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Sani Lodge, Western Highlands, and Papallacta

9 - 26 July 2004

by Caleb Putnam



Sani Lodge, Rio Napo (July 9-16)

Papallacta and Papallacta Pass (July 17-18)

Quito (July 19)

Mindo (July 20-22)

Tandayapa Lodge (July 22-24)

BellaVista Lodge (July 24-26)


Trip Statistics:

Total Species Recorded (Vocally or Visually): 424

Hummingbirds: 35

Furnariids (Ovenbirds): 27

Formicariids (Antbirds): 29

Tanagers: 46 (!)

Tyrannids: 56

Woodcreepers: 12

Toucans: 8

Part 1: Sani Lodge (226 species)

Sani Lodge ( is a newly-built, small, community-owned lodge located about 4 hours east of Coca by water in Amazonian Ecuador, about 1 hour east of La Selva Lodge on the Rio Napo.  It is situated on the shore of a blackwater lagoon called Challuacocha, accessible via a small tributary of the Napo.  Although Sani Lodge hasn’t gotten much attention from hard core birders, the recent discovery of a RUFOUS POTOO (more below) and other goodies (eg. Short-Billed Leaftosser, Mottled Owl, Red-Billed Scythebill) here is sure to turn more than a few heads.  The birding is excellent, and not just because of their very talented bird guide, Domingo Gualinga.  Domingo was trained at La Selva Lodge and knows nearly all the local species by sight and sound.  He speaks little English except the bird names, so conversational Spanish is very helpful in the field.  However, he is highly skilled at getting birders on difficult species (eg. antbirds) and he knows enough basic English phrases such as “it’s above the large branch, behind the dead leaf”, etc, that you can probably get by without too much Spanish.  He doesn’t use tapes, opting instead to attract birds by imitation (which, incidentally, he’s very good at too).  We would have missed countless species without Domingo’s expertise in the field.  Incidentally, Sani Lodge doesn’t charge extra for the bird guide, although tipping is recommended.

The prices for lodging are considerably cheaper than those at La Selva and Sacha Lodge (check the websites for seasonal pricing), offering budget birders a very nice alternative to the standard birding lodges.  It cost us $863 per person for an 8 day/7 night stay, plus $120 each for round trip flight from Quito to Coca.  Rates are lower during other parts of the year.  The accommodations at Sani are slightly less luxurious than those at Sacha and La Selva from what I have heard, though I haven’t been at the other lodges to compare.  The forest habitat is in excellent condition, with both extensive terra firme and varzea, and there is a 30-meter canopy tower built around a huge kapok tree, where birding was excellent.  Rio Napo island specialties are easily available near the lodge, as well as a parrot lick at Yasuni National Park and several trails on the south side of the Rio Napo.  Trails at the lodge proper are extensive and generally easy to walk.  Trails are only accessible with a guide (most also require a brief canoe ride), and the lodge will prepare a special itinerary for birders upon request. 

We recorded 226 species (plus several others which Domingo flushed but we didn’t see such as Spix’s Guan and Sapphire Quail Dove) in one week.  A respectable total which could have been higher had we made more target trips and spent every waking hour in the field (we didn’t). 

July 8 - Quito

My father and I arrived in Quito at 10:50PM (Continental Airlines via Houston) and took a taxi to the Mariscal Sucre (gringolandia, as they call it) for $10 (you never should pay more than $5 for a taxi, which we later learned).  We stayed the night at Hostal Alcala for about $30 (online reservations were nice, but get your own taxi).

July 9 - Quito to Coca to Sani Lodge

We were awoken by the songs of several Rufous-Collared Sparrows outside our room in Quito.  A quick walk around the hostal produced Sparkling Violetear, Black-Tailed Trainbearer, Eared Dove, Rock Pigeon, and Great Thrush, and a great pastry breakfast for 2 (less than $1 total).  We then flew from Quito to Coca on Icaro airlines, pre-arranged by Sani Lodge.  After arriving in Coca we were shuttled to the banks of the Rio Napo where we boarded a large motorized canoe (bring a pad for your rear- it hurts!).  Our ride to the lodge took about 4 hours, including a few brief stops for birds and a little Ecuadorian history.  Along the way we saw Brown-Chested and Gray-Breasted Martins, Yellow-Billed and Large-Billed Terns, Amazonian Umbrellabird (the only spot all week), Yellow-Headed Caracara, and other species.  Arrived at lodge at about 1600, dark by 1800.  Had Laughing Falcon, Green and Amazon Kingfishers, and Masked Crimson and Magpie Tanagers just before dark.  A spectacular canoe ride with Domingo around Challuacocha at dusk produced Agami Heron, Boat-Billed Heron, Straight-Billed Woodcreeper, Hoatzin, Muscovy, Bat Falcon, and an obliging Pauraque.

July 10 - Sani Lodge

Woke up to a light rain which didn’t stop the birds.   Domingo, my father and I spent the morning in the canopy tower.  This required a short canoe ride which produced Buff-Throated Woodcreeper, Lesser Kiskadee, Blue-Gray and Palm Tanagers, Striated Heron (very common), Crested Oropendola, Gray-Crowned Flycatcher, Black-Capped Donacobius (very common around the lake), Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet, Red Capped Cardinal, and Blue and Yellow Macaw.

At the tower birding was spotty but productive.  Bare-Necked Fruitcrow, Cobalt-Winged Parakeet, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher (an austral migrant), Grayish Mourner, White-Browed Purpletuft, White-Lored Euphonia (nesting just above the tower!), Spangled Cotinga, Moriche Oriole, Slender-Footed Tyrannulet, Yellow-Tufted Woodpecker, White-Necked Jacobin, Double-Toothed Kite, and a variety of tanagers including Opal-Rumped, Opal-Crowned, Flame-Crested, and Black-Faced Dacnis, and many other species.

