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November 1997

by Bob Barnes

This is a report on a recent birding trip to Ecuador.  This posting will cover general information and logistics.  Other postings will be by birding site (Bellavista, Nono-Mindo Road, Yanacocha [Inca Ditch]; Mindo; Tinalandia and the Chiriboga Road; Papallacta Pass; San Isidro and the Cordillera de Huacamayos; and Jatun Sacha and the Cabanas Alinahui.

My first (full) day of birding was November 9, 1997 and my last was November 27.  This was a solo trip, I rented a car, it rained about half the daylight hours, and I was sick (not "tourista" but some weird stuff with fever) for a number of days.  I used no guides or tapes.  I was able to identify 328 species, of which 220 were life-birds.


I used Clockwork Travel (which sub-contracted with Neblina Forest).  Results were mixed and I am currently awaiting resolution on some of the issues.  I will, hopefully, be able to post the resolution of the matters I report on in the last posting I make.


Periodically I would run into other birders who were employing guides (and the guides were usually using tapes).  I briefly encountered one birding tour.  My impression is that during the same period and the same circumstances that a person employing a guide would have seen about 450 species.  But that is only a rough guess.  The point being, using guide services results in significantly more species.  I chose to do a solo trip for several reasons -- 1) I did not want to go on a birding tour; 2) This was a birding video [or was suppossed to be] trip; and 3) I wanted the enjoyment of finding and identifying my own birds.  There are positives to birding with guides which go beyond the number of species seen -- for example, by the end of the trip I was tired and finding it difficult to get motivated.


Three weeks before my departure American Airlines called to tell me that the Quito Airport would be closed for three weeks (including my arrival day).  After some quick rearranging I was able to fly into Guayaquil, then the next day on to Latacunga, and then by bus to Quito.  I had reservations at the Continental Hotel in Guayaquil for my first night (the American flight I was on was the last of the day).  When I arrived the Continental had my reservation but no room -- sorry they said.  After some discussion (I don't speak Spanish--so discussions are always an adventure) I was off to the Hotel Oro Verde (the only one the staff could recommend).  The Oro Verde is much much to expensive -- that is the only thing I will say about it.

I flew into Guayaquil on Friday and onto Latacunga the following morning.  Ecuador is the third-world and you begin that experience right away.  From there by bus to Quito for the rental car.

I was able to do a bit of birding on Saturday including SHINY COWBIRD and BLUE-GRAY TANAGER in Guayaquil; RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW in Latacunga.  Nothing to talk about but certainly getting into the feel of it.  CAR RENTAL: Clockwork Travel reported that Budget Rental Car at the Quito Airport would be closed because of the airport closure.  (That turned out to be a rather costly error -- Budget was open.) They made reservations at Avis (which was, as I knew it would be, about half again as expensive as Budget).  I can not say strongly enough that Avis should be avoided at all costs.  They refused to honor the reservation price, haggeled endlessly about the charge (even doing the used car salesperson bit of calling the manager to get permission), and in the end converted the US Dollar price we agreed on into Sucres (which conventienly converted to more dollars when I received my Visa).  I will be working with Visa on this and will post that outcome as well.  Based on my experience, I must stress that doing business with Avis in Quito is an act of desperation and I hope none of you have to experience it.  On the positive side, I rented a Kia Sportage 4-wheel drive and had zero trouble with it, not even a flat tire.  (When I signed for the car I had to sign for all the mud flaps, mirrors, windshield wipers, head lamps, -- well you get the picture.)


One benefit, or major detractor, about birding tours is that they isolate you from the world around you.  When you go solo you are up against the realities of the third world constantly.  That was incredibly depressing, the incredible difference between my world and the world of these people without running water or electricity and houses you could see through was shaking (regardless of the number of times I encounter this dichotomy it never gets easier).  About 99% of the people are very friendly.


I met birders from England, Sweden, Denmark, Ecuador, and a couple of Americans as well.  I also met natural history types from Australia and Switzerland.  Some of my most enjoyable meals were spent talking to American researchers and English businessmen.  I am always pleased at the excellent caliber of conversation I run into in the hinterlands -- people seem to be doing interesting things and have a significant appreciation of the world.

(Bellavista, Nono-Mindo Road, and Yanacocha)

I arrived in Quito on November 8, picked up a 4-wheel rental, and headed for Bellavista in a wonderful thunderstorm.  It poured all the way to Bellavista and for more than half the time I was there.

In preparation for this trip I used the following materials:

"Birding Ecuador" by Clive Green (2nd Ed.)

