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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Northern Ecuador 7 September - 23 September 2001,
Gruff Dodd, 2 Clos Tawe, Barri, Bro Morgannwg, Cymru/Wales
Introduction and strategy
Full Bird List
Sara and I have been lucky enough to make some amazing trips over recent years, but this one has to be the best yet. Quite honestly, it's really difficult to think how it could have been improved. Everything went like clockwork - good weather, high quality accommodation and guiding, superb food, good transport links and fabulous scenery. And of course there were the birds - 512 species in just 14 days, including no less than 436 lifers!
It wasn't just the number of birds that made the trip, but the quality. Birds like Ocellated Tapaculo, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Hoatzin have seemed almost mythical until now, and it's still difficult to believe that I've actually seen them. A few other statistics to whet your appetites - 62 tanagers and related species, 39 hummingbirds, 26 funarids, 35 antbirds, 14 woodcreepers etc etc
As if this wasn't good enough, there were the surroundings to consider. One day we were standing at the top of Papallacta Pass, 4,300 metres above sea level with snow and ice on the ground, the next day we were being taken down the Río Napo, largest tributary of the Amazon, by motorised canoe. Some of these experiences will stay with us forever. I never realised how dark night could be until I stood in the Amazon rain forest at Sacha Lodge an hour after dusk when you literally couldn't see your hand in front of your face.
We'd fancied a South American trip for a while, having had our appetites whetted in Mexico last year, but the choice of destinations and number of possible species was pretty overwhelming. Eventually we decided on Ecuador, based on a combination of the availability of a number of good quality bird lodges, a stable political situation, a huge number of potential birds and a soon-to-be-published field guide. Another factor was that it was one of only about three destinations I could think of where I'd have a realistic chance of 400 lifers on a two week trip, and I fancied giving that a try!
Our usual approach with these trips is to book flights and a car in advance, and take the rest as it comes. However, I didn't think that this would be a good strategy in Ecuador. For a start, we wanted to visit one of the Amazonian lodges, which cannot be reached by car and need to be booked in advance. Secondly, we didn't want to move around every day, but instead decided to concentrate on two or three locations, in which case a hire car wasn't really necessary.
We therefore contacted Iain Campbell who runs the Tandayapa Lodge west of Quito, and he and his wife Christina very kindly made all the rest of the arrangements on our behalf. We spent a week at Tandayapa, followed by 2 nights in Quito, a 5 day trip down to the Amazon, staying at Sacha Lodge, and finished off with another 2 nights in Quito.
Iain and Christina organised our accommodation at Sacha and Quito, our internal flights from Quito to Coca, and all our guiding and transportation (when required) throughout. That left us free to really enjoy the trip and the huge number of birds on offer.
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who worked so hard to make this trip such a huge success. We are greatly in debt to Iain, Christina and everyone else involved with Tandayapa Lodge for organising the trip so magnificently on our behalf. About all we had to do for ourselves was remember to set the alarm clock for the next morning.
I was extremely lucky during our time at Tandayapa in securing the services of Nick Athanas as bird guide. Nick almost single-handedly ensured that my trip was a success. He works closely with Iain, who booked his services for me. In fact, they are involved in setting up a new company called Tropical Birding Tours and are planning on offering a variety of tours elsewhere in South America, as well as to other destinations such as Cuba, Namibia etc. Check them out on http://www.tropicalbirding.com/
Before visiting Sacha I'd seriously questioned whether it could be worth the cost, as it certainly isn't a cheap option. Well, it most definitely was. This was literally an experience of a lifetime, and we are indebted to everyone involved for making it such a pleasure. I was again extremely lucky in that I enjoyed the services of the legendary Oscar Tapuy, probably the best guide in Ecuadorian Amazonia and formerly of La Selva Lodge, as bird guide throughout my stay, very ably assisted by Barry, Carlos and Luis.
In the meantime Richard and Eva ensured that Sara also had a brilliant time, and she seems to have finally become a birder - during her forest walks she saw no less than 53 species on casual forest walks and canoe trips, including 8 that I missed! Furthermore, at Tandayapa I could hardly drag her away from the hummingbird feeders!!
Richard also kindly took me out on the lake in pitch darkness one night to find a roosting Sungrebe that they (including Sara!) had seen earlier - that's the sort of service you can expect at Sacha. I am also very grateful to Lee Schel in Sacha's Quito office for arranging our trip to Sacha at very short notice.
Finally, I am grateful to Renato and his girlfriend Christina, again of Tandayapa Lodge, who took us on a day trip from Quito to Cotopaxi (USD 80 & USD 20 entrance fees - total UKP 70) on our last day in Ecuador - a great end to a great trip.
We flew with KLM to Quito from Cardiff via Amsterdam, with brief touchdowns in Curacao and Guayaquil on the way out, and Curacao on the way back. The flights cost UKP 575 each including taxes. The flights were booked through Trailfinders in London (phone 0171 938 3939).
The main stretch between Amsterdam and Quito was some 14 hours each way. Flight times were as follows:
Outwards: Depart Cardiff 07.09.01 17:20, arrive Amsterdam 07.09.01 20:05
Depart Amsterdam 07.09.01 23:55, arrive Quito 08.09.01 08:40
Return: Depart Quito 23.09.01 09:55, arrive Amsterdam 24.09.01 05:50
Depart Amsterdam 24.09.01 08:35, arrive Cardiff 24.09.01 09:20
Note that Quito is 6 hours ahead of the UK (7 ahead of Amsterdam) in September.
One thing to be aware of is that you will need to pay a local departure tax at the check-in counter at Quito. I can't remember exactly how much it was, but it was something like USD 25 each - keep some cash handy.
The first question to ask is whether you need to hire a bird guide. I have believed strongly in doing so for many years. Not only do you see more birds, but I think you get a lot more out of the country in the company of a local resident. I have never felt this more strongly than in Ecuador.
Some of the forest birding can be very difficult, and without local knowledge I think I'd have struggled to record 100 species let alone 500+. Not only are there some 1,600 species with which to familiarise yourselves, including such tricky groups as tyrannulets, antbirds, funarids, woodcreepers etc, but you also need a good knowledge of the calls and songs if you are to seriously build your trip list. A good guide can really make your trip.
During my time at Tandayapa, and the first period at Quito I had the pleasure of the services of American guide Nick Athanas. Nick was an absolutely fabulous guide. He has an intimate knowledge of the whole area from Quito through to Pedro Vicente Maldonado in the west, and knows exactly where to look for those difficult or localised species.
He is extremely knowledgeable on bird calls, which will greatly increase your bird list by the end of the trip, and also did all the driving in his four wheel drive. His rate was USD 70 (UKP 50) per day, increasing to USD 100 (UKP 70) per day if you use his vehicle, which I would recommend you do, especially if driving around Quito. To contact Nick, e-mail him on firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the Tandayapa Lodge office.
At Sacha, the cost of guiding is included in the cost of the trip. Who you get and how many of you will be accompanying him depends on who else is there at the time, but they have a number of good guides available. I was unbelievably lucky during my visit to be the only "hard core" birder present, so I had the services of the main specialist bird guide, Oscar Tapuy, throughout my stay, which had a huge impact on the size and quality of my list.
I have never met anyone with eyes like Oscar. One night we walked back to the lodge in pitch darkness - it was so dark I could hardly make out where the path ended and the forest started with a torch - and Oscar walked the whole way back without one. He was even warning me to look out for roots and stumps that I was falling over with a torch - absolutely unbelievable! Given this, it was no surprise that he could spot an antbird in thick undergrowth at 100 metres!
I also enjoyed the company of two other guides, Barry and Carlos, during my time at Sacha. Barry is also an excellent birder, and had a real skill at getting you onto a bird once they'd found it. Carlos is a general naturalist guide who is training to become a specialist bird guide, and is very keen and enthusiastic, with a very good pair of eyes. In addition, Richard White who acted as guide for the non-birders present is also a hard core birder and great company - we hope to pay him a visit in his native Durban one day - you've been warned, Richard!
Nick drove us around during the first part of the trip, meeting us at Quito airport, and dropping us back off at our hotel in Quito the night before our trip to Sacha. Self-drive car hire is possible, but not worth the cost or the hassle if you are also hiring a guide - you could easily end up paying USD 80 (UKP 57) per day plus petrol for a self-drive 4WD, compared with the additional USD 30 (UKP 20) that Nick charged.
The main roads were generally good, especially from Quito towards Papallacta to the east and Cotopaxi to the south. The new road west towards Mindo and Pedro was also pretty good, although potholed in places. On the other hand, I wouldn't really want to drive around Quito itself. It wasn't actually that frantic - not in the same league as Mexico City, or London for that matter. However, signposting is erratic and one-way systems abound, so if you don't know where you're going you're in for a frustrating time!
Once off the main roads, however, it is a different matter, and you will need to drive quite a few of these roads. The following are all very rough:
Personally, I wouldn't fancy trying any of them in a normal 2WD saloon, although we saw someone doing so on all of these.
To get to Sacha, we flew from Quito to Francisco de Orellana (known locally as Coca). We flew with a company called Icaro Express, who run the flight on a semi-charter service. Accordingly, departure times are variable and are not usually confirmed until a couple of days before the flight. Sacha will organise all this for you. The return flight cost USD 120 (UKP 85) per head and lasts 40 minutes. This seemed a very casual affair - no tickets issued in advance, just turn up and give your name at the desk - but in fact it was all organised very smoothly. The planes are very modern 19 seater twin propeller planes - comfortable and smooth.
Note that Icaro is one of a group of small operators whose flights don't leave from the main terminal at Quito International Airport, but from a private terminal some 300 metres south of there. If you wish to arrange flights independently of one of the lodges, you can contact Icaro by phone on (02) 448626 or by fax on (02) 439867, or see their web site on http://www.icaro-air.com/. As well as Coca they also have flights to Guayaquil, Cuenca and Loja.
At Coca we were met by a Sacha representative and taken by pick-up to the riverfront. There we boarded our boat for the 2.5 hour journey upriver to Sacha Lodge - a lovely trip. Around Sacha, transport was by foot or by dug-out canoe, some with paddles, some with an outboard motor. Shooting along the Río Napo at high speed in the latter was one of the experiences of the trip!
One last word about Quito - on a few occasions we had to catch taxis to and from the airport, and this proved very easy. These generally work on a meter, but to and from the airport they charge a fixed price - this should be USD 4 or 5. Just flag one down, agree a price, sit back and relax - no hassle, no subsequent arguing over the price etc.
Costs & Money
Ecuador recently abandoned its previous currency, the Sucre, and adopted the US Dollar (USD) as its official currency. The exchange rate against sterling (UKP) at the time of my visit was UKP 1 = USD 1.40, and this is the exchange rate I have used in translating costs throughout this report.
Tandayapa only accept cash or traveller's cheques for their services, although Sacha also take credit cards. The Hotel Ambassador in Quito also accepted credit cards. Elsewhere, you'd probably be better off with cash, and make sure you have plenty of small denomination notes. On a couple of occasions I struggled to get change from a USD 1 bill. For petrol purchases you will almost certainly need cash.
Changing American Express traveller's cheques at banks in Quito proved easy and quick, although there was a commission of 1% payable. The hotel, however, couldn't change these so be aware of banks' opening hours.
The total cost of the trip is estimated at UKP 3,625 for 2 people (UKP 1,812 each):
Ø International flights - UKP 1,150
Ø Internal flights - UKP 170
Ø Tandayapa accommodation & food - UKP 610
Ø Sacha accommodation (incl food & guiding) - UKP 820
Ø Quito accommodation - UKP 85
Ø Bird guiding (Tandayapa) - UKP 650
Ø Cotopaxi trip - UKP 70
Ø Meals & incidentals - UKP 70
Accommodation and food
We stayed at the following places (all accommodation prices are per room):
8.9.01 - 14.9.01: Tandayapa Lodge. USD 122 (UKP 87) per couple per night, including all meals. Cheaper dormitory rooms were also available. Tel/fax (02) 543045, E-mail email@example.com
15.9.01 - 16.9.01: Hotel Ambassador, Quito. USD 30 (UKP 20) per room per night. Phone (02) 561777, Fax (02) 503712.
17.9.01 - 20.9.01: Sacha Lodge. USD 720 (UKP 514) per head for 5 day / 4 night stay, including all guiding, trips, food and transport while at Sacha and to and from Coca. Drinks are extra. Phone (02) 566090, Fax (02) 236521, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
21.9.01 - 22.9.01: Hotel Ambassador, Quito.
Both accommodation and food were a real highlight. Tandayapa Lodge is extremely comfortable - nice rooms, a spacious seating area and chairs out on the veranda where you can watch the hummingbirds or scan for tanagers. Sacha was also very comfortable, although understandably a little more rustic. The Hotel Ambassador in Quito was a great find - we really liked it. It is situated right in the middle of the business district, a 10 minute tax ride from the airport, very nice rooms with en suite bathroom and TV, good restaurant and bar, and very good value for money. We booked it through Iain at Tandayapa (who got us a discount on the normal price of USD 40 per night), but a search on the web also found several other references to the place.
As for the food, if you're staying at Tandayapa or Sacha, you'd better get used to eating three course meals three times a day! On day trips away from the lodge they will supply you with big box lunches. Elsewhere the food was also good. The Hotel Ambassador had a very nice restaurant, and they were happy to give us the food on a tray and let us take it back to our room. A good 2 course meal with a glass of beer cost about USD 7 (UKP 5) per head.
Virtually none. Immigration at Quito was pretty standard, as was Customs. We came across a few police roadblocks, (and it is a legal requirement to have your passport with you at all times so be warned - I'd left mine at the hotel both times!), but they didn't stop us. Otherwise, it was very hassle free. We had been warned that Coca had a big army presence and internal immigration procedures, but they processed us very quickly and didn't bother us again.
The first thing that has to be appreciated about the western slope of the Andes is the dramatic effect that changes in altitude and local geography has on the weather. There is a huge change in altitude from the top of Tandayapa Pass (2,350 metres) down to Pedro Vicente Maldonado (450 metres), and the weather varies accordingly. The mornings were generally quite clear, although there was invariably thick fog at some altitude or other. In the afternoon, the fog would usually come rolling in, and it would often rain. While the rain made birding uncomfortable, bird activity usually increased during these times, and immediately after a rain shower produced some of our best birding.
