3 - 20 March 1999
by Jim Danzenbaker
This is a summary of an Ecuador birdwatching trip which I participated in this last March. The tour company name has been deleted so that there is no advertising.
For some folks, arrival from Houston on an uneventful but slightly bumpy flight to Quito. Safely on the ground, we changed money at the astronomical rate of 9650 sucres to the dollar (compared to 2500 sucres two years ago). Once processed, we were met by Marcos, our bus driver, who delivered us to La Rabida, our home while in Quito.
Woke to the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof. We all met each other at the 7am breakfast in the small dining room at La Rabida.....a filling meal which would last us through to mid afternoon. Juan Carlos, Lilly, and their son came at about 7:45 and we loaded into the bus at about 8am and headed for the old Nono-Mindo Road. Our first birding stop yielded a surprise WHITE-WINGED BRUSH-FINCH flitting amongst the dense vegetation so common on the lower slopes of Pichinche. Other stops en route during the drizzle found us checking off AZARA'S SPINETAIL (attracted by Juan Carlos), BLACK-TAILED TRAINBEARER, and BLACK FLOWERPIERCER. The rain stopped as we rose above the central valley and we soon made our first dry stop which proved productive with good views of a female TYRIAN METALTAIL, SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEG, SPECTACLED REDSTARTS, and a glimpsed SCARLET-BELLIED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER.
A stop on the other side of beautiful downtown Nono yielded a far off BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE riding the air currents, a RED-CRESTED COTINGA and several BROWN-BELLIED and BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWS. As we dropped deeper into the valley, the vegetation changed and we encountered a forest covered with vines, epiphytes and bromeliads with a rocky stream paralleling the muddy road. A landslide delayed our progress for a little while but we eaked our way around it and soon encountered several WHITE-CAPPED DIPPERs, a COLLARED INCA, and a HOARY PUFFLEG. The dippers allowed for some photo opportunities for Rob before we headed further down the valley into a land dotted with silver leafed cicropias.
Several times, we stopped near roadside stands of cicropias looking for tanagers and other fruit eating birds. We were rewarded during one stop with an excellent view of a male ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK which stayed in view on an exposed cicropia branch in time for photographs and many oohs and ahs. We arrived in Tandayapa to learn that the road up to Bellavista was too rough for a bus so we went back to the new Nono-Mindo and drive several kilometers to another road which would take us to Bellavista. However, 6 kilometers further along, we encountered a road becoming narrower and narrower as we watched it crumble before our very eyes. After careful deliberation, we decided to retreat and venture further down the new road to San Tadeo and backtrack to the lodge. Although this took a little while and put us behind schedule, we arrived at Bellavista and immediately were greeted by Richard Parsons, the owner, and a hoard of hummers which delighted us all. Lunch included fine views of acrobatic BUFF-TAILED CORONETs, several stunning COLLARED INCAs, FAWN-BREASTED BRILLIANTs and the diminutive SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD which superficially resembles a female White-eared Hummingbird.
An afternoon walk above the lodge produced several GREEN-AND-BLACK FRUITEATERs, TURQUOISE JAYs and the striking BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs. RED-BILLED PARROTs and BARRED PARAKEETS squawked overhead in the fog. At dusk, we wandered below the lodge to the first bend in the road and encountered what we were searching for - a group of about five SWALLOW-TAILED NIGHTJARs which hawked insects overhead. One calling bird may have been a male but never showed itself. This species is an uncommonly seen nightjar which has just recently been discovered in Pichinche province on the western slope of the Ecuadorian Andes. Dinner and listing followed this first of many days in the wilds of Ecuador.
We woke at 6:15 to start our morning walk but not before coffee, hot chocolate, and tea to prime our internal engines. We headed up to the intersection above the lodge recording avian beauties such as BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERS, GRASS-GREEN TANAGERS, RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLERs, and the commonly heard PLAIN-TAILED WREN which called from the abundant stands of bamboo. Several PLATE-BILLED MOUNTAIN-TOUCANS were seen at a distance feeding in the forest canopy while the rolling call of the DARK-BACKED WOOD-QUAIL emanated from somewhere on the forest floor. We ventured back to the lodge for breakfast and a pack up of our belongings. After breakfast and before our inevitable bus ride, we enjoyed a bird flock from the balcony which included RUSTY-WINGED BARBTAIL, a CRIMSON-MANTLED WOODPECKER which perched for a quite a while behind several layers of vegetation and more BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs. A BLACK-CHESTED BUZZRD-EAGLE flew overhead as we said our good byes to Richard and the many hummers which we vowed always to remember.
Our drive to Mindo was punctuated with stops for FLAVESCENT FLYCATCHER, BOOTED RACKET-TAIL, BLACK-CHINNED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER and THREE-STRIPED WARBLER at San Tadeo with a calling mystery bird which Juan Caros will follow up on as it may be a bird he has never seen before in Ecuador. We arrived at Mindo Gardens Lodge in time for a passing bird flock which included RUFOUS-THROATED, SILVER-THROATED, GOLDEN-NAPED and FLAME-FACED TANAGERs, SLATE-THROATED REDSTART, and SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER. A RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD had laid claim to the hummingbird feeder which hung by the dining room window. Lunch was surprisingly filling with a fine soup followed by a plate full of beef, broccoli, and cauliflower and dessert which filled in the cracks. An afternoon walk proved a bit wet but we found ourselves staring at a beautiful male GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL.
