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OK, that title might be a slight exaggeration, but the more that time passes, the bigger role that bird plays in my mind. The photo above is not that particular bird, but another of the same species that I photographed in Florida a few years ago. Let’s start back at Thanksgiving 2021. My friends David and Val had invited me to spend the holiday with them in Florida and we had a wonderful time together. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, David took me to Madeira Beach, where I went often with my parents as a child. I was thrilled to see dozens of Sanderlings running on the beach with the waves just as I remembered. I grew up in Pinellas County, where David and Val live now, and it felt like home.

Earlier in the year, I had finally sold the five acres of land near Mount Dora that my late husband Burt and I had bought in 1992 with plans to build a log house. Burt died before we realized that dream and I had held the land mostly for sentimental reasons. For the last few years, I had been thinking about selling the land and using the proceeds to buy a little condo in Florida for a winter home. Thinking as in fantasizing, not actually planning. Simultaneously, I’d finally accepted the fact that my house in NC was not a place to grow old and die. It’s a lovely house, but a split level with no bathroom on the main level. And, with an acre for a yard, it was a lot to care for even if much was left natural.

I’m sure that you can see where this is going, but here’s one more clue about the impulsive decision that I was about to make. Burt had loved New York City and he often joked that we moved there because we couldn’t afford a vacation in the Big Apple. Yes, without any planning or conscious forethought, I decided to move to Florida.

I went back to NC and starting browsing real estate listings. A condo that appeared perfect for me showed up and I drove back to Florida in late November for the open house. David, Val, and I were all disappointed and didn’t like it. In hindsight, it was just old with a dated kitchen, wallpaper (ugh), and in general need of a little renovation. We drove around and looked at a couple of other places that afternoon, but nothing was right. Fortunately, Val was off work the coming week, so I stayed a few more days and we continued to look at property while David went back to work. We had quite an education in availability and pricing of local real estate. My expectations changed. Finally, we found a much more expensive townhouse that seemed perfect and I put in an offer for the asking price (remember, this was the height of a seller’s market). Shockingly, it was rejected as there were two other offers and we were all asked for our “final and best” offer. Nope. I wasn’t going to play that game. I was actually relieved as the “perfect” townhouse was in a location that could only be accessed from US-19. I didn’t want to drive on a busy highway every time I went somewhere. I gave up and planned to continue looking online for another try in a few weeks.

On the morning that I was planning to leave, I asked David to drive out to Dunedin causeway with me for coffee and the sunrise. He parked the car facing the water and the first bird that we saw in the dim dawn light was a Black-crowned Night-Heron. We had both seen plenty of these birds, but not out in the open on the beach. We had a magical few minutes sitting there watching the birds and soaking in the sand, water, and rising sun.

The neighborhood with the condo that I had come down to see was between the causeway and David’s house. I spontaneously asked if we could drive by. My heart ached. The neighborhood was gorgeous and the location could not have been more perfect. “I want to see it again” I announced. My realtor was doubtful that it was possible we could see it on such short notice, but she managed to make arrangements for another viewing that afternoon. Val and I had the same reaction, it wasn’t as bad as we’d remembered. And, it certainly didn’t have any flaws that could not be fixed with $60,000, the difference in price between “my” condo and the $400,000 “perfect” townhouse. A couple of days later, I had a contract with the closing set for January.

The year since then has been quite interesting. I have driven back and forth between Florida and North Carolina too many times to count. In NC, I worked on cleaning out 24 years worth of accumulated stuff. While not a hoarder, I readily confess to being a pack-rat. It’s what happens when you are raised by people who lived through the depression. “Don’t throw that away. You might need it someday.” So, I still own the NC house, but hope to finish the clean-out and sell it next spring.

In Florida, I enjoyed time with good friends and exploring new places and activities. David and I went to the causeway a few times together and he walked with me during warm-ups and cool-downs for his runs. One day when he started running, I just spontaneously started running after him. I’m not quite sure what happened next. All I remember is that David signed both of us up for the “Freakin’ Hot 5K” in August and took me to buy running shoes.

I was as surprised as you are. I had tried to run a few times when I was younger and just could not do it. This time, I wasn’t fast and I couldn’t run for long, but I was doing it. At first it was run 30 seconds, walk 2 minutes, and repeat. I decided that I could do anything, no matter how painful, for 30 seconds. I was mainly motivated by my ophthalmologist who had told me that regular exercise might bring down my eye pressure a little. I didn’t want to go blind from my glaucoma or diabetes as my mother had, so that was hugely important to me. And, running would be good for my general health. But, I did not love it. I didn’t even like it while I was doing it. I think that I used some four-letter words for added motivation during the first few months. And, then it got easier and started to feel good. Maybe not so good while actually running, but the feeling after stopping was pure bliss.

I was a bit apprehensive about race day, but it turned out to be as much fun as David had promised. Being with all those other people running and having fun was exhilarating. I had had fantasies about even getting a medal, but neither David nor I thought it would be possible. There are amazing athletes of every age competing in these events. Shockingly, however, I came in third in my age/gender category (out of six). It was extremely motivating and I couldn’t wait for the next event. David said that it was a quirk that I placed and to not expect it again soon. But, he excitedly added that I would soon “age up” and then have better chances of winning.

I went back to NC after the Freakin’ Hot and had difficulty running by myself (well, I didn’t). But, as I write this, I’m back in Florida and we are now training for the next 5K, the Best Damn Race in February. I even enjoyed our recent run along the gulf. Yes, even the actual running part.

I’ve also done some birding in Florida this year, attended “Moth Night” (the Southern Flannel Moth below was a favorite) and a “Botany Walk” at Brooker Creek Preserve, and found some interesting new parks. Next on the list is learning to ride a bike again and swimming and kayaking in the gulf. I think this is going to work. I’ve not had a single moment of regret for my impulsive decision last Thanksgiving.