The temperature rarely got uncomfortably hot or cold, which made for very pleasant birding. The main exception to this pattern was our day down in the Pedro area, which was very hot, especially between 11:00 and 14:00, and although there were still birds around during the middle of the day, activity fell markedly compared with the morning.
The weather in the Quito area was generally drier and cooler than further down the slope. The real surprise of the trip was our day at Papallacta, which from reading trip reports seems to be almost permanently shrouded in clouds and fog. Not on our visit - we enjoyed completely clear skies and bright sunshine throughout, making this possibly the best day of the trip. Even Nick had never enjoyed weather this good on some 15 previous visits.
The weather in the Amazon basin also came as a pleasant surprise. I had expected it to be very hot and extremely humid, but it was actually pretty pleasant. It warmed up a bit at midday, but nothing close to the heat I've experienced in e.g. Gambia or Malaysia, and there was never a question of an enforced midday break from birding. It was very pleasant at night, and a ceiling fan was more than adequate to prevent overheating.
Health, safety & annoyances
No vaccinations are compulsory, but we got up to date with tetanus, typhoid, polio, hepatitis 'A', diptheria and meningitis jabs. There is malaria in Ecuador and on our doctor's advice we took weekly Chloroquine (Avloclor) and daily Proguanil (Paludrine) prophylactics. However, they started making me ill so (probably stupidly) I stopped taking them towards the end of the first week.
Mosquitoes weren't actually that big a problem, even at Sacha, which surprised me somewhat - they are apparently not keen on the blackwater environment around the lodge, and while they're more plentiful out in the forest a splash of insect repellent kept them away. Blackflies were a little more annoying in places, including on the veranda at Tandayapa, but again insect repellent minimised their impact.
As far as other annoyances went, there were surprisingly few. I didn't see a single spider throughout (thankfully, as I'm a serious arachnophobe!), let alone a snake. There were a lot of spiny plants in the rain forest, some of which can cause a nasty reaction if they cut you, and some of the ants can pack a serious bite - I got bitten by one at Sacha which was extremely painful, and caused a nasty swelling which lasted a couple of days.
There are piranhas in the river and the lake by Sacha Lodge, but they aren't of the ferocious variety! There are also Caymans in the lake, but they won't bother you. The main risk if swimming in the lake at night is from the electric eels that live there.
One small annoyance at Sacha were the cockroaches which inhabit your room, but then this is the jungle - you can keep their numbers down by not leaving out any food. Don't leave your toothbrush out or you, like me, will be treated to the disgusting sight of roaches feeding on the bristles in the morning!!
One last health warning - be very careful of the sun throughout, even when it's cloudy, as it is powerful here on the equator. This is especially true at the higher elevations such as at Papallacta and Cotopaxi, where the air is very thin. I was using Factor 60 sun cream at Papallacta and still got burned!
· The Birds of Ecuador, a field guide - Ridgely & Greenfield. An astonishingly detailed guide. Big and heavy for field use, but then with 1,600 species, what's the option?! Nick had cut out the plates from his and bound them up, making a nice slim volume for field use. I'm not sure if I could bring myself to do this, but it makes practical sense.
· The birds of Ecuador: status, distribution and taxonomy - Ridgely & Greenfield. Companion volume to the above. I didn't buy this before my trip, but if I went back I probably would.
· A Guide to Bird-watching in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands - Williams, Best & Heijnen. A good site guide, with lots of maps and individual site checklists, as well as a complete country checklist down to sub-species level. With an excellent field guide and a site-finding guide, Ecuador is now a lot less daunting than it used to be.
· Where to watch birds in South America - Nigel Wheatley. As usual, invaluable in focusing the mind and making the initial decision on where to go.
· Footprint Guide - Ecuador & Galapagos Handbook - Box. Good background info.
I didn't get hold of any trip reports before going, as I knew I would be guided throughout. However, there are plenty out there - try the usual places on the web such as:
· John Girdley - http://www.birdtours.co.uk/
· Blake Maybank - http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/ns/maybank/Trips.htm
· Tandayapa Lodge - http://www.tandayapa.com/.
· Sacha Lodge - http://www.sachalodge.com/
Sites visited were as follows:
8.9.01: Quito, Calacali, Tandayapa Lodge, Old Nono Road
9.9.01: Cuatro Ríos (Km 106.5), Tandayapa Lodge
10.9.01: Upper Tandayapa Valley, Tandayapa Lodge
11.9.01: Los Bancos, Mindo Lindo, Mindo, Tandayapa Lodge, Old Nono Road
13.9.01: Pedro Vicente Maldonado
14.9.01: Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve, Mindo, Upper Tandayapa Valley, Tandayapa Lodge
15.9.01: Yanacocha, Quito
17.9.01: Fly to Coca, boat to Sacha, Sacha Lodge
18.9.01: Canoe 0.5 hour down river, Añangu Reserve (south bank), Río Napo islands, Sacha Lodge
19.9.01: Sacha Lodge (canopy tower a.m., trails p.m.)
20.9.01: Sacha Lodge, trails on south side of Río Napo, Sacha Lodge
21.9.01: Sacha Lodge, boat to Coca, fly to Quito
23.9.01: Fly home
This is an arid country site en route from Quito to Tandayapa / Mindo on the new road. The main reason for visiting is that this is a prime location for the highly localised White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant.
To get here follow the Avenida Occidental north from Quito. 13 km from the junction with Avenida Universitaria (2 km beyond the junction with the old Nono-Mindo road) you will reach a monument to the equator (Mitad del Mundo). Continue towards Calacali, 8 km further along. The road climbs steeply approaching Calacali, with a steep drop to the left - you will see an oval racetrack at the bottom of the valley. Perhaps 1 km before Calacali you will see a Catholic shrine on the left labelled, I think, Virgen de Calacali, behind which is a rough area where you can park. Beware of break-ins here. From here follow the track away from the road along the valley side, with the valley floor to your left, looking for the shrike-tyrant as you go.
Tandayapa Lodge and village
To get to Tandayapa you have a choice of routes, along either the old or new roads. To get there on the (much faster) new road, continue past Calacali for a further 34 km, and look for a turning to the left signposted for a variety of fishing lodges (Pesca Deportiva). (If you reach the village of Nanegalito, you've gone too far). Turn left at this turning and continue for 5 kilometres up the hill to Tandayapa village. The road continues up the hill towards Mindo. The last kilometres or so before reaching the village was quite good for some scrub birds such as Uniform Antshrike and Whiskered Wren which were not seen elsewhere.
To reach there along the old road from Quito, follow the Avenida Occidental northwards for 11 km from the junction with Avenida Universitaria, and then turn left towards Nono and Mindo. After some 16 km you will reach the village of Nono, and after a further 24 km you will arrive in the middle of Tandayapa village. Turn left after crossing the bridge, towards Mindo.
After another couple of kilometres, a short track heads off right to Tandayapa Lodge itself - the left fork continues up over Tandayapa Pass and down to Mindo and Los Bancos.
There is a network of paths leading up the hillside beyond the lodge itself, which were good for forest birds, including Dark-backed Wood-Quail and the highly localised White-faced Nunbird. Even if you are not resident at the lodge you can use the paths, but there is a fee of USD 10 payable for non-residents. Day visitors should arrange visitors in advance to ensure there is someone there. There are also some excellent hummingbird feeders on the veranda at the front of the lodge, which is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, while a short walk brings you to a new canopy platform from which you can watch birds such as tanagers moving through the treetops below.
Old Nono Road
I've used this term to describe the first 2 or 3 km of the old road from Tandayapa back towards Nono.
Upper Tandayapa Valley
The rough road from Tandayapa continues past the lodge towards Mindo. Some 7 km from Tandayapa village you will see a restaurant on the right called the Bellavista Lodge (rooms available here). This is a nice place to have lunch, and the hummingbird feeders attract a few species that we didn't see elsewhere. A little further along you reach a turning to the right signposted Estacion Cientifica - following this road for some 12 km will bring you back to the new Quito - Mindo road about 5 km west of Nanegalito.
If you continue past this turning towards Mindo (which is 36 km from Tandayapa), you will reach the summit of Tandayapa Pass (c. 2,300 metres) after about 3 km. A little further along you will see a small quarry on the right, shortly before the road crosses a narrow spine with the land dropping steeply on both sides of the road. This proved to be a superb spot first thing in the morning with birds like Ocellated Tapaculo, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, some good funarids and lots of flocking birds.
Head west from Mindo along the new Quito - Los Bancos road towards Los Bancos. A short way along this road, 1 km or less, look for a turning to the right (north) signposted for Mindo Lindo. This is a commercial nursery that hosts a sizeable Club-winged Manakin lek that gives superb views (ask at the entrance for directions), as well as Velvet-purple Coronets at the feeders. There is a small fee of USD 2 each payable.
If you come from Quito along the new road, you will reach the small village of San Tadeo some 27 km after Nanegalito. If you come along the old road, you will reach the junction with the new road just before this village. On the far side of San Tadeo, take the dirt road to the left which winds steeply downhill for some 7 km to Mindo village itself. You can't miss this junction - it is plastered with signs for lodges featuring pictures of birds like Andean Cock-of-the-Rock!
This steep road (known as the Obelisk road) has some excellent birding - pull over periodically where safe to do so and bird the roadside scrub and woods. There are lots of other good birding spots around Mindo itself, but we didn't spend a lot of time here, so you would be better advised referring to Williams, Best & Heijnen for detailed directions. The bridge over the stream at the bottom of the Obelisk Road produced White-capped Dipper and there are also Torrent Tyrannulets along the streams in this area.
In the middle of Mindo is a small square. If you go to the far end of this square and turn right, you will take the road towards Mindo Gardens, which has been recommended elsewhere. When we arrived there was a locked gate over the river and we didn't see much here. If you turn right in Mindo before the square and follow the signs to Hotel El Carmelo you will get to the Hummingbird Restaurant which is worth visiting for species like White-necked Jacobin. It was closed when we visited but we managed to see all our target hummers through cracks in the fence!
Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve
From Mindo drive up to the new Quito - Los Bancos road, turn right towards Quito, and after 1.5 km turn right again onto the old road to Quito. After a few kilometres you will see a sign on the right for the Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve. I'm not sure whether there is public access to what might be a private reserve, but there was good birding along the old Nono-Mindo road here, including Mountain Wren and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager.
There is a trail that starts at the caretaker's house on the right side of the road. Access may be allowed for a small fee, but at this time the owners haven't really opened it to the public.
Excellent upper foothills (1,150 m) forest near the town of San Miguel de Los Bancos. Just before Los Bancos, look for a track on the right hand side on a left hand bend. It's 1 or 2 km beyond the petrol station next to a strange hexagonal building, I think near the Km 73 marker. We drove maybe 1 km down this track, and parked on the left near a gate, opposite a track to the right and a patch of forest. From here we walked further down the road, down a short incline, at the bottom of which the road flattens out and goes straight ahead. This area is excellent for a range of birds including several scarce tanager species including Moss-backed, Swallow, Ochre-breasted and Glistening-green. The highly localised Pale-vented Thrush can also be seen here.
This is an area of lowland forest between Los Bancos and Pedro. The site is on the left near the Km 106.5 marker post - there is a track that goes off to the left here where you can park the car off the road. From here walk to the left into the forest. There is a small entrance fee (USD 3) payable to the "warden" here. Don't neglect the area of trees and bushes immediately by the car - we had superb numbers of tanagers, toucans etc here in the early afternoon when we returned to the car.
The main speciality here is the localised Spot-crowned Antvireo, but there are plenty of other good birds here such as Ochre-breasted Tanager and Black-headed Antthrush
Another absolutely superb spot - Pedro produced a biggest list for any one place on one visit. The turn off is near the Km 132 marker, about 10km west of Pedro, just after a small shop signed "Viveres La Dolorosa". Turn right (north) here, and drive along the unsealed road for a couple of kilometres. Drive through a shallow river, left at the first fork then right at the second fork and continue across a bridge. From here the road climbed quite steeply uphill, and then levelled out - we parked the car where the road forks a little further along.
The roadside vegetation from where we parked back along the road down as far as the bridge was very productive in the early morning. Having exhausted this area, we gradually worked our way to the main road, making stops along the way where Nick had stakeouts for good birds. Be warned that on my visit at least it was very hot in this area - much hotter than any other day of the trip, although bird activity continued to be pretty good for all bar a couple of hours around midday.
A very nice site located on the flanks of Mount Pichincha. Note that this is a high altitude site, at up to 3,500 metres, and although the walking is extremely easy along a wide flat track, altitude sickness is a possibility. The real speciality here is Black-breasted Puffleg, possibly one of the rarest hummingbird in the world, but it is pretty scarce even here, and is rarely recorded. It is also a good site for some of the higher altitude species including various mountain-tanagers, conebills and hummingbirds.
The site is accessed via the old road from Quito to Mindo. From the start of the road north of Quito, go west for about 8 km. From Nono you go about the same distance eastwards towards Quito. Here, you turn south off the cobbles onto a dirt road, which climbs uphill. After 1a few hundred metres turn right, then continue straight avoiding the cobblestone track. The road eventually leads to a compound of the water company, where you will have to go through a couple of gates, and continue until the road peters out into a track - you can park on the side of the track here. There is now a USD 5 fee payable to visit the site.
From here, walk along the track around the side of the mountain. The track continues for quite some way to an aqueduct, going through a series of tunnels along the way, but the section up to the first tunnel is usually the best.
This is usually a morning site - it can start off sunny, but usually starts to cloud over by midday, and the weather can be poor in the afternoon. On our visit it was glorious until about 12 p.m., then it absolutely poured down for an hour or so, making the road back downhill quite slippery. It can also be cold first thing, but warms up as the day wears on. When we arrived a little after dawn Pichincha above us was covered in snow, but it had all melted by late morning.
Possible my favourite single site of the trip - this is birding at its most spectacular! The road is accessed from Avenida Eloy Alfaro near the Parque Metropolitano. From Quito follow signs to Tumbaco, Cumbaya and then Pifo from where the road climbs steadily uphill for a little over 50 km, until reaching the summit of Papallacta Pass at some 4,000 metres. At the top of the pass, a rough track leads off to the left up to the aerial masts at the summit at an altitude of over 4,300 metres. The best páramo birding is along this track.