"A Guide to Bird-Watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands" by Brinley Best

"Birds of Columbia" by Steven Hilty and William Brown

I took Hilty and Best with me to Ecuador, as well as selected pages from Green.  The Best book literally fell apart in the field.  A positive way of looking at this is that I was able to take only the pages to the field which I needed on any given day.  I understand that the Best book is available in spiral -- which I would recommend.  The book is full of useful information.  All of these books are available from Los Angeles Audubon (

I used the directions which Roger Linfield posting on 27 Dec 96 to get from Quito to Bellavista.  They are excellent.  The only comment I would add is that when you take the turn at Km 32 the road is indeed rough -- the directions to keep going uphill work.  As I travelled up this road in the pouring rain, with lightening all around, and a vigorous stream running down the road I was hoping that Linfield was accurate -- if you are out there Roger, thanks.

I arrived late in the afternoon but saw two life birds in the rain from the lodge, a COLLARED INCA and a VIOLET-TAILED SLYPH.  The food and service at the lodge was excellent.  The lodge which is a dome with a magnificent view does not have electricity but does have propane lights which work fine.  When I was there, hot water was available in rooms 1 and 2.  It is one of those places where a conversation anywhere in the place is common knowledge.  Met some very nice people.  Birders from Sweden and the US and natural history types from Australia and Switzerland.  I was sick for the most of the time I was here, including a rather mean fever which left me very weak.  It was here that I first started to have problems with the video, problems which plagued me throughout the trip.  I returned with less than two hours of tape shot.

On Sunday I walked the road and some of the trails (most of which are quite steep and in the rain rather slippery).  I saw a number of life birds including; PLATE-BILLED MOUNTAIN TROGON, CRIMSON-MANTLED WOODPECKER, TURQUOIS JAY, THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA, BERYL SPANGLED TANAGER, TRI-COLORED BRUSH-FINCH, RUFOUS-CHESTED TANAGER, RUSTY-WINGED BARBTAIL, BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER, RUSSET-BACKED OROPENDOLA, TAWNY-BELLIED HERMIT, SICKLE-WINGED GUAN, BUFF-TAILED CORONET, BROWN INCA, GREAT THRUSH, BLUE-CAPPED TANAGER, AND DUSKY TANAGER.  Also present were SPECTACLED REDSTART, RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW, GIANT COWBIRD, BAND-TAILED PIGEON, and the birds I saw the first day.  The road tends to be very productive with mixed flocks on the trail being fairly sparadoic (as you would imagine).

Although I did not see it, an OCELLATED TAPACULO, is predictable on the "O" Trail.


>From Nono I continued to Inca Ditch (Yanacocha) with some confusion about directions but after I studied "Best" it turned out to be pretty straight forward.  Staff on the road were more than happy to open the gate.  The directions do not tell you when to stop.  Wanting to get as high as posssible and not knowing where I was I continued up the track in a very -- as in VERY -- thick fog.  I went to far, found my self on a track which was only a couple of feet wider than the 4-wheel.  On my left a rock wall rose skyward, on my right the cliff plunged downward for a long way (1,000'?).  I squeezed out of the car and walked around a bend, hoping that I would find a turn around spot - instead I found that the road was impassable.  I thought about leaving the car there and walking out -- telling Avis they could come get it if they wanted it.  In the end, I stuck it in low 4-wheel and inched backwards for 50 feet.  Very scary.

I walked along the track as far as the first tunnel, which is in fact a tunnel through the cliff.  The fog was terrible and I could see very little but did add MASKED FLOWERPIERCER, GLOSSY FLOWERPIERCER, PEARLED TREERUNNER, WHITE-THROATED TYRANNULET, ANDEAN GUAN, SAPPHIRE-VENTED PUFFLEG, and what I am sure was a BLACK-BACKED GROSBEAK to my life list.

On the way back to Bellavista I added SOUTHERN YELLOW GROSBEAK to my life list (but find that I cannot add it to my Thayer 2.0 list because there is not an application to add new species to the list -- have to wait for their update).

Saw many of the birds from the previous days as well.

On Tuesday (11/11) I hiked the road and trails.  It was nice in the morning but started raining by 10:00.  I went out twice on the trails in the rain and managed to get soaked.  I added TANAGER FINCH, RUFOUS CHESTED TANAGER, BLUE AND BLACK TANAGER, WHITE-SIDED FLOWERPIERCER, OLIVE FINCH, and GREEN AND BLACK FRUITEATER to my life list.  New trip birds included BLUE AND WHITE SWALLOW.  In the afternoon, I made a milk run for the lodge down to Nanegalito.  On the way back, I added YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT and STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER to my life list.  Ten or so new trip birds as well.  On Wed.  I hiked the trails and roads and added BLACK-CRESTED WARBLER, RED-CRESTED COTINGA, PALE-EYED THRUSH, RUFOUS HEADED PYGMY TYRANT, DARK-BACKED WOOD-QUAIL, AZARA'S SPINETAIL, SLATY CAPPED SHRIKE VIREO, STREAK-CAPPED TREEHUNTER, CROWNED CHAT-TYRANT, AND BLACK-CAPPED TYRANNULET to my life list.  To the trip list I added RED-EYED VIREO.  In the afternoon, I headed on to Mindo.