Life has kept me busy recently. It’s hard to believe that our Utah trip was three months ago. Finally, here is the rest of the story – my drive back to North Carolina. After dropping David at the Albuquerque airport, I wanted to stay close until his plane was airborne, so I chose an easy place to see lots of birds – Tingley Lagoon, part of ABQ BioPark. Well, there were lots of ducks, but I like ducks. There were also cormorants that breed on the little islands in the middle of the ponds – both Double-crested and Neotropic – but my photos all seem to show Neotropic Cormorants.

Here are a few other birds from this spot, a female Common Merganser, male Northern Pintail, American Coot, and Canada Goose.

After a pleasant hour at the Tingley Lagoons, it was time to head east. I got one more “life” New Mexico bird at the Pajarito rest area – a Chihuahuan Raven that I was able to identify only because I noticed its call sounded different from Common Raven and I recorded it.

At another rest area near Santa Rosa, I saw the Cholla on the right. Then I drove on into Texas where I spent the night.

The next morning, I found one more Texas life bird, Western Meadowlark, at the Donley County US 287 Safety Rest Area. I got photos of a meadowlark that was satisfactory for identification, but this Eurasian Collared-Dove was much more photogenic.

My major stops on the way back to NC were both in Oklahoma, first Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is a major birding hotspot, but is more well-known for its other wildlife, notably the bison, longhorn, and elk that roam the park’s 59,000 acres.

Nearly 100 years ago, a herd of Longhorn was established at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to save the breed from extinction. Here is a detailed accounting of the story. Apparently, there are current debates about whether or not cattle belong on a wildlife refuge, but they are beautiful and I’d guess the desire to see these creatures contributes to making this one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the county.

The refuge also has several prairie dog towns and I never tire of these cute rodents. Did you know that they are related to squirrels and chipmunks? Yes, they are all in the family Scuiridae. These were black-tailed prairie dogs, the only one that I think I’ve seen of the five prairie dog species in North America.

I did see a few birds, too, like the Greater Yellowlegs below, although I’m sure there would have been many more birds later in the year.

My favorite bird at Wichita Mountains was a single Ring-billed Gull proudly standing in the middle of a prairie dog town on the side of the road.

The next day I toured another wildlife refuge, Sequoyah NWR, near Oklahoma’s eastern border with Arkansas. I received a nice welcome from a flock of about 40 American White Pelicans that flew over as I drove into the park. This refuge had only a fraction of the visitors of Wichita Mountains on the day I visited. However, I met a couple of birders at the entrance kiosk and we birded a lovely path in the woods together. The rest of the refuge was mostly open and the next birds I saw were a large flock of Snow Geese.

It was interesting to see so many dark morph birds in the group. Snow Geese winter on the coast of North Carolina, but we rarely see a “Blue Goose” here.

In addition to birds, I saw a new and interesting turtle. Unfortunately, I focused my camera on the wrong one, the larger pond slider, a common and widespread species that I’ve seen many times. After submitting it to iNaturalist, I learned that the turtle on the right is an Ouachita Map Turtle. It is not rare either, but its range is the south-central part of the US and I’d never seen one before. And, what a cool name!

I saw about 35 species of birds at Sequoyah, mostly the same species that I can see in North Carolina. My last bird there was a Bald Eagle that flew over a pond filled with ducks and then landed in a tree by the road. I enjoyed the hours I spent at this refuge and would love to visit again.

After Sequoyah, all that was left was the uneventful drive to North Carolina. This was definitely my least birdy road trip ever, but I did manage to get both my Oklahoma and New Mexico lists to over 50 species. I also added several new counties even though you can drive for miles and miles in the West and see nothing. The map below shows every county in which I have observed birds. Good county birders have maps with clear, continuous lines representing travels. My maps look like an advanced version of connect-the-dots, but I try.

But more important than the birds was the amazing landscape that David and I saw in Utah and the fun we had exploring that part of our country. Visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park made this a trip of a lifetime.

Each of our first four mornings in Moab, David rode his bicycle on the designated route for the Skinny Tire Festival and I birded various spots near town. On the first day, Saturday, March 12, David rode 64 miles to Dead Horse Point State Park and back. That was a big ride, so we didn’t do much that afternoon, but we did walk to a nearby spot on the river where David had seen a Great Blue Heron. The heron had moved on, but we saw a few ducks, including gorgeous Cinnamon Teal in breeding plumage.

The second day, David rode north along the Colorado River. He came back and didn’t even change out of his cycling clothes before saying that we had to leave immediately because he had just ridden by dozens of ducks on the river. Many had left by the time we arrived a few minutes later, but about 50 remained including three new species for our Utah list. We also saw American Pipits on the riverbank, a life bird for David.

It was still early, so we decided to drive to Arches National Park to preview it for David’s ride the next day. With the steep ascent and hairpin turns on the road into the park, that turned out to be a good idea which allowed David to plan his ride. Below, “Balanced Rock,” a favorite site in the park.

“Devil’s Garden” is one of Arches’ most popular areas. We enjoyed exploring it a bit when it wasn’t mobbed.

On Monday, the festival cyclists rode into Arches NP. David stopped at the “Park Avenue” overlook to take a photo of his bike.

We wanted to go back again in the car later that afternoon, but the park was full and a sign was posted saying “Come back in 3 hours,” so we drove to Canyonlands National Park instead. This is another impressive park as you can see from the photos below.

While David was riding in the Skinny Tire Festival, I was birding every morning. I wanted to get my Utah list to 50 species. I started with five birds from a stop along the Colorado-Utah state line during the Colorado Grouse Tour in 2019 (Part 2 with the jaunt into Utah). With over five days in Utah on this trip, it seemed like an easy goal. But, I was struggling to find much other than ducks. So, after we got back from Canyonlands NP, David and I drove a local road just outside of Moab looking for House Sparrows and European Starlings. Yep, I was that desperate. We found our target birds, a Eurasian Collared-Dove, and a lovely Western Meadowlark, another life bird for David. In those five days of birding, I didn’t get good photos of anything other than a Common Raven.

