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A Report from

Ecuador, November/December 2001,

Paul Coopmans

This report was provided by Birdquest: Visit their Website

For the third time in a row now a Birdquest group obtained excellent close-up views of the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant at its new stake-out north of Quito. A number of other more widespread Andean birds provided the supporting cast in the semi-arid scrub covering the slopes here, and included such attractive species as Black-tailed Trainbearer and Blue-and-yellow Tanager. With most folks still dazed after the long transatlantic flight, a nearly two hour drive down the west slope of the Andes gave us the chance to catch up on sleep, while it eventually took us to the 'Moss-backed Tanager site', a patchwork of pastures and remnant patches of upper tropical forest. Host to an excellent variety of avian delights, this 'purple patch' gave us our first taste of what birding in the tropics is all about. In busy mixed flocks we soon found the awkward Moss-backed Tanager, and we saw a fine selection of other Chocó endemics such as Chocó Trogon, Chocó Toucan and Chocó Warbler. Fruiting trees acted as a magnet on a colourful palette of frugivores, including Broad-billed Motmot, Red-headed Barbet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, and a gaudy set of tanagers. A first stop at 'Mindo Lindo' introduced us to the pleasures of watching hummingbird feeders, and here the dazzling Empress Brilliants and Velvet-Purple Coronets stole the show. This was only the 'starter' though, as the feeders off the porch of Tandayapa Bird Lodge, our home for the next three nights, have to be seen to be believed! About twenty species of these sugar-hungry little beasts buzzed in and out of the artificial flowers, and included hummers with such evocative names as Green-fronted Lancebill, Western and Andean Emeralds, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Brown and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed Coronet, Gorgeted Sunangel, Hoary Puffleg, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Purple-throated and White-bellied Woodstars. The shrubbery around the feeders provided shelter to a pair of White-winged Brush-Finches, and, at dusk, Rufous-bellied Nighthawks came hawking over to swoop up the numerous moths attracted to the black-light. The trails above the lodge also had a lot on offer, and here we found such interesting species as Golden-headed Quetzal, Powerful Woodpecker, Uniform Antshrike, the skulking Nariño Tapaculo, Scaled Fruiteater, Olivaceous Piha and the gorgeous Golden-winged Manakin. Top-of-the-bill here though was a photogenic pair of White-faced Nunbirds which nested here the previous year! Higher up, bromeliad-laden cloudforests had more goodies in store, and especially worth mentioning were our superb views of the brilliant Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and duetting Toucan Barbets. A visit to 'Las Grallarias Reserve' provided close encounters with Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, and another stop at Mindo Lindo brought us eye-to-eye with amazing male Club-winged Manakins displaying at their lek. Two visits to the nearby lowlands boosted our quickly growing bird list beyond belief, and among a great set of Chocó endemics and more widespread species we found such quality birds as Hook-billed Kite, Dusky Pigeon, Pallid Dove, Purple-chested Hummingbird and Guayaquil Woodpecker whilst active mixed flocks held Yellow-tufted and Scarlet-thighed Dacnises, and Grey-and-gold, Blue-whiskered, Scarlet-and-white, Tawny-crested and Scarlet-browed Tanagers.