I arrived in Mindo Wednesday (11/12) afternoon, in the rain, followed the signs to the Hosteria El Carmelo.  I was the only guest at El Carmelo during my stay.  I did not have reservations here but (obviously) had no trouble getting a room.  The service was friendly and helpful (when I asked what time breakfast was, they asked me when I would like breakfast -- not wanting to push my luck I asked for 6:00 and we fell into a pattern of sleepy staff serving breakfast promptly at 6:00 every morning).  During the rains I spent a few hours on the balcony watching birds in perfect "dryness".  The food was very good here.  The only down side I can think of about this place is that they only have the "big beers" -- Pilsner I think is the brand name.  I'm not a big beer drinker, but hey, I managed.

My first afternoon in Mindo I added PARAMO SEEDEATER, SILVER-THROATED TANAGER, GOLDEN TANAGER, DULL-COLORED SEEDEATER, and FLAME-RUMPED TANAGER to my life list -- from the balcony.  Flame-Rumped Tanager is the listing in Thayer's software for the bird which is identified as LEMON-RUMPED TANAGER in "Birds of Columbia".  It appears that Lemon-Rumped Tanager and Flame-Rumped Tanager may have been combined into BRIGHT-RUMPED TANAGER.  Anyone know if this is true?  In any case, the bird identified as Lemon-Rumped is one of the most common in Mindo and is rather spectacular.  I added YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA to my trip list in the afternoon as well.  It is a great feeling to arrive someplace in the pouring rain, dead tired, get your bags to your room, sit down in a nice dry spot -- feeling pretty discouraged -- and start seeing life birds.

Thursday morning I hiked up the road which crosses the Rio Mindo and leads to the Bosque Experimental trail.  The map and information in Best's book, "A Guide to Bird-Watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands", are excellent.  For those of you who enjoy 4-wheeling, the Rio Sangoonbi was running quite swiftly due to the rains and the ford was exciting (as in fun, not scary).  The bridge over the River Mindo doesn't exist here so the trail starts at the River Mindo.  A number of pipe (about 9 inches in diameter) have been laid side by side to make a bridge across the river and it is possible to walk across without event.

Shortly after crossing the bridge there is a field on your right.  A large bare tree on the ridge above this field was a favorite spot for a number of birds.  My hike stopped for an hour, less than a hundred yards from the bridge as a result.  I added BLACK-BILLED THRUSH, SWALLOW-TANAGER, BLUE-HOODED EUPHONIA, and SCARLET-BACKED WOODPECKER to my life-list here.  To my trip-list I added RINGED KINGFISHER, SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, PALM TANAGER, and TROPICAL KINGBIRD.  This area was very birdy.  Farther up the road, I added RUFOUS MOTMOT, GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER, CRIMSON-RUMPED TOUCANET, PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPER, LITTLE CUCKOO, GRAY-HEADED TANAGER, MOUNTAIN WREN, AND STRIPE-HEADED BRUSH FINCH to my life-list.  Trip birds along this section included, BAY-HEADED TANAGER, TROPICAL PARULA, SMOOTH-BILLED ANI, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, and RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD.  Back in Mindo, I added PACIFIC HORNERO (which was Furnarius leucopus cinnamoneus but has now been split from Pale-Legged Hornero) and AGILE TIT-TYRANT to my life list.

Along the road I saw a green snake drop from a tree, one of only two snakes I saw on this trip.  Every time I see a snake drop from a tree I get this sick feeling -- On Friday, I started the day with a trip bird at breakfast -- an ORANGE-BILLED SPARROW.  After breakfast I returned to the road I explored Thursday, walking as far as the Club-Winged Manakin lek.  I added RED-HEADED BARBET, BLACK-WINGED SALTATOR, SCALE-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANT, YELLOW-TYRANNULET, WHITE-CHINNED THISTLETAIL, GOLDEN-HEADED QUETZAL, ORNATE FLYCATCHER, CRESTED QUETZAL, TOUCAN BARBET, BOOTED RACKETTAIL, FLAME-FACED TANAGER, SAFFRON-CROWNED TANAGER, RED-BILLED PARROT, WHITE-WINGED BECARD, ONE-COLORED BECARD, and LYRE-TAILED NIGHTJAR to my life-list.  Trip birds included SWAINSON'S THRUSH, RUDDY PIGEON, BANANAQUIT, COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER, BLACK-SSTRIPPED SPARROW, MASKED TITYRA, BLACK AND WHITE SEEDEATER, and BAT FALCON.  This road is easy to walk and bird.  The views I had of the TOUCAN BARBET and the RED-HEADED BARBET (both very close) are likely to stick in my mind forever.  I was treated to the Nightjar as I rounded a bend in the road thinking of nothing but trying to beat the rain to the car.  There were farmers walking along the road occasionally and a European (German, I think) woman out for a walk.  Other than that, I saw noone the entire day -- no other birders.  I heard a lot of chainsaws on this day and generally was rarely out of earshot of them throughout the trip.  In the evening I added PARAQUE to the trip list at El Carmelo.