Back at the lodge (Linderacial trail - begins behind the cabanas) Domingo showed us his stakeout Great Potoo (spectacular!), and we also found Turquoise Tanager and Red-Throated Caracara.  After lunch and a rest we made a quick dash before dusk right around the lodge itself which produced White-Necked Heron, Many-Banded Aracari, Little Cuckoo, Least Bittern (sounds completely different from the North American form), Great Tinamou (heard only), and Wattled Jacana and Limpkin.

Meals were surprisingly good, and prepared fresh by young Sani men working there.  Diet mostly vegetarian, lots of carbs (not that we gained any weight!), and quite tasty and safe.  Despite this being our first time ever in the tropics we never got at all sick during our stay. 

July 11 - Sani Lodge

Hiked the Chirongo trail which begins at the west arm of Challuacocha, and required about 6 hours of walking and birding to complete.  Trails muddy in spots but with the rubber boots provided there was no problem.  Very productive day through very nice terra firme forest.

Species recorded on the hike included White-Fronted Nunbird, Screaming Piha, Channel-Billed and White-Throated Toucans, Olive Oropendola, Great Jacamar (nice views), Thrush-Like Wren, Gilded Barbet (one of the commonest birds present), White-Tailed Trogon, Ruddy Spinetail, Blue-Crowned and Wire-Tailed Manakins (stunning!), Rusty-Belted Tapaculo, Sapphire Quail-Dove (Domingo only), Purple-Throated Fruitcrow, Fork-Tailed Palm-Swift, Red-Bellied Macaw, and Pink-Throated Becard.  Antbird diversity was high: Mouse-Colored Antshrike, Plain-Throated Antwren, Bicolored, Black-Faced, and White-Plumed Antbirds (unfortunately, the latter seen only by Domingo) and Dusky-Throated Antshrike.  Woodcreepers also put in a strong showing with Buff-Throated, Black-Banded, Cinnamon-Throated, and several too-tough-to-call individuals.  Throw in Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Fork-Tailed Woodnymph, Black-Throated Hermit, and Crimson-Crested Woodpecker, and it was one heck of a hike. 

One of the most amazing finds of the trip was an OCELOT which darted through the woods, perking up the attention of our guide (and us)!  We also came across a cooperative troop of Squirrel Monkeys which gave great views.  After dinner we tried some owl tapes and were treated to excellent flashlight looks at Spectacled Owl and Tawny-Bellied Screech-Owl, both common right at the lodge. 

July 12 - Sani Lodge

Domingo and I left my father behind and birded the entire Linderacial trail, which begins right behind the cabins and works its way through terra firme all the way to the border with the neighboring community.  Many species were similar to yesterday but new ones included Ruddy Pigeon, Cinnamon Attila, Buff-Throated Saltator, Mealy Parrot, White-Flanked Antwren, Black-Spotted Bare-Eye (awesome looks), SHORT-BILLED LEAFTOSSER (very rare- great looks), Cinereous Antshrike, Gray Antbird, Slate-Colored Hawk, Golden-Collared Toucanet, Wing-Barred Piprites, Plumbeous Pigeon, Lineated Woodcreeper, Long-Billed Gnatwren, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Black-Tailed Trogon, Ruddy Quail-Dove, King Vulture, Violaceous Trogon, Spix’s Guan, and a stunning BARTLETT’S TINAMOU which obliged us with incredible 15 foot views and it stood motionless in the undergrowth!

Back at the cabanas Domingo relocated one of the Tawny-Bellied Screech-Owls we had heard singing the night before, perched in a tangly shrub just behind the lodge.  Shortly thereafter he located a roosting MOTTLED OWL about 1 kilometer behind the lodges, which we of course went and saw (beautiful dark plumage with prominent white eyebrow unlike the illustration in Ridgely and Greenfield).  Also saw several Pygmy Marmosets, one of the coolest little mammals I’ve ever seen.  A last minute blitz before dark at the tower added Scarlet-Crowned Barbet, Howler Monkeys (up close and personal atop the tower!), Purple Honeycreeper, Black-Bellied Thorntail, Black-Headed Parrot, and Black-Faced Antthrush. 

July 13 - Sani Lodge

A few birds at the lodge proper: Green and Gold Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Orange-Bellied Euphonia, Orange-Winged Parrot, and Yellow-Bellied Dacnis.

Domingo then took us to the Garza trail, which features a good amount of varzea and second-growth habitat, boosting the triplist quite a bit.  The trail runs along the banks of the Rio Napo for several kilometers and then returns via terra firme to Challuacocha and the lodge.  It was a long day of hiking (6-7 hours with lunch break) accented by my father being envenomated by a Conga Ant, the largest ant I’ve ever seen.  [Incidentally, this is not something you want to be stung by - my father describes it as by far the worst sting-related pain he’s ever encountered, like a yellow jacket times 50.  It bit him through his shirt as he tried to brush it off.  Watch yourself!]

Representative birds seen: Silvered Antbird (along the Challua Yacu riverbank), Gray-Necked Wood-Rail, Orange-Backed Troupial, Streaked Flycatcher, White-Winged Becard, Chestnut-Capped Puffbird, Solitary Cacique, Spot-Breasted Woodpecker, Thick-Billed Euphonia, White-Shouldered Antbird, White-Banded Swallow, Yellow-Browed Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-Faced Flatbill, Spot-Winged Antbird, Lafresnaye’s Piculet (amazing bird!), Warbling Antbird, Silver-Beaked Tanager, and a stunning RUFOUS POTOO, roosting only 20 feet off the trail in the open.  [Side note on Rufous Potoo: Without question this was the bird of the week.  Domingo first found the bird on April 25 and has seen it off and on at the same location since then.  We returned and photographed the bird on July 15, though lighting was very poor and better photos are desired.  This species is extremely rare in the Oriente of Ecuador, and apparently not present regularly at La Selva, Sacha, or Yuturi].  A staked-out NIGHT MONKEY was also seen peering outside its regular cavity roost- wow! 