Nearer the lodge, we found another bird flock which included a wide avian variety such as SQUIRREL CUCKOO, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIA, GOLDEN TANAGER, CINNAMON BECARD, FLAME-FACED TANAGER, METALLIC-GREEN TANAGER, RED-FACED SPINETAIL and MONTANE WOODCREEPER. A misty walk down the road did not yield much other than a parrot in the mist which was variously called a raptor and an owl. The Mindo parrot lives! Another filling meal awaited us and then we listed in the comfort of the upstairs living area above the dining room. Sleep came easily beside the roaring stream behind the two story cabanas.
Woke early for our 6:15 walk which yielded the same bird flock as the day before with the addition of RED-BILLED and BRONZE-WINGED PARROTs flying overhead. A cooperative calling male IMMACULTE ANTBIRD was a nice addition as were the two PALE-MANDIBLED ARACARIs which put in a brief appearance. After breakfast and after a very brief view of a SUNBITTERN under the Orchidaes cabana, we packed up the bus. In the meantime, Steve had found a flycatcher down the road which we all went to view. It turned out to be a silent FULVOUS-BREASTED FLATBILL. While watching it, a BARRED FOREST-FALCON flew in and perched in the canopy of a nearby tree for good views by all while a BLACK HAWK-EAGLE soared overhead.
Departed from Mindo Gardens amidst soaring TURKEY VULTUREs in the air and YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATERs in the passing grasses. As we climbed out of Mindo, we encountered SWALLOW-TAILED KITEs, PACIFIC HORNERO, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR, SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER, PLAIN BROWN WOODCREEPER, and more TROPICAL PARULAs and BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERs. A stakeout cluster of colorful flowers did not produce the sought after Velvet Purple Coronet but did attract a BROWN INCA and a SCALE-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT for all to see. We made another stop at San Tadeo to search for the calling Tody Motmot but without success. I will let you all know if Juan Carlos is ever able to relocated the mystery singer and identify it. Several CRIMSON-RUMPED TOUCANETs and a couple of close PLUMBEOUS PIGEONs were the only new birds for the area. The drive back to Quito was bumpy but we were given a short respite when a GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL flew across the road. A close inspection of the nearby trees did not relocate the bird. Back in Quito, most of us walked several blocks to "The Nets", a seafood restaurant which David recommended
Woke for a 7am breakfast which was a bit delayed and we all met Laura Harvey. We loaded into the bus for our departure for Papallacta Pass and points east. En route during the beautiful, clear morning, we enjoyed fleeting views of snow-capped Cotopaxi while making stops for STREAK-THROATED BUSH-TYRANT, SCRUB TANAGER, HOODED SISKIN, and WHITE-BELLIED WOODSTAR among the more common GREAT THRUSHes, EARED DOVEs, and VERMILION FLYCATCHERs. BLUE-AND-YELLOW TANAGERs and a few AMERICAN KESTRELS were seen amidst a backdrop of snow capped mountains. Another stop lined with tall Eucalyptus trees yielded many SPARKLING VIOLETEARs, a few BLACK-TAILED TRAINBEARERs, ASH-BREASTED SIERRA-FINCH, TUFTED TIT-TYRANT, GOLDEN-RUMPED EUPHONIA (a recent split from Blue-hooded Euphonia), and BAND-TAILED SEEDEATER. Many WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS hawked insects overhead while groups of TURKEY and BLACK VULTURES sailed the air currents.
Further on, we saw a SHINING SUNBEAM darting through the bushes and perching for fairly good views and a BLACK-BILLED SHRIKE-TYRANT which chased unseen prey in the grass. We eventually arrived at Papallacta in time to enjoy an incredible view of Antisana wearing a skirt of white puffy clouds. We took time to walk and study the terrain...a few low growing wildflowers and the birds which made themselves known. A TAWNY ANTPITTA perched on a yellow sign was enjoyed by a few and a STOUT-BILLED CINCLODES running on the ground were recorded, as were several VARIABLE HAWKs. A RED-RUMPED BUSH-TYRANT was observed on a phone line. Further below, we lunched next to some flowering gisneria in hopes of getting photographs of a BUFF-WINGED STARFRONTLET which we heard in the area but we were not successful. A VIRIDIAN METALTAIL was a good consolation prize. YELLOW-BILLED PINTAILS and SPECKLED TEALs were on Papallacta Lake.
We journeyed lowered along a very dusty road and almost had our Andean Condor but it turned into a surprise HORNED SCREAMER flying from who knows where to who knows how high. This had to be the strangest surprise of the trip! We finally arrived at San Isidro after several unsuccessful attempts to find Torrent Ducks along the Cosanga River. We did find a flock of GREEN JAYs with SUBTROPICAL CACIQUEs mixed in. A smiling Carmen Bustamente and a filling dinner awaited us at San Isidro, our base for the next several days. The power outage during our nightly listing reminded us that, although it seemed we were far from it all, man's "improvements" in the form of a new oil pipeline were close at hand.