Back at the main road, you will see the old road to Quito running parallel to it - a walk along here can also be productive. From the top of the pass, continue down the east side towards Baeza. On a steep downhill section (watch out for black ice early in the morning), perhaps 1 km beyond the aerial mast turnoff, you will pass a small area of Polylepis woodland on your left - good spot for Giant Conebill. Further along you will reach Papallacta Lake on your left - there is a good area of scrub and woodland on your right here. A little further along you will reach Papallacta village.
Altitude sickness is a very definite possibility here, so you should spend a day or two acclimatising before visiting the site, and I certainly wouldn't recommend visiting it straight from a trip to the Amazonian lowlands. I luckily didn't suffer any ill-effects, but the air is really thin - any kind of uphill walk is extremely hard work. Sunburn is also a real risk - use the best sunblock you can find.
The biggest problem with visiting Papallacta is that the weather is often very poor - thick fog is the norm, as is rain and cold temperatures. We were unbelievably lucky during our visit in having a totally clear day - even Nick who has visited here many times had never experienced it like that before. Needless to say it was extremely cold, (below freezing, with ice on the ground), but that only added to the experience. I will never ever forget the experience of standing on the top near the aerial masts, watching a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes at a range of maybe 10 metres, with the snow-covered mountains of Antisana and Cotopaxi for a backdrop!
This is a must-visit site, if not for the birds, then for the spectacular scenery. Cotopaxi has to be the perfect volcano - cone-shaped and covered in snow! This is another high-altitude site (the car park on the slope of the mountain is at an altitude of 4,600 metres!), so the usual warnings apply.
To get there head south from Quito along the Pan American Highway. Continue for some 50 km then turn left where the national park is signposted. The rough road continues from here for 12 km until you reach the entrance gate. Here you will have to pay a USD10 entrance fee, and may need to show your passport.
From the entrance, continue into the park, until you reach a turn-off to the left for Laguna de Limpiopungo, where there is plenty of room to park. There is good birding on the lake and along the shores, including the localised Andean Coot, and behind it - a track leads around the right hand side of the lake, and skirts its entire perimeter. A little before you reach the turn-off for the lake there is a gully on your right - this area is also a good birding spot.
From the lake, continue along the road into the park for a little while, then take the right hand turn towards the refuge on the flanks of the mountain itself. This is a pretty rough road, steep with lots of hairpins, and you may need 4WD to get to the car park. From here the refuge is a steep and lung-bursting 200 metres higher - we made it about 50 metres before giving up! There is no vegetation whatsoever at this height, although the bushes along the road further down the slope is apparently the best place for Chimborazo Hillstar.
I have used this term to include all the areas within the grounds of Sacha Lodge on the north bank of the Río Napo. These include:
This latter feature is worthy of note, as it gives you a rare opportunity to get looks at canopy dwelling birds which are otherwise difficult if not impossible to see from the ground. The tower is built spiralling around the trunk of a single kapok tree, and reaches a height of 43 metres above the ground. A strenuous climb, but worth it when you get to the top! Not content with that, they are currently building a canopy walkway, which will stretch for 300 metres between a series of towers at a height of 35 metres above the ground - this should be superb for canopy birding when it's finished.
Sacha (south bank)
The guys at Sacha also maintain a series of trails on the opposite south bank of the Río Napo. This area is accessed by taking a dug out canoe from the north bank, and following a creek inland on the south side for several hundred metres. The creek itself provides good birding, as does the forest on the other side - particularly noteworthy were several species of jacamars and antpittas.
Río Napo islands
There are a number of species that are largely restricted to vegetated islands in the middle of the river. We checked out a couple of these by canoe on our way back from Añangu.
This is an excellent piece of forest on the south bank of the Río Napo, about half an hour east of the lodge by motorised canoe. It is apparently owned by a co-operative of local villagers who levy a small charge (can't remember how much - USD 5?) on tourists to visit the site. As well as the forest itself, there is a good parrot lick right alongside the river, accessed by a boardwalk from a small landing area - a large covered hide has been built here to enable the parrots to be viewed at close range without disturbance.
Saturday 8 September 2001
We arrived at Quito some 25 hours after leaving home! We cleared the airport fairly quickly and were met outside by Nick Athanas, who soon had us loaded up in his truck and on our way out of Quito. After such a long day's travelling we were pretty shattered but with all those species to see I was still keen to get on with some birding, and I managed my first couple of lifers, Eared Dove and Rufous-collared Sparrow, while driving through Quito.
Our first stop was at a site near the town of Calacali, which Nick said was a reliable stakeout for the highly localised White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. Walking slowly along the track produced a cracking Golden-rumped Euphonia and several Tufted Tit-Tyrants, before we got lucky and ran into a Giant Hummingbird - not an easy species to find. No sign of the shrike-tyrant on the way down, but Nick soon found one on the walk back, and it gave excellent views perched in trackside scrub.
We had originally planned on birding our way slowly to Tandayapa but activity was already a little slow on such a clear sunny day. So instead we decided to head straight to Tandayapa and settle down in front of the hummingbird feeders there, stopping en route for our first look at the resident flock of Blue-and-white Swallows in Tandayapa village. A quick flash of black and white in the garden on arrival was a White-winged Brush-Finch - this individual regularly feeds outside the veranda door first thing in the morning, but I didn't manage to see this particular bird again.
There were good numbers of hummers around the feeders on the veranda, and we settled down to get our first views of some species which would become very familiar over the next couple of days. The commonest species were Green and Sparkling Violet-ears, with decent numbers of Western and Andean Emeralds, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Green-fronted Lancebills, Buff-tailed Coronets, Purple-throated Woodstars and Fawn-breasted Brilliants. Patient waiting also soon produced Wedge-billed Hummingbird and Booted Racket-tail, while a resident Golden-crowned Flycatcher called from its perch just below the deck, and a White-tipped Dove crept through the shrubbery
Having rested a little, we took a short walk down to the deck which Iain has built overlooking the canopy of a row of trees below the lodge. This can be good for tanagers mid-afternoon and we soon had great views of both Black-capped and Golden-naped Tanagers here. Other birds seen from the lookout included Plumbeous and Band-tailed Pigeon and Crimson-rumped Toucanet in the trees below, and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters in the long grass above the platform.
A short stroll along one of the forest trails produced Grey-breasted Wood-wren, while back at the hummer feeders a Brown Inca showed up and an Orange-bellied Euphonia was seen in the trees below.
As darkness approached we took a quick trip down to the old road along the river towards Nono in the hope of seeing Lyre-tailed Nightjar at dusk. Andean Solitaires and Andean Cock-of-the-rocks were calling from the forest on the other side of the river, but didn't show. A Nariño Tapaculo was equally unco-operative in the bushes along the road and a calling Russet-crowned Warbler stayed hidden. A couple of Azara's Spinetails were a little more obliging, and a Streak-capped Treehunter was picked up and spotlighted by Nick as it grew dark, giving very nice views! Unfortunately, there was no sign of the nightjars, perhaps due in part to the damp drizzly weather which had set in towards the end of the afternoon.
Quito - Eared Dove, Rufous-collared Sparrow
Calacali - American Kestrel, Giant Hummingbird, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Golden-rumped Euphonia
Tandayapa Lodge - Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Green-fronted Lancebill, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Brown Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, Band-tailed Pigeon, Plumbeous Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Tropical Kingbird, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Blue-and-white Swallow, White-winged Brush-Finch, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden-naped Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Old Nono Road - Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (h), Andean Solitaire (h), Azara's Spinetail, Streak-capped Treehunter, Nariño Tapaculo (h), Russet-crowned Warbler (h)
Sunday 9 September 2001
We arrived at Cuatro Rios as it was getting light, and immediately started seeing birds. First up was a Striped Cuckoo, followed by a Rusty-margined Flycatcher and the first of the dozens of Yellow-rumped Tanagers seen - a very common bird in the lowlands. Then it was off into the forest for some serious rainforest birding.
This was as tough birding as I've ever experienced, but the rewards are also great - there are some very special birds in these forests. The first bird we found was a Streaked Flycatcher, quickly followed by Ochre-breasted Tanager - one of our target birds at this site. Not the most spectacular of tanagers, but one of the more localised ones. Next on the list was my first ever antbird, and a good introduction to this often frustrating family. Several Chestnut-backed Antbirds were calling around us, and although Nick didn't seem to have any trouble picking them out it took me quite a while to get my first views. As the trip wore on I gradually became a little more adept at seeing these birds, although Nick and Oscar may well disagree!
A Slate-colored Grosbeak was much more obliging, followed by my first of another diverse Neotropical family, the woodcreepers. We did particularly well with these birds throughout the trip, ending up with a total of 14 species. First to show was a Northern Barred Woodcreeper, soon followed by Spotted and Plain-brown. A Bicolored Antbird was more obliging than the Chestnut-backeds earlier, then Nick heard a Black-headed Antthrush calling nearby. We spent about half an hour stalking this elusive bird, always just missing it, until eventually I saw the bird scoot out from some undergrowth and along the trail before disappearing around the corner. A strange bird, which reminded me of a moorhen more than anything!
A Broad-billed Motmot calling overhead in the canopy took some tracking down, and even longer for me to get onto it (a familiar theme!), while a Southern Nightingale Wren almost eluded me and a Tawny-faced Gnatwren actually did so. Good views were had, however, of White-whiskered Hermit, and an especially obliging Collared Trogon, while following calls produced Western Woodhaunters and brief views of Choco Warblers. A stream-crossing held a pair of very obliging Buff-rumped Warblers, and I eventually managed to actually see one of the Tawny-faced Gnatwrens calling around us. A Choco Trogon called repeatedly above us, but refused to show, giving only fleeting views when it eventually flew away - very frustrating.
We then managed to find a large flock of birds feeding up in the canopy, but the height of the trees and bad lighting meant that even Nick was able to identify only a handful of the species present. Back-breaking birding at its most frustrating - I managed to see one Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner and a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper which was feeding lower down, but the rest were just distant silhouettes. Just then we were distracted, however, by a calling Spot-crowned Antvireo - probably the rarest bird found in this area and our main target for the day. We had no luck locating it initially, but having walked on a little and had our packed lunch at the streamside, we returned to the same spot and this time managed to get good views.
It was time to head back towards the car, stopping on the way for Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, more Choco Warblers and a Tropical Parula - a bird I've wanted to see ever since dipping it in Texas four years ago - it didn't disappoint! Both Chestnut-capped Brush-finch and Slaty Antwren were heard calling on the walk back, but neither obliged with tickable views.
As we left the forest a couple of hundred metres away from the car we became aware of a lot of activity in the scattered trees dotted around us - big numbers of tanagers and associated birds. After the struggle of trying to locate birds in thick forest it was a real pleasure getting such easy views of these little jewels. First up were Blue-necked, Gray-and-gold, Bay-headed and Blue-gray Tanagers, Orange-bellied Euphonia and Yellow-tufted Dacnis, as well as a Blue Dacnis which only Nick saw. Both Black-winged and Buff-throated Saltators were also present, as well as a noisy Band-backed Wren.
Next treat was a Pale-mandibled Aracari and Choco Toucan in the same tree, with a Golden-faced Tyrannulet nearby. Then we found another tanager flock in a different group of trees. Many species had been seen earlier, but new species included Flame-faced Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager
We had intended stopping off at Los Bancos on the way back to try to see some more tanagers, but when we got there it was covered in thick fog, so we pressed on to Tandayapa, and headed straight down to the canopy platform. We were soon seeing even more tanager species - Golden, Beryl-spangled, Metallic-green and Golden-naped Tanagers, as well as Montane Woodcreeper.
Back at the hummer feeders species were largely as yesterday, with the Brown Inca putting in another appearance, although patience was soon rewarded by two new species - Purple-bibbed Whitetip and White-bellied Woodstar. The weather deteriorated rapidly towards nightfall so any thoughts of another trip for the nightjars were quickly forgotten.
Cuatro Ríos - Little Tinamou (h), Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Choco Toucan, Collared Trogon, Choco Trogon (h), Broad-billed Motmot, Pallid Dove (h), Striped Cuckoo, Bronze-winged Parrot (h), White-whiskered Hermit, White-whiskered Puffbird (h), Black Vulture, Slaty-capped Flycatcher (h), Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Streaked Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwren (h), Chestnut-backed Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Western Woodhaunter, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner (h), Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Black-headed Antthrush, Band-backed Wren, Southern Nightingale Wren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch (h), Tropical Parula, Choco Warbler, Buff-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Yellow-rumped Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Gray-and-gold Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Buff-throated Saltator, Black-winged Saltator
Tandayapa Lodge - Green-fronted Lancebill, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Brown Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, Montane Woodcreeper, Blue-and-white Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Golden Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager
Monday 10 September 2001
On a trip this good it's difficult to single out favourite days but this was certainly one of them, if not for the number of species seen, then for the quality. We left the lodge early, (although after a longer lie than the day before!), and headed up the valley on the old road towards Mindo. It was foggy to start with, but still with reasonable visibility, and the fog soon cleared after the sun rose. After a brief stop for a pair of Beautiful Jays and a Great Thrush near the Bellavista Lodge, we continued to the top of the pass, and pulled over near the small quarry on the right hand side.
We soon started finding birds in the roadside vegetation, early highlights including Grass-green Tanager, White-tailed Tyrannulet and Western Hemispingus, with some overflying Red-billed Parrots. A Rufous Spinetail showed well low down in the bushes, and a Spillman's Tapaculo also showed fleetingly. Some Black-crested Warblers were seen and a Russet-crowned Warbler also gave frustrating views before an Azara's Spinetail was seen well - much better views than those obtained on the 8th. Some jays were calling nosily in the trees high above us, and we eventually managed to pick out some Turquoise Jays, which were quickly forgotten when I saw my first Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan of the trip. Absolutely stunning birds, which were briefly made bird of the trip, although that accolade didn't last long!
Just then we started noticing movement in the trees below the road, and realised that we had a sizeable feeding flock. Nick was soon calling out species names, while it was as much as I could do to get onto each bird, get decent views, before moving onto the next bird. Exhilarating stuff! First up was a Green-and-black Fruiteater, then Pearled Treerunner and Streaked Tuftedcheek. These were followed by White-crested Elaenia, Smoke-colored Pewee, Brown-capped Vireo, Blue-capped Tanager and a noisy flock of Sepia-brown Wrens. We lost the flock for a little when Nick found a Masked Trogon in full view beneath us, but quickly relocated it, seeing Cinnamon Flycatcher, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Spectacled Whitestart, Dusky Bush-Tanager and Streak-necked Flycatcher. Several Capped Conebills were flitting about, and a Masked Flowerpiercer put in an appearance.