Rufous Potoo, Sani Lodge

Rufous Potoo (Nyctibius bracteatus), July 15 2004, Sani Lodge, Ecuador.
Photo: copyright Caleb Putnam 2004

A canoe ride around the lake at dusk produced Tropical Screech-Owl (great views with tapes), Common Potoo, Gray-Breasted Crake (heard only), and Rufescent Tiger-Heron, not to mention Black Caiman and several large fishing bats cruising low over the water.  Excellent astronomical viewing after dark too, including the brightest view of the Milky Way I’ve ever experienced (way better than even rural Montana!), and my first look at the Southern Cross.  If you’re in to astronomy bring a starguide with you - no one at Sani knows the constellations. 

July 14 - Yasuni Park Parrot Licks and South Shore of Napo

Today we visited the parrot licks at the Napo Wildlife Center Reserve Area (Yasuni National Park).  Entrance fee of $15 per person.  During the boat ride, which took about an hour, we recorded Undulated Tinamou (heard only), Giant Cowbird, Chestnut-Fronted Macaw, White-Eared Jacamar, Russet-Backed Oropendola, and the omnipresent Yellow-Rumped Cacique, among others. 

At the lower parrot lick (there are two, and upper and a lower) were hundreds of Dusky-Headed Parakeets, including about 4-5 yellowish individuals unlike any of the others.  (Not sure of the source of this unusual plumage coloration).  Also recorded a few Blue-Headed Parrots, Mealy Parrots, and 1 Yellow-Crowned Amazon (seen by the group by not me).  The upper parrot lick held only Cobalt-Winged Parakeets (hundreds), with a singleton Scarlet-Shouldered Parrotlet mixed in.

A walk along the trails in this area produced the best mixed species flock of the entire week and a few other goodies.  In the flock were Red-Billed Scythebill (simply amazing!), Fulvous-Shrike Tanager, Chestnut-Winged Hookbill, Rufous-Tailed Foliage-Gleaner, Red-Stained Woodpecker, among many others.  Also in the area we saw Golden-Crowned Manakin, Brownish Twistwing, Double-Banded Pygmy-Tyrant, and Cinnamon-Throated Woodcreeper.  Upon returning to the lodge after dark we were again treated to a Spectacled Owl singing in a tree right above us! 

July 15 - Napo Islands near Sani Lodge

Woke up to singing Pauraque, Common Potoo, and Great Tinamou outside the cabana.  This was our day to hit the Rio Napo Islands for specialties and clean up on missed birds at the lodge.

New birds seen at a nearby Napo island (only 1-2 km upstream from the lodge) included Collared Plover, Oriole Blackbird, River Tyrannulet, Drab Water-Tyrant, Chestnut-Bellied Seedeater, White-Tipped Dove, Caqueta Seedeater, Black-Billed Thrush, Fuscous Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator, Ladder-Tailed Nightjar (roosting on ground and very cooperative), 4 spinetails (Plain-crowned, Parker’s, Dark-breasted, and White-bellied), Black and White Antbird, Lesser Hornero (including a nest), Castelnau’s Antshrike, Little Woodpecker, and Pale-Vented Pigeon on the nest.  It was striking how some species could be absent on the mainland only 50 yds from the island, but very common on the island.  We were also struck by the diversity on such a small island (ie. 4 spinetails side by side on a small island yet only 2 species seen in terra firme the entire week!). 

We made a couple quick stops on the south shore of the river for other specialties and added Mottle-Backed Elaenia, Swallow-Winged Puffbird, and Great Kiskadee, but dipped on Pied Plover.  The boat ride home also yielded Dark-Billed Cuckoo, a nice bonus to the day’s list.  We returned briefly to the Rufous Potoo site on the Garza trail and picked up Chestnut Woodpecker, Common Piping-Guan, and White-Chinned Jacamar in addition to refinding (with some effort) and photographing the Potoo.  

July 16 - Return trip to Coca and Quito

Early morning rise for the boat ride to Coca, which yielded only Swallow-Tailed Kite and possible Plumbeous Kites as new birds.  Arrived back in Quito at about noon.  Spent the afternoon meeting up with my friend Andy Jones of St. Paul, Minnesota, and set up in Hostal Alcala for the night (triple room for $32, included breakfast, and also did laundry there for $2).

Part 2. Western Highlands and Papallacta (220 species total) 

July 17 - Papallacta (the town)

After my father flew back to the states at 8 AM, Andy and I prepared for the second leg of the trip, which was to include Papallacta, Papallacta Pass, Mindo, Tandayapa Bird Lodge, and BellaVista Lodge.  Bus ride from Quito to Papallacta departs only from the “Terminal Terrestre” Bus Station (all taxi drivers know it), which is a 20 minute ride from the Mariscal Sucre.  Fare was about $1.50 each, one-way and it took about 2 hours to reach Papallacta, passing by Papallacta Pass on the way for stunning views of paramo and Polylepis forest on the roadside.

We arrived in Papallacta late morning and got dropped off at Choza de Don Wilson Hostal, which is right at the turnoff to the hot springs on the main road.  We stayed here for 2 nights for about $6-7 each per night.  Rooms were acceptable and cold at night, but the beds have plenty of linen to keep you warm.  Great trout dinners in the attached cafeteria as well as good breakfasts.  Breakfast was $2-3 each and trout dinner was only $4 each. 

