In Association with:
Galapagos and Ecuador – Sept / Oct - 2005
DAY 1 - Thursday 29th September
The group convened at London’s Heathrow for the flight to Quito, via Madrid. We arrived around 5pm local time and were met by Juan Carlos and our friendly driver Wilson, who took us to Juan’s hotel, Jardin del Colibri, for a fine dinner and very cosy beds.
DAY 2 – Friday 30th September
Our early start to the day began with a walk around the jardin from where we watched many stunning species including Sparkling Violetear (our first hummer), Southern Yellow Grosbeak, and gaudy Vermillion Flycather together with less stunning birds such as Eared Dove, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Cinereous Conebill, Ash-breasted Sierra Finch and Great Thrush. A recent addition to Juan’s garden list was the unpopular Shiny Cowbird, a blackbird-like brood parasite, and this was soon mobbed from the garden, as were two American Kestrel. A vocal Southern Beardless Tyrannulet was also on the day’s list before breakfast was taken. Our destination for the day was the high paramo of the Antisana Ecologoical Reserve. Our journey there was punctuated with several stops for birds and views of the stunning Cotopaxi volcano. At out first stop, we enjoyed views of two Golden-rumped Euphonia, a very quick White-bellied Woodstar and a couple of Black Vulture. Our second stop was for a pair of Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and our first of many Carunculated Caracara were watched flying around in distinctive fashion. After passing a huge lava field, we stopped to scan for raptors at an impressive canyon system and had soon found Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Variable Hawk and a cracking male Cinereous Harrier, but sadly no Andean Condor. A fine support cast of Tawny Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat Tyrant, Black-tailed Trainbearer and Tyrian Metaltail kept us very alert. A short walk to an area for viewing a small lake enabled us to see Andean Teal, Andean Ruddy Duck and Yellow-billed Pintail, plus Western, Baird’s and Spotted Sandpipers Our next stop in more paramo-like habitat was equally exciting with Paramo Pipit, both Stout-billed and Bar-winged Cinclodes, the mouse-like Many-striped Canastero, Black-winged Ground Dove and Plumbeous Sierra Finch all seen well As we drove into the heart of the paramo, we stopped for a perched immature falcon that turned out to be an Aplomado Falcon – a rare visitor and a really good find. Also here, we watched the first of many Paramo Ground Tyrant.
We stopped for lunch at a fine lake where we enjoyed more waterbirds including Andean Coot, Neotropical Cormorant and dozens of beautiful Silvery Grebe. Visiting Nearctic waders were represented by Lesser Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpiper while the groups of Andean Lapwing were clearly more local. As we took lunch, we found ourselves surrounded by more canastero and cinclodes and a couple of vocal Grass Wren.The Aplomado Falcon was seen again as we crossed the paramo towards Hacienda Antisana in search of the very hardy upland hummingbird, the Ecuadorian Hillstar. Up to three of these stunners were seen well including this male. An otherwise uneventful journey back to Jardin del Colibri was stopped by a surprise Short-eared Owl – another scarce species on the paramo.
DAY 3 – Saturday 1st Ocober
Our lunchtime flight to the Galapagos was uneventful on the bird-front save for a couple of Snowy Egret seen from the plane during a brief stop at Guayaquil. We were all alert for our first birds as we landed at San Cristobal aiport and these came in the form of many Magnificent Frigatebird and several Small Ground Finch. Also at the airport, we met our Galapagos guide Johva who later gave us a ‘brief briefing’ on our ‘special schedule’ for the afternoon. As we drove and then tendered to our home for the next ten days, the fine yacht San Jose, we encountered our first specimens of Brown Pelican and Blue-footed Booby of the trip and were surprised to see how confiding the local Elliot’s and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel were as they ‘pattered’ off the end of the yacht. Galapagos Sea Lion and Pacific Green Turtle were both plentiful here and we found this to be the case throughout much of our time in the islands. Our first Galapagos land excursion was made into the highlands of San Cristobal for the Chatham Mockingbird which can only be found on this island. As were drove through the lush ranchland, our first Smooth-billed Ani and Cattle Egret (both recent immigrants to the islands) were seen from the bus. After a short hike up a misty hillside, we arrived at El Junco lake, the only source of pure fresh water in the Galapagos. Here, a couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds swooped to collect water while around the margins, we found Common Moorhen and White-cheeked Pintail. On a nearby field, we watched ‘Hudsonian’ Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover feeding among the cattle and the egrets, and then our target bird began calling right next to us – the Chatham Mockingbird. It showed well then disappeared for a while before returning later for another burst of energetic song. Also seen well here were Warbler Finch, Medium Ground Finch and Mangrove Warbler – the latter being the endemic subspecies (or replacement species) of Yellow Warbler. We made our way to a nearby Galapagos Tortoise breeding centre where, in addition to the huge reptiles, we encountered many more Chatham Mockingbird and several Galapagos Flycatcher. Late in the afternoon, we interrupted our journey to the San Jose to scan through a large group of finches that seemed to heading to roost. Among the many Small Ground Finch, we finally found ourselves a fine Small Tree Finch and then, even better, a huge Vegetarian Finch, that lived up to its name as it munched away on huge green leaves. As night began to fall, a pale bat flew overhead which was subsequently identified as a Galapagos Hoary Bat, while at the harbour our first couple of Lava Heron were seen flying between the moored boats. Dinner was served at 7pm after Johva and the crew of the San Jose officially welcomed us aboard with a round of Galapagos Margueritas – an island endemic I understand!