At that point Nick decided to play his tape to see it he could call in an Ocellated Tapaculo, a bird I've wanted to see ever since I first saw a picture of one. A bird quickly responded but seemed a long way down the slope. However, it gradually seemed to be working its way up towards us, so Nick kept trying. Suddenly, Nick crouched down at the side of the road and pointed urgently into a gap in the long grass. I slumped down into the grass, put up my bins, and sure enough there it was - a stunning Ocellated Tapaculo in plain view in a gap in the vegetation, calling repeatedly and hopping from side to side. An absolutely superb bird, which immediately replaced the mountain-toucan as the bird of the trip, and kept its place right to the end - it will be a very long time before I forget that view!
Having eventually satisfied myself with the views, and finally tiring of getting progressively wetter in the dewy long grass, we were back on our feet in search of more lifers. Another Woodcreeper was found - this time a Strong-billed Woodcreeper - and a Black-and-white Becard showed overhead. Nick also saw a Glossy-black Thrush, but I didn't manage to get onto it. A Barred Becard was calling below us, but wouldn't come in to the tape. White-sided Flowerpiercer and Rufous-chested Tanager were also seen well here.
By this time it was starting to warm up, and we seemed to have lost the earlier feeding flock. We therefore decided to try to find a couple of tricky funarids here before moving on to another spot. They took some time, but we eventually managed to get excellent looks at both Striped and Flammulated Treehunters, neither of which is an easy bird to find. In between these birds we also saw Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers and heard Chestnut-crowned Antpitta calling.
Next it was back down towards the Bellavista, but before getting there we turned left on the road signposted Estacion Cientifica. We pulled over near an entrance way on the left, and started looking for more birds. It was a little foggy at this spot, but the birding was not affected at all. The highlight was the superb pair of Toucan Barbets found quite near the road that posed for some time, and other new species here included Southern Yellow Grosbeak and Plumbeous Pigeon. Near the car we taped out a Plain-tailed Wren and saw some Slate-throated Whitestarts before the fog really closed in eliminating visibility.
It was time to head to the Bellavista for some lunch and a session at their hummingbird feeders. The main attraction here were three species not often recorded at Tandayapa Lodge - Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca and Gorgeted Sunangel - and it wasn't long before we found all three among the numerous Buff-tailed Coronets. We also managed Grey-breasted Wood Wren and Golden-crowned Flycatcher here as well as enjoying an excellent lunch. A brief stop on the way back down to Tandayapa Lodge produced Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Tanager and Red-eyed Vireo.
On arriving at Tandayapa we headed first for the canopy platform, where we enjoyed Golden, Beryl-spangled and Black-capped Tanagers and Orange-bellied Euphonia. A brief session at the hummingbird feeders produced the same sort of species as yesterday, and then we hiked off along one of the forest trails.
First bird encountered was a Nariño Tapaculo which gave great views, followed by a noisy flock of Three-striped Warblers, which Nick said often lead mixed-species flocks, but they seemed to be on their own on this occasion. We also saw a Tawny-bellied Hermit and an Ornate Flycatcher, before Nick heard a White-faced Nunbird calling. This was a very high priority bird, being highly localised - Tandayapa is usually a good spot, with nest sites being staked out in the past, but none had been seen here for over 4 months. We set off in pursuit, and a bird soon flew in and landed directly above our heads. At least one other bird was also calling but not seen.
Having celebrated this great sighting, we almost immediately found a Golden-headed Quetzal, quickly followed by a Masked Trogon, our second of the day. We trekked further up the hill, but saw little else as darkness descended. A Violet-tailed Sylph was very welcome, as was a female Powerful Woodpecker coming to her roost site, but I failed dismally at seeing Andean Solitaire, despite Nick picking out one several times with his laser pen - the fog and murk were too much for me. Nevertheless, I returned to the lodge very happy indeed that night, with a great selection of birds under my belt.
Upper Tandayapa Valley - Tawny-breasted Tinamou (h), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Masked Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo (h), Red-billed Parrot, Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Gorgeted Sunangel, Band-tailed Pigeon, Plumbeous Pigeon, White-throated Quail-Dove (h), Turkey Vulture, Streak-necked Flycatcher, White-crested Elaenia, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Smoke-colored Pewee, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Barred Becard (h), Black-and-white Becard, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Azara's Spinetail, Rufous Spinetail, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Striped Treehunter, Flammulated Treehunter, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (h), Spillman's Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo, Red-eyed Vireo, Brown-capped Vireo, Turquoise Jay, Beautiful Jay, Great Thrush, Sepia-brown Wren, Plain-tailed Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Blue-and-white Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Slate-throated Whitestart, Spectacled Whitestart, Black-crested Warbler, Russet-crowned Warbler, Capped Conebill, Grass-green Tanager, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Western Hemispingus, Rufous-chested Tanager, Yellow-rumped Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Golden Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Southern Yellow Grosbeak
Tandayapa Lodge - Powerful Woodpecker, White-faced Nunbird, Masked Trogon, Golden-headed Quetzal, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green-fronted Lancebill, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Violet-tailed Sylph, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, Ornate Flycatcher, Spotted Barbtail (h), Streak-capped Treehunter (h), Nariño Tapaculo, Andean Solitaire (h), House Wren (h), Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch (h), Three-striped Warbler, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Tanager
Tuesday 11 September 2001
Today we were heading back to the lowlands, this time starting around Los Bancos and Sara decided to join us for a day out. On arriving we were greeted by a singing Olive-crowned Yellowthroat which showed well on a nearby fence line, with several Ornate Flycatchers nearby.
The main reason for visiting this site was the excellent variety of tanagers often present, including a number of localised species, and we had soon seen Ochre-breasted and Swallow Tanagers, while Bronze-winged Parrot and Gray-rumped Swift flew overhead. These were quickly followed by the arrival of a decent-sized feeding flock containing some of our main target birds - in quick succession we had Moss-backed, Rufous-throated and Glistening-green Tanagers, all showing extremely well. A Masked Tityra was seen a little more distantly, while a Pale-vented Thrush (highly localised in Ecuador) was singing but wouldn't show.
Several Slaty Spinetails were singing from the low vegetation, and patience was eventually rewarded with great views. Another tanager species was added, this time a Bay-headed Tanager, before the peace was disturbed by a noisy screeching flock of Maroon-tailed Parakeets which flew in and began feeding on fruit. We turned our attentions back to the feeding flock which was still present, and added Purple Honeycreeper and Golden-faced Tyrannulet. A Golden-olive Woodpecker flew in, and Nick found a Red-headed Barbet which I couldn't see for the time being. Hummingbirds weren't very numerous around here, but we saw a Green-crowned Brilliant visiting a flowering bush and a Roadside Hawk drifted over.
The area also has some good funarid species, and we managed to tape out both Ruddy and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaners in quick succession, while we were still adding new tanager species - Palm Tanager was new for the trip and Orange-bellied Euphonia new for the day. Having been so successful with the foliage-gleaners we continued down the road looking for Red-faced Spinetail, and found one quite quickly - they behaved very differently from the other spinetails seen, being less skulking and easier to see. Another swift flew over high, this time a White-collared Swift and a prehistoric-looking Squirrel Cuckoo flopped into the canopy of a bushy tree.
Back near the tanager flock Nick picked out a becard skulking in some dense branches, which proved to be a Cinnamon Becard, and while I was enjoying good views of this bird, he found another - this time a One-colored Becard - in the same tree! Another hummingbird buzzed by, a White-whiskered Hermit, before we got another of our target species, a Silver-throated Tanager, together with the more familiar Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager and Golden-naped Tanager. As we were leaving to go back to the car I finally managed to see the Red-headed Barbet which Nick had found earlier. On the way back to the car we taped out an Immaculate Antbird getting reasonable views, and tried unsuccessfully to turn a Tropical Kingbird into a more exciting Snowy-throated.
Having succeeded in seeing most of our species, and with it starting to get warmer, we headed to Mindo Lindo for a cold drink and a try for some specials. The site is famous for its sizeable Club-winged Manakin lek, and having left Sara to enjoy a cup of tea (included in the entrance fee) in the shade we headed off down the trail, where we enjoyed superb views of these cracking little birds. The lek is on both sides of the track, and so the birds give excellent close-up views at this spot. We then spent some time trying to get good views of Andean Solitaire, a bird which calls virtually all the time at Tandayapa, but which had proved frustratingly difficult to see up to now.
They proved almost as difficult for me to see here, (although Nick seemed to have no problems!), but I eventually got great views of one out in the open, and we headed back to the shade of the veranda to join Sara. There are several hummingbird feeders here where the speciality is Velvet-purple Coronet, and we quickly found a couple of these and a Buff-tailed Coronet among the more common Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. Other good hummers here included Violet-tailed Sylphs and Booted Racket-tails, and an obliging Smoke-colored Pewee entertained us while we rested.
Time for lunch, so we headed the short distance into Mindo town, and out towards the Hummingbird Restaurant. We stopped first at a large bridge over the river, from where we saw several Smooth-billed Anis, Southern Rough-winged Swallows and a Spotted Sandpiper, although not the hoped-for White-capped Dipper. Nick saw a Torrent Tyrannulet fly up the river under the bridge but it disappeared from view before I could get onto it.
Birding was quiet here, so it was back towards Mindo, stopping en route for a Black Phoebe, and to the Hummingbird Restaurant where we had intended to eat our packed lunch in front of the hummer feeders. Sadly, it was closed and the gates locked, so we were restricted to scanning the feeders through gaps in the fence. Nevertheless we managed to get decent views of two new species - White-necked Jacobin and Green-crowned Woodnymph - as well as Green-crowned Brilliants.
We picked a random riverside spot for lunch, and were immediately rewarded by close-up views of a pair of Torrent Tyrannulets. Having eaten lunch we drove back to Mindo and started up Obelisk Road back towards the main road, stopping after a few hundred meters on a long straight. Birding was slow at the outset - just Bananaquit, Bay-headed Tanager and Black-and-white Becard in the first half an hour or so, but persistence then started to pay off with several new species seen. A Scrub Blackbird flew in, then we found a small feeding flock containing Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow Tyrannulet, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet and Tropical Parula. A Pacific Hornero was seen feeding under some low bushes and Blue-gray Tanager and Red-faced Spinetail were also here.
At that point it started raining quite heavily so we beat a hasty retreat to the car, but the rain soon stopped and when we resumed birding there was a noticeable upsurge in activity. We quickly added Slaty-capped, Bran-colored and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Blue-necked Tanager and Slaty Spinetail in the shrubbery, with Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters and Black-winged Saltators in the fields on the other side of the road.
It was getting late and we were tiring, so we headed back to Tandayapa Lodge. On arrival some time in front of the hummer feeders was rewarded with a Brown Violet-ear and Speckled Hummingbird among the more familiar species. Also present were Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and White-belled Woodstar.
However, all thoughts of birds soon disappeared with Iain Campbell's arrival from Quito bringing news of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. We could barely believe what we were hearing - news at the time was still vague, and Iain had even heard one rumour of 50,000 dead being quoted. We just sat there stunned for a while unable to take in what Iain was telling us - it all seemed too surreal, especially in our idyllic surroundings in the rainforest, without even a telephone link to the outside world.
We eventually roused ourselves and drove down to the Old Nono Road where we finally managed to get a look at some overflying Lyre-tailed Nightjars, but it was difficult to think of anything other than the awful events that had occurred in the US that morning. On a more personal note, there was also the matter of whether we would be able to get home. The US had closed down all its airspace, as had Canada and Mexico, and there were serious restrictions on travel to Europe. Only time would tell whether we would have difficulties, and in this sombre mood we turned in early.
Los Bancos - Golden-olive Woodpecker, Red-headed Barbet, Broad-billed Motmot (h), Squirrel Cuckoo, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Bronze-winged Parrot, White-collared Swift, Gray-rumped Swift, White-whiskered Hermit, Green-crowned Brilliant, Roadside Hawk, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Ornate Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Cinnamon Becard, One-colored Becard, Masked Tityra, Immaculate Antbird, Slaty Spinetail, Red-faced Spinetail, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, Pale-vented Thrush (h), Red-eyed Vireo, Bay Wren (h), House Wren (h), Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Yellow-rumped Tanager, Palm Tanager, Moss-backed Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Rufous-throated Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Purple Honeycreeper, Swallow Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator
Mindo Lindo - Golden-headed Quetzal (h), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Velvet-purple Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Smoke-colored Pewee, Club-winged Manakin, Andean Solitaire
Mindo - White-throated Crake (h), Smooth-billed Ani, White-necked Jacobin, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, White-tipped Dove, Spotted Sandpiper, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Yellow Tyrannulet, Torrent Tyrannulet, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-and-white Becard, Pacific Hornero, Slaty Spinetail, Red-faced Spinetail, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Tropical Parula, Bananaquit, Yellow-rumped Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Variable Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Black-winged Saltator, Scrub Blackbird
Tandayapa Lodge - Crimson-rumped Toucanet (h), Green-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violet-ear, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Violet-tailed Sylph, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, Plumbeous Pigeon, White-tipped Dove (h), Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (h), Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (h), Blue-and-white Swallow, Golden Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Old Nono Road - Lyre-tailed Nightjar
Wednesday 12 September 2001
Having travelled around quite a bit during the previous days, we decided to spend today walking the trails around Tandayapa Lodge itself. The mood was rather sombre following the news from the previous evening, and I was also feeling pretty ill, which I later concluded was due to side-effects from the anti-malaria medication I was taking. I have suffered these effects before, and once I stopped taking the pills I recovered within a couple of days. Nevertheless, we set out to see what we could find, having first watched a Brown Inca at the feeders.
Birding was tough along the trails, with poor light and thick undergrowth, but Nick's skill produced good birds. First up was a Long-tailed Antbird, initially elusive but eventually showing very well. I finally managed to get decent views of a Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, which had proved very difficult up to now - a good way to see this bird is to walk slowly along the forest trails early in the morning and watch for it running along in front of you. Other species seen along the trails included Gray-breasted Wood Wren, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Streak-necked Flycatcher and Red-headed Barbet.