On Saturday, rain set in and I decided to head for the coast hoping to bird Laguna la Chamera south of Esmeraldas.  As I left the hotel I added TORRENT TYRANNULET to my life list at the Rio Mindo crossing.  In Tonchique (on the coast), I added MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, BROWN PELICAN, and ANHINGA to my trip list.  I could not find the Laguna, Best has directions and a map but I could not make them work for me.  Near Chucaple I added BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER and BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT to my trip list.  This day was a mistake in planning, I should have taken my chances in the rain in Mindo.  The lowlands are mainly plantations and the traffic can be heavy at times.  There were more military (or police?) checkpoints here than elsewhere.

On Sunday, I hiked the "yellow-house trail" adding OCHRE-BREASTED TANAGER, CLUB-WINGED MANAKIN, BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE GLEANER, SLATE THROATED REDSTART, UNICOLORED TAPACULO, GREEN-CROWNED BRILLIANT, and RUFOUS-BREASTED ANTTHRUSH to my life list.  The Antthrush was a wonderful surprise, I was tracking the Tapaculos (two displaying together, moving very low through the underbrush) and had stopped on a very steep and muddy section of trail.  I was trying to get the video camera to work when I noticed ants and then walking just a few feet away in the undergrowth the Antthrush.  I was able to watch it on and off for half an hour or so.  It always came back, even after I fell down -- one minute I was standing and the next I wasn't (it was steep and muddy, honest).  Along this trail, I also had a nice look at ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK.  The woman at the "yellow house" has started a small hotel.  The building is new and very clean, has several small rooms, common use (but clean and private) showers.  It is in a great location.  They can be reached at their Quito apartment:

Ed.  Olimpia #315 Departamento 302 Calle Ramirez Dava-los Y Ulpiano Paez The family's name is Garzon Jaramillo and can be reached from the US at 011-593-2-236-275 (in country at 236-275).

Since they are just starting they are not in any guide books and I told them I would post this information.  The hotel building has a kitchen so that guests can prepare their own meals.  They will be serving breakfast but no other meals.

On Monday, I left Mindo, heading for Tinalandia.  Between town and the main road I added GRAY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER, VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, BLUE-TAILED EMERALD, PALE-MANIBLED ARACARI, and SMOKE-COLORED PEWEE to my life list.  In Santa Domingo, I added SWALLOW-TAILED KITE to my trip list.  Tomorrow I will post my experiences at Tinalandia.  Mindo was a great place to be, nice accommodations, good food, lots of trails and some easy birding areas.


Monday afternoon (11/17) I arrived at Tinalandia (in the rain of course) and checked in.  From my room I quickly added a new life bird, PALLID DOVE.  Then I was off for a walk in the rain; adding GREEN-CROWNED WOODNYMPH, BAND-BACKED WREN, PACIFIC STREAKED ANTWREN, SCRUB BLACKBIRD, WHITE-THIGHED SWALLOW, SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS, and SOOTY-HEADED TYRANNULET to my life list and SOUTHERN HOUSE WREN AND PIRATIC FLYCATCHER to the trip list.  The room at Tinalandia was the nicest of the lodges I stayed at in Ecuador.  >From the main road you continue up past the eating area (and check-in) to the edge of a golf course (which did not look like it got much use).  The rooms are spread out along the edge and generally have good views.  At San Isidro I ran into someone who said they had seen a BLACK AND WHITE OWL right outside the room I was in at Tinalandia only a night before my arrival.  There is a trail system at Tinalandia which is pretty good.  In the rain it is a little muddy and slippery though.  The rain, here and at other locations, made the birding pretty difficult.  It made it hard to hear and the rain on the leaves meant that there was a lot of movement going on.  I wore my rubber boots about 95% of the time when I was birding in Ecuador.  Although you can borrow boots at most lodges (at Bellavista, San Isidro, and Alinahui Cabanas for sure) I took my own.  I usually wear a thick pair of wool socks with them.  My feet don't get hot and the thick socks make the boots fit a lot better, when you are doing a lot of walking that is a big deal.

The food at Tinalandia was okay, the soup as it was everywhere, was great.

Breakfast was at 7:30.  I was the only guest during my stay.