DAY 4 – Sunday 2nd October
Waking up to find the San Jose moored in the calm waters of Espanola was a real treat. A gentle stroll on the decks revealed lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds and turtles going about their morning routines. Our first Galapagos Hawk was spotted perched on a nearby rocky islet and two distant American Oystercatchers were seen on the beach. An unexpected visitor on the boat was a Galapagos Dove that tore around the astroturf with far more grace than Wayne Rooney. As our tenders brought us to shore, we were greeted by scores of Galapagos Sea Lions that were spread along the white sandy beach and which proved an instant hit with the photographers in the group. Also seen at close range here were the Hood Mockingbird that are endemic to Espanola, and nearby Gardner. These noisy opportunists would quite happily dive into backpacks in search of snacks and water bottles so we were all on our guard. The Marine Iguanas at the opposite end of the beach seemed very mild mannered by comparison, despite their salt-spitting habits! We sorted through numbers of the common Small Ground Finch before finding the scarce Large Cactus Finch, and Mangrove Warbler and Warbler Finch were both locally common. Most of the group snorkelled in the refreshing surf although it was difficult to see the turtles and sea lions that were only a metre away. Returning to the San Jose, we then sailed round the island to the main seabird breeding colonies and had a good views of both Elliot’s and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel and a large feeding flock of Audubon’s Shearwater, before lunch was taken. DRY LANDING. Our landing was thrown into disarray by sealions that had spread themselves out along the wharf and we then had to dodge the iguanas that lounged at every yard. As we walked the trail towards the albatross colony, we were buzzed by a huge Waved Albatross that came in fast from 3 o’clock. After several flybys, the bogey eventually made a crash landing right at our feet! Amazing! Astounded, we all looked on and admired its fantastic plumage before it waddled off in typical gooneybird fashion into the dry scrub. That was clearly enough attention for one day! We encountered many more albatross throughout the afternoon, at various ranges, and much of the classic bonding behaviour between mated pairs was observed and admired. As we reached the cliffs, we found ourselves quite literally surrounded by seabirds; Red-billed Tropicbird were screaming by in small groups before crashing ungainly into their rocky nest crevices; several Swallow-tailed Gull posed on the nearby rocks (yes, they must surely know how cool they look!); shearwaters sheared offshore in big numbers and the occasional albatross wheeled overhead; Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies lazed around in loose colonial groups that were very tame indeed. Another Large Cactus Finch was watched feeding down to a range of two feet! We slowly sauntered through the seabird colonies towards our tender, encountering a fine Yellow-crowned Night Heron and many more Swallow-tailed Gull and boobies along the way. Two Galapagos Hawk were feeding at the waterfront and showed very well. Today we experienced the Galapagos of legend, lore and Attenborough documentary and it was such a privilige to have experienced this wonderful wildlife spectacle. Surely there can be few places in the World to rival the natural wonders of Espanola.
DAY 5 – Monday 3rd October
Trying to find Charles Mockingbird is quite unlike finding any other bird. For starters, it is only found on two small islets whose combined area is little over the size of two football pitches. One of these islands is unapproachable by boat due to the surrounding underwater topography – the other is Champion Island, and this is where we hoped to see what must constitute as they most range-restricted bird species in the World! Landing by boat here it not permitted but it is claimed that the birds can be seen from a slowly-drifting boat! Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous? Truth is frequently stranger than fiction and, quite incredibly, the entire group managed very good scope views of the Critically Endangered Charles Mockingbird. Also seen on Champion Island were boobies, tropicbirds and frigates plus Wandering Tattler and ‘Hudsonian’ Whimbrel, and a cow Bryde’s Whale and her calf then passed by the boat – all before breakfast!