Early morning wakeup for a pre breakfast walk down the road where we recorded quite a few species including RUFOUS-CROWNED TODY-TYRANT, SICKLE-WINGED GUAN, LONG-TAILED ANTBIRD, and PALE-EDGED FLYCATCHER. At a bend in the road which was rich with fruiting cicropias and fully laden mistletoe vines, CHESTNUT-BREASTED CHLOROPONIAs, ORANGE-BELLIED EUPHONIAs, a GOLDEN-COLLARED HONEYCREEPER and several tanagers including BLACK-CAPPED and more BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs were enjoyed. PLUMBEOUS-CROWNED and WHITE-TAILED TYRANNULETs were also seen. We returned for a 9:45 breakfast before heading off to Sierra de Huacamayos to the south. En route, we stopped along the Rio Cosanga and noted a BLUE-FRONTED LANCEBILL located by Steve. In order o get a better view, we walked to a bridge spanning the river and were surprised to discover a male and immature male TORRENT DUCK which did not linger very long. BLACK PHOEBES played in the background.
Further up the ridge, we encountered flocks of HOODED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERS and a scope view of a SEMICOLLARED HAWK perched in the canopy down slope that was quickly enveloped by the advancing fog. A BROAD-WINGED HAWK perched in a nearby tree as we piled out of the bus for another stop. The mossy vegetation festooned with bromeliads soon yielded more treats including a very cooperative and raucous group of WHITE-CAPPED TANAGERs which, obligingly, conspicuously perched on an exposed bush near the road. HANDSOME (thanks to Martha) and CINNAMON FLYCATCHERs were noted as well as several LACHRYMOSE MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs. A close study of a stand of cicropias produced a calling BLACK-BILLED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER which took form when viewed through the Kowa. Further on, we stopped near a fruiting cicropia and had great views of some fruit-eating birds including FLAME-FACED TANAGER, SAFFRON-CROWNED TANAGERs, GOLDEN-NAPED TANAGER, and a single CHESTNUT-BELLIED THRUSH (not robin). We then turned around and headed back up slope and back to San Isidro with a few brief stops for other avian treats including a mixed flock of MOUNTAIN CACIQUEs, COLLARED JAYs, and HOODED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs.
Arrived back at the lodge for lunch and a hummingbird report from Rob who told us of the male and female LONG-TAILED SYLPH, SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD, COLLARED INCA, and BRONZY INCA which had frequented the feeders during the day. Afternoon winds created unnatural sounds on the corrugated iron roof, which kept hummingbird activity low. A one-hour siesta allowed for laundry duty and naps before a 4pm walk along the log trail. The trail, built by logs laid crossways along the trail, produced a bird flock which included BLACK-BILLED PEPPERSHRIKE, LONG-TAILED SYLPH (yeah Bea!), CINNAMON FLYCATCHERs, RUFOUS-CROWNED TODY-TYRANT, and a sneaky STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEK. Beautiful flowers were everywhere and many had attendant flowerpiercers searching for their next nectar meal. The calls of BARRED ANTTHRUSH and WHITE-BELLIED ANTPITTA emanated from the forest floor and belied the abundance of wildlife seen and unseen.
On the way to the dining hall, we recorded several flying nightjars which proved to be LYRE-TAILED NIGHTJARs due to size and location. A distant COMMON POTOO called, as did several WATTLED GUANs that we never did see. Dinner was, one again, a real treat although it was marred by the news that there was a two-day national strike looming on the near horizon. The decision was made to return to Quito the following day which would cut our eastern slope adventure short by two days. After dinner, we viewed Carmen's collection of over 2000 butterflies and moths mounted in their glass and wood display trays. Dave was in his glory recognizing some and seeing others for the first time. The colors were incredible! On the way to our cabanas, a single RUFOUS-BANDED OWL started its evening off with a few hoots.
Early morning wake-up for a 6am breakfast and departure for Loreto Road. Our first stop was rich in avian diversity which included SPIX'S GUAN, CHESTNUT-EARED ARACARI, BLUE-GRAY TANAGER, CHESTNUT-BELLIED SEDEATER, OLIVACEOUS SISKINs, GRAYISH SALTATORs, and the spectacular BLUE-NECKED TANAGER. A further stop yielded a cooperative pair of LINED ANTSHRIKEs, GOLDEN-FACED TYRANNULETs, SILVER-BEAKED TANAGERs, the commonly occurring SOCIAL FLYCATCHERS and scope views of PARADISE TANAGERs and MAGPIE TANAGERs. We luckily got better views of the last two tanagers further ahead as they winged their way over the road ahead of us. The CLIFF FLYCATCHERs were waiting us for us at their designated location and we also saw GOLEN-EYED FLOWERPIERCERs and a SPOTTED TANAGERs. Many BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWs and WHITE-COLLARED and SHORT-TAILED SWIFTs hawked unseen insects overhead. Further along, a rushing river yielded about 3 WHITE-CAPPED DIPPERs, several SPOTTED SANDPIPERs and TORRENT TYRANNULETs and a single female TORRENT DUCK and an even further GREEN-FRONTED LANCEBILL.