We started birding right behind the hostal around noon where a small stream passes right by.  Birding literally on the hostal grounds was surprisingly productive with the following species right out of the box: Scarlet-Bellied Mountain Tanager, Paramo Seedeater (looks like a Dark-Eyed Junco!), Pale Naped Brush Finch, Slaty-Backed Chat-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Black Flowerpiercer, SWORD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (seen both days right at the hostal’s many Datura plants present, once while eating our trout dinner!), Cinereous Conebill, RED-CRESTED COTINGA, and Buff-Winged Starfrontlet!  We decided to walk the main road uphill for a bit, then came back and hiked up the 1.5 km road to the hot springs and back.  This produced Cinnamon Flycatcher (a stunning, unique species which the book just doesn’t do justice to!), Shining Sunbeam, Tawny Antpitta, Golden-Crowned Tanager, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle, Tyrian and Viridian Metaltails, Ash-Breasted Sierra-Finch, Brown-Backed Chat-Tyrant, Plain Colored Seedeater, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Mountain Wren, and Glossy Flowerpiercer. 

July 18 - Papallacta Pass

We flagged down an early taxi from Choza de Don Wilson and took it up to the pass (about 10km?), which cost $10 (a bus would have been much cheaper but not many were passing by at the time).  We were let out at the pass itself, marked by the makeshift shrine on the south side of the road.  The taxi driver had no idea where we wanted to go, and no guidebooks were clear about what the "shrine" is - just get out beside the triangular monument to the Virgin of the Paramo, covered in flowers.  There is a parking lot here, and across the road you'll see the dirt road which goes uphill past an unmanned guard post.  We intended to hike up this well-known road all the way to the radio towers, about a 2km ordeal (see Nigel Wheatley’s Where to Watch Birds in South America or Clive Green’s Birding Ecuador, 2nd edition for directions).  This turned out to be a VERY difficult task, much more so than we had anticipated or read, and we would recommend that you only attempt this if you are in very strong physical condition and are well-acclimatized to the elevation (4,200m at the towers). 

We did not reach the towers due to exhaustion (by the way, we’re both in our mid-twenties), moderate altitude sickness, and inclement weather, thus we missed Rufous-Bellied Seedsnipe.  A car would have completely made the difference here; you could even hire a taxi to drive you all the way to the towers and hike down (much easier).  Alternatively, you could skip the towers all together (conceding the Seedsnipe) and concentrate on the lower part of the road, which was excellent in its own right. 

The temperature was cold, requiring winter clothing, hat and gloves (best if waterproof), and it got worse the higher we hiked.  The place was clouded in nearly the entire time we were there, and cold and windy, however, many birds were active and it didn’t rain much if at all.  That said, this place is spectacular.  The paramo is what I would describe as “tropical tundra”, full of very strange plants and amazing diversity.  I could have spent the whole time looking at plants! 

Now, the birds: Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Bar-Winged and Stout-Billed Cinclodes, Variable Hawk, Carunculated Caracara, Many-Striped Canastero, Blue-Mantled Thornbill, White-Chinned Thistletail, Cinereous Conebill, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Andean Gull (a very lucky flyby bird), and Tawny Antpitta (very common and rather easy to see).  Conspicuous misses: Andean Condor (we expected to miss this), Giant Hummingbird (OUCH), Red-Rumped Bush-Tyrant, and Rufous-Bellied Seedsnipe. 

White-chinned Thistletail, Pallacpacta Pass

White-Chinned Thistletail (Schizoeaca fuliginosa)
July 18, 2004, Papallacta Pass, Ecuador.
Photo: copyright Caleb Putnam 2004.

Bus back to Quito ($1.50), arrived evening.  Night @ El Cafecito (dorm style room for $6 each), restaurant downstairs was good but a bit expensive by our standards ($16 total for 2, including beer, full dinner, and dessert). 

July 19 - Quito to Mindo

This day was intended to be spent mostly in Mindo, but we ended up being unable to catch a bus to Mindo until 1545 hours.  There are only 2 buses per day from the terminal (NOT the Terminal Terrestre - check the Lonely Planet for the name or ask a taxi driver) one departing at 0800 and the other at 1545 (note that there are now two rides per day, not one as Lonely Planet suggests).  While waiting for the latter bus we birded Parque La Carolina in Quito, at which a botanical garden was being constructed.  In the future this may be worth checking.  Only birds present were Eared Dove, Cinereous Conebill, Hooded Siskin, Black-Tailed Trainbearer (pity, I know), Rufous-Collared Sparrow, Great Thrush, Vermilion Flycatcher, Black Flowerpiercer, and Sparkling Violetear.  Andy also had Rusty Flowerpiercer and Blue-and-Yellow Tanager here earlier in the week.

We arrived in Mindo at about 1800 hours, where we immediately set up at Hostal Bijao (on the main drag as you enter town).  About $6 per night, with meals available for $3-4, and moderately acceptable rooms (bugs present in the room at night- I used a mosquito net) with only intermittent hot water.  The owners are extremely nice, and just happen to be activists in the local fight against the newly slated oil pipeline which is supposed to be erected right through Mindo, creating an 80 ft wide opening right through the forest.  They were very interesting to talk to and seem to be spearheading the effort.  We were basically the only ones staying there, but they are very familiar with birder’s hours and were willing to do boxed lunches or even breakfasts, and cooked us dinner when we came in after dark. 

We were able to bird for about 25 minutes before it got too dark, and we picked up Blue-Gray Tanager, Blue and White Swallow, Swallow Tanager (just uphill from Bijao), Pacific Hornero, White-Collared Swift, Lemon-Rumped Tanager (abundant everywhere in Mindo), Tropical Kingbird, White-Lined Tanager, and Cattle Egret. 