WET LANDING. A fine morning was spent at Punta Cormoran on island of Floreana. Here we watched 24 Greater Flamingo feeding in a shallow saline lake with a good selection of waders on show too; Wilson’s Phalarope fed in groups around the flamingo while Black-necked Stilt fed in the shallows and both Semipalmated and LeastSandpiper fed on the wet mud. Out in the lake, small groups of White-cheeked Pintail were plentiful and a solitary vagrant Blue-winged Teal was also seen here. From a nearby beach, we watched stingray swimming in the shallows and Sally Lightfoot Crab were especially conspicuous here. A Large Painted Locust was a good find in the scrub between the beach and the lake and a Galapagos Flycatcher was also showing well before we tendered our way back to the SanJose A Galapagos Penguin was seen briefly by the group from our yacht before a breaching Humpback Whale caused an even bigger stir (well, for all except Simon!). Our Captain kindly agreed to pursue the whale and its calf from a safe distance so we could get better views of these impressive leviathans. There was a huge WOW factor going on!!! The Humpbacks were followed by snorkelling at the Devil’s Crown, for those with the penchant, and this was followed by lunch. Later, as we sailed towards Post Office Bay on the other side of Floreana, we saw good numbers of Common Noddy, Red-necked Phalarope and Audubon’s Shearwater and our first Dark-rumped Petrel of the trip was recorded.
DRY LANDING. The Medium Tree Finch is found only in the upland forest of Floreana, and nowhere else. In order to get to this forest, we needed a vehicle. The customary vehicle for this trek had lost both its wheels so alternative transport was eventually secured in the guise of a 4-wheel drive utility vehicle as driven by the charitable landlady of the local hotel. Such was the size of the vehicle that two trips were required to get the entire group the 4 miles to the patch of forest most likely to reveal el Pinzon del dia. As the first group travelled up the dry dusty track, the remaining others wallowed in fab views of Lava Heron, Common Cactus and Medium Ground Finch. The second group arrived to shocking claims of a Medium Tree Finch that was “sitting right there”, but it soon became clear that this bird would NOT constitute a ‘full tick’ anyway because of the absence of second leg! Problem solved and bitterness avoided, it was time to find a bona fide complete bird. Eventually, five complete Medium Tree Finch specimens were observed, and thoroughly scrutinised for lameness, to the satisfaction of the group, along with a Spotless Ladybird, a non-native Rat, Galapagos Flycatcher and many Smooth-billed Ani, and it was soon time for the comedy relay back to the yacht to begin once again. The first group immediately descended on the driver’s hotel for ‘very large beers’ (quite clearly Miles’ Achilles Heel!) and postcards (equally clearly Dianna’s!), while a contingent of the second group was bowled over by the sight of two huge whale blows that could be seen around 5 miles offshore from 2-3 miles inshore. Indeed, the prospect of not being able to chase the two Blue Whales due to fading light and half the group going AWOL was simply too much for the leader, who had to console himself with a very large beer of his own! Sacre bleu!
DAY 6 – Tuesday 4th October
We arrived in Puerto Villamil early morning and made the most of the day by taking an early breakfast. As we left the yacht for our first day on Isabela, there were many Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigatebird around the vessel.
DRY LANDING. We took a bus up towards the summit of the huge Sierra Negra Volcano, a vast caldera which is said to second only in size to the Ngorongoro Crater of East Africa. Our target species here was Woodpecker Finch and it was not long before several birds were located feeding on the ground close to where our bus has stopped. They were feeding with many Small Ground Finch but their distictive long stout bills with strongly curved culmen easily differentiated them from this species. As we hiked the trails towards the caldera in a thick mist, we were entertained by several Vermillion Flycather and a Dark-billed Cuckoo was seen briefly in flight. In a near-Biblical show akin to Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, the shroud of mist blocking our view of the volcanic crater at the summit miraculously vanished for several minutes allowing us to enjoy the amazing spectacle before visibility deteriorated again. We trundled back down the hillside seeing several more Woodpecker Finch. Our next stop downhill was made for Large Tree Finch but despite much searching and hearing one or two birds call, we sadly dipped at this site. However, a solitary Galapagos Martin here was just reward for our endeavours and we also had stonking views of a second Dark-billed Cuckoo that perched right next to our bus. Back in town, we stopped at Flamingo Lake (a gross misnomer!) where we were treated to a fine immature Lava Gull, some close White-cheeked Pintail and a Semipalmated Plover.
