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September 2009 Ecuador Bird Watching Trip Report

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: September 2009

We spent 18 days in Ecuador in September 2009 bird watching in 3 locations; i.e., Quito metro area, the Galapagos Islands and the Tandayapa Valley.

On our first morning in Quito, we walked around the hotel and were surprised to see a very long-tailed hummingbird nesting outside the Quito Marriott Hotel (0.197S 78.489W). Our tour guide that day confirmed that it was a Black-tailed Trainbearer. We also saw a Sparkling Violetear hummingbird in the bottle bushes by the pool. Rufous-collared Sparrows were flying in the lobby, and several Glossy-black Thrushes landed on the roof outside our room.

We took a bus tour of Old Town Quito. We visited the World Heritage Sites including the Church of the Company of Jesus where they had used animals from Ecuador like penguins, condors, tortoises, iguanas, etc to decorate the exterior, instead of Gargoyles. Hundreds of Rock Pigeons and a few Eared Doves were in the plaza outside the church. We also stopped at the Independence Plaza, Presidential Palace and Zócalo (center of town plaza), before heading to the Pululahua Crater 16 Km outside of town for lunch. In the afternoon we stopped at the Middle of the Earth Monument, where we saw a Vermilion Flycatcher in the flowers.

We flew from to the Galapagos Islands on Sept 6 for a 7-night cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition. See http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=58637. for the review. On September 13 we flew back to Quito.

On September 14 we walked to the Hilton Hotel Colon (0.208S 78.497W). In the sprawling Parque de el Ejido across from the hotel we saw a Zone-tailed Hawk flying. Hawks are not usually seen in Quito. Later we went shopping at the Mariscal Market close to the Hotel Colon (intersection of Jorge Washington & Juan Leon) for scarfs and Coca Tea.

On September 15 we drove from Quito down to the Tandayapa Valley with Jairo Sanchez (alambicloudforest@yahoo.com), our birding guide for the next week. Along the road we saw an American Kestrel sitting on an electric line just outside the NW Quito metro area and a Variable Hawk flying, along with some White-collared Swifts, and a flock of Hooded Siskins. Closer to our destination an endemic Dark-backed Wood-Quail flew across the road, bringing us to a sudden stop for a look.

In Ecuador, it is usually cheaper and better to hire a car and driver, than to drive a rental car yourself. There are virtually no road signs anywhere in the country, which makes getting from one city to another very challenging, especially if you don’t speak Spanish well enough to ask people for directions. It would be impossible for most tourists to find their way out of town from the Quito Airport, unless they were following a taxi they had hired to lead them.

We arrived at the Alambi Cloudforest Resort (http://www.alambicloudforest.com/) around 11:30am. Alambi is 4 Km south of Nanegalito on the paved road that runs from Quito to Los Bancos and on to the coast. The resort is located 2.5 miles North of the Equator at 0.041N & 78.678W. The elevation is around 6000 feet (2000m), which puts you near the top of the Cloudforest.

Maria, Jairo’s Mother, was working on lunch when we arrived. Every day we had a typical Ecuadorian Lunch at 1pm and Supper at 6:30.

I had eaten something in Quito on September 14 that had given me diarrhea during the night. I mostly rested after we arrived, but got sicker and developed a fever after dark. Jairo took me to the local free clinic – they referred me to a hospital in Quito. At the hospital they gave me some antibiotics and saline solution. After a few hours I was OK. The hospital gave me a prescription for antibiotics to take at home. The total cost was $66 for the hospital and $13 for the antibiotics and 2 bottles of Pedialyte. Something similar happened in Florida last year and the hospital bill was $5601.

We rested at Alambi on September 16 watching the hummingbirds and tanagers at the feeders. Alambi goes thru 1 to 2 gallons of sugar water every day in the hummingbird feeders, which is enough to feed 1000 to 1500 hummingbirds a day. This is by far the most active hummingbird feeders we saw in Ecuador, with more species.

At any time during the day we could see 30 to 50 hummingbirds feeding from the 7 feeders – sometimes 4 hummingbirds would be drinking out of one orifice. We saw 16 hummingbird species, including the Andean Emerald, fascinating Booted Racket-tail, Brown Violetear, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Green Violet-ear, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Woodstar, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Sparkling Violetear, long-tailed Violet-tailed Sylph, the hard to find Western Emerald, White-necked Jacobin, and mobs of White-whiskered Hermits.