A Golden-winged Manakin was calling but couldn't be seen on the way up the trail, although we eventually found it on the way back down, while an Olivaceous Piha was a very good find, although I totally failed to get onto a Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant which was calling and flitting about in front of us. We found a small feeding flock, identifying Three-striped Warblers, Rusty-winged Barbtail and Slaty Antwren, although other species eluded identification. Most of the calling birds were species seen previously, and which we therefore did not chase after, but a Spotted Barbtail refused to co-operate.
We were then distracted by a very strange bird which defied identification for a while, but which we eventually realised, with the help of the literature, was a Plushcap. It seemed to lack the yellow forehead feathers, but was otherwise a perfect match - young birds can apparently be late in developing this yellow tuft.
By this time I was starting to feel very lousy indeed, and the steep trails were becoming too much of a struggle so we headed back to the lodge, and I crashed out in bed while the others had lunch. Towards mid-afternoon I started to feel a little better, so we took a gentle stroll along one of the flatter trails, and were almost immediately rewarded by a fantastic Andean Cock-of-the-rock which screeched past at close range almost taking our heads off - good views of a really magical bird. A pair of Russet-backed Oropendolas also flew over, and other species seen here were Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Black-winged Saltator and Tricolored Brush-finch.
Back at the canopy platform, species were much as previously - Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Plumbeous Pigeon, Golden and Black-capped Tanager and Orange-bellied Euphonia, with White-tipped Dove and Rufous-collared Sparrow on the compost heap and Yellow-bellied Seedeaters in the long grass.
We decided to go next to Tandayapa village to search out some new species in the roadside scrub. A flock of Red-billed Parrots flew over the car park, and as we got out of the car in the village Nick spotted a distant Black-and-chestnut Eagle. We successfully taped out first a Uniform Antshrike then a Whiskered Wren, both giving excellent views, and an Ecuadorian Thrush sang from a nearby tree. On the walk back we came across a small flock of seedeating birds - a couple of White-winged Brush-finches, Lesser Goldfinch and Yellow-faced Grassquit - the latter very familiar from a previous trip to Jamaica but quite localised in this part of Ecuador.
On returning to the lodge I again decided to skip the meal and retired early to get a good night's sleep ready for the next day's long trip down to Pedro.
Tandayapa Lodge - Dark-backed Wood-Quail (h), Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, White-faced Nunbird (h), Red-billed Parrot, Brown Inca, Green-fronted Lancebill, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Wedge-billed Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstar, Plumbeous Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant (h), Smoke-colored Pewee, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, White-winged Becard (h), Olivaceous Piha, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Golden-winged Manakin, Slaty Antwren, Long-tailed Antbird, Azara's Spinetail (h), Spotted Barbtail (h), Rusty-winged Barbtail, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Streak-capped Treehunter (h), Nariño Tapaculo (h), Andean Solitaire (h), House Wren (h), Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Tricolored Brush-Finch, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Three-striped Warbler, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Plushcap, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Black-winged Saltator, Russet-backed Oropendola
Tandayapa village - Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Black Phoebe, Uniform Antshrike, Ecuadorian Thrush, Whiskered Wren, Blue-and-white Swallow, Lesser Goldfinch, White-winged Brush-Finch, Slate-throated Whitestart, Yellow-faced Grassquit
Thursday, 13 September 2001
In species numbers, today was one of the most productive days of the trip, despite only visiting one site, and covering no more than maybe 2 kilometres of roadside vegetation. An early start saw us at Pedro shortly after dawn, where we were greeted by several singing Chestnut-backed Antbirds and a Buff-throated Saltator. We tried to tape out a White-throated Spadebill but although Nick managed a quick glimpse I couldn't see it. We had more luck with Snowy-throated Kingbird and Purple-chested Hummingbird around the car, as well as Roadside Hawk and dozens of Yellow-rumped Tanagers - very common here. A woodpecker, probably a Guayaquil Woodpecker, flew over but wasn't positively identified.
A superb Scarlet-browed Tanager was added to the increasingly impressive list of tanagers recorded on the trip, and a Pale-mandibled Aracari was also seen before we set off in pursuit of a calling Rufous Motmot. This took some tracking down - motmots are incredibly difficult to pick out despite their bright plumage - but we eventually managed to get good views. While I was watching it Nick called over to say he'd found a Dot-winged Antwren and a flock of Bronze-winged Parrots flew over. Shortly afterwards we enjoyed views of both Stub-tailed and Dusky Antbirds a little further down the road. Nick had distant views of a Dusky Pigeon which flushed before I could see it properly, and some Blue-headed Parrots flew over.
By this time we'd reached a bridge over the river, from which we scoped a perched Green Kingfisher and several Southern Rough-winged Swallows hawked overhead. Several Bay Wrens were calling from the undergrowth all around us but try as we might we just couldn't get decent views of them, and I didn't feel justified in ticking such a smart bird based on the various flight views I got.
Starting back up the road we enjoyed Black-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, a rather scruffy Western Slaty Antshrike, followed by a smarter plumaged individual, Squirrel Cuckoo and some Yellow-bellied Siskins. We at last succeeded in finding a mixed feeding flock, adding Green Honeycreeper and White-shouldered Tanagers, and Nick saw Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. An Orange-billed Sparrow proved elusive in the low vegetation but was eventually seen well, while a pair of Swallow Tanagers were much more obvious, as was a Golden-olive Woodpecker which flew in and landed in plain view.
By now it was mid-morning and starting to get very hot on what was to be by far the hottest day of the trip. I was also starting to feel pretty rough again, so we started wandering back towards the car. We were still finding good birds however - the walk back added Thick-billed Euphonia, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and Variable Seedeater, but we were unable to locate a White-bearded Manakin calling from trees near the car.
Having had a drink and a bite to eat, we walked a little way in the other direction, adding Purple-crowned Fairy and Pacific Parrotlets, before trying again, this time successfully, for the White-bearded Manakin. We tried another walk back down the first stretch of road, and continued to add new birds to the list. Both Tawny-crested and Dusky-faced Tanagers were seen - not the most exciting of tanagers visually, but very welcome nonetheless. One-coloured Becard, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Slaty-capped Flycatcher were also seen as well as a pair of Woodcreeper species - Spotted and Black-striped Woodcreepers.
Heading back towards the car we found a Slate-throated Gnatcatcher before probably the highlight of the day - excellent views of a stunning Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo out in the open. This can be a really tough bird to see well and even Nick had never had such views before. Western Woodhaunter, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Purple Honeycreeper were added to the list before we arrived back at the car for more water and a sit down in the cool.
It was really hot by now, and nearing midday, so bird activity had understandably quietened down significantly. We decided to drive part of the way back towards the main road, stopping along the way. The first stop produced Stripe-throated Wren, but not the hoped-for Western White-tailed Trogon, while the next resulted in Laughing Falcon, Short-tailed Hawk, Buff-throated Saltator, House Wren and several White-thighed Swallows.
We crashed out in the car for a while waiting for it to cool down a little, and then tried another spot further up the road. A flock of Blue-black Grassquits fed in some long grass and a Long-tailed Tyrant gave great views perched in the top of a dead tree. A bird singing from a group of trees had Nick confused for a while, before he found it and identified it as a Bright-rumped Attila, singing an unusual song. Further along the road crossed a small creek, where Nick had seen Rufous-tailed Jacamar on previous trips. It appeared a most unlikely spot, but it wasn't long before it appeared and showed superbly - yet another new family of birds for me.
The walk back to the car got us some nice additional species - Lesser Greenlet, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Black-cheeked Woodpecker. We added two more new tanagers - Golden-headed and Guira Tanagers - as well as Palm and Blue-necked Tanagers. One of the most satisfying birds at this spot, however, was the Swallow-tailed Kite which flew over - another bird missed on previous visits to the US.
A final brief stop had a calling Scarlet-rumped Cacique, but it wouldn't show, so we decided to call it a day and head off on the long drive back to Tandayapa. Annoyingly, a White-lined Tanager flew over the road when I wasn't looking and we couldn't relocate it, but it was difficult to complain too much after the superb birds seen right through the day. Pedro was one of those places where you kept wanting to spend more time. I'm sure if we'd found the time to revisit, we'd have added a load of extra species on top of those seen.
Pedro Vicente Maldonado - Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Red-headed Barbet (h), Pale-mandibled Aracari, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous Motmot, Green Kingfisher, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Chestnut-fronted Macaw (h), Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Bronze-winged Parrot, Choco Trogon (h), White-collared Swift, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Ruddy Pigeon, Dusky Pigeon (h), White-tipped Dove, Swallow-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill (h), Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Cinnamon Becard (h), One-colored Becard, White-bearded Manakin, Western Slaty Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Stub-tailed Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird (h), Slaty Spinetail (h), Western Woodhaunter, Spotted Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Bay Wren (h), Stripe-throated Wren, House Wren, Southern Nightingale Wren (h), Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, White-thighed Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Orange-billed Sparrow, Bananaquit (h), Guira Tanager, Dusky-faced Tanager, Scarlet-browed Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, Yellow-rumped Tanager, Palm Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Blue-necked Tanager, Golden-headed Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Purple Honeycreeper, Swallow Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Buff-throated Saltator, Scarlet-rumped Cacique (h)
Friday 14 September 2001
Today was out last day on the Western Slope and the plan was to concentrate on trying to see some of the specials missed so far. We started the day at the Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve near the western end of the Old Mindo Road just outside Mindo. We finally managed to get good looks at a Russet-crowned Warbler, and added Flavescent Flycatcher to the trip list, while birds seen previously included Slate-throated Whitestart, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Brown Inca. A walk down the road for maybe half a kilometre resulted in Mountain Wren and Slaty Spinetail, and I had very good views of a Gray-breasted Wood Wren while Nick went back to fetch the truck.
We'd no sooner got back in the truck than we came to an abrupt halt as Nick spotted a group of tanagers in a nearby tree - the hoped-for and localised Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, and a Toucan Barbet was a very nice bonus bird.
Having got our target bird here we went onto to the Obelisk Road area just outside Mindo hoping to find a Scaled Fruiteater. No luck at the first stop, although a Flame-faced Tanager was nice, so we pressed on to where a level track forked off the road to the right. This was a very productive spot. A Wattled Guan called from inside the trees, before gliding down the valley in front of us and disappearing from view.
We also saw a number of tanagers here - Glistening-green, Golden, Metallic-green, Rufous-throated, Black-capped and Blue-necked Tanagers, Orange-bellied and Thick-billed Euphonias and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager - as well as White-sided and Masked Flowerpiercers, Spotted Woodcreeper, Black-and-white Becard, Buff-throated Saltator, Smoke-colored Pewee and Golden-faced Tyrannulet
Nick saw an Olive-striped Flycatcher, but while I saw it I couldn't see it well enough against the sun to be happy to tick it. No such problems, however, with the fabulous pair of Scaled Fruiteaters which we eventually found, and which fed in trees right in front of us - a magnificent bird. A further spot down on the straight part of the road near the bottom where we stopped on our previous visit got us nice looks at a Little Cuckoo, as well as Golden-olive Woodpecker and Scrub Blackbird, but otherwise it was pretty quiet.
We continued into Mindo itself, and slammed to a halt when I spotted a White-capped Dipper on rocks in mid-stream almost within the town itself - a very smart bird. We went back towards the Hummingbird restaurant, stopping at a large patch of bamboo on the right hand side near a bridge. Surprisingly, this degraded clump of vegetation held an ant-feeding flock - we got cracking views of Immaculate Antbird and Plain-brown Woodcreeper, but a calling Esmeraldas Antbird refused to come to the tape. A Tawny-bellied Hermit put in an appearance and a Pacific Hornero flew by.
Having seen all our main target birds here we decided to head back to Tandayapa Lodge for a last hike along the trails. We drove back along the old road, making a brief stop at the top of the Tandayapa Valley, where we had a pair of Sickle-winged Guans, as well as repeat views of Plate-billed Mountain Toucans, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Masked Flowerpiercer and Rusty-winged Barbtail as well as a feeding flock containing commoner species such as Streak-necked Flycatcher, Slate-throated Whitestart, Capped Conebill, Dusky Bush-Tanager and Western Hemispingus. A Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant also showed well, and a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker gave much better views than the individual seen on the last visit, but we were soon enveloped in thick fog, and headed back to the lodge.
The weather was also pretty poor back at the lodge, and birds very few and far between along the trails. Indeed, we'd seen virtually nothing of interest other than Three-striped Warblers and were heading back to the lodge in failing light when a covey of Dark-backed Wood-quail scuttled off quickly up the hill next to the path through the thick undergrowth. Absolute agony - I'd glimpsed the birds but nowhere near well enough to tick them and we couldn't pick them out again although we could hear them moving above us. Just then we heard a small movement behind us, turned around slowly and there was a Dark-backed Wood-quail on the track, no more than 5 metres away, presumably a straggler from the covey. It stood still for a second before scuttling away along the track and around the corner. What a fantastic bird to end such a great stay at Tandayapa!
Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve - Toucan Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Barred Parakeet (h), Crested Quetzal (h), Roadside Hawk, Brown Inca, Flavescent Flycatcher, Slaty Spinetail, Mountain Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Tricolored Brush-Finch (h), Slate-throated Whitestart, Russet-crowned Warbler, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager
Mindo - Wattled Guan, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Golden-headed Quetzal (h), Little Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Smoke-colored Pewee, Tropical Kingbird, Black-and-white Becard, Scaled Fruiteater, Chestnut-backed Antbird (h), Immaculate Antbird, Esmeraldas Antbird (h), Pacific Hornero, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, White-capped Dipper, Blue-and-white Swallow, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, Rufous-throated Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Buff-throated Saltator, Scrub Blackbird
Upper Tandayapa Valley - Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Red-billed Parrot, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant (h), Rusty-winged Barbtail, Rufous-breasted Antthrush (h), Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (h), Spillman's Tapaculo (h), Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush (h), Slate-throated Whitestart, Capped Conebill, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Western Hemispingus, Southern Yellow Grosbeak
Tandayapa Lodge - Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Toucan Barbet (h), Green-fronted Lancebill, Green Violet-ear. Sparkling Violet-ear, Western Emerald, White-tipped Dove, Nariño Tapaculo (h), Andean Solitaire (h), Rufous-collared Sparrow, Three-striped Warbler
Saturday 15 September 2001
We made an early start this morning and after bidding a fond farewell to Tandayapa Lodge we headed up the old road towards Nono and Quito. The plan was to spend the morning birding at Yanacocha, before retiring to our hotel in Quito for the afternoon to relax and sort out a few things in advance of our journey down to Coca and the Amazon.