Dockside, we saw a second Lava Gull flying by and a Sanderling fed busily on the stunning sandy beach. The group made use of a short break to photograph the many small black Marine Iguana that basked on the lava banks and one enormous specimen, our biggest of the trip, was also seen basking here. After lunch, we set sail for a voyage round the south west cape of Isabela which turned into a seawatching spectacular for there was a huge passage of birds that afternoon. Most staggering were the huge numbers of Red-necked Phalarope which we estimate to be in the region of 5,000 but passing flocks could well have numbered many more. Mixed with these were several Grey Phalarope and also worthy of note was the number of beautiful Dark-rumped Petrel which approached 200, many of which passed very close to the yacht. Hundreds of Audubon’s Shearwater plus tens of Elliot’s and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel were boosted by at least four Madeiran Storm Petrel.
DAY 7 – Wednesday 5th October
Today was our day of solitude for we did not see another boat or human soul and how fantastic it was too. Waking up at Punta Moreno was just great and from our mooring we glimpsed our first few Flightless Cormorant and another Galapagos Penguin as hundreds of Audubon’s Shearwater flew to their feeding grounds. As we tendered towards our landing site, a Common Egret was spotted on the shore before flying off and a few more penguins were seen.
DRY LANDING. Walking onto the vast lava fields was quite exciting and the arid plants, such as Candalabra Cactus, really made this place feel very alien indeed. Being especially wary where we walked, we made our way towards some lush vegetated pools that looked so out of place against the black basaltic lava and were soon treated to spectacular views of up to four Galapagos Martin which glided around us for some considerable amount of time. Since these birds have a reputation for being very difficult to find, let alone watch in all their glory, we felt very lucky to have enjoyed such prolonged views. In and around the small pools, several Greater Flamingo fed alongside Common Moorhen, several Smooth-billed Ani and a single Cattle Egret was also seen. Several frigatebirds were seen collecting fresh water from the pools ‘on the wing’ – a most impressive sight. The group made good time walking the trails which allowed those who wanted the chance to go snorkelling with turtles, take a gentle ride in the dinghy to admire the penguins or just do more walking on the shore. After another fine lunch, we set sail for Urvina Bay accompanied by a troop of frigatebirds overhead. Other birds seen during the crossing included 2 Dark-rumped Petrel and several small groups of Red-necked Phalarope. However, the best find was a very large Bryde’s Whale that was identified with clinical precision by Simon, who’s experienece as a polar and oceanic guide really showed. Arriving by tender at Urvina Bay, several of the group were lucky enough to see three Spotted Eagle Ray soaring underwater.
WET LANDING. Clear evidence of turtle activity was seen on the beach as indicated by the large tracks in the dark sand of Isabela A short walk in search of Land Iguana first produced a fine male Large Ground Finch, our sole specimen of the trip, before we began to encounter many of our target reptiles. Johva really knew his stuff when it came to these leathery old giants and he was clearly very fond of them, taking many images of specimens used as reference material in population surveys at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. Later we watched a fine Galapagos Hawk and on the beach a Feral Cat was seen before heading back to the San Jose where we were greeted by two resplendent adult Lava Gull.
DAY 8 – Thursday 6th October
Strong overnight winds had dumped four Wedge-rumped and one Elliot’s Storm Petrel on the deck of the San Jose so we released them at first light. After a hearty breakfast, we boarded the pangas in search of the trickiest of all the islands’ endemics – Mangrove Finch. Before reaching Black Beach, we found ourselves surrounded by a small group of Galapagos Penguin which provided excellent photo opportunities! WET LANDING. Within three minutes of landing ashore, Juan Carlos had located a Mangrove Finch next to the beach so for the next 20 minutes or so, we enjoyed fabulous views of this suberb bird at reasonably close range. A second bird was heard but not located. It almost felt too easy but I guess that’s birding for you, and you have to take the luck when its on your side. We made our way back to the San Jose and onwards to Fernandina. DRY LANDING. This is a fantastic island for close encounters with many species. You couldn’t help but see the huge Green Turtles resting in the clear shallows and there were ample photographic opportunities for sealions and marine iguanas while, overhead, a noisy Galapagos Hawk scoured the area for its next meal. But best of all here were the Flightless Cormorants, with many birds either on eggs or feeding their young. Other good birds seen on the island were Striated Heron and American Oystercatcher. Most retired for the shelter and Gin & Tonics aboard the San Jose while the really adventurous few opted for snorkelling with turtles and sea lions. After lunch, we set sail again with a course set to coast past the northwest cliffs of Isabela. Once again, we were followed by the piratical frigatebirds which, on at least one occassion, attacked an immature tropicbird that was unfortunate enough to come into enemy range. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Red-necked Phalarope were seen again taking off from the water or just passing in a generally southern direction. The usual storm-petrels were seen in good numbers and several Dark-rumped Petrel were also recorded. Four Common and two Arctic Tern were new for the trip. Non-avian interest came in the guise of several Ocean Sunfish and the spectacular scenery of the rugged coastline. As evening drew closer, the seawatchers were finally rewarded with a pod of up to 200 dolphins, thought to be a mix of at least two or more species, swimming at pace towards an increasingly warm sunset, followed by two more Bryde’s Whale. As the sun dropped below the horizon, we continued our overnight passage to the island of Santiago.