On the last day of the festival, the ride was along the Colorado again, this time downriver on Potash Road. That afternoon, we went back to the Wall Street section of Potash Road. Its sheer cliffs are popular with rock climbers and a large well-preserved petroglyph panel provides an outstanding look at ancient Indian art. Dinosaur tracks are also nearby and David hiked up the mountainside to get a closer look. I was satisfied with my binocular view and stayed on the road to watch the Ornate Tree Lizards which fascinated me.

Both of us had been watching for wildlife every day, but we were disappointed that we didn’t see much. The only things in abundance were these beautiful butterflies that David first noticed on his rides. I think this is a Checkered White.

The day after the festival, we headed to Arches National Park first thing in the morning before even checking out of our hotel. We drove around several areas, but the Windows Section was our favorite.

Then it was on to Dead Horse Point State Park, perhaps David’s favorite of the three parks we visited. The park is located at the end of a mesa that soars 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, on the edge of Canyonlands NP. The overlook where David stands is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. If you want the sad legend of how the park got its name, read this.

Below, a view into Canyonlands NP from Dead Horse Point State Park.

We had seen a little mammal scurrying across the landscape a couple of times, but they were too quick to even guess what they were. Finally, in front of the Dead Horse Point SP Visitor Center, I got good looks and a photo of a Hopi Chipmunk. This individual was almost tame and even came towards me once. It differs from most other chipmunks by having no black stripes.

Our planned adventure at Dead Horse Point was to view the night sky. The park is a designated location by the International Dark-Sky Association. Six yurts at the Wingate Campground allow a “luxury” outdoor experience. Honestly, I was not looking forward to the only bathroom facilities being the vault toilet shown on the map, but I was pleasantly surprised by flush toilets and running water for hand washing just a short distance from my yurt.

So, the facilities were fine, but our night sky experience was a bust. A full moon and cloud-filled sky obscured nearly all the stars. A dark-sky experience remains on our bucket list.

It was still pleasant to experience the quiet outdoors in the late evening and early morning and we could hardly complain with a view like this.

A quick look at a Juniper Titmouse near the yurts was my last new Utah bird. This brought my Utah total to only 35 species.

After a leisurely morning at Dead Horse Point SP, we headed back towards Albuquerque for David’s flight home the following day. The previous few days had felt familiar and reminded me of western Colorado. A little research revealed that much of Utah is in the Colorado plateau, the same physiographic province as western Colorado as shown on this map.

Below is our last arch, Wilson’s Arch, about 30 miles south of Moab.

We arrived with just enough time before dark to go back to the park (Los Poblanos Open Space) where I had looked for the Western Screech-Owl nearly a week earlier. I had seen several Greater Roadrunners there and we hoped that David would see one, but nope. The “birdless” moniker for the trip continued to be appropriate. Regardless, our Utah adventure was amazing and I am very grateful for the experience.

What will happen on my drive to North Carolina? Follow along with me and see what I discover.

My friend, David, and I have shared a few adventures consisting of his bicycle riding and my birding. It’s been fun, so we are always alert to more opportunities, but David is naive about the distribution and seasonality of birds. He thinks that there are lots of birds everywhere all the time. When he suggested Utah in March for the Skinny Tire Festival, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wouldn’t see many birds. But, such a trip would hopefully allow me to make some progress towards my geographic goal of 50 birds in 50 states and I would see some spectacular scenery.

It’s difficult to fly to Moab, which has only one flight a day, so we decided to meet in Albuquerque. I would drive there, David would fly, and then we would drive to Moab together. I started from Florida on March 6 and just drove for the first couple of days. It got more interesting in Texas. I headed towards Lubbock where a Mexican Duck, a species that I still needed for my life list, was being seen regularly. Shortly before I got there, I saw a pond with Canada Geese on the side of the road. Surprisingly, I still needed the goose for my Texas list, so I stopped and spent some time in little Post City Park. The Canada Goose and a pair of Bufflehead brought my Texas list to 285. Quite a few Brewer’s Blackbirds drank and bathed with the geese and ducks.

It was late when I got into Lubbock and I went straight to my hotel. The following morning, I went to Leroy Elmore Park to look for the Mexican Duck. Like many city parks, there were lots of domestic mallards and geese and all the waterfowl seemed habituated to humans. I was just taking my time surveying the variety of ducks when suddenly there he was – the handsome male Mexican Duck. It was one of the easiest lifers ever! You may think that he looks like a female Mallard, and Mexican Duck was previously considered a subspecies of Mallard, but it was accepted as a full species a few years ago. One of the most obvious physical differences is the dull yellowish bill, but there are other differences in appearance as well as genetic differences.

Cackling Geese at Leroy Elmore Park were a bonus. I have seen them many times before in other states, but they were new for Texas.

Next on my itinerary was Los Poblanos Open Space in Albuquerque the next day, March 10, before I picked up David at the airport. I had hoped for a second lifer, Western Screech-Owl, which had been reported by many birders until a few days before my arrival. I repeatedly checked all the boxes where he had been seen by others, but there was no sign of the owl. The most entertaining birds that I found where three Greater Roadrunners. One of them caught a House Mouse and ran around with it while making soft mewing sounds.

I finally gave up on the owl and went to Rio Grande Nature Center State Park to wait for David’s arrival. I immediately loved this pretty park. It had more vegetation than I’d seen since I had left the southeast and it had bird feeders! Some birders prefer to see birds in a more natural environment, but I want to see them up close. I enjoyed the White-crowned Sparrows, Red-shafted Flicker, Spotted Towhee, and others at the feeder area and the Wood Ducks in the lake. A ranger told me that there were porcupines in trees on one of the longer trails, but I didn’t have time that day. I remembered Burt’s words “Always leave something for next time.”

David’s flights had gone smoothly and he arrived on time. We loaded his bike into the car and headed towards Bloomfield, New Mexico, where we would spend the night. The next morning as we were loading the car, David found a Turkey Vulture. It doesn’t sound very notable, but it was flagged by eBird as “rare” and required documentation. We were both puzzled, but quickly discovered that it was just a few days earlier than usual. Traveling always reminds you that “location, location, location” doesn’t just apply to real estate. Location (and time of year) are two big determinants of what birds to expect at any given time and place.

