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Posts Tagged ‘Neblina Forest’

“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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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.

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