DAY 9 – Friday 7th October
Until this point, we had been utterly spoilt by the solitude we had enjoyed in the islands but waking in James Bay soon brought us back to reality, as there were many other vessels moored in this small area.
WET LANDING. For those who were not ‘sealed out’ already, there were ample photo opportunities at Puerto Egas on this attractive sandy beach, before walking up the sandy tracks towards the lava grottos. Along the way, Jovha did a superb job of finding us Galapagos Scorpion and Galapagos Leaf-toed Gecko by checking under copious boulders and rocks. At the grottos, we encountered our first Galapagos Fur Seal as well as Yellow-crowned Night Heron and plenty of noisy American Oystercatchers, and our walk back to the San Jose saw ‘Hudsonian' Whimbrel and a close Great Blue Heron. Back on board, we set sail for Bartolome, encountering a fine pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin along the way, and a mystery all-dark petrel disappeared all too quickly.
DRY LANDING. Stepping from our panga onto the rough lava shore, we passed a very confiding Lava Heron before walking up the volcanic peak and learning about the different types of lava cones and the pioneering plants of the island. The view from the top was worthy of the hike. We headed back to the San Jose before transferring to the beach.
WET LANDING. A short walk was taken before some took advantage of the excellent snorkelling here. While the sunbathers shared the beach with Sanderling and Semipalmated Plover, some snorkellers were fortunate enough to share the water with feeding penguins around Pinnacle Rock.
Dinner was taken before we began our overnight sail to Genovesa.
DAY 10 – Saturday 8th October
The group awoke as we sialed into Darwin Bay on the remote northern island of Genovesa. We took our pangas to the Prince of Wales Steps where we walked up the cliffs and into the impressive seabird colonies.
DRY LANDING. Straight away, we were submerged among numbers of Swallow-tailed Gull, Red-footed Booby and our first Great Frigatebird, with many young birds in the nest. Here, Patrick found the group’s first Sharp-beaked Ground Finch and we continued along the vegetated tracks towards a large volcanic clearing where swarms of Wedge-tailed Storm Petrel wheeled above their nesting holes. This site is almost unique for storm petrels elsewhere habitually return to their breeding grounds at night, so to see this in the middle of the morning is quite a spectacle! The tracks were dotted with breeding pairs of Nazca Booby and Swallow-tailed Gulls were abound. Juan Carlos began to get a little concerned that no Short-eared Owl were present but then we found one then another – both sitting right next to the trail and clearly not bothered by our presence. One was feeding on a storm petrel and was quite at ease with all the cameras taking its picture. Several flocks of finches including one more Sharp-beaked Ground Finch were seen before we headed back to the San Jose and some took the opportunity for a quick snorkel session. After lunch ,we took another excursion, towards Darwin Bay Beach for a leisurely stroll.
WET LANDING. The stunning white sand and coral beach is home to many pairs of Swallow-tailed Gull and their young, plus lots of Great Frigatebirds and boobies. Among the Prickly Pears and Mangrove plants, we found another Sharp-beaked Ground Finch plus several Common Cactus Finch, and some of the group were fortunate enough to have crippling views of a Baird’s Sandpiper on the beach here too before it flew off. Half of the group enjoyed some fantastic snorkelling in bay later in the afternoon but we were all aboard again in time to set sail at 3pm. Sailing due south, we soon left Genovesa behind us and were into the open sea. It was surprisingly quiet for birds for most of the trip but after a few hours, we hit into a feeding flock of birds. Then came the shout we’d been hoping for - “Markham’s Storm Petrel”. It was a fantastic spot by Miles and, with the help of two gulls as markers, all the group managed to get views of this very difficult bird, appearing all dark with much longer wings and tail than the other storm petrels we’d seen to date. Later, we saw several Madeiran Storm Petrel to the rear of the boat and very reluctantly called it a day when the sun went down. Another fantastic day that was topped with freshly caught Spiny Lobster for dinner – YUMMY!
DAY 11 – Sunday 9th October
Waking to sights and sounds of Puerto Ayora was a real contrast to the quiet solitude of islands like Genovesa but birds were still to be found all over the place including several new species for Simon’s ‘on-board’ list.