Early Tuesday morning I added ECUADORIAN THRUSH to my life list and RUFOUS MOURNER and BUFF-THROATED SALATOR to my trip list.

After breakfast I headed for the Chiriboga Road, planning to drive almost all the way to Quito and back.  At about noon, I turned around however and came back.  The going was very slow, the road was in very bad condition in a number of places -- and of course I wanted to stop every few feet to bird.  The villages along this road are very poor and very depressing.  At about 9:00 I stopped a truck coming down the hill and asked if you could get to Quito this way.  The driver looked at me for a long moment, looked down the valley (where the main two-lane paved road to Quito is), looked back at me, shrugged his shoulders and said "Si".

I added BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT to by life list along the road and RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHER and SLATY SPINETAIL to my trip list.  In the end, I thought there was to much driving and not enough birding along here so I headed back to Tinalandia where I was able to add PLUSHCAP FINCH and FULVOUS-BREASTED FLATBILL to my life list -- in the rain, of course.  Along the road I did manage to get the video to work long enough to get some nice tape of ORNATE FLYCATCHER.

Wednesday morning I added BAY WREN to my life list before breakfast and then headed east.  The road from Santa Domingo to the central valley is a two-lane paved road which is in pretty good condition.  It is very steep, has a lot of curves, and a lot of truck traffic.  As a result it can be very slow, be patient and you can get around the trucks safely (they are going so slow that it really isn't difficult as long as you can make sure someone isn't barreling down the hill.)


On November 19 (Wed) I traveled from Tinalandia to San Isidro, via the Papallacta Pass.  The road going up the west side of the pass is two-lane and paved.  It is steep, my Kia Sportage was down in 2nd gear quite a bit of the time.

At the crest of the pass, there is a dirt road off to your left (north) which soon forks.  The right fork goes to the antenna towers near the top of the mountain.  Best and other books refer to a gate near the bottom.  There are metal posts on either side of the road where a gate could clearly be, but when I was there, there was no gate.  There were no issues associated with going up to the top (except that once when I stopped [about 3/4 of the way to the top] the Sportage could not get up enough steam to get going again so I had to go back down to the bottom and get a running start to make it to the top).  I met a birder who was walking down from the top, he had taken a bus to the pass and then walked to the top.  He said the altitude was bothering him a bit but seemed to be enjoying himself.  The altitude was noticable, I felt a bit light headed and found myself taking deep breathes.  Here in Portland we are at about 50 meters above sea level but I haven't had difficulty with altitude in the past.  I think there is a big difference between 10,000-11,000 feet in the Cascades and Ruby Mountains and 4,100 meters, though.  That additional 2-3,000 feet is really noticeable.

On the road to the antennas I added CARUNCULATED CARACARA, GRASS WREN, TAWNY ANTPITTA, BAR-WINGED CINCLODE, ANDEAN TIT-SPINETAIL, PLAIN CAPPED GROUND-TYRANT, PLUMBEOUS SIERRA FINCH, STOUT-BILLED CINCLODE, ECUADORIAN HILLSTAR, SPOT-BILLED GROUND-TYRANT, BLACK-BILLED SHRIKE-TYRANT, MANY-STRIPED CANASTERO, AND BROWN BACKED CHAT-TYRANT to my life list.  The TAWNY ANTPITTAs put on quite a show, sitting on top of small bushes and running along the ground, their calls were everywhere.  The ECUADORIAN HILLSTAR was quite exciting, a Hummingbird that hangs out near the ground (there isn't any high vegetation).  I had nice looks at all of these birds -- quite a show.  (No Condor and no ducks.)

On November 27 I returned to the pass enroute to Quito.  At the antenna towers, in thick fog, I added RUFOUS-BELLIED SEED-SNIPE to my life list.  The road down the east side of the pass is gravel but it pretty good shape.  There was a lot of truck traffic and it was very dusty.  In late afternoon, I arrived at San Isidro and quickly added GREEN JAY and COMMON BUSH-TANAGER to my trip list.  The cabanas are nice, clean, basic rooms with bottled water and hot water for showers.  Meals, which are very good, are served in a separate building.  If you have a chance asked to see the collection of butterflies, moths, and beetles.  The owners are cateloging the insect life in the area and hope to publish.  At night, after dinner, as you walk back to the cabanas you can hear them coming.  A loud buzz comes at you through the night, then wham, a Hercules Bettle (about 2 inches long) slams into your chest.  Pretty exciting the first time and pretty neat after that.  The staff is bi-lingual (at least) and very friendly.  I had enjoyable chats with English, American, and Swedish birders here as well as their Swedish, American, and Ecuadorian guides.