As soon as we started driving north the scenery changed just as I’d hoped. This was David’s first trip west since he was too young to remember. I was thrilled that he was getting a nice introduction to the American West.

We enjoyed our drive to Moab, Utah, where the Skinny Tire Festival would begin the next day. Stay turned for Part 2.

I got one more day of birding in Ecuador than we had originally planned because it didn’t take an entire day in Quito for a Covid test. Xavier had been able to find a doctor near San Isidro who was willing to do the test for us. We met him on the side of the road, I spit in a cup and gave him $65.00, and the next day I had my admission ticket for the plane home – an email with my negative Covid test.

We left San Isidro early on Monday, May 3. Xavier headed back to Quito to prepare for his next tour. Francisco and I also headed towards Quito, but we stopped at Antisana Ecological Reserve, about 60 miles from Quito, for my last day of birding. Antisana volcano is the fourth highest in Ecuador at 18,875 feet. It is surrounded by the ecological reserve which was created in 1993 to protect the unique and fragile flora and fauna. The habitats of the reserve range from mountain forests to grasslands. Below is a photo of Antisana that I took a couple of days earlier from San Isidro.

Officially, Francisco was our driver for the trip, but he was actually so much more. He had done countless things to make the trip easier for me from providing tech support for all my camera questions and problems to helping me get my rubber boots on and off. Francisco was warm, kind, smart, and a good birder, so I was happy to spend the day with him.

We got our first target, Red-crested Cotinga, right away (photo above). Next we went to Restaurante Tambo Condor for a cup of hot tea and hummingbirds. We would return a bit later for a delicious lunch. This is a wonderful place to see the hummingbird with the best name ever, Shining Sunbeam.

We continued on to higher elevations and found more new birds starting with a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, a life bird for me.

A couple of pretty Black-winged Ground Doves gave me another bird for my life list.

There were quite a few small birds in some areas. Sometimes I got confused, but I just tried to take as many photos as possible. Weeks later, I had a delightful surprise when I was processing my photos and discovered the Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant below. It was not on my eBird checklist for that day’s birding, but, obviously I had seen the bird, so it was fair to add it to my life list.

Stout-billed Cinclodes (below) was a common bird at Antisana. My lifer had been on my earlier trip in 2013 at Papallacta Pass which has some similar habitat.

This is the bird that surprised me the most by how beautiful it is – Carunculated Caracara. We saw several individuals walking around in the grass close to the road. This raptor of the high Andes occurs only in Ecuador and southern Colombia. The individual in my photo below is an immature bird.

Our last bird of the day was Andean Gull. I really like gulls so I was happy to see several of these beautiful birds in the road ahead. They were shy, though, and we were not able to get very close. The photo below is highly cropped. We had wanted to continue on to the lagoon where several more potential life birds awaited, but the road was closed a few miles before the lagoon.

On our way back down the mountains, we saw this White-tailed Deer. Yep, Odocoileus virginianus, the same species that we have here in North Carolina. Its native range is throughout much of North America, through Central America, and south to Bolivia.

We arrived at Puembo Birding Garden (PBG) mid-afternoon just in time for me to watch a few more birds in Mercedes’ lovely garden and rest a bit for my trip home the following day.

During my 15 days in Ecuador, I saw a total of 246 species. I thought that was good considering that this was an easy trip with no hiking on strenuous mountain trails. This number includes 150 species that were new for Ecuador bringing my Ecuador total to 356. And, most importantly, I got 108 life birds.

Below is one of the last birds that I saw in Ecuador, a Scrub Tanager, which I did not see anywhere other than the PBG garden.

My trip was amazing and I can’t wait to go back. I’ve already told Xavier that I intend to return next year. I can’t think of anything that Xavier or Francisco could have done to make this experience more fun. I highly recommend Neblina Forest for Ecuador and other South American nature trips. You won’t be disappointed. Below, a pretty Blue-gray Tanager, a bird that I guarantee you will see in Ecuador.

We arrived at Cabañas San Isidro on the evening of April 29 in time for a wonderful dinner, our first of the fantastic meals served there. Our rooms were large and beautiful; mine had floor-to-ceiling glass walls on one side providing a view of the surrounding forest. The restaurant and deck area was lovely, too, with birds nearly always in the nearby trees.

We spent all day April 30 birding around the lodge and on the entrance road. Above is an Inca Jay or Inca subspecies of Green Jay, depending upon which taxonomic authority you follow. If you have seen Green Jays in South Texas, you will think that this bird looks quite different. And, if you enjoy taxonomic discussions, check out Why is the Inca Jay not a Green Jay?

A few of the other birds that I saw right from the deck are shown below. A lovely little Pale-edged Flycatcher was a regular in the trees by the deck.

Earlier, when we observed Russet-backed Oropendolas nest building at Limoncocha, Xavier promised me that I would get good close looks later in the trip. As promised, I saw them every day while we were at San Isidro.

Another regular in the deck area was Scarlet-rumped Cacique. Every morning, I found one in the exact same spot on the deck rail above the moth sheet.

The most intriguing bird at the lodge is the mystery owl. It is in the genus Ciccaba, but otherwise no one can determine what it is! It looks similar to the other Ciccaba species found in Ecuador, Black-and-white Owl and Black-banded Owl, but neither of those are found at an elevation this high. This owl has been found only in a small area near the San Isidro lodge. There are also some minor plumage differences between this owl and the other Ciccaba species. People like to categorize birds, but more importantly birders need to report them. So, eBird created a taxon just for this owl, the “San Isidro Owl (undescribed form).” This beautiful creature was heard calling during our dinner every night.

We started May 1, our second day at San Isidro, by birding around the lodge again. A nice feature of the lodge is the moth sheet below the deck. The area around the sheet is like a typical yard, much more open than the moth blind at WildSumaco. The birds that come to feast on the moths are not particularly skulky otherwise, but it’s nice to get such good looks at them. Below, a pretty Cinnamon Flycatcher enjoys a moth for breakfast.