Lunch was enjoyed on a hillside along with a flyby BLACK-AND-CHESTNUT EAGLE and various flowers and plants that vied for our attention. Since we wanted to get back to Quito at a reasonable hour, we headed back but were delayed by stops for WHITE-TIPPED SICKLEBILL at a cluster of roadside heliconia and a WHITE-TAILED HILLSTAR. Guacamayo Ridge harbored a beautiful male GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL by the roadside that posed for numerous photographs. Final birds tallied for the delay included GREENISH PUFFLEG found by Camille and a SLATY-BACKED CHAT-TYRANT discovered by Martha and various tanagers which we had previously seen. A phone call in Cosanga confirmed that the planned strike was still to occur so we headed straight back to Quito after a stop to pick up David at San Isidro. We arrived at La Rabida at 8:20, an hour and a half later than we had originally scheduled but we ran into no incidents during our return.
There was no reason to wake up early today since the strike would keep us close to the hotel all day. This gave us a chance to send e-mails from the hotel, do some local sightseeing (not far though and the old part of Quito was out of the question), purchase some souvenirs or just rest up for the second half of the trip. During the day, Juan Carlos checked on road conditions throughout Quito and found that the road to Yanacocha was still open and would probably be open the following day. Therefore, we decided to schedule Yanacocha for the following day. Meals for some during the day were at La Rabida while others chose local restaurants. Plans were made for another 8am departure the next morning.
A 7am-breakfast kick started the day and we soon had our two four wheel drive vehicles in front of La Rabida awaiting our departure. On the early stretches of the old road leading up and out of Quito, we encountered a small blockade (a few things burning in the road with people gathered around). "They" told Juan Carlos the way to get around the blockade so, ten minutes later, we made the loop and were back on our way. The reason for this blockade was probably (not known) to disrupt local commerce - fruits, vegetables coming in from the highlands - and was not meant to stall tourism. Unfortunately, this affects the poorest people the most who usually live in the highlands and whose main source of income are the fruits and vegetables that they come to the city to sell. Some of the blockades may be created to make a point and "join in" with the rest of the protests.
Our first stop after leaving the confines of the city produced CINEREOUS CONEBILL, several SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEGs, and some BLACK FLOWERPIERCERs. A RUFOUS-NAPED BRUSH-FINCH and a fabulous GREAT SAPPHIREWING were recorded during subsequent stops. A mudslide temporarily blocked our way but, with the help of the jeep that pulled out a tree trunk and the power of the 4 wheel drive vehicles (1 to pull the other out at one point), we managed to get through. AZARA'S SPINETAILs, SCARLET-BELLIED MOUNTAIN-TANAGERs, and UNDULATED ANTPITTA were in close proximity with one of the mountain-tanagers popping up for a stunning view in great light for a lucky few. We continued onwards to the end of the road for lunch but not before viewing several CARUNCULATED CARACARAs etching circles overhead. A pack lunch next to a patch of gisneria attracted a BUFF-WINGED STARFRONTLET that announced its presence by its unique call. A SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEG fed in nearby flowers amid a din of singing GLOSSY FLOWERPIERCERs.
A quick check of some tubular flowers revealed a GOLDEN-BREASTD PUFFLEG although it was viewed by only a few. Rob stayed back at the van in hopes of snapping a few hummingbird photos while the rest of us forged ahead to the beginning of the partially concrete trail. GLOSSY FLOWERPIERCERs abounded and a stunning MASKED FLOWERPIERCER stood out in its bright blue finery. A BLACK-CHESTED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER was a good find and was another of the sought after cover birds on the Birds of Colombia book. Further along the trail, we encountered two RUFOUS WRENs weaving their way in and out of the mossy base of a nearby tree. We soon found a flock which included BLUE-BACKED CONEBILL, several stunning PEARLED TREERUNNERs, SPECTACLED REDSTARTs, BLACK-CAPPED HEMISPINGUS, and several tyrannulets. The mossy forest became blanketed in a thick coat of fog but not before we saw a family group of ten SEPIA-BROWN WRENs flit across the trail.
We decided to turn around before the fog got too thick and shortly after the decision, good fortune deposited a BLACK-BREASTED PUFFLEG, a very local Ecuadorian endemic which lit on top of a nearby tree for several folks before it blasted unto the fog. UNICOLORED TAPACULOs tempted tape recorders from the thick trailside brush but never revealed themselves. Time was marching on so we decided to return to the bus. Along the way, TYRIAN METALTAILs continued to be conspicuous and a male RAINBOW-BEARDED THORNBILL was spied atop some hillside bushes. We continued to sense the presence of more BUFF-WINGED STARFRONTLETs but never got a good view. We returned to La Rabida and most of us ate at the Magic Bean, an apparent local hangout for young people visiting Quito. We retired early since we would have an early start the following day.
A 6am departure and short trip to the airport for our 45-minute flight to Loja located about 40 miles north of the Peruvian border in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Andes. Several colorful SAFFRON FINCHes and some GRAY-BREASTED MARTINs greeted us at the airport. After our luggage was loaded and we piled into the bus, we made a few stops outside the airport for birding in the acacia-cactus habitat, which we would not see later on. FASCIATED WRENs, a large wren that superficially resembles Cactus Wren, were very common and conspicuous. GROOVE-BILLED ANIs and VERMIION FLYCATCHERs were also easily seen. Another stop produced some very attractive CHESTNUT-THROATED SEEDEATERs and BLACK-AND-WHITE SEEDEATERs, which posed for scope views. Missing were the parrotlets and Plumbeous-backed Thrush which we had hoped to see. We then journeyed out of the valley and into the next valley that harbored the city of Loja. We quickly got our room assignments and then had breakfast of eggs, juice, very strong coffee and roles.