Thursday morning I added SUB-TROPICAL CACIQUE, CINNAMON FLYCATCHER, STREAKED TUFTEDCHEEK, MONTANE WOODCREEPER, ANDEAN SOLITARE, and BI-COLORED ANTVIREO along the log trail as I birded with an English birder and his Ecuadorian guide.  Along the trail I also added EMERALD TOUCANET to my trip list.  After breakfast, I headed down toward the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek, adding SPECKLED HUMMINGBIRD and WHITE-THROATED QUAIL-DOVE to my life list.  I was feeling sick again, with quite a fever, so I broke out the antibiotic I had, over the course of two days I got this stuff under control and did not have any trouble for the rest of the trip.  I never did figure out what this affliction was, only that it was pretty nasty.

In late afternoon, I went down to the lek and watched the ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK'S (there were 5 at the lek) and added POWERFUL WOODPECKER and TYRANINE WOODCREEPER to my life list.  On Friday, 11/21, I birded the Cordillera de Huacamayos, I'll report on that tomorrow.

On Saturday, I birded along the log trail adding BLUISH FLOWER-PIERCER, BRONZY INCA, MOUNTAIN CACIQUE, RUFOUS-CROWNED TODY-TYRANT, BLACK-CHESTED FRUITEATER, HANDSOME FLYCATCHER, and LONG-TAILED ANTBIRD to my life list.  This is a great trail, I really recommend it.  It gets its name from the fact that sections of small logs are laid side by side for the full lenght of the trail.  Since it would be a mass of mud otherwise this works out just fine, even if it is a bit slick at times.  Periodically a farmer would come by with his/her milk pails hooked to a donkey.

In the afternoon, I was back to the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek and managed to get some video of the Cock-of-the-Rocks.  I went farther down the trail to the river (this is a very steep trail [probably 50-60 degrees] and is a series of steps cut into the side of the ridge) where I added OLEAGINOUS HEMISPINGUS, BLACK-EARED HEMISPINGUS, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, ASHY-HEADED TYRANNULET, VARIGATED BRISTLE TYRANT, TORRENT DUCK, GOLDEN-WINGED MANAKIN, AND YELLOW-WHISKERED (SHORT-BILLED) BUSH-TYRANT to my life list.  Sunday morning I left for Jatun Sacha via a short stop on the Loreto Road.


On November 21 I took a one-day trip to the Huacamayos.  I was staying at San Isidro, which is a perfect place to stay if you are birding the Cordillera de Huacamayos.  It rained most of the day but I did add GLOSSY BLACK THRUSH, OLIVACEOUS PIHA, PARADISE TANAGER, BLUE-NECKED TANAGER, BLACK-BILLED PEPPERSHRIKE, GOLDEN-EYED FLOWERPIERCER, YELLOW-THROATED TANAGER, AND STREAK-NECKED FLYCATCHER to my life list and CANADA WARBER and SUMMER TANAGER to the trip list.

The road through this ridge of low mountains seems to be even more prone to land slides than other places I was at in Ecuador.  The road is cut along the side of the hills, as a result the land slips, the Ecuadorian's bring up some heavy equipment and push the boulders and mud out of the way, carve a new road through the slide and its ready.  Given the circumstances that appears to be the most pragmatic approach.  I stopped beside the road to take a nap, hoping that the rain would lessen, I awoke with a start -- a large dump truck had just rumbled past -- I translated that into a huge landslide burying me alive.  I guess I did give more than a passing thought to the fact that every mile or so there was evidence of a huge slide.  At my first stop of the day I watched 4 or 5 ANDEAN GUANS make their way through some low trees.  Quite a sight to see them flutter between the saplings, which swayed whenever the birds landed.

On one side of the road it is always possible to look off into the tree tops and down on the canopy in the valleys.  The uphill side of the road is ususally a cliff but sometimes vegetated.  Even in the clouds and rain I was impressed with the view.  Other good birds were SAFFRON-CROWNED WARBLER, FLAME-FACED TANAGER, CINNAMON FLYCATCHER, MASKED FLOWERPIERCER, PEARLED TREERUNNER, COLLARED INCA...

There is a trail which starts at the antenna as you crest the ridge coming up from San Isidro.  There is a small shrine on the right which is useful in finding the site as well.  The trail runs along the ridge and is suppossed to be quite good.  When I was there it was raining very hard and the birding was not very good.

On my way back to Quito from Jatun Sacha (November 27), I birded the Cordillera again, stopping at what turned out to be my favorite place in these mountains, a turnout with a great view.  Here I added CHESTNUT-BELLIED THRUSH to my life list and BLUE-HEADED PARROT to my trip list.  This is the same spot where I saw the YELLOW-THROATED TANAGER which is a very pretty bird.  There are few places where you can get off the road (although parking on the road doesn't present a problem), that fact may be the best way to describe this spot.  Coming from San Isidro it is on your left, turn off the road, crossing a small ditch, and drive out onto a flat area of rock about the size of a basketball court.  To the left there is a small hill, in front wonderful views of a valley (all forest).  I don't have any mileage, sorry.