DRY LANDING. We boarded a coach to take us into the highlands of Santa Cruz, to find one of the trickiest birds of the islands and our quarry of the day Galapagos Rail. As we rose above the forest zone and into the low scrub zone, a Short-eared Owl flew across us – a good omen maybe? Juan Carlos chose his moment to call out a rail very carefully so as not to unecessarily disturb the birds which already have enough problems to deal with, such as introduced rats and habitat loss. After a few close calls, we eventually found two very obliging Galapagos Rail showing down to about five feet with everyone getting top views of this super-skulker! We gently made our way down the slippery slope before reboarding our coach then stopping to search for our last Galapagos endemic. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t locate any Large Tree Finch at this site but did get cracking views of Dark-billed Cuckoo and Woodpecker Finch here. So onwards we travelled to an open ranch area, where most obvious of all were the tens of huge Giant Tortoise - they were literally everywhere! After we’d all taken lots of photos, we headed down a wooded track for lunch and stumbled across a pair of Large Tree Finch in a tree just above us – fantastic! With our last endemic species safely in the bag, we tucked in to a delicious packed lunch and then searched a nearby pond for anything good – but we did better than good! The water level on the pond was very low and there on the mud were two Semipalmated Plover and a Pectoral Sandpiper – what a find! A Paint-billed Crake was then flushed and seen by a lucky few and just after that a Galapagos Martin flew overhead. After all that excitement, we stopped for a breather and a beer before a short visit to some amazing lava tunnels. This area is known to be a good roosting site for Barn Owl but we failed to locate the bird although some fresh pellets were found. Late in the afternoon, we headed to the Charles Darwin Research Station where we had some close encounters with the island’s reptiles before taking time for a little shopping and internet surfing.
DAY 12 – Monday 10th October
DRY LANDING. The early morning was spent on Isla los Llovos, or Island of the Seals, and on our short trip to the island, we found our 76th species for the Galapagos in the shape of Sand Martin – a scarce vagrant to the islands – that flew alongside the panga. On the islands, we had many close encounters with seals and several Lava Gull were seen here too. A Great Blue Heron flew into the top a tree and squawked noisily. Patrick went for a snorkel and had a close encounter of his own with a rather frisky bull Sea Lion! Once back on board the San Jose, we cruised back to San Cristobal and said our goobyes to the wonderful crew of the vessel before heading to the airport for our flight back to Quito via Guayaquil. Our driver Wilson took us for a short shopping trip in the markets before we headed back to Juan Carlos’ guest house and family for a fine dinner.
DAY 13 – Tuesday 11th October
Leaving Jardin del Colibri for the last time, we headed for the Yanacotcha Rainforest Reserve where we were greeted by some super hummers including Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Tyrian Metaltail and Sapphire-vented Puffleg, plus Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercer. The high forests are home to the many-coloured tanagers and our first species was the stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, with Hooded,Black chested, and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager right behind. Golden-crowned Tanager, Rufous-naped Brush Finch,Blue-backed Conebill Superciliaried Hemispingus and White-throated Tyrannulet were also seen well in the first twenty minutes, although Barred Fruiteater showed only briefly in flight. Even higher in the wooded hills, an Ocellated Tapaculo called in the distance, as did Undulated Antpitta. Nearer by, a Rufous Antpitta called and Juan Carlos managed to track this bird down so everyone could see it. Kim located a White-browed Spinetail although few people managed to see this even though it responded well to tape. Walking along the forested track, we also found 2 Spectacled Whitestart, a Pearled Treerunner, White-banded Tyrannulet and Crowned Chat-Tyrant here. At the end of the track around some nectar feeders, we found more fantastic hummers including the stupendous Sword-billed Hummingbird, the bright Shining Sunbeam and a cracking Rainbow-breasted Thornbill. Far in the distance, Miles picked up his long-distance bird of the day in the form of a Red-crested
