Archive for June, 2013

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

Tanagers and hummingbirds – those are the birds that everyone talked about when I announced that I would be going to Ecuador for my first trip to Central or South America. These birds were gorgeous and colorful as promised, but we saw many other wonderful birds, too, with some of the best in simple black and white. The Partnership for International Birding (PIB) trip to northwest Ecuador was February 22nd through 28th, 2013. Six adventurous birders, our PIB guide and experienced Ecuador birder, John Drummond, and top Ecuadorian guide, Lelis Navarrete, completed our group. The birds that we saw ranged from the awe-inspiring Andean Condor with its ten-foot wingspan to the Booted Racket-tail which immediately went on my personal list of the world’s cutest birds.

The first day we birded the Calacali area and the Tandayapa lower valley in the morning before lunch at Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo. In addition to a wonderful lunch, we enjoyed our first close-up views of tanagers at feeders.

Flame-faced Tanager.

Flame-faced Tanager. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We also saw our first warbler of the trip, this Black-crested Warbler.

Black-crested Warbler

Black-crested Warbler. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After lunch, it was on to San Jorge de Milpe where we would spend the night. This lodge hosted many gorgeous hummingbirds as well as three very cooperative Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail which came in to a feeding station near the outdoor dining room.

Ocellated Tapaculo

My poor but recognizable photo of Tomas, the Ocellated Tapaculo

Our second day of the trip started at 4:30 AM to allow time for the 20-minute walk from the lodge to the bus, the drive to Refugio Paz de las Aves, and then the walk down a steep, slippery path in the dark. We needed to be in place before dawn to watch Andean Cock-of-the-Rock display on the lek. Angel Paz opened his property to visitors and saved it from logging after discovering the Cock-of-the-Rock lek. While creating trails, he discovered antpittas coming to eat the earthworms that were uncovered by the work. Angel learned that birders would pay to see them, too. Amazingly, he was able to “train” antpittas to come to his call by rewarding them with earthworms. Today Angel and his brother, Rodrigo, provide birders on their refuge with close views of some of the most difficult skulking birds in Ecuador. The best known of these is the Giant Antpitta, Maria, who did not show for us (perhaps on the nest). However, we were thrilled to see an Ochre-breasted Antpitta from a few feet away as well as two Dark-backed Wood-quail. My favorite bird was Tomas, a gorgeous Ocellated Tapaculo, who also appeared when Angel called him. In between these amazingly cooperative birds, we watched a Crimson-rumped Toucanet, hummingbirds, tanagers, and other forest birds.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell

At San Jorge de Milpe in the afternoon, we saw more amazing tropical birds including a Pale-mandibled Aracari.

Pale-mandibled Aracari

Pale-mandibled Aracari. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After a wonderful day of birding, we headed to Sachatamia Lodge for the night.

Sachatamia Lodge

Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We birded most of our third day in Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. Some of the stars on this day were black and white birds like this Dot-winged Antwren below.

Dot-winged Antwren

Dot-winged Antwren. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

The tower at Rio Silanche

The tower at Rio Silanche. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Another favorite was the White-bearded Manakin. Males begin courtship by jumping between small saplings in the lek at the forest edge. Each time it jumps, the tiny 4-inch bird snaps its wings, which makes a loud popping sound. There was a flurry of activity with the little Manakins constantly jumping as we tried to get a good look. Then we heard Ron quietly say “I’ve got one over here” and he pointed to a spot near the ground on the other side of the path. A charming little Manakin quietly sat there in the vegetation and allowed all us to get great looks.

White-bearded Manakin

White-bearded Manakin. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We saw very few animals of any kind other than birds, so the giant snail was a fun surprise. Note the tip of my shoe for a size comparison.

Giant snail at Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary.

Giant snail at Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

After another great day of birding, we headed back to Sachatamia Lodge again for dinner and the night.

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I really liked Sachatamia Lodge, but I think that dinner the second night made me sick. They tried to accommodate my request for low-carb meals by serving me asparagus in a rich cream sauce instead of the spaghetti main course. I had diarrhea that night which forced me to stay at the lodge the next morning while the others went to see the Long-wattled Umbrellabird.