A visit to La Selva is always a five star birding feast. Due to a delayed flight we only arrived at the scenic Garzacocha lake at dusk, but a pair of roosting Zigzag Herons in the spotlight were a forebode for the many goodies to come over the next six days. Every day brought a treasure-chest of new and exciting birds, and summarizing our unforgettable stay here in a single paragraph is not an easy task. A novelty this visit was a newly constructed blind overlooking a 'salado' or salt lick, visited on a near-daily basis by large numbers of parrots and parakeets. It was an amazing experience indeed to watch hundreds of Dusky-headed Parakeets coming down to munch away on the mineral-rich river bank, joined by countless Blue-headed Parrots and dozens of Mealy and Yellow-crowned Amazons. A superb visit to the canopy tower allowed for an eye-level show of life above the jungle floor, with close-up or scope views of such splendid birds as Double-toothed Kite (with a nest less than fifteen feet away!), Cream-coloured and Scale-breasted Woodpeckers, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Spangled Cotinga and a varied set of multi-hued tanagers. Floating along the quiet waters of oxbow lakes and meandering streams we saw brilliant White-chinned Jacamars, the little-known Cocha Antshrike, smart Dot-backed and Plumbeous Antbirds, a responsive Varzea Schiffornis, and gaudy Masked Crimson Tanagers. Of course we spent a lot of time along the extensive trail network, and to name just a few of our memorable sightings, there were our close encounters (at different times and thanks to great help from José Jr.!) with the Thrush-like Antpitta, Striated Antthrushes walking around us on the forest floor, a Hairy-crested Antbird clinging to saplings at minimal focusing distance, a gang of 'professional' antbirds including the range-restricted Lunulated Antbird and the large Reddish-winged Bare-eye, and Wire-tailed Manakins scoped up at their lek. A daytime Spectacled Owl with its nearly fully-grown juvenile ended up as 'bird of the trip' for some of us, and we also saw Great, Common and Long-tailed Potoos, as well as a sleepy-looking Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, all of which showed well on their daytime roosts. Night-time owling proved productive, with excellent views of both Tropical Screech-Owl (great video shots) and Black-banded Owl. Some rain, off and on the last morning, couldn't spoil the fun, and our successful La Selva stay was rounded off by fantastic scope views of a Rufous-headed Woodpecker near José's house. After a relaxing afternoon in our hotel in Coca, we headed out ridiculously early the next morning, but our madness was rewarded by breathtaking views of a calling Band-bellied Owl before dawn. Part of the forest we had birded the previous years had been slashed unfortunately, but early morning roadside birding rewarded us with a Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner responding well to the tape, and an Orange-breasted Falcon granting excellent scope views. We soon relocated the forest trail beyond the new 'naranjilla' field, and here we found such goodies as Black-throated Brilliant, White-backed Fire-eye and Blue-rumped Manakin. Journeying onward along the Loreto Road we found a lek of Violet-headed Hummingbirds at a random picnic stop, and an excellent patch of roadside forest further on had us watching restless mixed canopy flocks, containing such upper tropical specialities as Ash-browed Spinetail, the newly described Foothill Elaenia, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, and Golden-eared and Speckled Tanagers, joined by attractive wintering warblers, with the smart Cerulean Warbler standing out. A visit to El Para the next day produced an unexpected party of Ecuadorian Caciques, scope views of White-lored Antpitta, point-blank looks at the secretive Wing-banded Wren, and Guadua bamboo specialities Striated Antbird and Large-headed Flatbill. Another visit to the Loreto Road had us walking a trail through amazing foothill forest, and the prime targets, White-streaked Antvireo and Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant, were found easily, supplemented by Striolated Puffbirds whistling away from the tree tops, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush playing hide-and-seek, and a Musician Wren delivering its amazing melodies but never showing even a single feather. Higher up the south slope of the Guacamayos range held some excellent tanager flocks, but while the Blue-browed Tanager managed to sneak through several times eluding some of the participants, we all had excellent views of Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer and a variety of other goodies. Coppery-chested Jacamars showed nicely, and a large party of Black-mandibled Toucans hungrily moved through the patchwork of forest and clearings.

Hummingbird feeders at the lovely San Isidro lodge allowed us to scrutinize and photograph Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird and Long-tailed Sylph, but the forest birding proved more frustrating, though we eventually obtained good views of many new birds, including Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Inca Jay and Subtropical Cacique. An early start rewarded us with great torch views of the large White-throated Screech-Owl near the crest of the nearby Cordillera de Guacamayos, and early morning birding along the ridge trail turned out to be very productive, with a White-rimmed Brush-Finch following us along stealing the show, but also Ash-coloured Tapaculo and Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant featured among the favourites. Higher up towards Quito we stopped at the newly built Guango Lodge where the hummingbird feeders were eagerly visited by Tourmaline Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast and Tyrian Metaltail, while a nearby patch of Centropogon flowers was favoured by the otherwise hard-to-find Mountain Avocetbill.

The next day we dressed as well we could to face the cold of the Papallacta Pass and its vicinity. An early start paid off with great views of Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager and Pale-naped Brush-Finch, whilst White-chinned Thistletail responded very well to the tape and Black-backed Bush-Tanagers moved through the undergrowth. Lower down we coaxed a White-browed Spinetail into view, while Shining Sunbeams stood out against the bleakness of the cold mist cloaking these inhospitable Andean heights. Persistent efforts eventually paid off with a well-appreciated encounter with a smart pair of Giant Conebills, and climbing up to the top of a side road our wanderings through windswept paramo resulted in superb close-ups of a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, the winner of the 'bird of the trip' contest! More high-elevation birding on the slopes of the beautiful Cotopaxi volcano the next morning brought an unexpected Curve-billed Tinamou at close range, and after scoping up the regulars around a shimmering lake we found an obliging Streak-backed Canastero in the bunchgrass, whilst another sweep search gave us excellent views of Andean Snipe and the pretty Ecuadorian Hillstar.

We then descended to Tinalandia for the final leg of the journey. After picking up Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper en route, we arrived at this scenic lodge in mid-afternoon, in time to spend a relaxing couple of hours around the restaurant, where the hummingbird feeders were very popular with White-whiskered Hermit, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and feeding tables had Red-headed Barbets, Silver-throated, Dusky-faced and Lemon-rumped Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia and Green Honeycreeper picking away at the bananas. A visit to bird-rich Rio Palenque the next day never had a quiet moment, and memorable birds here included Rufous-headed Chachalaca, White-whiskered Puffbird, Ochraceous Attila, Speckle-breasted Wren and Crimson-breasted Finch. Walking the trails at Tinalandia the last morning was a wonderful finale to this legendary tour, and here we especially remember our excellent views of Chocó Screech-Owl, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Esmeraldas Antbird and Grey-breasted Flycatcher. After three weeks 'chockfull' of birds we rounded off our odyssey through this wonderful country with a fine meal at the 'Risotto' restaurant, marveling and reflecting upon memories that will linger in our minds for years to come!
This report was provided by Birdquest: Visit their Website

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