The Wedge-billed Hummingbird was also present, but feeds at the white Trumpet Trees instead of the feeders. We could see the Wedge-bill making a hole in the top of the white trumpet flower in order to get at the nectar.

To help with my recovery, Maria fixed me a mint and oregano tea the locals use to get over stomach problems. The meals today also contained local fruits that are good for the stomach.

Traveling birders and photographers can stop at the resort for a small fee. In the afternoon Jairo’s Father brought a Dr from Chicago to the resort to photograph the hummingbirds with his very expensive camera & lens. The Dr told me he always carries antibiotics whenever he travels – just in case he should get an ameba.

The resort also has a banana feeding station that rivals Asa Write’s porch in Trinidad, with Blue-gray Tanagers, Golden Tanagers, mobs of Lemon-rumped Tanagers, Orange-bellied Euphonias, Silver-throated Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonias, White-lined Tanagers, Bananaquits, Buff-throated Saltators, and White-winged Brush-Finches. Fortunately, Jairo raises his own bananas.

We had a room with a private bath and patio overlooking the back yard. We could regularly see an Ecuadorian Thrush and a pair of Pacific Horneros in the grass, with White-sided Flowerpiercers, several tanagers, and Red-faced Spinetails in the trees.

We brought The Birds of Ecuador field guide with us, but at 2” (50mm) thick and 4 lbs, it is too bulky to carry in the field. Fortunately, Jairo had a slimmed down version they sell in Ecuador with just the picture plates and index.

About 4:30pm Jairo took us on a walk to the Alambi River that runs across his property. In the river we saw a pair of Torrent Tyrannulets feeding. Later we saw a White-capped Dipper working its way across the rocks going down river.

We asked for light meals today, which consisted of dry toast and a rice & vegetable dish. I drank lots of hot mint tea.

On Sept 17 we left at 7am to bird the Lower Tandayapa Valley road (0.004S 78.68W). The dirt road passes 2 trout fishing resorts and the tiny hamlet of Tandayapa before heading up the mountain. We stopped often on the side of the road and were able to see 37 bird species. The morning highlights included getting pictures of the Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Red-headed Barbet, Masked Trogon, White-winged and Fawn-breasted Tanagers, Black Phoebes and Montane Woodcreepers. We saw a spectacular Golden-olive Woodpecker.

This valley is renowned for its Tanagers. We were able to see 6 different Tanagers this morning including the Black-capped, Beryl-spangled, Golden-naped, and Metallic-green.

New Hummingbirds included the Brown Inca and Tawny-bellied Hermit. By 10:30am the butterflies were out in mass, but birds had stopped moving, so we returned to Alambi. Maria had coffee and fresh Mint Tea waiting for us.

We watched the hummingbirds and tanagers this afternoon. At 3pm Jairo took us birding in the Upper Tandayapa Valley on the old dirt road to Quito (0.009S 78.654W). This is part of a reserve for the Oso de Anteojos bears (Jairo has seen 2 bears in 5 years).

We saw 20 bird species this afternoon, and got pictures of some Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Flycatchers, and the very hard to find Beautiful Jays. We saw the Orange-bellied Euphonia, Streak-necked Flycatcher, and Strong-billed Woodcreepers

We were up early on September 18 for a breakfast of fresh fruit, granola and liquid yogurt. We drove up the Tandayapa Road with a view of the snow-topped Cotopaxi Volcano (second highest summit in the country, reaching a height of 19,347 ft) some 44 miles to the SW. We arrived at the Bellavista Reserve (0.036S 78.703W) around 7am.

We walked NE on the dirt road thru the Reserve for about 4 hours and saw 50 bird species. I got good pictures of the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Grass-green Tanager, Great Thrush, Cinnamon Flycatcher and a soaring White-throated Hawk.

We saw 8 Tanagers this morning including the Blue-and-black Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, and Dusky Bush-Tanager. We also saw 4 new hummingbirds including the Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, and Gorgeted Sunangel.

Other new birds included the Toucan Barbet, Turquoise Jay, a flock of Scaly-naped and White-capped Parrots, and a Southern Yellow-Grosbeak. We stopped for a photo op at a roadside waterfalls on the drive back to Alambi. Maria had Lemongrass Tea made from fresh cut Lemongrass waiting for us.

We went back to the Upper Tandayapa Valley dirt road in the late afternoon to search for Quetzals. I only got a picture of a Long-tailed Antbird before the clouds descended on us. We returned to Alambi to enjoy the action at the feeders.