I liked the moth sheet for more than the bird food it provided. Because the sheet was in the open, I could walk right up to it and view the amazing moths. I photographed several dozen species and I am still trying to identify them, a harder task than I expected. Below is a small sample of the moth bounty. Look closely, especially at the second one, and note that all of the following moths are head up.

After watching hummingbirds, other birds, and moths for a short time, we made our second attempt to see an antpitta, which had not cooperated the first day. It was slower to come for worms than any that we had seen previously, but it was worth the wait. I think that this White-bellied Antpitta was the prettiest of the seven that we saw during the trip.

In the afternoon we went to La Brisa hummingbird feeders where Gorgeted Woodstar (top left photo below) was a life bird. The Collared Inca (top right) was one of my favorites at the lodge at San Isidro. The Chestnut-breasted Coronet (bottom left) did not like it as much as I did, though, as they were very possessive of the feeders. They seemed to particularly dislike the Collared Inca and spent an inordinate amount of time chasing it away. We saw Chestnut-breasted Coronets and Fawn-breasted Brilliants (bottom right) at both La Brisa and our lodge.

One of the most beautiful hummingbirds on the east side of the Andes is Long-tailed Sylph. Watch for it in the slow-motion video below that I took at Cabañas San Isidro.

On May 2, we started the day by heading out to the nearby countryside. It was a beautiful morning as you can see in the photo below. I enjoyed the scenery almost as much as the birds.

On Borja Road, we found a small group of Red-breasted Meadowlarks. It was very exciting to see these beautiful birds.

Our attention switched back to the landscape when we saw gas, steam, and ash plumes rising from Reventador, one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes. Xavier had only seen this once before, so I felt privileged to share this beautiful and impressive sight.

Next we headed to Concierto de Aves to see some special birds. After watching hummingbirds around Victor and Nilda’s home, we walked down a country road that paralleled a little creek. The Fasciated Tiger-Heron in the creek was a very welcome surprise.

Below, Xavier and me on the road which led to the larger stream. We left the road to walk a trail through the forest that weaved in and out of the stream. Victor and Nilda helped me on the steep parts of the path and through the water. I could not have done it without them!

Our reward at the end of the trail – a female Andean Cock-of-the-rock on her nest. You might be wondering why she is orange instead of red. That’s because we are on the east side of the Andes and this is a different subspecies than the one in northwest Ecuador. There are actually four subspecies; two are red and two are orange.

We were able to see this gorgeous bird so well because once again Xavier had carried a scope on the trail through the forest and creek. Her nest is actually quite well hidden on the side of the mountain by the waterfall. The walk to see the Cock-of-the-rock was one of the most beautiful and amazing adventures of the entire trip.

Nilda and I walked back along the road together and although she does not speak English and I don’t speak Spanish (a deficit that I really need to remedy), we managed to communicate. Nilda saw me photograph a flower, so she took me to see these beauties.

And, all too soon our time at San Isidro was over. This fabulous day was my last with Xavier, but I would have one more day of birding on the way back to Quito with Francisco. Stay tuned for my last post on this wonderful trip to Ecuador with Neblina Forest.

Limoncocha was different; really different. Many of the birds were strange and bizarre. It was quiet and peaceful, wonderful, almost magical. I had never heard of Limoncocha before the trip, but Xavier suggested it because of a Harpy Eagle nest. And who would say no to that? There would be much more than the eagle, though. eBirders have reported 520 species in the Limoncocha Biological Reserve.

The reserve is on the Napo River, about 230 miles east of Quito, near the little town of Limoncocha. It is one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet, but its flora and fauna have been continually threatened by nearby oil activity since 1975.

After the drive from WildSumaco, we arrived at the headquarters of the Limoncocha Biological Reserve in the early afternoon. We left our car there and were transported to our lodge on the edge of the Limoncocha lagoon, inside the protected area of the reserve, via a motorized canoe.

After putting our things in our cabins, we immediately left to see the eagle nest. It was a 20-minute boat ride back to the reserve headquarters and then a short drive. Next was what was described as a “20 minute boat ride followed by an easy 20-minute walk along a flat trail.” Apparently, that was true when the trail was dry, but there had been rain the previous few days and the trail was flooded. Our local guide, Wymper, told Xavier that I would not be able to walk the trail and that they were going to carry me! I protested that I didn’t need to be treated like a princess, but Wymper insisted. Obviously, they had done this before as they were prepared with a stretcher that I sat upon while they carried me the last third of the trail. There were tree roots and other unseen obstacles under the water making it very difficult to walk, especially while carrying me.

I was impressed by the efforts of these men getting us to the eagle nest and by the wonderful covered platform they had built there, a respectful distance from the nest tree. And, Xavier had walked the flooded trail carrying a scope so that we would have good views. We did not see either adult as one of them had made a food drop a few hours earlier, but at only 4-1/2 months old, this baby already looks like a Harpy Eagle.

The massive Harpy Eagle is a “holy grail” bird for serious birders. Adults have a six to seven foot wingspan, talons the size of grizzly bear claws, and they weigh 9 to 20 pounds (females are larger than males). Compare that to a Bald Eagle, not a small bird, that tops out at 14 pounds. These apex predators hunt mainly in the canopy and consume a variety of prey, but they have a propensity for small monkeys and sloths. Their large range extends from Central America throughout most of South America, but they are rare everywhere. Sadly, the population is believed to be declining due to habitat loss and direct persecution. Harpy Eagle is classified by BirdLife International as Near Threatened.

After we spent an hour or so watching the eaglet, we retraced our route back to the lodge in time for a simple but tasty dinner. Limoncocha Ecolodge never had hot water and had electricity for only a couple of hours each day, but it was clean, safe, and comfortable.

We started the next day, April 28, on the lagoon at 5:39 am. Hoatzin could be the poster bird for Limoncocha. There were many of them around the lagoon, including a female on a nest right by the dock for the lodge.

We saw a Limpkin, a very familiar bird from all my trips to Florida, but it looked quite different from the Limpkins I knew. Later, I learned that there are several subspecies and the Limpkins in South America are “brown-backed.” Below, the Limpkin at Limoncocha on the left and a Limpkin from Florida on the right.