On November 23, as I headed to Jatun Sacha, I stopped to bird the upper reaches of the Loreto Road.  Here I added SILVER-BEAKED TANAGER, WHITE-EYED PARAKEET, LESSER SEED-FINCH, CHESTNUT-BELLIED SEEDEATER, and CLIFF FLYCATCHER to my life list.  The Cliff Flycatcher confused me at first, the bulk of the bird did not match my impression of what it should look like.

The Loreto Road is supposed to be quite good but I did not have much time to explore.  Mining is very evident along the road and a fair amount of cleared land is present.  At one point I had to stop for a few minutes while some farmers tried to lasso their horse which was running up and down the road.  One of the most interesting birds along the Loreto Road was the BLUE-GRAY TANAGER, a bird I have seen many times before.  I did not recognize the birds I was seeing here as Blue-Gray's.  The sub-species which is found in this area seem to be much more robust in size, more vivid in color, have a large white shoulder patch and strong white wing markings.  To me it doesn't appear anything like the Blue-Gray's which I am use to seeing.  Instead, it is a remarkable and very pretty bird.  I finally identified the species at Alinahui Cabanas -- where a pair were nesting outside my door.  My next report will cover Alinahui Cabanas and Jatun Sacha.


I arrived at the Alinahui Cabanas in late afternoon on November 23.  The only bird of note between there and the Loreto Road was an AMAZON KINGFISHER at Rio Misahualli.  Traveling from San Isidro to Alinahui Cabanas I was again impressed with the amount of time it takes to travel some of these roads.  It took me right at seven hours to travel between Alinahui Cabanas and Quito on my return.  I understand it can be done in six without to much trouble.

I spent the rest of the afternoon birding the access road to the Cabanas (it is roughly a kilometer from the Cabanas to the "main" road) where there were a number of fruiting trees.  I added BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO, YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUE, BLACK-CAPPED BECARD, SPOT-BREASTED WOODPECKER, PALE-TAILED BARBTHROAT, and MANY-BANDED ARACARI to my life list here and GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE, VIOLACEOUS JAY, BLACK CARACARA, YELLOW-TUFTED WOODPECKER, BLACK-TAILED TITYRA, AND BLACK-CROWNED TITYRA to my trip list.  The staff at Alinahui Cabanas are friendly and helpful, the accommodations are nice, and the views quite striking.  The cabanas are on stilts with a cement porch underneath.  On the porch there is a table with chairs and two hammocks.  There are two cabanas to a structure, with a covered porch (or balcony) between them.  The upper porch also has a table and chairs.  There is a shared bath off of the lower porch.  There are great views of the river from the cabanas.

On Monday morning (November 24) I drove up to the Jatun Sacha Research Center (which is about a kilometer down the main road) and birded.  In the pouring rain, I added LITTLE TINAMOU, BLUE-CROWNED MANAKIN, WHITE-BEARDED HERMIT, SOOTY ANTBIRD, and BLACK ANTBIRD to my life list.  I squished my way back to the cabanas where I got dry and birded from the upper porch before and after lunch.  From the porch, I added FOREST ELAENIA, YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW, and GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH to my life list and BLACKPOLL WARBER, YELLOW-GREEN VIREO, and GREAT KISKADEE to my trip list.  In late afternoon, the rain let up a bit and I birded the access road, adding SCARLET CROWNED BARBET to my life list.

Tuesday morning, the staff at the cabanas packed a lunch for me and I was off to Jatun Sacha -- in the sun!!  Along the way I added BLACK-CAPPED DONACHOBIUS, which is a great bird, I really like this bird, to by life list.  Some of the birders I ran into knew about Jatun Sacha.  They always talked about THE TOWER, and how scary it was.  Today's quest was the tower.  I stopped by the office and picked up my climbing harness and walked into the tower.  Best, in "A Guide to Birdwatching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands" describes the tower this way --

"Thirty minutes walk from the research station, situated on a ridge just after a steep bank, c.  100 m up a side trail, is the canopy platform.  To scale the mast requires a fair degree of physical fitness and quite a head for heights, as it is designed like a radio mast and is approximately 37 m high.  To gain access to the circular platform at the top it is necessary to climb the outside of the narrow (40 cm) triangular mast to reach a trap door.  The platform is c.  2 m in diameter, with a guard rail c.  30 cm high around it; three people can sit there rather cosily but more than that is virtually impossible.  Although it has supporting cables these are slightly slack and the whole structure sways in the wind.  Safety harnesses must be worn when climbing the mast and these can be obtained from the research station.  It is well worth the effort as the view of the forest canopy from the top is superb.  Good luck!"

