Posts Tagged ‘Ecuador’

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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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