July 20 - Mindo: Nono-Mindo Road

At about 0630 hours a bus came by Hostal Bijao headed up to Nanegalito.  We took it 8km uphill to the intersection with the Nono-Mindo Road, which heads back to Quito if you turn right.  At this intersection is a small shed with a light which attracts TONS of interesting moths and insects, and also a suite of cool birds every morning which feast on the smorgasbord.  We stood at this shed no shorter than 2 hours and never stopped seeing new birds: Toucan Barbet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Olive-Crowned Yellowthroat, Buff-Throated Saltator, Slate-Throated Whitestart, 3-striped warbler (abundant), tricolored brush-finch, Montane (?) Woodcreeper, Sooty-Headed Tyrannulet, Great Tinamou (h), Streak-Capped Treehunter, Dusky Bush-Tanager (unlike in the book the bird’s irises are completely red, not yellow), Red-Eyed Vireo, Uniform Antshrike, Sepia-Brown Wren, Gray-Breasted Wood-Wren, Brown Inca, Blue-Winged Mountain Tanager, etc.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the shed and worked our way downhill toward Mindo.  The road was excellent.  Golden Tanager, Beryl-Spangled Tanager, Black-Winged Saltator, Maroon-Tailed Parakeet, GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL (many), Velvet-Purple Coronet (stunning), White-Bellied Woodstar, Golden-Naped and Flame-Faced Tanagers, Booted Racket-Tail, and Streak-Headed Woodcreeper. 

A few km from the shed we hit Septimo Paraiso (“7th heaven” for you non-Spanish speakers) where we stopped for lunch- pricy, OUCH!  About $18 total for coke and pizza for 2 ($12 pizza+ $2 coke+ 22% charge).  Birds on the grounds included Red-Faced Spinetail, Ornate Flycatcher, an unidentified WEASEL-like mammal (all dark brown), Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird, Spotted Woodcreeper (my 1,000th life bird), Golden-Crowned Brilliant. 

Continuing on the road down to Mindo we had Rufous-Winged Tyrannulet, Yellow-Faced Grassquit, Plain Xenops, Purple-Throated Woodstar, Scale-Crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-Bellied Seedeater, Blue-Necked Tanager, Bay Wren, Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Black and White Becard, Yellow Tyrannulet, Dusky-Capped Flycatcher, Golden-Rumped Euphonia, Smooth-Billed Ani, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Black-Crowned Tityra, Brown Violetear, Bronze-Winged Parrot, Thick-Billed Euphonia and Fawn-Breasted Tanager.

We arrived in Mindo about 1800 hours, and would recommend you bring water and expect a long day if you walk this entire 8 km.

July 21 - Mindo: Rio Mindo Trail

After picking up Bananaquit, Slaty Spinetail, Variable Seedeater, Shiny Cowbird, Yellow-Bellied Elaenia (we think, anyway), Southern House Wren, MASKED WATER-TYRANT (a pair hanging out in the road right in front of Hostal Bijao!), Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Rusty-Margined Flycatcher, all right at Hostal Bijao, we hiked across town to try out the Rio Mindo Trail (clearly mapped out in both Wheatley and Green), which is really a dirt road which flanks the Rio Mindo and leads uphill to Mindo Gardens resort and other locations.

Although we did see several new species, diversity and abundance both seemed rather low along this road, and if we had it to do over we probably would have birded elsewhere (eg. San Lorenzo Rd).  This road was also being widened, so the roadside habitats might be on the decline.  Notwithstanding, we recorded the following new species: White-Capped Dipper (nesting at the main bridge crossing, in the tall bank about 10m downstream from the bridge), Scrub Blackbird, White-Tailed Kite (evidently rare here), and Golden-Faced Tyrannulet.  At Mindo Gardens ($1 entrance fee to walk the trails- follow signs to reach) we had: Silver-throated Tanager, Green-Crowned Woodnymph feeding young, One-Colored Becard, White-Shouldered Tanager, and Smoky-Brown Woodpecker.  [Side note on Mindo Gardens: Do NOT attempt to hike the “sendero verde” (the green trail on their map) which leads up over the mountain ridge back to the main road- it was incredibly steep and dangerous, and we had to turn back after hiking uphill 1 km!] 

July 22 - 1) Mindo: Nambillo Cock-of-the-Rock lek, San Lorenzo Rd.

    2) Tandayapa Bird Lodge

We hired a local guide, Klever Tello, to take us to the Nambillo (privately owned) Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  Klever can be found at the Orchid Garden described in Lonely Planet (1 block from Mindo town center), and he charged us $40 including taxi, cock-of-the-rock lek, and half a day of birding up the San Lorenzo Rd on foot.  He knows the common birds by voice but there are many species he doesn’t know.  He has, however, acquired the CDs and is learning.  The Nambillo lek is only accessible by hiring a guide.

We left Bijao at 0530 hours and arrived at Nambillo at 0600.  After a lengthy uphill hike (slow down Klever!), we enjoyed very nice views of about 10 male and a single female Cock-of-the-Rock, well worth our money, and surely one of the most peculiar birding experiences I’ve had!  Other birds present at Nambillo: Rufous-Breasted Antthrush (seen well using tapes), Immaculate Antbird, Red-Billed Parrot, Rufous Motmot, Smoke-Colored Pewee, Ecuadorian Thrush, and Social Flycatcher. 

We returned to Mindo at 0900 and began walking to San Lorenzo Rd.  Directions: walk the Rio Mindo trail uphill toward Mindo Gardens, but at the turnoff to Mindo Gardens continue to the right, over the main bridge, and take your first right.  This is the bottom of the San Lorenzo Rd.  Birding was EXCELLENT, passing through a variety of open and forested habitats, and included Chestnut-Backed Antbird, Yellow-Throated Bush-Tanager, Red-Headed Barbet, Bay-Headed Tanager (a personal highlight of the entire trip- unbelievably beautiful), Torrent Tyrannulet, Crimson-Rumped Toucanet, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Scaly-Throated and Buff-Fronted Foliage-Gleaners, Pale-Mandibled Aracari, Metallic-Green Tanager, Ruddy Pigeon, and Spotted Woodcreeper. 