Sachatamia Lodge

The bird feeding area at Sachatamia Lodge. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

I had tea and crackers, got some extra sleep, and spent a couple of hours alone at the feeders. I loved the luxury of indulging in long lingering looks at the gorgeous tanagers. I also saw a just-fledged Buff-throated Saltator right in front of the entrance to the lodge.

Buff-throated Saltator

Buff-throated Saltator fledgling

Buff-throated Saltator and

Buff-throated Saltator and Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

Golden Tanager

Golden Tanager

Dusky Bush-Tanager

Dusky Bush-Tanager

Strong-billed Woodcreeper

Strong-billed Woodcreeper

The rest of the group returned for lunch and Jeannie took this photo of the view from the lodge.

View from Sachatamia Lodge

The view from Sachatamia Lodge

Jeannie got photos of Golden-naped Tanagers and hummingbirds, too.

Golden-naped Tanagers

Golden-naped Tanagers. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Violet-tailed Sylph (female)

Violet-tailed Sylph (female). Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Booted Racket-tail

Booted Racket-tail. My favorite hummer of the trip! Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

That afternoon we headed to San Jorge de Tandayapa Lodge where we spent the night after birding the area.

Birding in the Tandayapa Valley

Birding in the Tandayapa Valley. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Dinner at San Jorge de Tandayapa Lodge

Dinner at San Jorge de Tandayapa Lodge. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Day five brought more wonderful birds in the Tandayapa upper valley, including this Powerful Woodpecker and the hummingbirds below.

Powerful Woodpecker

Powerful Woodpecker. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Collared Inca

Collared Inca. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Gorgeted Sunangel

Gorgeted Sunangel. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We did not see many butterflies during any part of the trip, but there were a few like this beauty.


Photo by Jeannie Mitchell


Photo by Jeannie Mitchell


Photo by Jeannie Mitchell

The drive back to Quito for the night was quite interesting. While searching for a Giant Hummingbird, we met these two girls in a small village. The oldest girl appeared to offer us (or just show?) a bird nest with an egg in it. Ted, fluent in Spanish, taught Jeannie how to say “no más nidos” (no more nests) which she sweetly said to the girls. Jeannie then gave them a small toy that she had just bought and the girls appeared to put the nest back where they found it.

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On the morning of February 27, the next to last day of the trip, we had a wonderful surprise. As we climbed towards Yanacocha Reserve on the western slope of the Andes, we saw a condor flying over the valley below. Lelis ordered us out of the bus. We stood on the side of the mountain as the Andean Condor circled for several minutes right in front of us. This huge and magnificent bird invoked a greater emotional response in me than any other bird on the trip. It was an awe-inspiring moment that I will never forget. Lelis informed us that the condor is critically endangered in Ecuador. He said that farmers have persecuted the Andean Condor because they believe that it kills their livestock, and that belief is somewhat true as condors do sometimes attack newborn animals if carrion is scarce. Some reports state that only 50 birds still survive in the wild in Ecuador. The San Diego Zoo website provides interesting facts and additional reasons for the decline of the Andean Condor.

Andean Condor

Andean Condor. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

The flowers in Ecuador were plentiful and gorgeous, including those below that Jeannie photographed from this part of the trip.





Reserva Yanacocha

Reserva Yanacocha.  Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Rufous Antpitta

Rufous Antpitta. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

At Yanacocha Reserve we saw more wonderful birds including two more “tame” antpittas that came to the viewing station for the reward of worms, Rufous Antpitta and Tawny Antpitta.

We spent the night at Guango Lodge where we had more great birding. Our last day of the trip, we started the morning in the area around Guango Lodge where we found a female Torrent Duck, a Torrent Tyrannulet, and a White-capped Dipper. There is something very appealing about these birds who manage to survive in the cold, fast-flowing rivers and streams of the high mountains.

White-capped Dipper

White-capped Dipper. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Beautiful birds at Guango Lodge included Turquoise Jay and Masked Trogon.

Turquoise Jay

Turquoise Jay. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

Masked Trogon

Masked Trogon

After lunch at Guango Lodge, it was time to head back over Papallacta Pass again and on to Quito.