A half an hour later, we reboarded the bus and drove up to the higher entrance of nearby Podocarpus National Park, one of the crown jewels of the Ecuadorian national park system. No birds were encountered en route although the park entrance was rather grand with paintings of several birds and mammals on the gate which included Spectacled Bear and Toco Toucan (which isn't found in the park). We walked quite a bit of the road inside the park but the sunny, windy conditions kept wildlife activity low. A variety of distant flowers and a large display of different orchids dotted the hillsides while unseen birds chipped close by. We picnicked at the tables at the end of the road and savored the usual two sandwiches, juice, banana, water, chocolate bar, and soda before the afternoon mist set in which slowly changed to light rain. Several folks decided to walk the 700-meter trail above the picnic area. It was a beautiful walk although a little wet but we did see several TURQUISE JAYs and a surprise RUFOUS ANTPITTA which stealthily plodded along under the cover of the rich ferns and low lying vegetation.
When we returned to the picnic area, we were greeted with reports of a fast moving flock that contained SPECTACLED RESDTARTs, about five PEARLED TREERUNNERs, a BLACK-CAPPED HEMISPINGUS, BLUE-BACKED CONEBILLs, and several SULPHUR-BELLIED TYRANNULETs. Luckily, the flock once again circled the area and we added OLEAGINOUS HEMISPINGUS, GRAY-HEADED BUSH-TANAGER, and BLACK-CRESTED WARBLER. Afterwards, we started our hike down the hill we had hiked up earlier with much different results. Quickly, the high whistled sounds of fruiteaters grabbed our attention and we soon found ourselves staring at a pair of beautiful BARRED FRUITEATERs. The male's acute attention to the female and the female's interest in the berries allowed us to keep them in view for quite a while before they moved off to an unseen bush.
Shortly after they left, a rush of birds moved up the hillside and crossed the road. We quickly recorded species such as the colorful GOLDEN-CROWNED TANAGER, BLUE-BACKED CONEBILL, TOURMALINE SUNANGEL, BUFF-BREASTED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER (another cover bird), STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEK, RUFOUS-BREASTED CHAT-TYRANT, PARAMO SEEDEATER, BLACK-HEADED HEMISPINGUS, and more of the previously mentioned species. Further down, we recorded far off GRAY-BREASTED MOUNTAIN-TOUCANs, which were deftly found by Laura and several WHITE-CAPPED PARROTs that squawked over the distant trees. Hummingbirds darted through the air and some stayed long enough for a positive identification including RAINBOW STARFRONTLET, MOUNTAIN VELVETBREAST for a few folks and COLLARED INCA AND TYRIAN METALTAIL. The rains started getting heavier and we all returned to the bus after recording our last TWO species of the day, several BLUE-AND-BLACK TANAGERs and a GLOWING PUFFLEG that zipped between the low bushes down the hillside. Our return to Loja was punctuated by photo stops and a stop at the park entrance for payment of the entrance fee. Listing and sleep followed a filling dinner at the hotel.
Another early wakeup for most of us as Camille and Laura opted to stay in Loja and explore the city. Our destination was the lower entrance to Podocarpus accessed through the town of Zamora at about 3000ft in the Oriente province. Travelling through the higher stretches of the park was wet and a precursor to the rainy weather we would encounter for the majority of the day. The pass was both cold and shrouded in fog and a stop lower down produced only a few RUFOUS-NAPED BRUSH-FINCHes and BAND-TAILED PIGEONs. The biological research station at San Francisco proved to be a bust, as it did not contain the hummingbird feeders which hotel personnel had said existed. We were to drop Rob there for photography but it never came to pass. Further on down the road we stopped for a flock which included ORANGE-EARED TANAGER and EMERALD TOUCANET among the more common GOLDEN TANAGERs and SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTs.
Eventually, we passed through Zamora and found ourselves on a dirt road rich with birds....and a few dogs. As we tried to stay ahead of the advancing rain, we encountered typical lowland species such as YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW, SOCIAL FLYCATCHER, SOUTHERN HOUSE WREN, SILVER-BEAKED and BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs, and BANANAQUITs. One flock yielded a GOLDEN-EARED TANAGER among ten PARADISE TANAGERs, an unforgettable sight even in the rain. We arrived at the end of the road ahead of the rain and broke out the bag lunches. However, lunch was cut short by a nearby bird flock (what is it about box lunches which brings out the birds?). We were treated to good views of FULVOUS-CRESTED TANAGERs, numerous YELLOW-THROATED BUSH-TANAGERs, several stunning ORANGE-EARED TANAGERs, a SQUIRREL CUCKOO, and a few other glittering beauties like BLUE-NECKED and GREEN-AND-GOLD TANAGERs. After lunch, we hiked a nearby trail that was very well maintained and lined with birds. WHITE-BREASTED PARAKEETs (Ecuadorian endemic) were a treat as they perched on exposed branches at eye level. A flock yielded several STREAKED XENOPS amidst a blizzard of the more common YELLOW-THROATED BUSH-TANAGERs.