We also saw an Azure Gallinule that morning. My photos are not as good as I’d like, but most were taken from a boat and we were never as close to the birds as we’d been when feeder watching.

We returned to the lodge shortly after 8:00 am for breakfast and then we drove to the town of Limoncocha for a little birding there. That’s after a boat ride to get back to the car. The lodge is accessible only by boat. We didn’t see as much as we’d hoped for, but I enjoyed watching a small colony of Russet-backed Oropendolas building their nests.

On the boat trip through the lagoon, as we headed back to the lodge, we saw a beautiful Cocoi Heron.

And, a family of Red-capped Cardinals.

After lunch and a little rest, we spent more time on the lagoon. It was nice seeing many Snail Kites, one of the few familiar birds there. This immature bird was especially cooperative.

One of my biggest surprises was a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl that we first heard, and then saw, in the top of a tree on the far side of the lagoon. This was the bird that I missed in Texas a few years ago, so it was especially sweet to get it on my life list.

Limoncocha lagoon teems with all kinds of wildlife. We saw mostly birds, but I was thrilled to also see these Proboscis Bats roosting on a tree.

Black-capped Donacobius had caught my eye when I was preparing for the trip by reviewing photos of birds seen in the Amazon basin. We saw them earlier, but Xavier and Wymper worked that afternoon to find these shy birds again so that I could have a better look and get photos.

Just before dark, Wymper found our last target, perhaps the most bizarre bird of all the Amazon, a Horned Screamer. This delightful blog post, Screaming Unicorns, includes a video link. This National Geographic article describes the sharpened bone spurs on the wings of these unusual birds. Even a Harpy Eagle wouldn’t mess with these huge birds!

In a day and a half, I had 18 life birds. But, wait, there’s more! After our final boat trip back to the reserve headquarters on our last morning, we had one more bird to see. Antpitta #6 of the trip was White-lored Antpitta, trained to come for worms by a local birder.

When I think back on these two days and nights at Limoncocha, it truly feels magical – the lemon-green lagoon, fantastic birds, fishing bats, glow worms. Striated Herons so thick they jumped out of the way by the dozen when we powered the boat through shallow areas. Common pauraque calling in the wee hours of morning.

Limoncocha is more accessible and much more affordable than the fancier lodges two hours farther down the Napo River. If you are interested in a trip like this, I recommend Xavier Munoz of Neblina Forest.

The main road that leads from Quito to the east side of the Andes takes you over Papallacta Pass at about 13,500 feet. The view from the pass is spectacular with the snow-covered Antisana volcano in the distance. I was excited that I would be seeing a new part of this beautiful country and many new birds.

Our first stop was Guango Lodge, the only place that I had visited on this side of the Andes during my earlier trip in 2013. I didn’t get any life birds this time, but I did get my first photos of some these beautiful birds, including the Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, and Tourlamine Sunangel below.

We walked to the river, often one of the easiest places to see White-capped Dipper, but we had no luck with it. We did see a Torrent Duck, however, a beautiful male resting on a rock in the middle of the river.

We continued east to our destination for the next four days, WildSumaco Lodge, and arrived in time to enjoy the hummingbird feeders before a delicious dinner.

My favorite feature at WildSumaco is the moth sheet which attracts birds early in the morning. We started each of our four mornings here at 6:00 AM. It’s really just a sheet on the side of a steep little hill with lights positioned at the top. In the photos below you can see birders standing above the sheet watching the activity in the little clearing below. The black plastic is just protecting the lights. We only saw a few species here, but they were shy birds that we would not have seen at all without the moths to draw them in.

The most reliable bird at the moth blind was a male White-backed Fire-eye who showed up every day. He was so cooperative that Xavier began saying “Your friend is here” to me each morning. In spite of the overall ease of seeing the bird, I saw the white spot on his back only on the second morning.

When planning the trip, I had told Xavier that I wanted an “easy” trip, so we did road birding rather than hiking the steep, difficult trails. On our first day, on the road to the lodge, we saw this impressive Great Black Hawk.

After lunch, we saw more special birds. Here is antpitta #5 for the trip, Plain-backed Antpitta. We also saw another Ochre-breasted Antpitta (the first one was at Angel Paz’s place on the second day of the trip). A White-crowned Tapaculo also came for worms, but it declined the photo op.

Later that afternoon back at the lodge, we watched more hummingbirds. New birds for the trip and my life list were Many-spotted Hummingbird, Napo Saphirewing, and Golden-tailed Sapphire.

We were at the moth blinds again early our second morning and this time I knew what to expect a bit better. Those shy birds were always going to be challenging to photograph in the low light, but I was thrilled to get the shot below of a White-chested Puffbird.

Another highlight that morning was good looks at a cute little Peruvian Warbling-Antbird.

The most difficult bird to photograph was the Black-billed Treehunter, but I was able to get a shot by leaning over the edge as he came up to nab a moth from the sheet.

After breakfast, we took boxed lunches and set off for Reserva Narupa, one of the 15 reserves established by Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco. My wonderful guide for this trip, Xavier Munoz, and I share a passion for conservation. Xavier was a founding member of the Jocotoco Foundation and he remains involved as a board member. An organization that I support, the American Bird Conservancy, is a partner of the foundation. Both organizations are dedicated to protecting birds and the critical habitat they need to survive, especially endangered and limited range species. So, for many reasons, I was excited to visit the Narupa reserve which protects over 4,000 acres of low montane forest.

Signs along the trail feature birds that depend upon the reserve. It is an important wintering site for Neotropical migrants such as Cerulean Warbler.

A year-round resident of the Narupa reserve and one of our main targets this day was Coppery-chested Jacamar. This bird exists only in a restricted elevational and geographic range mostly in Ecuador. It’s global conservation status is vulnerable. And, as you can see in the photo below, it’s a cool bird!

We also saw lots of hummingbirds; four were new birds for the trip and life birds for me, including the Green-backed Hillstar and Violet-fronted Brilliant below.

The next morning back at the lodge, I was happy to get photos of a couple more visitors to the moth sheet including this Plain Antvireo.