I slept most of the way to Yanacocha, and so missed a probable Band-winged Nightjar which flushed from the road in front of the truck. Despite getting the spotlight out, we couldn't relocate it. Great Thrushes were especially common along the roadside all the way along this road, especially around Nono.
On arriving at Yanacocha we soon found Superciliaried Hemispingus and Glossy Flowerpiercer, before getting lucky with an excellent Bar-bellied Woodpecker - a pretty scarce bird. We left the car behind and headed off along the track, taking in the stunning scenery, and attuning ourselves to the whole new range of species found at this high altitude. Spectacled Whitestart and Pearled Treerunner were added to the day list, although a singing Stripe-headed Brush-finch couldn't be located.
This was soon forgotten when we found one of our main target birds - the stunning Hooded Mountain-Tanager, which an equally stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager nest to it! A Plain-coloured Seedeater was a lot less inspiring, but nevertheless a lifer. Yanacocha is an excellent place for a variety of high-altitude hummingbirds, including the highly endangered Black-breasted Puffleg, but they were not much in evidence during my visit. A Sapphire-vented Puffleg was seen early on, followed not long afterwards by Buff-winged Starfrontlet.
It wasn't long before we found our first feeding flock, and we stayed more or less in contact with it for perhaps the next hour or so. Cinereous and Blue-backed Conebills were very prominent as were more Spectacled Whitestarts, Masked Flowerpiercers and Superciliaried Hemispingus. Black-chested Mountain-Tanager completed a hat-trick of mountain-tanagers for the day and a small flock of Rufous Wrens gave good comparison opportunities with the similar Sepia-brown Wrens seen at Tandayapa Pass. A Rufous-naped Brush-Finch was also in evidence here, and it or another showed on and off several times again during the morning.
We caught up again with the flock, and this time added White-throated Tyrannulet. Even better was the superb Barred Fruiteater seen shortly afterwards, which gave wonderful close-up views. Another new hummer flew by, this time a Tyrian Metaltail. Further along we found a loose group of flycatchers which included two target species - White-banded and Tawny-rumped Tyrannulets.
An Ocellated Tapaculo called from some way down the mountain side, and this prompted us to try to tape out a couple of the other species of Tapaculo present here. This worked well and we quickly had good looks at both Ash-colored and Unicolored Tapaculo, although efforts at attracting a calling White-browed Spinetail were unsuccessful. An Andean Pygmy-Owl called several times from higher up the steep hillside, but refused to come in to the tape.
More hummingbird excitement followed, with Purple-backed Thornbill and Green-tailed Trainbearer identified, before we reached the entrance to the first tunnel. We stopped here for some lunch, watching the numerous Brown-bellied Swallows flying overhead, and getting better views of some of the flock species seen earlier. Food was put to one side for a while when a Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant put in appearance and a Variable Hawk soared overhead, but otherwise bird activity had by now quietened down significantly, so we started wandering back towards the car.
From here we drove slowly back down the hill, stopping abruptly at the sight of a superb Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle perched on the fence line a few meters in front of us. It gazed in our direction, showed its complete disdain for our presence by emptying its bowels, and glided off down the hill!
We made one more stop at a hairpin bend where a stream crosses the road into a thickly wooded gully on the left - this was a place where Nick had seen Red-crested Cotinga in the past, and these soon put in an appearance. Even better was a Tawny Antpitta calling from quite nearby in the bushes. It took quite a while to find it, but I eventually had brief but good views of it as it worked its way through the scrub.
At this point, birding came to an abrupt halt as the clouds which had been steadily rolling in for the last hour or so emptied themselves on to us - an absolute downpour which quickly made the dirt track very slippery. We decided to call it a day and headed on to Quito, stopping just once when Nick spotted a flock of Hooded Siskins flying across the road into a eucalyptus tree, before Nick took us to our hotel, the Hotel Ambassador in central Quito, where we had a booking.
We made arrangements to meet up the next day, my last under Nick's guidance, and spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing around the hotel. Our travel arrangements for Coca were waiting for us at the hotel's reception, our excess luggage had been put into storage in a spare room they used for just this purpose, so there was nothing left to do but sit in front of the television trying to make sense of the Spanish-language news service's version of what had happened in the US on September 11th.
Yanacocha - Bar-bellied Woodpecker, White-capped Parrot (h), Andean Pygmy Owl (h), Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Purple-backed Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Roadside Hawk, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Barred Fruiteater, White-browed Spinetail (h), Pearled Treerunner, Tawny Antpitta, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Unicolored Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo (h), Great Thrush, Rufous Wren, Brown-bellied Swallow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rufous-naped Brush-Finch, Stripe-headed Brush-Finch (h), Spectacled Whitestart, Cinereous Conebill, Blue-backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Black-chested Mountain-Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Plain-colored Seedeater, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer
Quito - Hooded Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow
Sunday 16 September 2001
Today was arguably the best day of the trip, although the species list was far from the longest. Nick picked me up before dawn for our drive to Papallacta - I had been warned that the weather at the pass is almost invariably cold, foggy and often wet, so I'd dressed appropriately, including gloves and a woollen hat. As we were driving out towards Tumbaco we could see Mount Antisana above us, and as it gradually got lighter it became apparent that the weather up at the pass was glorious - not a cloud in the sky. Surely this couldn't last, so Nick put his foot down a little in order to get there before the clouds came in.
We arrived at the top of the pass, and turned left up towards the aerial masts. It was bitterly cold, with ice on the ground but beautifully clear, and the birds seemed to be making the cost of the good weather. Almost immediately we had found both Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, while a Carunculated Caracara flew over. We worked our way slowly up the road to the masts, stopping each time we saw something move - the birding was easy in the short páramo, and we quickly added Many-striped Canastero, Grass Wren and Páramo Ground-Tyrant, while several Tawny Antpittas were calling and one was seen.
We parked at the summit, and started searching for seedsnipes. The air is extremely thin at this altitude so we tried to avoid steep climbs as much as possible. There were several Plumbeous Sierra-Finch knocking around, and we also saw several more cinclodes and ground-tyrants, but no sign of the seedsnipes. Then, Nick stopped and pointed in front of him - a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes at a range of no more than about 10 metres! Incredible views of a really superb bird - extremely intricate plumage and perfectly camouflaged among the lichen covered rocks and tussocks.
It was too cold to hang around long at the summit, so we descended a short way, and explored around the small lake on the left hand side of the road. First bird seen here was an excellent Blue-mantled Thornbill, feeding low over the ground, and an Andean Teal flushed off the lake, circled a couple of times, and landed again. The Carinculated Caracara circled over again, and back on the main track we found a White-chinned Thistletail followed by an Andean Tit-Spinetail, while several Brown-bellied Swallows flew overhead. Nick got brief views of a large hummingbird, probably a Chimborazo Hillstar that flew past, but all I managed was to hear its wings buzz past me.
Having more or less cleaned up on the páramo specials, we headed back on to the main road, and turned left towards Papallacta town. We stopped briefly at the patch of Polylepis woodland 1 kilometre further along, but no birds were moving - this area is sheltered behind a high cliff, and was extremely cold first thing in the morning with ice still on the ground. We moved on descending as we went, until we saw Lake Papallacta ahead of us. We skirted the right hand side of the lake, then pulled off to the right along a grassy track. As we got out of the truck a sole Andean Gull flew along the lake shore.
We turned our attentions to the scrub and trees up the slope and Nick quickly found our main target species here - a Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, in the company of a Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. Blue-backed and Cinereous Conebills and Spectacled Whitestarts were also much in evidence and a Pale-headed Brush-Finch was calling but not seen. The hummingbird list grew a little longer as we added Shining Sunbeam - ridiculous name but a very nice bird!
White-throated Tyrannulet, Black-crested Warbler, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Glossy Flowerpiercer and many Great Thrushes were also around, and we finally managed to entice a White-browed Spinetail into the open - very satisfying after drawing a blank at Yanacocha yesterday. We had earlier seen a sizeable flock of ducks on the lake but the light hadn't been in the right direction to allow identification - now we could see that they were Yellow-billed Pintail.
Activity had died down quite quickly, so we continued to Papallacta town, where a quick walk along the road leading to the spa produced a Plain-colored Seedeater and a Black Flowerpiercer. We had lunch at a small restaurant at the bottom of the road, then made our way back to the lake, this time following the right hand side (the far side from where we viewed earlier). A few waders on the lakeshore proved to be Baird's Sandpipers.
From here we revisited the Polylepis wood and were much more successful second time around. It wasn't long before Nick had found both Giant Conebill and Black-backed Bush-Tanager, as well as a Pearled Treerunner. A Páramo Tapaculo was calling, but refused to show itself. Back at the junction with the road up to the aerial masts, we parked and scoped a Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant on an overhead wire.
We walked for some way down the old road towards Quito, enjoying the warm sun, and saw both Variable Hawk and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle overhead. A Red-crested Cotinga gave even better views that the birds at Yanacocha and a Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant hawked for insects from bushes nearby. A Black-bailed Trainbearer was seen - this was a bird I'd been especially keen to see, but another hummer had us stumped for a while. It was obviously a Metaltail of some kind, but we couldn't see it well enough to tell which one. Luckily it seemed to be holding territory around a flowering bush and hung around long enough for us to eventually get good looks at its tail feathers and identify it as a Viridian Metaltail.
It was now late afternoon, and time to head back to Quito, where we bade a very fond farewell to Nick. He was going home to prepare for a trip to southern Ecuador in a couple of days time - we'd have loved to be going with him, but our Amazon adventure was waiting for us.
Papallacta - Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Viridian Metaltail, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Baird's Sandpiper, Andean Gull, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, Carunculated Caracara, White-throated Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Páramo Ground-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, White-browed Spinetail, Many-striped Canastero, Pearled Treerunner, Tawny Antpitta, Rufous Antpitta (h), Páramo Tapaculo (h), Great Thrush, Grass Wren, Pale-headed Brush-Finch (h), Brown-bellied Swallow, Spectacled Whitestart, Black-crested Warbler, Cinereous Conebill, Blue-backed Conebill, Giant Conebill, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Plain-colored Seedeater, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Black Flowerpiercer
Monday 17 September 2001
A bit of a lie-in today, as we didn't need to be at the airport until 08:45 - our flight wasn't leaving until 10:00. We checked out of our room, quickly hailed a taxi outside, and ten minutes later we were at the Icaro terminal at the airport. We gave our names to the man at the gate (we had an anxious moment as he had us down on his list as Mr Dodd and Mrs Gruffydd), but it didn't seem to bother him and we were soon sitting in the departure lounge. There we met by Lee Schel from Sacha Lodge who introduced us to our fellow travellers down to Sacha - Mark, Paul, Angharad, Sean and Hayley - and gave us a quick chat about what the arrangements were and what to expect. To my great pleasure I discovered that I was to be the only dedicated birder present, and that I would have the services of chief guide Oscar Tapuy to myself - great news. The whole Sacha set-up seemed very slick and organised, from the time we arrived at Quito to the time we boarded the plane at Coca for our return flight back.
The true nature of our flight down to Coca struck home when this tiny plane rolled across in front of the departure lounge window! However, it was obviously very new and the flight was extremely smooth and uneventful, arriving at Coca at around 10:40. The frustration of watching all that rainforest below us and wondering what birds were hiding in it was quite intense! We were met by an army officer who took our passports for a security check, but we were not held up by more than a couple of minutes and we were soon bumping our way down the potholed streets of Coca in a Sacha pick-up truck on our way to the quayside.
The excitement of seeing the Amazon for the first time was very special - even this far from the sea what struck us was how wide it was - for some reason I'd expected something more akin to our rivers at home, but it was several hundred metres wide even this far upriver. It was obviously pretty shallow here, however, as there were sandbanks visible in the centre.
While the boat was being loaded with our luggage, I got my first taste of Amazonian birding. A Blue-gray Tanager of the eastern race confused me a little at first - The bright white wingbars and shoulder patches made it look quite a different bird at first. A Great Kiskadee perched up on top of a mast, and there were many swallows around - just from the dock I had good views of both White-winged Swallow, Brown-chested and Gray-breasted Martin.
Aboard the boat was Carlos, one of the bird guides at Sacha, and he was soon helping me see more species, starting with a cracking White-banded Swallow perched on some debris in the middle of the river. The boat ride down to Sacha, some 2.5 hours long, was a superb experience, and it didn't even matter when it poured with rain half way there - this was the rainforest after all, and Sacha had thoughtfully provided us all with waterproof ponchos as we got on the boat! Funnily enough, it didn't rain again while we were there.
Carlos stopped the boat at various places on the ride down when one of us spotted something of interest - in this way I added Amazon Tern, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Red-bellied Macaw, Amazonian Kingfisher and Yellow-headed Caracara to the list, with most giving excellent close-up views. Even better - when we arrived at the dock at Sacha, there were two Ladder-tailed Nightjars roosting on a horizontal liana right on the bank - we saw them at a range of maybe 5 metres!
From the riverside we walked the short distance to a large covered viewing platform overlooking some paddocks and the forest edge. This was a very nice spot, which added some good birds not seen elsewhere. First to be seen was a Swallow-wing and a number of Southern Lapwings, followed by Purple Honeycreeper. Crested Oropendolas and Yellow-rumped Caciques could be seen flying about further back, but these would give much better views later - both species nest in trees right above the main lodge building.
A noisy Violaceous Jay was seen several times, while a Red-breasted Meadowlark was a little more difficult to see, often disappearing into long grass, but several times it perched up in the open - a cracking bird. A Black-fronted Nunbird flew into the tree directly in front of us, and Mottle-backed Elaenia and Buff-throated Woodcreeper were almost as obliging.
We slowly made our way towards the lake where we could take a canoe to the lodge itself. Stops were made en route for a wonderful Pygmy Marmoset on a trackside tree, and for Eastern Sirystes and Cobalt-winged Parakeets. Arriving at the lake there were plenty of canoes, but no-one to paddle them so we had the hilarious experience of trying to paddle ourselves across. Full credit to Mark for his efforts, but it's obviously not as easy as it looks!