Surprises lay around every bend including a covered footbridge over a stream that contained a pair of BUFF-RUMPED WARBLERs. A biological station was located up the trail that provided needed shelter during the occasional rain showers. A tanager flock at the station was preceded by a glimpsed AMAZONIAN UMBRELLABIRD. The tanagers included incredible views of close GOLDEN, BLUE-NECKED, PARADISE, and GOLDEN-EARED as well as other species such as VARIEGATED BRISTLE-TYRANT and SLATY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER. On the way back to the bus, we spied a pair of ORNATE FLYCATCHERs and several RED-RUMPED CACIQUEs. The trip back to Loja on the bus was dismal in pouring rain and fog. We passed one bus that had already driven of the road. Dinner at the hotel was marred by news that our reservations at Sacha Lodge had been made for the incorrect days which meant drastic and immediate changes in our itinerary for the following two days. Therefore, hasty plans were made for an early departure the following morning for Cuenca.
Our early morning started with breakfast and a walk to a local square where Juan Carlos had a stakeout AMAZILIA HUMMINGBIRD. It put in an appearance at 6:15 and we were off but not before receiving some strange looks by local residents. A group of Americans staring into a bush in the early morning hours with binoculars and remarking on plumage characteristics in a foreign language was not a common site. We endured the four hour, 150 kilometer uncomfortable bus ride to Cuenca through countryside much drier than Loja and Podocarpus. The scenery was pleasing at times although this stretch of the Panamerican Highway is filled with numerous potholes on its entire stretch. Upon our arrival in Cuenca, we immediately went to the airport to check on flights back to Quito. No airport personnel had any information so we headed for the house of a friend of Juan Carlos who had hummingbird feeders. Star attractions were many SPARKLING VIOLETEARs and WHITE-BELLIED WOODSTARs with several GIANT HUMMINGBIRDs in attendance.
The violetears performed intricate aerial acrobatics as they vied for position at the feeders. Many landed on sections of the roof and gutters to wait their turn at the feeders or to defend their positions. The woodstars were more amiable and buzzed like large bumblebees around their preferred feeders. The Giant Hummingbirds were shy and only occasionally visited the feeders but never when anyone was close by. The owner of the house, Ernesto Jaramillo, was very cordial and gladly gave us access to his house. Unfortunately, our time was cut short since we needed to return to the airport. We took a short ten-minute tour of Cuenca but the airport beckoned. A frustrating wait at the airport revealed a cancelled 3pm flight and a long wait to try to get on the 5:30 flight. It proved impossible to do although we were next in line. We had confirmed seats on the morning flight so we headed out and hailed some taxis and arrived at our hotel in Cuenca. Beautiful spacious rooms overlooking a stream took some of the bite out of the previous frustrating hours at the airport. In the courtyard was a CHIGUANCO THRUSH and we searched in vain for a Line-cheeked Spinetail which usually stays in a tree near the courtyard. Dinner was filling and we listed and then retired.
Our 5:30 wake up call came earlier than expected since the hotel notified Juan Carlos at 4:15 that blockades were already being set up around the streets of Cuenca for the one day nationwide transportation strike (including barricades). Our bus came to pick us up at 4:45 instead of 6:00. We tried to beat a hasty retreat but the hotel wanted us to pay our 50-cent charges for water served at dinner the previous night. Having gone through that inconvenience, we loaded into the bus. The streets were vacant and were already lined with parked buses. Bus drivers formed groups on street corners. We did not run into any problems on the way to the airport other than a few minor detours. We had a long wait for our flight which was delayed by one hour since the pilots couldn't get to the airport in Quito on time because of the lack of taxis! The plane eventually came and we departed for Quito with a plan.
The plan included a vehicle which would meet us at the Quito airport with all of our luggage from La Rabida so that we could switch from cold weather to warm weather clothing for the next four days in the jungle. We got to Quito with no problem and were met by Marcos and our luggage and Andrew Harvey who had flown in the night before. However, our best-laid plans fell apart when we discovered that our flight to Coca had been cancelled, another indirect victim of the strikes. Also, no Sacha Lodge representative met us so we knew things were going down hill. It turned out that the other folks who were due to fly to Coca with us were delayed because of the strikes and the Sacha Lodge rep hadn't heard from us (why would she) so assumed that we were not coming so the flight was cancelled. I had a "discussion" with her to set her straight but we were not going to Sacha Lodge that day. We would fly in the next day on a charter flight and then fly back to Quito one day later than planned which meant that we were back on the original schedule.
There were no taxis so we walked the 5-kilometer from the airport to La Rabida under sunny skies (thankfully). Luckily, Marcos was able to drive back to the hotel with our entire collection of luggage. It was a very strange feeling to walk along the Avenida de Amazonas at mid day with very little traffic in sight! We stopped en route for lunch before reaching La Rabida where we rested, sent e-mails, purchased souvenirs, rearranged luggage, listed, and fell asleep.