From Mindo we took at bus to Nanegalito ($0.50 each), and then hired a taxi to Tandayapa Bird Lodge ($7 for 2 people, about 6km up a dirt road), where we arrived about 1500 hours.  The famous hummingbird feeders were, as usual, amazing.  Before dusk we recorded: Sparkling, Green, and Brown Violetears, Buff-Tailed Coronet, Tawny-Bellied Hermit, Purple-Bibbed White-tip, Booted Racket-Tail, Purple-Throated Woodstar, Fawn-Breasted Brilliant, Rufous-Tailed Hummer, Andean and Western Emeralds, and Brown Inca! 

Accommodations are excellent and luxurious at the lodge, but expensive (see website).  Iain Campbell and Tropical Birding are headquartered there, and are very good.  If you want a huge triplist then hire these guys.  If you want to learn birds yourself then bring tapes and get the trail map.  We opted for the latter.  Meals were good, though a bit small. 

Incidentally, Tandayapa is buying up good birding habitat (and in some cases pastures which it turns into forest) and has recently bought habitat further downslope from Mindo which may be a prime birding site to visit.  Contact them for further information. 

July 23 - Tandayapa Bird Lodge- “Antpitta Feeder”, Antpitta Trail, Lower Platform, & Hummer Feeders

We began the morning at the antpitta feeder (a blind with a 24 hour fluorescent light for attracting insects), and had great looks at Uniform Antshrike, Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finch, and Russet-Crowned Warbler. 

The Antpitta Trail (obtain a map from Iain Campbell when you arrive) was excellent, although somewhat difficult for good views (like any cloud forest!), but produced several species: Band-Tailed Pigeon, Marble-Faced Bristle Tyrant, Andean Solitaire (learn the song), Plumbeous Pigeon, Moustached Antpitta (heard only), Golden-Winged Manakin, Chestnut-Collared Swift, White-Tailed Tyrannulet, and Masked Trogon. 

At the hummingbird feeders we had many of the same species as yesterday, but also recorded a single GREEN-FRONTED LANCEBILL which visited for about 5 minutes.  This species was missed by most visitors during our stay. 

In the late afternoon we took a brief walk along the road, uphill from Tanadayapa and were treated to Black-Capped Tanager, Black-Winged Saltator, and Ecuadorian Thrush. 

July 24 - 1) Tandayapa Bird Lodge - Potoo Trail

               2) BellaVista Lodge

Walked the entire Potoo Trail at Tandayapa which was fairly productive.  Many of the same species but also White-Throated Quail-Dove (great looks!), Ochre-Breasted Antpitta (using tapes got good looks), Toucan Barbet, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, several tanagers, Rufescent Screech-Owl (found dead (!) at the “Cock-of-the-Rock” bridge (see map), where the trail crosses next to a waterfall), and the usual suspects.

To reach BellaVista Lodge we had to call a taxi to come up from Nanegalito to take us up to BellaVista ($20).  We arrived at BellaVista (owner Richard Parsons, a very friendly and helpful man) about 1400 and got started birding around 1500 hours.

View from BellaVista Lodge

View from BellaVista Lodge
Photo: copyright Caleb Putnam 2004

The hummer feeders host some different species due to the higher elevation, including Collared Inca, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Speckled Hummingbird.  We hiked the main road along the ridge (up near the biological station), and the H trail (ask Richard for a map), which was very productive: Masked Flowerpiercer, Turquoise Jay, Masked Trogon, Sickle-Winged Guan, Toucan Barbet, Dusky Bush-Tanager (literally abundant!), White-Tailed Tyrannulet, GREEN AND BLACK FRUITEATER (quite common), Powerful Woodpecker, Blue-and-Black Tanager, Spectacled Whitestart, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta (very common by voice), Rufescent Screech-Owl (heard only), and GIANT ANTPITTA.  The Giant Antpitta was seen walking in the H trail at its intersection with the F trail.  Although considered rare and unpredictable, this bird had been seen daily at this exact location for about a week prior to our arrival, whereas it had not been recorded for months prior to that week.  Best bet is to walk the F and H trails (and also the main road atop the ridge) in the early morning OR the hour or two before dusk, hoping to luck into the bird, like we and many other birders did during our stay.  It was not at all responsive to tapes, and never sang.  We finished the evening (after dark) with a very cooperative Common Potoo, perching atop a snag in the open right next to the main building, across from the hummer feeders (ask Richard for details). 

Accommodations at BellaVista are very nice, food is good, although portions were too small (even smaller than at Tandayapa), and if you’re large or eat a lot you will probably be hungry!  The lodging is quite expensive (see website), but worth it for the incredible birding and the outstanding views. 

July 25 - BellaVista Lodge - main road and F trail

A morning of very productive birding along the main road, all the way from the lodge uphill to the biological station (see the map).  We ran into some VERY nice mixed species flocks along the ridge.  New species included Yellow-Bellied Chat-Tyrant, Grass-Green Tanager (on the nest - found by Harold Greeley 2 weeks earlier), Azara’s Spinetail, Spillman’s Tapaculo (finally learned its voice), Rufous-Chested Tanager, Streak-Necked Flycatcher, Southern Yellow-Grosbeak, Sierrian Elaenia, Streak-Capped Treehunter, Rusty-Winged Barbtail, Rufous Spinetail, Ocellated Tapaculo (heard along F trail- wouldn’t come in to tapes), and Glossy Black Thrush (heard only- sounds like a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet).