Cotinga (c. 1.5 miles away!). Our walk back to the bus was fairly uneventful but the journey to the gates of Yanacotcha wasn’t as Juan Carlos yelled out TINAMOU! Sure enough, there in grass, walking like a partridge was a Curve-billed Tinamou – a major find! Making our way down the Rio Alambi Valley, two Turquoise Jay made themselves seen and along the river itself, several White-capped Dipper flew rapidly. While taking lunch, a Russet-crowned Warbler popped by and as we drove off afterwards a Yellow-bellied and two lovely Slaty-backed Chat Tyrant were seen very well. Continuing down the steep valley, a Black Phoebe was gripped back by those who missed the bird on the first morning dans Le Jardin, and our first Andean Cock of the Rock, a female, was seen in flight very briefly from the bus The forest was very much alive with the sounds of insects and birds and the scenery was simply stunning – huge deep valleys feeding off even bigger steeper valleys, and filled with huge Secropia trees. Two Plate-billed Mountain Toucan were seen as the afternoon rain began to fall and Kim found a super Sickle-winged Guan by side of road. Two Plumbeous Dove, another brief Cock of the Rock and two Toucan Barbets kept the interest levels high as the rain fell heavier and then another crippler in the shape of two Beautiful Jay, a rare and very rarely seen species that was once considered ‘lost’, so limited is the bird’s range. A well concealed White-rumped Hawk also seen from bus before we arrives at the amazing Bellavista Lodge Here, tens of hummers adorned the many feeders with several more species for our list including Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Gorgeted Sunangel, Violet tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail, Speckled Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Andean Emerald, Purple- throated Woodstar and Brown Inca. Other good species seen were Montane Woodcreeper and Pearled Treerunner, Dusky Bush-Tanager, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Brown-capped Vireo and one species that was slighthly more familiar than most, a Blackpoll Warbler! At the rear of the lodge buildings, Golden and Golden-naped Tanager fed on the elaborate bird tables with Sierran Elania and a gobsmacking male Masked Trogon was a real treat as it perched high on the telecom cables in the yard. The small walk to the compost heap was well-worth the time as we found Chestnut-crowned and Moustached Antpitta here, as well as Spillman’s Tapaculo. JC heard an Ocellated Tapaculo calling so the group waded deeper into the green stuff and some were rewarded with fleeting views of this superb bird - a real gem to finish the day on before heading to Septimo Paraiso for dinner and bed, where the author relived the nightmare of dipping the Ocellated One!
DAY 14 – Wednesday 12th October
An early start and lots of cloudy punctuated our journey to the Pedro Vicente Maldonado (PVM) Road, certainly one of the best sandy tracks I’ve walked down for a while – it was TEEMING with birds! Several Pacific Hornero ran on the road and all around tanagers flew about, with Lemon-rumped, Blue-grey, Silver-throated, Golden-hooded, Blue-necked, White-shouldered, Bay-headed and Guira Tanager plus Thick-billed and Orange-bellied Euphonia all being seen in numbers. In and around the trees and scrub, several Violet-bellied Hummingbird buzzed rapidly and Buff-throated and a Black-winged Saltators, Bananaquit, White-bearded Mannakin, Red-rumped Woodpecker, Tropical Knatcatcher, Bay Wren, Variable Seedeater and Brown-capped Tyrannulet were recorded. Over head, groups of Maroon-tailed Parakeet and Blue-headed Parrot flew over as did screaming mixed parties of White-collared, Chestnut-collared and Grey-rumped Swift. Further along the track, a Western Slaty Antshrike was calling then a female was seen, just before a Little Cuckoo popped out of cover for a short while. Miles’ ‘long distance bird of the day’ was a Choco Toucan, but considerably closer to us were Black-and-White Becard, Tropical Parula and Slaty-capped Flycatcher. A couple of Buff-rumped Warbler were calling in a rivine and were successfully taped out before showing really well, and an impressive Red-billed Scythebill did a lap of honour overhead. Nearby we had good views of Stripe-throated Hermit, Plain Xenops, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird and a very smart looking Black-cheeked Woodpecker. Around the next bend, we encountered Blue, Yellow-tufted and Scarlet-breasted Dacnis and a male Green Throntail – a real cracker! A mixed feeding group of birds consisted of several Red-eyed Vireo, Tawny-crested Tanager, and Blue-capped and Red-capped Mannakins and a Social Flycatcher was nearby. We then had great views of a very showy Squirrel Cuckoo and a small family group of Purple-throated Fruitcrow really impressed the crowd. On top of that lot add Pallid Dove, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Lesser Seedfinch, Golden-faced Tyrannulet and Golden-olive Woodpecker – all seen before 9.30AM!!! We drove down the PVM Road to our next stop where we got great views of the usually elusive Barred Forest Falcon and a Green Kingfisher. Down in the long grass feeding were Blue-backed Grassquit, Tropical Yellowthroat, Common Tody Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Seedeater while most of the group saw only parts of a very skulky White-throated Crake! A hike up a steep bank was eventually well worth the effort with Barred Puffbird being the highlight with a supporting cast of Olive- sided Flycatcher, several noisy but elusive Slaty Spinetails, and Diana found an obliging Streaked Flycatcher sat out in the open before we headed down the bank for a bite of lunch. Afterwards we drove to the Mirador gardens, stopping for two Masked Water Tyrants along the way. In the superb gardens, overlooking the Rio Blanco, loads of birds were feeding on fruit at the many stations with Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Pale-mandibled Aracari outsizing the Palm, Rufous-throated, Golden, Silver throated and Blue-necked Tanagers but not outclassing their amazing plumage.