The Black-faced Antbird was much more cooperative that he had been on previous days. Here he is just before grabbing a moth.

I missed the banana feeders that were everywhere in the area northwest of Quito. They attracted tanagers and other birds, but there were no fruit feeders in the Andes’ eastern foothills. The reason seemed to be that the birds here did not come to them enough to make it worth the trouble. Magpie and Silver-beaked Tanager were life birds for me in this part of the trip, but I didn’t get close enough for good photos of either species. However, Xavier kindly carried a scope on all our walks so I did have good views of most of the birds we saw while walking along the road.

To be honest, I was disappointed in the deck at WildSumaco Lodge. It was large and beautiful, but other than hummingbirds coming to the feeders, I think the only bird we saw from the deck was a Bananaquit. I loved the moth blind, though, and we saw some pretty amazing birds during our stay. The rooms were lovely with the best hot showers of the trip and the food was fantastic. I wouldn’t hesitate at all to return for another visit.

Our four days at WildSumaco went quickly; on the morning of April 27, we left for the short drive to Limoncocha.

“Baby?” I was talking to the Moss-backed Tanager and he hopped onto the banana that I was holding in my hand. I didn’t realize it happened like that until I watched the video. But, I wasn’t surprised because I frequently talk to birds. It was my third morning in Ecuador on my Neblina Forest birding tour with Xavier Munoz and we were at Reserva Amagusa, about as close to heaven as a birder can get. The bird on my hand at the beginning of the video is a Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager.

There are not enough superlatives to adequately describe this place. We never even made it to the trails because the feeders were amazing and I was having so much fun. We saw species here that we did not see anywhere else, including #1 on my most-wanted list, Glistening-green Tanager. I would have been happy with one of these gorgeous birds, but we got an entire family and even watched the parents feed their babies.

The pretty little Rufous-throated Tanagers, another species that we did not see anywhere else, quickly became a favorite.

Have I mentioned that I love tanagers? Here are a few more beauties we enjoyed seeing at Amagusa – Golden, Golden-naped, and Flame-faced Tanagers. A Flame-faced Tanager ate from my hand in addition to the birds featured in the video.

I was also happy to see Toucan Barbets again. I wondered if this was a pair, but they look alike. The male and female Red-headed Barbet look quite different. These musings sent me on another quest for information and I learned some fascinating things about this iconic bird of the cloud forest. First, Red-headed Barbet is a member of the New World barbet family (Capitonidae), but the Toucan Barbet belongs to a different family (Semnornithidae) that may be more closely related to toucans. The sexes are the same except that the male has an “erectile black tuft on the nape.” Yeah, I didn’t notice that detail or lack thereof on either bird. These barbets may start their day singing a duet between the male and female before foraging for 12 hours. Also fascinating is that Toucan Barbets are cooperative nesters with offspring from previous years sticking around to help the parents care for their younger siblings. This does not occur in other neotropical barbets.

We spent a little time birding along quiet roads in the afternoons. I enjoyed seeing the beautiful Ecuadorian landscape.

The roadsides were filled with lush vegetation like this.

One afternoon, we had a very special treat. Xavier has friends everywhere and one alerted him to this magnificent bird, a Lyre-tailed Nightar, roosting in a steep wooded hill by the side of the road in a nearby small town. The spectacular white-tipped tail feathers of the male are over two feet long! He is well-camouflaged, though, and it would have been hard to spot the bird from the road without the white tips to the tail. This is not a common bird, so we were lucky to see it.

Each of our three nights at Sachatamia, we got back to the lodge early enough for some time at the feeders. I have seen Collared Aracari many times, but they are a cool bird and always fun to see.

Watching the many hummingbirds was fun, too, although I found most of them challenging to photograph. I was happy if I just got something interesting like this Fawn-breasted Brilliant trying to protect its feeder from a Brown Violetear.

Just like at home, squirrels loved the bird feeders, but the Red-tailed Squirrels did not seem as aggressive as our Eastern Gray Squirrels. A little research on these two species indicated that my impression was right. Red-tailed Squirrels are solitary and quiet; Eastern Gray Squirrels are described as aggressive and active.

I was a little sad when our stay at Sachatamia came to an end early on the morning of April 23. I loved the beautiful lodge with the wonderful feeders, good food including my favorite drinks and desserts of the trip, and the kind people who worked there. On one occasion it was raining when we returned to the lodge and a guy ran out to the car with an umbrella to greet me.

More adventures awaited on the other side of the Andes, but first we had one more stop in the area northwest of Quito. The Birdwatcher’s House is aptly named. It is a beautiful little lodge created by a birder for birders. Visitors may also visit the blinds and gardens during the day. It was here that I had my first experience with what I call moth blinds. The blind here is a traditional structure with a narrow window along the length and plastic chairs inside. Two large white sheets are placed at right angles to the blind about 40-50 feet apart. In between the sheets is a natural area with logs and low vegetation. Lights directed towards the sheets are left on all night. At dawn, this creates magic for birders when normally shy birds can be observed as they come for a breakfast of yummy moths. Below, a Strong-billed Woodcreeper plucks a month from the sheet. We also observed several species that are normally very difficult to see including Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Uniform Antshrike, and Streak-capped Treehunter.

After the “Moths for Breakfast” show, we spent some time watching the hummingbird and banana feeders. In addition to the five life birds that I got at the moth blinds, I also got my lifer Blue-capped Tanager. I love its cute yellow “pants.”

My favorite bird of the morning was another lifer, a spectacular Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. eBird summarizes it as “Extraordinary and iconic toucan of Andean cloud forest in northwestern Ecuador, just barely reaching southwestern Colombia.” The Birdwatcher’s House is probably the best location to see this bird so well. The photo below was taken with my camera, but I also have cell phone photos that are nearly as good.

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Chocó cloud forest. We left The Birdwatcher’s House and started driving east towards Papallacta Pass.