We had an early wakeup since we did not know what the conditions would be like around town. We breakfasted and then were met by Juan Carlos at 8:30. We didn't encounter any problems, as the strike seemed to be dying down although some intersections were still blocked by yellow circles (taxis). We were met by the Sacha Lodge rep who told us that everything was "a go" and that the flight would leave at 10:45 instead of 11:30. However, it soon became apparent that the departure time would be 11:30. We endured a bumpy 50-minute flight to Coca on a 19 passenger plane although the bumps subsided after the Andes gave way to the rainforests of the Oriente. Lucy and Carlos met us at the airport and gave us a brief orientation. The open-air bus came and we tried to enjoy the bumpy 5-minute ride through downtown Coca. Safely deposited at the hotel on the banks of the Napo, we passed our time watching some wing clipped parrots and viewing WHITE-WINGED SWALLOWs on a cable which spanned the river. Eventually, we met Oscar, our bird guide during our stay at the lodge.
We boarded our motorized dugout and started our 2.5-hour trip downstream to the lodge. Birds en route included BLACK and YELLOW-HEADED CARACARAs, WHITE-WINGED SWALLOWs, PIED LAPWING, COLLARED PLOVER, DRAB WATER-TYRANTs and GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTUREs. At the landing, we were divided into bird and non-bird groups. The bird group recorded such species as SCRALET-CROWNED BARBET, BLACK-FRONTED NUNBIRD, STREAKED FLYCATCHER, VIOLACEOUS JAY, PIED PLOVERs at the 90 degree turn, and PALE-VENTED PIGEON and BLACK-BILLED THRUSHes strolling the mud banks of the river. The boardwalk yielded a quick BLACK-THROATED ANTBIRD for a few and WHITE-SHOULDERED ANTBIRD for all. The latter's haunting three note call would be heard every day during our Sacha Lodge stay. We boarded the tippi-canoes at the end of the boardwalk (some canoes tippier than others!) and paddled across pelcicocha (Gorde Lake in the Quichua language) to the lodge. We walked to the main lounge area on the second floor for our welcome drink and orientation including room assignments. The Harveys were assigned a general guide while the rest of us would stay with Oscar. With everybody properly oriented, we unpacked and met Oscar at the dock for some evening birding. It was rejuvenating to finally be in a spot unaffected by city streets, transportation strikes, and demonstrations. Dinner was buffet style with soup followed by a variety of foods. Listing followed and some well deserved sleep.
Heavy downpours preempted our morning at the tower. However, we did enjoy breakfast! We pulled early hammock duty and waited one hour before venturing forth to the tower. With rubber boots as the obvious attire, we found staying on the trail easy, as it was more like a muddy stream than a trail. No birds en route since the rain was drowning all activity. We clambered up the tower and parked ourselves at the upper level ever hopeful that the rain would ease up. In time, it did, and birds eventually made themselves known including far off SPANGLED, PLUM-THROATED, and PURPLE-THROATED COTINGAs, a mixed flock of MANY-BANDED, IVORY-BILLED and, for a few, LETTERED ARACARIs, CRESTED and RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLAs, SWALLOW-WINGs, YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUEs and PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROWs. Nesting THICK-BILLED and ORANGE-ELLIED EUPHONIA were feeding young very close to where we stood on the platform.
After the rains subsided, the distant skies were dotted with numerous PLUMBEOUS KITEs, a few SWALLOW-TAILED KITEs, GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTUREs and two KING VULTUREs. A DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE landed in the 'cross tree" and a BLACK-HEADED PARROT briefly lit in the "cotinga tree". COBALT-WINGED and MAROON-TAILED PARAKEETs bombed overhead and a few landed for scope viewing. A far off CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER was spotted although the highlight was a LONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER attracted by a tape that allowed for excellent views. As the insects took flight and found us truly attractive, we beat a quick retreat and headed back to the lodge for lunch.
On the way, we saw both DWARF TYRANT-MANAKIN and a stunning male WIRE-TAILED MANAKIN as well as a TAWNY-BELLIED SCREECH OWL at its daytime roost in a palm tree. Lunch was filling and we had 45 minutes to relax before our afternoon field trip to the farm. Via tippi-canoe and the entrance boardwalk, we recorded BLACK-CAPPED DONOCOBIUS, BARE-NECKED FRUITCROW, GREAT POTOO on its diurnal perch, BLACK-BANDED WOODCREEPER, YELLOW-BILLED NUNBIRD, GOLDEN-COLLARED TOUCANET and, for a few, a GREAT TINAMOU that ambled across the boardwalk. The farm, although a long walk, was very productive with species as varied as UNDULATED TINAMOU (in flight!), WHITE-EARED JACAMAR, CAMPO ORIOLE (split from Troupial), EASTERN WOOD PEWEE, SOUTHERN LAPWING, and YELLOW-CROWNED TYRANNULET to name a few. Our walk back found us eye to eye with a TROPICAL SCREECH OWL. We enjoyed the call of the SPECTACLED OWL as we canoed back across pelcicocha. Dinner followed and we made plans for the next day's trip to the parrot lik.
The usual 5am wakeup, 5:30 breakfast, and 6am departure found us walking back to the Napo on the entrance boardwalk. We loaded into the same boat that we took two days ago from Coca and enjoyed the 30 minute ride across the Napo to the parrot lik which included a pair of flyby BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAWs spotted by Dave. The parrots didn't reveal themselves until we were at the lik but then we realized that there were hundreds of parrots in attendance. These included, in size order, the frosted green MEALY PARROTs, YELLOW-CROWNED PARROTs, strikingly plumaged BLUE-HEADED PARROTs, and DUSKY-HEADED PARAKEETs. Several times, they all took to the air, en masse, and created a cacophony of sound not to be forgotten. After about 20 minutes, we drifted downstream and came upon a pair of roosting LADDER-TAILED NIGHTJARs in some low branches overhanging the river. While cruising along the Napo, we had noticed that storm clouds were brewing and eventually the skies erupted with heavy rain, thunder, and lightning.