Grass-green Tanager on nest

Grass-green Tanager (Chlorornis riefferii), female on nest, July 25, 2004
BellaVista Rain Forest Lodge, Ecuador.
Photo: copyright Caleb Putnam 2004

Took the afternoon off due to exhaustion and sleep deprivation!

July 26 - 1) BellaVista Lodge, R Trail, main road, and W trail

              2) Return to Quito

Decided to target Tanager Finch along the main road first thing, which we GOT by playing tapes just below where the road hits the X trail.  A beautiful cooperative pair.  We also lucked into an Ocellated Tapaculo standing in the road, and also listed Slaty-Backed Nightingale Thrush and Pearled Treerunner. 

We then decided to hit the bamboo stands on the lower part of the R trail (starts from the main road just uphill of the lodge).  Our targets were Plushcap, Long-Tailed Antbird, and Rufous Wren.  Unfortunately, we dipped on all 3, but we did record Plain-Tailed Wren, Capped Conebill, Barred Parakeet, and Blue-Backed Conebill, in addition to a couple of very nice mixed flocks containing the usual suspects. 

Again hired the taxi from Nanegalito (another $20) to get us back to Nanegalito, then took the bus back to Quito ($1.50 each).  Night at Crossroads in the Mariscal Sucre, again about $7 each for the night.  The room was nice, but we didn’t sleep a wink due to the excessive noise from people partying outside.  The music didn’t stop until 2 AM, followed by 2 hours of people screaming at the top of their lungs in the street (only a slight exaggeration).  At about 4 AM it settled down, until 5:30 when we got up for our taxis.  We’d recommend either bringing earplugs or staying somewhere quieter. Hostal Alcala was quiet enough to sleep without earplugs but more expensive.

July 27 - flight to Houston (Continental Airlines) departed Quito at 0700 hours.

Uneventful departure from Quito, however it’s best to be at the airport 2 hours prior to departure, and remember to bring $25 cash, or you will not be able to get on your flight (important detail, eh?)!

One last thing.  NEVER let a taxi driver use the timer to determine your fare.  What should have been a $3-5 ride to the airport somehow turned into $13!  Always negotiate the price before getting into your taxi (didn’t think I was that naive either!). 

All in all, a spectacular first trip to the Neotropics! 

Full Triplist in Taxonomic Order – 424 species

(All Species Heard or Seen by Caleb Putnam July 9-26, 2004, see text or email me for more details)