Gas prices

Gas prices.  Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

We were all amazed at the gas prices, which are subsidized by the government. Prices are in US Dollars, the official currency of Ecuador.

Below: the view of Quito as we approached the city.


Quito.  Photo by Jeannie Mitchell.

This wonderful trip had ended all too soon. We enjoyed getting to know the beautiful country of Ecuador, the gorgeous birds, and our new friends. Thanks to Lelis and John for leading us on this adventure and to Jeannie Mitchell for generously allowing me to use her beautiful photos in my posts about the trip. More of my photos are on Flickr and John’s photos for the trip can be viewed at http://www.pbase.com/jxdrummo/ecuador_birds_feb_2013.

Our group of birders

John Drummond, Lelis Navarrete, Mary Ellen Moore & John Balog, Ron & Jeannie Mitchell, Shelley Rutkin, Ted Vawter

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It was wonderful to go birding in Minnesota again, a state that has now given me 17 life birds and some great adventures.  I shared the trip with Diane Hoese, who I met birding in South Dakota with Doug Buri and Bob Janssen in 2010.  Diane provided the inspiration for this blog; my first post was about attending Bob and Doug’s Shorebird Workshop with her.  We both love learning from Bob, so we planned this trip around his Boreal Birding Workshop at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

Bob’s workshop took us to Judge CR Magney and Grand Portage state parks, Oberg Mountain, and nearby areas where we had great close-up views of 14 species of warblers.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Cook County, MN.

We drove up the nearby Gunflint Trail by ourselves and found a few more birds, including this Olive-sided Flycatcher.  This bird had huge white tufts on its lower back.  Back home, I searched extensively and could not find any reference to a connection between the size of the tufts and gender, breeding status, or time of year.

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley.  Grand Marais, MN.

After birding with Bob for two days, Diane and I set off to Ely to bird on our own for a day.  The highlight there was breeding Cape May Warblers on territory.  We found at least three pairs on our own, without playing recorded songs to draw the birds in, and enjoyed the peace of the boreal forest.  The birds behaved as if we weren’t even there – males singing from the treetops, a lovely female working a spruce tree at nearly eye level.  For me, birding does not get any better.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk. Echo Trail, Ely, MN.

We also watched this Broad-winged Hawk attempt to catch an afternoon snack, but he missed his prey. Earlier in the day, we had watched a different Broad-winged being harassed by Blue Jays.

Juvenile Gray Jay

Juvenile Gray Jay. Lake County Road 2, MN.

On our way south to Duluth the next day, we found a family of Gray Jays along Lake County Road 2, one adult and at least two adorable juveniles.

Next was birding with Erik Bruhnke in Sax Zim Bog.  I had hoped to see a Connecticut Warbler, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We did find a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, though, which was one of my two life birds of the trip (the other was Alder Flycatcher).  It was a lovely day that started with great views of a LeConte’s Sparrow and this goofy looking Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel.  Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel (male). Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Erik showed me his beautiful photo of a male American Kestrel we had just watched together.  He pointed out the white outer tail feathers with black bars.  When I got home, I realized that I had also captured a clear shot of the bird’s tail showing this common trait that I’d never noticed before.

After a great dinner at Fitger’s in Duluth, we sadly sad goodbye to Erik and headed towards Diane’s home the next morning.

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane. Duluth, MN.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker. Carver County, MN.

It was late afternoon and lightly raining when we arrived, but the birds were still coming to the feeders on Diane’s deck.  I was happy to capture a shot of this male Hairy Woodpecker showing a characteristic that is usually not mentioned in field guides – the vertical black line through the red patch on the back of the head.  Downy Woodpeckers do not have a line through the red patch.

My last birds of the trip were Diane’s lovely Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore Oriole (male).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (male). Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female). Carver County, MN.

Once again I had unintentionally taken the advice of my late husband, Burt.  I’d saved something for next time.  Now I’ve got both Connecticut Warbler and Boreal Owl to search for again.  After a wonderful trip like this, the idea of going birding again in Minnesota sounds pretty good.

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