As we got off the boat a Ruddy Pigeon flew over and a Smooth-billed Ani flopped out of the reeds. Having got to our rooms and settled in, there was maybe an hour of daylight left, so I wandered over to the main lodge building and climbed up to the observation tower in the middle of the restaurant to see what I could see. I had excellent views of both Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas and Yellow-rumped caciques nesting in the branches above, before a movement low down caught my eye.
To my absolute delight it proved to be a Hoatzin, and another was found nearby. They stayed in the same area for ages, and I even watched them a little later while sitting in the bar having a cold beer - birding at its best! This was a bird I was desperate to see, and while I had heard that they were reasonably easy at Sacha I certainly hadn't expected one from the bar window!
To finish things off a small flock of Many-banded Aracaris flew in and landed nearby - another wonderful bird. My field notes say it all really - "blue face, red rump, black and white bill, yellow underparts with 2 black bands". You don't get many birds like that in Wales - that beer tasted really good after the day's excitement!
Coca - White-winged Swallow, Brown-chested Martin, Gray-breasted Martin, White-banded Swallow, Blue-gray Tanager
Río Napo - Amazon Kingfisher, Red-bellied Macaw, Amazon Tern, Yellow-headed Caracara, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Amazonian Umbrellabird
Sacha Lodge - Many-banded Aracari, Black-fronted Nunbird, Swallow-wing, Hoatzin, Smooth-billed Ani, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Ruddy Pigeon, Southern Lapwing, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Eastern Sirystes, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Violaceous Jay, Purple Honeycreeper, Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Red-breasted Meadowlark
Tuesday 18 September 2001
Today's destination was to be the Añangu Reserve on the south bank of the Rio Napo. I was very lucky today in being accompanied not only by Oscar but also by Barry and Carlos, two of Sacha's other guides, as well as Luis the boatman. After an early breakfast with the rest of the group, we took a canoe across the lake, seeing a Social Flycatcher en route, and walked down the boardwalk towards the river. We stopped along the way for a Plumbeous Antbird, and also had Black-billed Thrush and Red-capped Cardinal near the river, as well as Mottled-backed Elaenia, White-banded Swallow and several oropendolas.
At the river we got on board one of the motorised dug-out canoes, and set off on the half hour trip to Añangu - if the trip down the Napo yesterday had been fun, this was really exhilarating! We stopped on the way whenever an interesting bird was seen - firstly a Plumbeous Kite perched in a riverside tree, then a flock of Dusky-headed Parakeets. Herons were much in evidence - a Cocoi Herron was quickly followed by a pair of Capped Herons, as well as Green Heron and Snowy Egret. We also saw Pale-vented Pigeon and Ringed Kingfisher along the way. There is a parrot clay lick near the landing stage at Añangu, and the noise got steadily louder as we approached the bank. Before that, however, was a lovely treat - a Grey Potoo roosting on a dead log right where the boat pulled in. It had total faith in its camouflage as we unloaded nearby, and stayed put despite our being no more than a couple of metres away from it.
Añangu is owned by a local co-operative, and they have built a very nice boardwalk and large covered hides next to the parrot lick, giving great views of the birds as they come in to take salt. The commonest species here was Dusky-headed Parakeet, but there were also Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Blue-headed, Yellow-crowned and Mealy Parrots in the trees overhead and flying noisily around.
Having spent some time watching the parrots we started up one of the trails that are maintained on the reserve. We saw a Crimson-crested Woodpecker along the trail, before Oscar found his first flock of antbirds. This was an intensely frustrating experience at first - Oscar could obviously see the birds quite clearly, but try as I might I just couldn't make anything out in the gloom of the deep undergrowth, not helped by being precariously perched on the side of a steep uphill trail. Eventually however I managed to see my first bird, the scarce Spot-winged Antbird, and suddenly I could see other signs of activity. The next bird identified was a Spot-backed Antbird, then a superb White-plumed Antbird These were followed by Sooty and Bicolored Antbirds, the latter the distinctive eastern race also known as White-cheeked Antbird, the name by which Oscar referred to it.
Añangu is obviously a quite magnificent place for antbirds - on our trip there we saw no fewer than 15 species including some rather uncommon birds - and it wasn't long before we had our next flock. This time we added Cinereous Antshrike and Rufous-tailed Antwren to the list, and I was starting to get my eye in for these skulking birds, albeit with a lot of help from my guides. A Squirrel Cuckoo was a lot more obvious, quickly followed by Black-faced Antbird. Time to transfer our attentions higher up in the trees - White-fronted Nunbird was followed by Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Thrush-like Wren, Wedge-billed and Plain-brown Woodcreepers and Red-billed Scythebill. The main prize here, however, was the very scarce Yellow-browed Antbird seen nearby.
Another small flock of antbirds produced both White-flanked and Long-winged Antwrens and the scarce Banded Antbird. Black-billed Cuckoo was also present and a Brown Nunlet eluded me for quite a while but eventually flew closer and was seen well. A little further along we added Fasciated Antshrike and Blue-crowned Manakin. A canopy flock contained a variety of interesting birds - Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Chestnut-winged Hookbill and Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner.
White-chested Puffbird was seen well, and Oscar hadn't finished with the antbirds yet, and another flock contained Grey Antwren and Dusky-throated Antshrike. By this time we had eaten lunch and were back at the parrot lick, where we added Boat-billed Flycatcher and Southern Nightingale Wren to the day list.
Back on the canoe, we admired the Grey Potoo one last time and set off up river, skirting some large islands in the middle of the river. Several birds were seen from the canoe - Drab Water-Tyrant, Spotted Sandpiper, Giant Cowbird and Amazon Kingfisher. There are a number of species whose range in this area is restricted to such islands, not being found on either bank, and these were our targets here. We hauled the canoe up onto the bank of a small island, and set off through the scrub to see what could be found. We started flushing birds, and had soon found one of our main targets, Black-and-white Antbird, although it took a while to get satisfactory views. A Gray-necked Wood-Rail showed very well before flying away, and Ladder-tailed Nightjars were very common on the ground under bushes. Ruddy Ground Dove and Fuscous Flycatcher, another island specialist, were also seen in the vegetated patches, and Greyish Saltator and Yellow-browed Sparrow foraged on the mudflats skirting the island. Another island specialist, White-bellied Spinetail flushed a couple of times, but didn't give satisfactory views.
We got back into the canoe and continued a little further eastwards, seeing Oriole Blackbird, Greater Ani and another roosting Grey Potoo from the river, before landing on another island, this one much bigger than the first. We found Chestnut-bellied Seedeater before flushing a fabulous Striped Owl - luckily this flew only a short distance before landing in a tree giving great views. We finally managed good views of White-bellied Spinetail, and Oscar pointed out an unoccupied Spinetail nest. An Undulated Tinamou was calling and was eventually flushed and a Little Woodpecker flew over as we enjoyed repeat views of Chestnut-bellied Seedeaters.
The afternoon was drawing to a close, so it was back to the boat and eastwards to the lodge, seeing Amazon Tern and Greater Yellow-headed Vulture on the way. At the river landing area we saw Black-fronted Nunbird, Smooth-billed Ani and Gray-breasted Martin, before strolling back towards the lake. Along the first, dry, stretch of path we added Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Bare-necked Fruitcrow and Gray-capped Flycatcher, before turning onto the boardwalk. Towards the end of this, a few hundred meters before the lake, Oscar heard a familiar call, and sure enough located a Barred Forest-Falcon in a tree overhead - a great bird.
Masked Crimson and Silver-beaked Tanagers were seen well in the first stretch of channel from the canoe house to the lake, and Gray-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts hawked for insects over the lake, with Great Kiskadee in the bushes. On arrival, we walked back to the main lodge building, again seeing Hoatzin in the nearby bushes.
This was a really excellent day's birding, although very difficult at times, and we saw a great list of birds. Carlos got several lifers himself and Barry, who has been birding and guiding here for a while, got one lifer (Fulvous Shrike-Tanager) and an Ecuador tick (Red-billed Scythebill), giving you an idea of the quality of birds seen.
Sacha Lodge - Black-fronted Nunbird, Broad-billed Motmot (h), Blue-crowned Motmot (h), Hoatzin, Smooth-billed Ani, Gray-rumped Swift, Short-tailed Swift, Barred Forest-Falcon, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Tropical Kingbird, Social Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Plumbeous Antbird, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Black-billed Thrush, Gray-breasted Martin, White-banded Swallow, Red-capped Cardinal, Masked Crimson Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique
Río Napo - Ringed Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Grey Potoo, Pale-vented Pigeon, Spotted Sandpiper, Amazon Tern, Plumbeous Kite, Snowy Egret, Capped Heron, Cocoi Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Drab Water-Tyrant, Oriole Blackbird
Añangu Reserve - Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Cream-colored Woodpecker (h), Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Gilded Barbet (h), White-chested Puffbird, Brown Nunlet, White-fronted Nunbird, Squirrel Cuckoo, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Dusky-headed Parakeet, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Grey Potoo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Blue-crowned Manakin, Fasciated Antshrike, Dusky-throated Antshrike, Cinereous Antshrike, Rufous-tailed Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Long-winged Antwren, b, Banded Antbird, Black-faced Antbird, Yellow-browed Antbird, Spot-winged Antbird, Sooty Antbird, White-plumed Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Spot-backed Antbird, Eastern Woodhaunter (h), Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, Rufous-capped Antthrush (h), Thrush-like Wren, White-breasted Wood-Wren (h), Southern Nightingale Wren, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager
Río Napo islands - Undulated Tinamou, Little Woodpecker, Greater Ani, Striped Owl, Grey Potoo, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Fuscous Flycatcher, Black-and-white Antbird, White-bellied Spinetail, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Greyish Saltator, Giant Cowbird
Wednesday 19 September 2001
Having had a fairly strenuous day yesterday, we were to take it a little easier today. The day started with a visit to the canopy tower, maybe a fifteen minute stroll from the main lodge building, stopping en route for nice views of a Great Tinamou. The views from the tower were fabulous, the forest stretching away to the horizon in every direction. First bird recorded, an Eastern Wood-Pewee didn't exactly get the pulse racing, but that changed fairly quickly with a Black-tailed Tityra in the branches in a nearby tree. A Fork-tailed Woodnymph visited some flowers on a branch a little above our heads and a small flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets flew in to some of the higher outlying branches.
Both Opal-crowned and Paradise Tanagers were seen nearby, boosting the trip tanager count even further, and a stunning pair of birds they were, especially the gaudy Paradise Tanager. Equally smart was a Purple-throated Fruitcrow and a Black-faced Dacnis, while Green Honeycreeper and Orange-bellied Euphonia were now becoming rather familiar. Oscar spotted a Gilded Barbet in a nearby tree, but I couldn't get on to the White-lored Euphonia that he found above us. Palm Tanager and Crimson-crested Woodpecker were also seen, before a Double-toothed Kite was found perching some distance away on a dead branch.
One group of birds which I hadn't expected to feature heavily today was the antbirds, so I was a bit surprised when Oscar called that he had a Dugand's Antwren in view - this is actually one of a number of these birds which are canopy-dwellers, and the bird gave great views in response to pishing. Another pair of stunning tanagers - Paradise and Green-and-gold Tanagers - flew into our tree, and were joined by Slender-footed Tyrannulet, and a Black Caracara was seen some way in the distance.
The birds kept coming - a Piratic Flycatcher was followed by some Ruddy Pigeons, Greyish Mourner and Pink-throated Becard, then the White-lored Euphonia re-appeared - this bird was seen several more times during the morning. Scanning the canopy produced Plum-throated Cotinga and Moriche Oriole, before another antbird put in an appearance, this time a Pygmy Antwren. It was now getting quite overcast, and the bird activity dropped off noticeably.
Further scanning produced Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Southern Yellow-headed Vulture and Eastern Sirystes, before we decided to call it a day. Not, however, before I stupidly managed to get bitten by one of the enormous ants crawling around on the woodwork - it soon started to hurt quite badly, and the swelling caused didn't go down for several days. Talking to Oscar on the way back down the tower he expressed some disappointment at the tally for the morning, commenting that it had been a little slow - I certainly wasn't complaining given the birds seen!
At the foot of the tower we walked further into the forest, away from the main lodge building, arriving at a creek, where Oscar found a Rufous Motmot high in a tree above us. For a long time the only part of the bird visible was the top two inches of its head, and although it eventually showed well I will never understand how in earth Oscar managed to pick it out among all the vegetation! We walked along a narrow boardwalk over a marshy area, adding Coraya Wren to the list, and then boarded a canoe to follow the creek down to the lake in front of the lodge.
This was another lovely experience - drifting quietly along the blackwater creek in the company of two expert oarsmen, surrounded by pristine rainforest, and the birds didn't disappoint either. First bird seen was one of the most important seen at Sacha throughout my stay, and indeed my whole Ecuador trip - Orange-crested Manakin. Not only is this rather unusual manakin virtually endemic to Ecuador (being otherwise found only in the relatively inaccessible NE part of Peru), but even here it is scarce and highly localised.
A calling White-chinned Jacamar was heard behind us, and some clever back-paddling by Oscar and Luis got us right below us. Oscar had found a noisy group of Speckled Chachalacas earlier at the tower, but they had been extremely distant, so an individual perched in trees along the creek was very welcome. Incidentally, it was along this creek that Sara's group found an Agami Heron the next day - I dipped it!!
Back at the lodge we heard a Rufous-sided Crake calling from very nearby, just behind a small bush, but wouldn't come out despite all our efforts. We took a brief walk in the forest behind the lodge, flushing a Slate-colored Hawk, before calling it a day at 12:00. We would have a break for a few hours before resuming at 15:00. I had lunch, before joining Sara down on the deck overlooking the lake to catch some sun, read, and generally relax. An Osprey hunted over the lake, and a few anis were seen, but no serious birding.
Walking back to my room to get ready to go back out I met Paul and Angharad and Paul told me that he had just seen a "big, orangey heron-like bird" outside their cabin. I hurried along there, and sure enough there was a superb juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron feeding just below the boardwalk a few metre from their cabin - excellent prolonged views.
At 15:00 I met Oscar again for a couple of hours long walk along the trails behind the lodge. He started by taking me to a daytime roost of Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, seeing White-necked Thrush en route. We saw another Sooty Antbird and a Plain-throated Antwren - I was starting to find these easier to see now - and heard a Striated Antthrush which refused to show itself.