On the nectar feeders, White-whiskered Hermit, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Western Emerald and Long-billed Starthroat fed vigorously and other goodies found here included Purple Honeycreeper, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet and Black-striped Sparrow. We made our way back to Septimo Paraiso for a gentle stroll and a chance to see the forest birds of the area. Straight away we picked up Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Plain-breasted Hawk, Ornate Flycatcher, Golden-winged Mannakin and a couple of vociferous Andean Solitaire. Juan Carlos agreed to play a tape for small owls and was immediately replied to by a Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, so the group headed in the general direction to see if it could be located. After a frantic 15 minutes, it was eventually found high in a heavily foliated tree by Kim and was unanimously agreed to be the Spot of the Tour! An amazing find and the bird was greatly appreciated by All. Well done Kim! After all that excitement, we all relaxed by the lodge’s nectar feeders and enoyed the many hummers including Purple-bibbed Whitetip, White-necked Jacobin and Empress Brilliant that were new for the trip.
DAY 15 – Thursday 13th October
While other birding groups may be inclined to offer a ‘feet up’ and cosy last day of birding, we did quite the opposite with alarms set for 4.15am, breakfast at 4.45am and departure from Septimo Paraiso at 5.15am. However, when you know the reason for this un-Godliest of hours ceremony is to visit a Cock-of-the-Rock lek, it’s quite a breeze! Arriving at the forest area, we trekked through farmland in the faintest glimmer of morning light but this was just enough to help us see a Dagua Thrush and three Sickle-winged Guan flying from their tree roost. The hike up the wooded track, with roots strategically scattered to trip the unsuspecting, was quite tough in places but our arrival at the lek to the raucous, rasping cries of several brilliant male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock was among the many highlights of this super trip. We sat in awe as the birds flew from branch to branch, trying to outcompete one another with their calls and wing gestures; truly one of the most spectacular sights a birder can hope to see in his or her lifetime. Reluctantly we left the viewing area and made our way back down hill, picking up Silver-rumped Flycatcher, Three-lined Warbler and Ornate Flycatcher in the process. Later came Slate-bellied Whitestart and a noisy Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo which showed well after some patient waiting. Mile’s ridiculously distant bird of the day was a raptor found perched on a tree about three miles which was finally agreed to be a Broad-winged Hawk. Taking the trail back through the loosely scattered riverine forest, groups of Pale-mandibled Aracari, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and several fabulous Choco Toucans showed well, as did a couple of confiding Rufous Motmot. Over the distant high forest, two Black and White Hawk Eagle soared effortlessly and we finally found the noisy Scaly-crested Pygmy Tyrant as well as good views of the diminutive Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant and a Red-tailed Squirrel. Turning a corner by a farmstead, we found a group of Yellow-faced Grassquit feeding and in the trees above sat a posing Masked Tityra – what a smart bird that was. Then came a smart Orange-billed Sparrow, another excellent find, but I think its fair to say the Golden-headed Quetzal outshone most birds that morning, apart from the Cock-of-the-Rocks of course. Moving round to the torrents of the valley’s river, Torrent Tyrannulet, Snowy Egret and two Spotted Sandpiper were found but then from nowhere a stunning Sunbittern flew up from the rocks, displaying its amazing wing pattern in the process. It finally settled under the shade of some trees where it was successfully scoped. What a great surprise! Two distant Bat Falcon were scoped gliding around before we headed back to the lodge, and a Roadside Hawk lived up to its name in its choice of place to perch. At Septimo, we walked from the gates through the forest finding a few more goodies along the way, like Brown-capped Vireo and Lineated Foliage Gleaner, Yellow-throated Bush Tanager and Spotted Woodcreeper. After saying our goodbyes to the Septimo staff, we boarded our coach for the last time and made our way back to Quito, where we said our fondest farewells to the fabulous Juan Carlos and our charming driver Wilson – both of whom had been absolutely wonderful – before boarding our flight to Madrid.
DAY 16 – Friday 14th October
Arrival into Madrid before transferring to London Heathrow.
A final word.
I would like to thank you all for being such great company during this incredibly successful tour and hope very much that our paths may cross again one fine day. Which continent that’ll be in is anyone’s guess!
Adam Scott Kennedy