My experience --

The day before I had stopped to look at the tower but had no wish to climb it in the rain.  Today was great, the sun was out, and I was ready.  The cables were slack, the antenna tower looks to be 3/4" pipe welded end to end as the three main supports with re-bar welded as cross bars.  Each side is 10-12 inches wide.  It does look like an antenna tower.  The clearing for the tower is very small so you have great views of the trees on all sides as you climb up (not that I was enjoying the views much).  Climb through the trap door and sit on the platform.  The first thing you notice is that the whole structure twists (not sways) everytime you shift your weight.  Close the trap door.  The tower continues up about 4 feet above the platform which is aluminum.  The guard rail is about a foot high and is pipe.  I was up there from 7:30 to 11:00 and it took about half an hour for me to decide that it was okay to move occassionaly.  I was very happy to be alone.  This is a scary place.  After a while you don't think about it being a scary place because:


So -- the birds sound good don't they.  Now imagine most of them about 20 feet away in full view in bright sunlight.  At one time, on a small branch, there was a SPANGELED CONTINGA, YELLOW-BELLIED DACNIS, WHITE-FRONTED NUNBIRD, AND TWO PARADISE TANAGER.  Now I admit it wasn't always like that but you know what they say; "Too much of a good thing is -- wonderful." I will stop this nonsense, and summarize the tower as the best place I birded in Ecuador.  If you can get there, and can deal with the heights and the thought of crashing towers (it is scary, especially at first), I highly recommend this spot.

[see comment of Alvaro Jaramillo on Jatun Sacha at the end of this posting] I went down to La Puenta in the afternoon, which is the river crossing on the main road after the cabanas and watched the boats ferry people (mostly school kinds back and forth).  I bought a couple of cold cokes (1,500 sucres a piece -- or about 35 cents) and spent most of the rest of the day just watching the boats going back and forth.

On Wednesday (November 26) I birded the roads in the area, adding VERMILLION TANAGER, DUSKY-CHESTED FLYCATCHER, DUSKY-HEADED PARAKEET, BLUE-WINGED PARROTLET, LAWRENCE'S THRUSH, MAGPIE TANAGER, and WHITE-LORED EUPHONIA to my life list and GREY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL to my trip list.  Magpie Tanager is quite a bird, I spent a long time (maybe twenty minutes watching it.  By this time I was running out of steam, I had been birding for almost three weeks, had a fever for a good portion of the trip, and had been going at it pretty hard.  I was ready to go home.  This night a big thunder storm rolled through with lots of lightening and a tremendous downpour -- it lasted a long time.

The dinner conversation at the Cabanas was entertaining, interesting, and knowledgeable.  A couple of evenings I ate with one of the founders of Jatun Sacha and a researcher who had just come up from Bolivia.  Great conversation.  Thursday morning I headed for Quito and added a BLACKISH RAIL to my life list almost immediately.

Friday, I flew back to Portland.  Luckily my (heavy) bag was separated from me and I didn't have to worry about lugging it home -- American brought it by the next morning.

I have struggled to characterize this trip in a sound-bite for people who ask and can't.  I guess the single word would be memorable.  A million images still run through my mind, some wonderful, some disturbing, a great trip --

I hope that those of you who may have read these reports found them of interest.  I wish to express my gratitude to all of you who have posted your Ecuador trips in the past, I pulled them all and used them as reference material.  They were a great help.

Good birding.

Bob Barnes
Portland, Oregon, USA


Postscript by Alvaro Jaramillo:

Thanks to Bob Barnes for a wonderful account of the Jatun Sacha 'tower', a memorable place!  While I was conducting research on Leaf-cutter Ants I was able to stay in Jatun Sacha for a total of over two months during two trips and his notes really brought me back to that crazy, scary but lovable tower.  Man, what a great place to see birds!  After climbing it a bunch of times I was less and less nervous but I found that the key (at least when I was most relaxed climbing the tower) was to do it in darkness!  It sounds scary but since you can't see how high up you are it actually turns out to be much less scary than in the day with a good wind.  The other reason for going up in the dark is to catch the morning chorus from up there, its phenomenal.  In addition, while it is still dark you can hear three species of Potoo from the tower!  Great Potoo often roosted on one of the trees immediately besides the tower.  They were also common around Jatun Sacha, but you only really hear them when the moon is full or nearly so.  So if any of you are heading to Jatun Sacha I would recommend that you go over to the tower during the day to learn the path and see the structure and then climb up the next day while it is still dark.  Try and go up an hour before sunrise and spend the morning up there.  I also did several tower watches during the evening and came down at night, but these were not nearly as good as the ones in the morning.

The March 1994 list for Jatun Sacha was of 505, this must be higher by now.  All in all Jatun Sacha and the area is a very good place for birds (and ants).

Alvaro Jaramillo Half Moon Bay, California

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