaded "peligro" sign along the road just before a bridge that was under repair (the road roughly parallels a river and crosses over it from time to time). No problem I though as the road dipped down to the left. 100 meters along the detour, the road angled to the right and I saw what I immediately knew was a problem, the detour asked everyone to drive right OVER the river which looked to be about 20 inches deep with unstable rocks for tire footing! I don't think so! Anyway, I stood there for twenty minutes with my video camera and was grateful that I didn't attempt fate like a few other cars did which got stuck. I could imagine myself being fished out of the Amazon a month later! I was glad I had discovered this proble that afternoon instead of wasting the following morning. By the way, the road between Baeza and my turn around spot was incredibly DUSTY and had many big trucks and buses which don't know how to slow down.
The next morning, I drove the
Road (south...less travelled luckily) toward the Loreto Road which is a
road that was cut through the foothills to connect Tena to Coca (the
town for points on the Rio Napo including La Selva and Sacha Lodges).
road, at times, is very bad but goes through some good habitat.
the first morning was a downpour along this stretch so I wasn't able to
do much birding. Got to the Loreto Road and continued for about 10 kms
and was very distressed to see how, in 7 years, the edge of a road
pristine habitat can become so cut over so that cows and people can
However, there were a few birds. One bird flock consisted of:
|1 Orange-eared Tanager||8 Paradise Tanager|
|2 Green-and-gold Tanager||3 Speckled Tanager|
|1 Yellow-bellied Tanager||1 Squirrel Cuckoo|
|1 Green-backed Becard||4 Ornage-bellied Euphonia|
|2 Common Tody-flycatcher||1 Summer Tanager|
|1 Black Antbird (!)||3 Deep-blue Flowerpiercer|
|1 Smoky-brown Woodcreeper||2 Canada Warbler (Common on E. Slope)|
|3 Blackburnian Warbler||2 Smooth-billed Ani|
|4 Beryl-spangled Tanager||1 Red-headed Barbet|
|20 Chestnut-fronted Macaw||4 Magpie Tanager|
Afterward, headed back along the road and saw a few other things (GREEN-FRONTED LANCEBILL, HANDSOME FLYCATCHER, SAFFRON-CROWNED TANAGERS) but the heat of the midday sun made birding a bit difficult and seriously reduced bird activity. Back to Baeza to endure the noise again.
The following day, I headed back to Loreto Road and a trail that had been pointed out to me by a BirdQuest group that I met the day before. However, I was a bit delayed because a flock of noisy WHITE-CAPPED TANAGERS flew across the road as I was driving through the Sierra de la Guacamayos. These are beautiful birds that are apparently, at best, locally uncommon. I was lucky. At the head of the trail was a CLIFF FLYCATCHER and a SMOKY BUSH-TYRANT. On the trail, immediately found out why the BirdQuest group recommended boots...the mud, in places, was a foot deep! However, birding was excellent and included BLACK-STREAKED PUFFBIRD, many MARBLE-FACED BRISTLE-TYRANTS, NAPO SABREWING, ELEGANT WOODCREEPER, PARADISE TANAGER, RUDDY PIGEON, GREEN HERMIT, GOLDEN-WINGED MANAKIN, and SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD to name just a few. Near an army antswarm further on, I was given excellent views of a male WHITE-BACKED FIRE-EYE as it reveled in it's ant infested heaven.
As the activity had died down by midday, I decided to get a room at the Hotel Auca in Tena which is 40 kilometers from the trail head. The hotel is passable and serves meals and cold cokes! The birding around the hotel is quite good and you can add a variety of lower tropical zone species including GOLDEN-WINGED TODY-FLYCATCHER, BLUE-GRAY TANAGER, BLACK-CAPPED DONOCOBIUS, a variety of "ant-types" including WARBLING ANTBIRD, BLACK ANTBIRD, STRIPE-CHESTED ANTWREN, and LINED ANTSHRIKE and a possibility of a few hummers coming to the flowers. The following morning, I faithfully returned to the trail but I was agin delayed due to a great bird, a FASCIATED TIGER-HERON fishing along a rushing torrent. It was amazing to see it hopping on the boulders and I was floored when it actually reached into the white water and caught a fish (yes, I have it on video!). I've been to Latin America at least a dozen times and this was the first time I was lucky enough to see this rare but widely distributed species. This is apparently a stake out bird. On the trail, I added another good bird, a male GOLDEN-COLLARED HONEYCREEPER as well as a BLUE-RUMPED MANAKIN, GRAY-MANTLED WREN and a VIOLET-FRONTED BRILLIANT. I dipped on the real tanager flock that I was looking for that would have had BLUE-BROWED, YELLOW-THROATED, and GOLDEN-EARED tanagers....hey, next time, I know where they are.... As it was getting a little late, I decided to return to Quito via Baeza and get a good night sleep (since I was working on only sixteen hours of sleep over the last four nights). Very uneventful as the weather was still much too nice for our feathered friends to be venturing near the dust clogged, truck and bus ridden road.
Although Montezuma never had his revenge, that night, I was quite ill (probably from a combination of exhaustion, not much food, the winding, bumpy, rocky roads, the at times intense sun, and the change of altitude). My birding plans were stifled the following day also due to a borderline migraine and a sore back. However, at least I got to see the trainbearers again. I had sufficiently recovered the following day to catch my 10am flight back to Miami and to San Jose, CA.
A few notes on travel in Ecuador:
IT IS DOABLE! However, I recommend going down with at least one other person so that you aren't constantly walking back to the car or trying to figure out where to ditch it. Someone to bounce bird ids off of is great too!
Take plenty of snacks (including drinks). I took some cans of V-8 (and crackers) with me and they really hit the spot. However, I should have taken a whole V-8 case with me.
Birds of Colombia is a bible although everything you see seems to be a subspecies of something else and, remember, not every bird is illustrated! If you can get your hands on the Birds of the High Andes, bring that too but leave it in the car because its BIG.
Take boots (wellington types). I found each trail to be quite muddy since it rains every day (at least everywhere that has birds).
Exchange money at the Quito airport when you arrive. Exchanging money in Miami is a ripoff (no, I didn't exchange any in Miami but did note the exchange rate difference $2400 sucres/dollar in Miami compared to 2750 sucres/dollar in Quito).
Most roads are passable with a two wheel drive. However, if you can afford the extra expense, rent a four wheel drive to avoid those "funny thing happened on the way to Coca Falls" type situations.
Enjoy it! If possible, find a few birds, sit down, watch them and, invariably, they will be joined by others. I did this several times and was rewarded each time.
Please send your comments, questions, and trip report foremat improvements to me so that I can incorporate them into the next report (which will be in June). With any luck, I will find my way to Ecuador one more time before June. If anyone wants to join me, let me know!
A complete trip list of birds is available upon request.
Great birding to you and enjoy the holidays.
San Jose, CA
(h) 408-264-7582 (408-ANI-SKUA)