Great Tinamou
Undulated Tinamou
Bartlett's Tinamou
White-Necked Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Agami Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Least Bittern
Muscovy Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
King Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Snail Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Slate-colored Hawk
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle
Roadside Hawk
Variable Hawk
Black Hawk-Eagle
Black Caracara
Red-throated Caracara
Carunculated Caracara.
Yellow-headed Caracara
Laughing Falcon
Bat Falcon
Speckled Chachalaca
Common Piping-Guan
Sickle-winged Guan
Gray-breasted Crake
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Wattled Jacana
Collared Plover
Andean Gull
Yellow-billed Tern
Large-billed Tern
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Plumbeous Pigeon
Ruddy Pigeon
Eared Dove
Blue Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-throated Quail-Dove
Scarlet Macaw
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Red-bellied Macaw
Dusky-headed Parakeet
Maroon-tailed Parakeet
Barred Parakeet
Cobalt-winged Parakeet
Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet
Black-headed Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-billed Parrot
Bronze-winged Parrot
Orange-winged Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Dark-billed Cuckoo
Squirrel Cuckoo
Little Cuckoo
Greater Ani
Smooth-billed Ani
Tropical Screech-Owl
Rufescent Screech-Owl
Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl
Mottled Owl
Spectacled Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Great Potoo
Common Potoo
Rufous Potoo
Ladder-tailed Nightjar
Chestnut-collared Swift
White-collared Swift
Short-tailed Swift
Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
Great-billed Hermit
Tawny-bellied Hermit
Straight-billed Hermit
Black-throated Hermit
Green-fronted Lancebill
White-necked Jacobin
Brown Violet-ear
Green Violet-ear
Sparkling Violet-ear
Black-bellied Thorntail
Western Emerald
Green-crowned Woodnymph
Fork-tailed Woodnymph
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Andean Emerald
Speckled Hummingbird
Fawn-breasted Brilliant
Green-crowned Brilliant
Buff-tailed Coronet
Velvet-purple Coronet
Shining Sunbeam
Brown Inca
Collared Inca
Buff-winged Starfrontlet
Sword-billed Hummingbird
Gorgeted Sunangel
Purple-bibbed Whitetip
Booted Racket-tail
Black-tailed Trainbearer
Tyrian Metaltail
Viridian Metaltail
Blue-mantled Thornbill
Violet-tailed Sylph
Purple-throated Woodstar
White-bellied Woodstar
White-tailed Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Masked Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Black-tailed Trogon
Golden-headed Quetzal
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
Blue-crowned Motmot
Rufous Motmot
White-eared Jacamar
White-chinned Jacamar
Great Jacamar
Brown Nunlet
Black-fronted Nunbird
White-fronted Nunbird
Scarlet-crowned Barbet
Gilded Barbet
Red-headed Barbet
Toucan Barbet
Crimson-rumped Toucanet
Lettered Aracari
Many-banded Aracari
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan
Golden-collared Toucanet
Channel-billed Toucan
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
White-Throated Toucan
Lafresnaye's Piculet
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Little Woodpecker
Red-stained Woodpecker
Golden-olive Woodpecker
Spot-breasted Woodpecker
Chestnut Woodpecker
Cream-colored Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Powerful Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Bar-winged Cinclodes
Stout-billed Cinclodes
Pacific Hornero
Lesser Hornero
Andean Tit-Spinetail
Rufous Spinetail
Azara's Spinetail
Dark-breasted Spinetail
Slaty Spinetail
Plain-crowned Spinetail
White-bellied Spinetail
Ruddy Spinetail
Red-faced Spinetail
Parker’s Spinetail
White-chinned Thistletail
Many-striped Canastero
Rusty-winged Barbtail
Spotted Barbtail
Pearled Treerunner
Plain Xenops
Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
Streaked Tuftedcheek
Streak-capped Treehunter
Chestnut-winged Hookbill
Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner
Short-billed Leaftosser
Tyrannine Woodcreeper
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper
Black-banded Woodcreeper
Straight-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Woodcreeper
Spotted Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Montane Woodcreeper
Lineated Woodcreeper
Red-billed Scythebill
Great Antshrike
Castelnau's Antshrike
Uniform Antshrike
Mouse-colored Antshrike
Dusky-throated Antshrike
Cinereous Antshrike
Plain-throated Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Slaty Antwren
Gray Antwren
Gray Antbird
Black-faced Antbird
Warbling Antbird
Black-and-white Antbird
Silvered Antbird
Spot-winged Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
White-shouldered Antbird
Immaculate Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Scale-backed Antbird
Black-spotted Bare-eye
Black-faced Antthrush
Rufous-breasted Antthrush
Giant Antpitta
Moustached Antpitta
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta
Tawny Antpitta
Ochre-breasted Antpitta
Rusty-belted Tapaculo
Spillman's Tapaculo
Ocellated Tapaculo
Red-crested Cotinga
Green-and-black Fruiteater
White-browed Purpletuft
Screaming Piha
Spangled Cotinga
Bare-necked Fruitcrow
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Amazonian Umbrellabird
Andean Cock-of-the-rock
Wire-tailed Manakin
Blue-crowned Manakin
Golden-crowned Manakin
Golden-winged Manakin
Wing-barred Piprites
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Mottle-backed Elaenia
Sierran Elaenia
Torrent Tyrannulet
River Tyrannulet
Streak-necked Flycatcher
Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant
Sooty-headed Tyrannulet
Slender-footed Tyrannulet
Golden-faced Tyrannulet
White-throated Tyrannulet
White-tailed Tyrannulet
Rufous-winged Tyrannulet
Tufted Tit-Tyrant
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrant
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher
Brownish Twistwing
Gray-crowned Flatbill
Olive-Faced Flatbill
Ornate Flycatcher
Cinnamon Flycatcher
Fuscous Flycatcher
Smoke-colored Pewee
Black Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Crowned Chat-Tyrant
Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant
Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant
Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant
Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant
Drab Water-Tyrant
Masked Water-Tyrant
Cinnamon Attila
Grayish Mourner
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Crowned Slaty Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
White-winged Becard
Black-and-white Becard
Pink-throated Becard
One-colored Becard
Black-tailed Tityra
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Brown-chested Martin
Gray-breasted Martin
White-winged Swallow
Blue-and-white Swallow
Brown-bellied Swallow
White-banded Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
White-capped Dipper
Black-capped Donacobius
Thrush-like Wren
Sepia-Brown Wren
Plain-tailed Wren
Bay Wren
House Wren
Mountain Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Southern Nightingale-Wren
Andean Solitaire
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush
Great Thrush
Glossy-black Thrush
Black-billed Thrush
Ecuadorian Thrush
Long-billed Gnatwren
Violaceous Jay
Turquoise Jay
Brown-capped Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tropical Parula
Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Slate-throated Whitestart
Spectacled Whitestart
Black-crested Warbler
Russet-crowned Warbler
Three-striped Warbler
Cinereous Conebill
Blue-backed Conebill
Capped Conebill
Magpie Tanager
Grass-green Tanager
Dusky Bush-Tanager
Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager
Rufous-chested Tanager
Orange-headed Tanager
Fulvous Shrike-Tanager
Flame-crested Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Masked Crimson Tanager
Silver-beaked Tanager
Lemon-rumped Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager
Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager
Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager
Golden-crowned Tanager
Fawn-breasted Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Golden-rumped Euphonia
White-lored Euphonia
Orange-bellied Euphonia
Turquoise Tanager
Green-and-gold Tanager
Golden Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Flame-faced Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Golden-naped Tanager
Metallic-green Tanager
Blue-necked Tanager
Beryl-spangled Tanager
Blue-and-black Tanager
Black-capped Tanager
Opal-rumped Tanager
Opal-crowned Tanager
Black-faced Dacnis
Yellow-bellied Dacnis
Purple Honeycreeper
Tanager Finch
Plumbeous Sierra-Finch
Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch
Caqueta Seedeater
Variable Seedeater
Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Chestnut-bellied Seedeater
Plain-colored Seedeater
Paramo Seedeater
Yellow-faced Grassquit
White-sided Flowerpiercer
Glossy Flowerpiercer
Black Flowerpiercer
Masked Flowerpiercer
Red-capped Cardinal
Pale-naped Brush-Finch
Tricolored Brush-Finch
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch
Yellow-browed Sparrow
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Grayish Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-winged Saltator
Southern Yellow Grosbeak
Scrub Blackbird
Shiny Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Moriche Oriole
Orange-Backed Troupial
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Solitary Cacique
Crested Oropendola
Russet-backed Oropendola
Olive Oropendola
Oriole Blackbird
Hooded Siskin

Known Mammals:

Night Monkey
Pygmy Marmoset
White-Faced Capuchin
Howler Monkey
Black-Mantled Tamarin,
Squirrel Monkey
Pygmy Squirrel

Known Herps:

Emerald Pit Viper (Sani Lodge)

Caleb Putnam

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

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