We enjoyed our midmorning snack of water and banana and cookies under the thatched roof of the boat. Eventually, the rain lessened and we decided to swim, er, walk back to the tippi-canoe and to the lodge. Those who came prepared for all weather had no problem with the trail. Those with fair weather footgear found it more of a challenge. The tippi-canoe had to be bailed before we got in. On our return, we had stories to tell of parrots, storms, and muddy walkways. A brief respite in the action allowed for some hammock duty before lunch. Lunch was one again, a very filling meal and was followed by a siesta before we headed off for a walk in the woods at 3pm. Our walk netted few birds since afternoon activity was at a low point. However, one vine tangle produced SOOTY ANTBIRD, WARBLING ANTBIRD, and FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE. WHITE-FRONTED NUNBIRDs were seen and several woodcreepers gave fleeting glimpses but the big winners of the afternoon were the mosquitoes that gave more than fleeting bites. Back at the lodge, we reconvened in 20 minutes for a night walk to look for Crested Owl. The CRESTED OWL came in for spotlight views at the far corner of the butterfly house and a TAWNY-THROATED LEAFSCRAPER was found hanging bat-like from the side of a buttress of a large kapok tree. A very strange site as I'm sure we looked to the bird as it tried to snooze in peace. Back to the lodge for dinner and more listing followed by sleep in preparation for our next early morning wakeup.
Early wakeup and breakfast so that we could get to the tower early. With the weather cooperating, we were fortunate to have birds with us all the time at the tower. When we arrived at the top, tanagers were already about. We tallied OPAL-RUMPED, OPAL-CROWNED and TURQUOISE TANAGERs in the first minutes, all of which allowed good views of the applicable field marks. GREEN-AND-GOLD TANAGERs were also present but the Podocarpus sightings rendered this a secondary species for some. Highlights from the tower were many including splendid views of a CREAM-COLORED WOODPECKER, and SCALY-BREASTED WOODPECKER that landed on the tower tree. WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD and CINNAMON ATTILA were both seen through the telescope. GREEN HONEYCREEPERs and BLUE DACNIS graced us with their unmatched colors and a SLENDER-FOOTED TYRANNULET had a hard time getting anyone's attention. A BARE-NECKED FRUITCROW spent some time in the tower tree but the highlight for most was the female AMAZONIAN UMBRELLABIRD that came in for brief glimpses before heading off for parts unknown.
We departed the platform and split up at the base, some took the canoe back while others walked quickly back to the lodge. Those who walked slowly back with Oscar were rewarded with some special sightings that included PYGMY ANTWREN, PURPLISH JACAMAR, DUSKY-THROATED ANTSHRIKE, RUSTY-BELTED TAPACULO, several varieties of woodcreepers, and a surprise COLLARED PUFFBIRD that stayed for a kowa view. We enjoyed another delicious lunch and a prolonged afternoon siesta before heading out again into the woods at 3:30. Several of us showed up as others opted to stay around the lodge. The walk produced a peek-a-boo view of a STRIATED ANTTHRUSH, another COLLARED PUFFBIRD, a sensed but not seen GREAT TINAMOU, and a CHESTNUT WOODPECKER . We returned early and headed for the boat dock for a tippi-canoe ride through some of the backwater canals that fed pelcicocha. It was a beautiful ride through this pristine environment inhabited by troops of Squirrel Monkeys and birds new for the trip. We recorded DOT-BACKED and PLUMBEOUS ANTBIRDs, WHITE-CHINNED JACAMAR, and another CREAM-COLORED WOODPECKER. Before our return to the dock, we found a COMMON POTOO in the vegetation around the lake and saw a RUFESCENT TIGER-HERON fly by as well as several LADDER-TAILED NIGHTJARs feeding with the bulldog fishing bats. Another delicious dinner enjoyed, bar bills paid, and valuables retrieved. We listed and then retired.
One final wakeup call followed by departure form the lodge and one last walk out to the river for loading on to the riverboats. It would be a WET return with torrential downpours half way into the journey to Coca. Nothing unusual was seen from the boat other than a memorable view of Tombaco towering over the misty lowlands to the southwest. Our wait in Coca airport allowed us to trade notes with some folks returning from La Selva. Our choice of Sacha was a wise one - better accommodations, guide services, and daily activities. While waiting at the airport, we added a few more trip birds including CATTLE TYRANT, RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRD, and NORTHERN JACANA. The plane departed on time and we were all treated to wonderful views of the Ecuadorian Andes including Otavalo and its neighboring lake to the north. No Condors though. Marco was there to meet us at the airport and we arrived back at La Rabida as planned. Some of us had lunch at a nearby restaurant and then siesta before our 6:45 departure for our farewell dinner at La Chosa. Typical Ecuadorian food was the bill of fair including chucha (tasted like over ripe apple cider) and a very tasty fruit drink. The fish was excellent, as was the company that included Juan Carlos and Lilly. Early listing and final farewells as we would depart in different directions the next morning.
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