A Straight-billed Hermit was perched low down, and an Amazonian White-tailed Trogon was found in the canopy overhead. A Chestnut-belted Gnateater took a bit more seeing, but I got onto it eventually, while canopy gazing was eventually rewarded by Chestnut Woodpecker, Black-tailed Trogon and Blue-crowned Motmot. By now it was completely dark, and the walk back was quite hard work. Just approaching the lodge building, a Crested Owl called loudly from right over our heads, but despite a lot of torch-work by Oscar, we couldn't find it.
Sacha Lodge - Great Tinamou, Rufous-sided Crake (h), Speckled Chachalaca, Chestnut Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Gilded Barbet, Cuvier's Toucan (h), White-chinned Jacamar, Black-tailed Trogon, Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, Rufous Motmot, Blue-crowned Motmot, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Straight-billed Hermit, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Crested Owl (h), Ruddy Pigeon, Sapphire Quail-Dove (h), Osprey, Double-toothed Kite, Slate-colored Hawk, Black Caracara, Barred Forest-Falcon (h), Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Pink-throated Becard, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Greyish Mourner, Eastern Sirystes, Social Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Black-tailed Tityra, Plum-throated Cotinga, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Orange-crested Manakin, Pygmy Antwren, Plain-throated Antwren, Dugand's Antwren, Sooty Antbird, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Striated Antthrush (h), Chestnut-belted Gnateater, White-necked Thrush, Coraya Wren, Palm Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, White-lored Euphonia, Paradise Tanager, Green-and-gold Tanager, Masked Tanager, Opal-crowned Tanager, Black-faced Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola, Moriche Oriole
Thursday 20 September 2001
Our last full day at Sacha was to be spent on the south bank, and we set off early, again accompanied by Barry. Heading up the channel from the lake to the canoe-dock, we had great views of a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, and a little way along the boardwalk Oscar picked out a Great Potoo lying on a large branch of a tree above the trail - another beautifully camouflaged bird which defied understanding as to how Oscar found it.
The dry part of the trail, after turning right at the end of the boardwalk produced some superb birds, starting with a cracking Cream-coloured Woodpecker, a bird we'd heard calling a few times but hadn't managed to see, soon followed by Black-banded Woodcreeper. Speckled Chachalaca, Black-fronted Nunbird, Black-billed Thrush, Great Kiskadee and Social Flycatcher were also seen on the walk down to the river, and a Spot-breasted Woodpecker was seen right by the landing area. Other birds around the paddocks near the river were repeats of birds seen there previously - White-banded Swallow, Mottle-backed Elaenia. Red-headed Cardinal and Southern Lapwing.
We got aboard our canoe and headed directly across the river to the south bank, seeing Bare-necked Fruitcrow and Eastern Kingbird and several oropendolas in trees en route. On arriving at the south bank, we made our way along a wide creek which wound inland for many hundred metres. The birding along this creek was excellent - Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers were seen twice and several Violaceous Jays were also seen. White-eared Jacamar, Magpie Tanager, Black Caracara, Chestnut-eared Aracari and Scarlet-crowned Barbet were also seen on the first stretch.
Gray-capped Flycatcher and Giant Cowbird showed well, before we struck lucky with a series of toucans - Many-banded and Lettered Aracari and Cuvier's Toucan all seen within a five-minute spell, as well as a flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets. Silver-beaked Tanager was seen as well as Plumbeous Kite before we arrived at our landing site on the left bank of the creek.
As soon as we'd got out of the canoe and sorted ourselves out, Oscar started taping in Amazonian Streaked Antwren, and one quickly flew in. It showed only fleetingly, but satisfactory views were obtained. Black-spotted Bare-eye weren't so co-operative - two birds whizzed past, but weren't seen well enough to count. We walked a little further along the trail, and rested under a thatched shelter for a cup of water and a snack. From here we saw some Blue-headed Parrots and Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper.
The forest here had been cut over and partly cleared, but it wasn't long before we were in primary rain forest. I had been told that Sacha was a great place for jacamars, and we soon found our third species for our stay, a Yellow-billed Jacamar. A little further along we found a canopy feeding flock, and managed to identify quite a few species. I was relieved to finally see Blue Dacnis, dipped during my stay at Tandayapa, as well as Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Red-eyed Vireo, Gilded Barbet, Blue-crowned Manakin and Spangled Cotinga.
A Striated Antthrush was calling off the trail on the left hand side, and we set off to track it down. For a while it seemed that we would have a repeat of yesterday's experience, but eventually I saw the bird flutter across the trail and disappear into the vegetation on the other side - not the best of views, but as good as I could expect. It was now late morning, and the birding was getting tough. Straight-bellied Hermit and Black-billed Cuckoo were seen, before we left the trail downhill to try to find Rusty-belted Tapaculo. No luck, but there were lots of Screaming Pihas calling all around us, and we eventually managed to creep up on one and get superb views. Not a spectacular looking bird, but the call was really something else entirely.
Our next quarries were some really difficult birds, as both Ochre-striped Antpitta and Thrush-like Antpitta were calling nearby. We spent a difficult hour scrambling through very think vegetation, and climbing up and down muddy slopes, with the birds always disappearing just as we got close, but eventually our hard work was rewarded by crippling views of a Thrush-like Antpitta singing on a log. Not the most colourful of birds, but I've rarely enjoyed seeing a bird more - it's definitely true that the more work you have to put in, the more the pleasure you get from finally succeeding.
Having clambered back up to the trail we enjoyed a well-deserved lunch, and started back towards the canoe. On the way back we found our second Black-banded Woodcreeper of the day, as well as a mixed flock including Zimmer's Flycatcher, Plain Xenops, Chestnut-winged Hookbill (much better views than on 18.9) and Black-capped Becard. A Grey Antwren was seen lower in the vegetation. Oscar then heard a Ringed Antpipit calling a little way off the trail, but despite his seeing the bird several times, I just couldn't get on to it - very frustrating indeed.
We had more luck, eventually, with our second attempt at Rusty-belted Tapaculo off the trail, and our jacamar streak continued with great views of the excellent Great Jacamar in a tree above the trail. In the open area near the canoe landing area, we found Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, and our trip back down the creek resulted in Ringed Kingfisher and Spot-breasted Woodpecker.
Back on the river we enjoyed views of Amazon Tern and Southern Yellow-headed Vulture, as well as Brown-chested Martin. Coasting slowly along the north bank for a short way produced a couple of Swallow-wings and our fourth jacamar of the day, the scarce Brown Jacamar in the riverside tree.
Back on dry land, we wandered slowly back down towards the lake, finding Grey-fronted Dove on the way. At the left hand turning towards the boardwalk, we continued straight along for a short way seeing Olive-faced Flycatcher and White-necked Jacobin, before startling a Blue-throated Piping-Guan from a trackside bush. Rather than flying away, it just flew up into the tree above us, and clambered around in the branches - this may explain why so many get shot for food!
Back on the canoe we again saw Masked Crimson and Silver-beaked Tanager along the first creek, more swifts over the lake - this time a mix of Short-tailed Swifts and Fork-tailed Palm-Swifts - and Hoatzin around the lodge.
I met up with Oscar after dark and we went out for another look for Crested Owl, behind the lodge, and this time we were successful, with cracking views of this superb large owl. We had another excellent dinner in the restaurant, and enjoyed a beer while Richard and Sara went through the list of birds they had seen that day. Most corresponded with species I had seen, although there were a few I hadn't seen including 5 which would have been lifers for me.
However, my jaw really dropped when I heard that they had seen a Sungrebe along the creek on the way back from the canopy tower - a bird I've always wanted to see. The look on my face must have been pretty obvious, as Richard grinned, and then told me that he knew where the bird roosted, and if I wanted he was happy to row me over the lake in a canoe with a torch to see if we could find it. If he thought I'd be too polite to accept such an offer he was dead wrong, and I was off like a shot to fetch my bins!
This was a totally surreal experience, paddling across the lake in pitch darkness, with Richard turning occasionally and lighting the way ahead with a torch. Somehow he managed to find the entrance to the creek, and we paddled on in the dark, until he thought we'd found the right place. On with the torch and. nothing! No sign of it anywhere. What a disappointment! We paddled a little further in with no success then, conceding defeat, turned the canoe around (again in the dark), and made our way back to the lake. Just before the end of the creek Richard stopped the canoe for one last look around, and there it was, roosting on a dead branch no more than 10 metres away beautifully lit up by the torch. I had superb views of this bird, admiring especially the bizarre black and yellow striped feet, before turning the torch off not wanting to disturb it too much, and headed back across the late. Total elation, and another beer to celebrate a fantastic end to another great day.
Sacha Lodge - Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Brown Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, Swallow-wing, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Hoatzin, Smooth-billed Ani, Short-tailed Swift, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Crested Owl, Great Potoo, Plumbeous Pigeon (h), Ruddy Pigeon, Grey-fronted Dove, Sungrebe, Southern Lapwing, Roadside Hawk, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Olive-faced Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Black-billed Thrush, House Wren (h), Brown-chested Martin, White-banded Swallow, Red-headed Cardinal, Masked Crimson Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Crested Oropendola, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique
Río Napo - Amazon Tern, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Eastern Kingbird
Sacha (south bank) - Plumbeous Kite, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Gilded Barbet, Black Caracara, Blue-headed Parrot, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Lettered Aracari, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Many-banded Aracari, Cuvier's Toucan, White-eared Jacamar, Yellow-billed Jacamar, Great Jacamar, Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Straight-billed Hermit, Ringed Antpipit (h), Zimmer's Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Black-capped Becard, Screaming Piha, Spangled Cotinga, Blue-crowned Manakin, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, Grey Antwren, Black-spotted Bare-eye (h), Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Plain Xenops, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, Striated Antthrush, Ochre-striped Antpitta (h), Thrush-like Antpitta, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Red-eyed Vireo, Violaceous Jay, Magpie Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Giant Cowbird
Friday 21 September 2001
Not much time for birding today, as we had to make an early start from Sacha - our flight from Coca was leaving at 10:00, and we had a 2.5 hour river trip to get there. There was still time for a little birding across the lake, producing Greater Kiskadee, Red-headed Cardinal and Blue-gray Tanager before we got our main target bird - a Black-capped Donacobius. Short-tailed Swifts and Blue-headed Parrots flew over, and a Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet was seen along the channel just before docking the canoe.
A Slaty-backed Hawk was seen along the boardwalk, and Scarlet-crowned Barbet and Swallow-wing along the dry trail, and a Blue-crowned Trogon called but couldn't be seen. The boat trip back to Coca was pretty uneventful, as our schedule didn't allow time for stops along the way. Best bird seen was another Capped Heron, as well as Spotted Sandpiper and White-winged Swallows.
The flight back to Quito was as smooth and uneventful as the flight down to Coca, we caught a taxi right outside the terminal building, and ten minutes after getting off the plane we were relaxing in our room back in the Hotel Ambassador. No more birding today - tomorrow would be our last day in Ecuador, so we spent the afternoon sorting out our luggage, getting some cash and generally relaxing.
Sacha Lodge - Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Swallow-wing, Smooth-billed Ani, Blue-headed Parrot, Blue-crowned Trogon (h), Short-tailed Swift, Slate-colored Hawk, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Great Kiskadee, Black-capped Donacobius, White-winged Swallow, Red-capped Cardinal, Blue-gray Tanager, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique
Río Napo - Spotted Sandpiper, Capped Heron, Great Egret
Saturday 22 September 2001
Our last day was to be a trip to the famous Cotopaxi National Park in the company of Renato, a Tandayapa employee, and his girlfriend Christina. They collected us bang on time, and entertained us very well on the drive down to Cotopaxi. Renato was intensely proud of his Ecuadorian background, and his enthusiasm was highly infectious as he told us about the landscape, history and culture of that part of the world.
The journey down took longer than I had expected, but it didn't really matter as the park was covered in thick fog when we arrived. Having gone through the entrance we headed firstly for the Laguna de Limpiopungo, in the hope of seeing Andean Lapwing and Andean Coot, and we immediately found both. Also present around the water's edge were Baird's Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Wilson's Phalarope, Lesser Yellowlegs, Andean Teal and Andean Gull. It wasn't long before the fog lifted, and I took a walk out along the right hand side of the lake.
Most of the birds were familiar from my trip to Papallacta, notably Páramo Ground-Tyrants, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes, Plumbeous Sierra-Finches and Brown-bellied Swallows. I also saw Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant and Grass Wren, and a puzzling sierra-finch with a whitish belly and bright orange-yellow bill was identified as Band-tailed Sierra-Finch. The picture of this bird in Ridgely & Greenfield isn't brilliant - I though that in "Birds of Southern South America" by de la Peña & Rumboll was a lot nearer the mark.
We took some time off birding to head up to the car park below the refuge high on the slopes of Cotopaxi itself. We started walking up to the refuge, but Sara and I quickly surrendered to the very thin air and strong winds, and retreated to the car, while Renato and Christina continued a little further.
I left Sara at the car and started walking down the hill, in the hope of finding Chimborazo Hillstar, for which this is supposedly a good area. There was no vegetation whatsoever around the car park - a real moonscape, and while vegetation became more prevalent as I worked my way down the hillside, there were very few of the orange flowering bushes which the hillstars like - there had also been a shortage of these at Papallacta, perhaps a seasonal effect? I walked about 2 km before the others caught up with me - no birds seen, but a very pleasant walk with stunning scenery to keep me occupied.
Another walk around the lake side produced much the same birds as before, and a final stop was made at the steep gully on the left hand side as we approached the entrance. There were several Tawny Antpittas calling here, but the real prize was a small flock of Páramo Pipits which flushed a few times from the low vegetation on the far side of the gully, and eventually perched up briefly on top of a bush allowing scope views.
Mid afternoon we left the park and, having stopped at a restaurant on the way back for a meal, we were dropped off at out hotel a little before dark to complete our preparations for the early morning flight the next day.
We took a taxi to the airport the next day, and were processed pretty quickly despite post September 11th security precautions. We spent a couple of hours in the departure lounge reminiscing about what has to be our best trip yet, before boarding the plane for our long flight home.
Cotopaxi - Andean Teal, Andean Coot, Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird's Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, Semipalmated Plover, Andean Lapwing, Andean Gull, Variable Hawk, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Páramo Ground-Tyrant, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Tawny Antpitta (h), Great Thrush, Grass Wren, Brown-bellied Swallow, Páramo Pipit, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch
Full Bird List