Going to Ecuador was an impulsive decision, but that’s how most of my trips start. For a year, I knew that I wouldn’t travel until I was vaccinated for Covid-19 and I didn’t make any plans. But, then after I was fully vaccinated, the travel bug suddenly hit me hard. The next thing I knew I was planning a private trip with Xavier Munoz of Neblina Forest Birding Tours. After exchanging a few email messages, we had an itinerary and I bought plane tickets.

My flights went smoothly and after a very long day, I arrived in Quito at 9:30 pm on April 19. Xavier and his son, Francisco, who would be our driver for the trip, met me at the airport and whisked me off to Puembo Birding Garden (PBG), a lovely little hotel surrounded by a natural garden, where I would stay on my first night. After a few hours sleep, I had coffee and breakfast and got ready to leave. I was relieved that Xavier was a bit late so that I had time for some birding. I started the day with two life birds, Saffron Finch and Scrub Tanager (pictured below), in the lovely PBG garden. Later I learned that Xavier wasn’t late at all; my phone had not adjusted to the local time as I’d expected and it was an hour ahead.

Life bird #3 appeared immediately after we left PBG, three Croaking Ground Doves near the road. We stopped the car to get out for a good look and I even heard one croaking!  

Xavier had known that I would be tired and planned the perfect first day with stops at multiple locations with feeders as we worked our way northwest towards Sachatamia Lodge. The day was filled with hummingbirds and tanagers. I had seen most of these species on my trip to Ecuador in 2013, but I didn’t have many photos from that trip, so a lot of birds felt like lifers. I frequently joke that when you have a bad memory, every time is like the first time. I found that I just didn’t remember the birds that I had not photographed on my earlier trip like this gorgeous Blue-necked Tanager; it felt like a life bird.

I especially enjoyed our visit to Mindoloma Bird Lodge where we were so close to a Crimson-rumped Toucanet that I got good photos and a video with my cell phone.

The male and female Red-headed Barbets at Alambi Cloud Forest Lodge were also nice to see.

A hummingbird that we saw frequently in the area west of the Andes was the pretty Andean Emerald.

We arrived at Sachatamia Lodge in time for some late afternoon birding. I loved Sachatamia because they had hummingbird feeders AND banana feeders. In Panama and Costa Rica they feed various fruits, but in Ecuador I saw only bananas and only on the west side of the Andes. A few of the birds enjoying bananas that afternoon at Sachatamia were the Flame-faced, White-lined, and Flame-rumped Tanagers and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager below.

A couple of Agoutis also came to forage under the feeders. I have always enjoyed all wildlife, but since I created an iNaturalist account last year (username shelleydee), I’m learning more. Agoutis are common in middle America and I thought they was a species of rodent, but nope. The name agouti refers to about a dozen species of rodents of the genus Dasyprocta, separated mainly by geographic range. All of those that I have seen are Central American Agouti, which ranges from southern Mexico to northwest Ecuador.

At dinner the first night, we realized that although I had been to Refugio Paz de las Aves on my 2013 trip, Angel currently had several cooperative antpittas that I had not seen. Xavier quickly arranged a visit for the next morning and we arrived a little after 7:00 AM.

Antpitta #1 was the famous Maria (probably the 6th generation since the original Maria), the Giant Antpitta that started Angel Paz on the way to worldwide fame among birders. Prior to 2005, Angel was logging the cloud forest on family property and hunting birds on the land for food. A Cock-of-the-Rock lek was discovered on the property and Angel began charging birders to see the birds. One day a normally secretive and elusive Giant Antpitta was spied eating worms on the path before it quickly disappeared into the forest. A friend suggested that birders would pay even more to see the antpitta. With tremendous patience, Angel was finally able to get the bird to take worms from him and even come when called. Since then, thousands of birders have been delighted to hear Angel call out “Maria! Maria! Venga venga venga!” It’s a major ecotourism success story with wins for everyone. Angel and his family have enough income for a decent life, the birds and their habitat are protected, and birders are thrilled to see these special birds. Noah Strycker visited Angel Paz during his world big year in 2015 and tells the story in more detail here Day 72: Birding With a Local Legend.

The previous day’s vacation from physical exertion was over. We climbed moderately strenuous trails into the rainforest to see the antpittas. The second one of the morning, a Yellow-breasted Antpitta, was even more shy than Maria. I was told that she had babies to feed since she was gathering worms rather than gobbling them up on the spot.

We had a little break at the banana feeders where I got another life bird, Toucan Barbet, one of over 50 endemic bird species of the Chocó bioregion of western Colombia and Ecuador. The Chocó bioregion is one of the most species rich areas on earth, supporting a total of over 900 species of birds.

Next we went in search of Ochre-breasted Antpitta, the only one of the day’s antpittas that I had seen in 2013. Angel names all of the birds that he feeds and he calls this one Shakira because it does a little dance, which was quite adorable.

The last antpitta of the morning was Moustached Antpitta. This one did not come when called. Finally, Angel’s brother found the female on the nest and set up a scope a respectful distance away. The half dozen birders took turns quietly walking up the hill to the scope, which was 30 feet or so off the path in the forest, to take a quick peek at the bird. I was last and just before it was my turn, Xavier saw another Moustached Antpitta on the other side of the trail giving us all a much better view.

These fantastic birds were enough to make this a wonderful morning, but they were not all it included. Snacks were served after viewing the antpittas, including the most delicious empanadas I’ve ever eaten. We had snacks at many of the places we visited; those at Refugio Paz de las Aves were the best.

There were a few butterflies in the garden and I was surprised to see a Monarch. Once again, submitting a sighting to iNaturalist sent me on a quest to learn more. Virtually everyone in eastern North America is familiar with “our” Monarch, a migratory butterfly that winters in Mexico. But, I had no idea that these migration super powers have led to the spread of the same Monarch species, Danaus plexippus, to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Five non-migratory subspecies occur in the neotropical region with the nigrippus subspecies occurring on both sides of the Andes. No wonder the Monarch is the best-known and well-loved butterfly in the world! Xavier Munoz took the photograph below at Refugio Paz de las Aves on the day we visited.

Stay tuned, friends, for much more to come. This covers only the first two days of 14 full days of birding.