For dinner Maria fixed Yucca Soup and Ecuadorian pasta & ham, followed by Chamomile Tea made from freshly cut Matricaria Recutita, a.k.a. German chamomile, an annual plant from the Asteraceae family – Beautiful!!!

We were up at 4:15am on September 19 for an early breakfast and a half hour drive in the dark to the Peace Antpitta Reserve, a.k.a. Paz del Aves Reserve. This place is hard to find and you need reservations, so be sure to come with a guide that has been here before.

We met Angel Paz at 5:30am (still dark) for the 20-minute walk down hill thru the forest to the viewing hide for the Cock-of-the-Rocks. The trail was rough, but there was a rope handrail most of the way down, which helped a lot.

At first light, two male Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks were visible doing their courting dance to attract a female, and calling loudly. Numerous other Cock-of-the-Rocks were down the hill out of sight calling. Unfortunately, it was still so dark that none of my pictures were good enough to keep, before both males flew off in the direction of a calling female (a 50mm f1.4 lens is what you need here).

The show moved over to a feeding hide close-by. As a mob of large Sickle-winged Guans gathered in the trees, Angel prepared bananas to feed the birds. The Guans had descended in mass on the food, and mostly finished off the bananas, when they heard a Barred Forest-Falcon calling, and fled back to cover.

Miraculously, we then heard, and started seeing, the male Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks again (they rarely come back to the display area after they leave). We rushed back to the first hide. This time there was better light and the birds were closer, resulting in great pictures of these large red birds with their unmistakable head shape, black wings and white belly!

Back at the feeding hide, the Toucan Barbets arrived to eat some grapes that Angel had put close to the hide. Next came the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers to get some bananas. Then Angel was able to call in a rare Olivaceous Piha – a robin sized bird that was olive-green all over with a yellow eye-ring and visible yellow on the underwing-coverts (shoulders). Finally, the Crimson-rumped Toucanet arrived for some grapes. It was fascinating to watch the toucan pick up a grape with its great beak, and then toss it back into its mouth to eat.

When Angel’s brother arrived with washed worms and larva (Antpittas don’t like dirt on their worms), we headed off to find the Antpittas. In 2005 Angel discovered 4 rare species of Antpittas in the forest of his family blackberry farm. Over time he has developed a special relationship with the birds. Now when he calls them by name, the Antpittas will usually come-out to be seen and fed. They won’t come for any one but Angel.

While we sat on some rocks, Angel went off calling for Maria, the Giant Antpitta. She arrived, and proceeded to walk down a long flight of steps like Miss Ecuador. Maria is the most photographed Antpitta in the world, and has graced the covers of numerous wildlife magazines, and has been the star of several nature TV shows.

Next we found Jose, the Moustached Antpitta, down by a stream in good light for pictures. Esmeralda, the Yellow-breasted Antpitta, was a little further down the trail in a darker area, but we still got good pictures. Angel went calling for Shakira, the Ochre-breasted Antpitta, named after the famous Columbian singer & dancer with the wild hips; but sometimes she is too shy to come out when people other than Angel are present.

Caring for these birds has become Angel’s passion. He calls the birds out to be fed twice a day whether or not there is any bird watchers around.

On the walk out of the forest we were able to photograph a Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl. All together we saw 37 bird species at the Paz del Aves Reserve.

After the walk, Angel’s wife serves Breakfast – “Cock-of-the Rock eggs” with onion salsa & cheese empanadas. They aren’t really Cock-of-the-Rock eggs, but a fried plantain ball with chicken inside. It’s hard to imagine, I know; but you really have to try it to understand how “muy rico” it is!

We were back to Alambi by 11:30am and relaxed the rest of the afternoon.

On September 20 we left for the Milpe Road Bird Sanctuary (0.055N 78.849W) near Los Bancos at 7am. In addition to being in a very scenic location overlooking the Rio Blanco Valley, Los Bancos has the distinction of having the only ATM in the Cloudforest.

It was foggy this morning, but we still got good pictures of the endemic Choco Toucan, Golden-green Woodpecker, Streaked Flycatcher, White-bearded Manakin, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, and Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner. A Roadside Hawk flew over and landed near us.

Some new hummingbirds were the Green-crowned Brilliant, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Stripe-throated Hermit, and White-whiskered Hermit.

We saw 8 tanagers including the Bay-headed, Blue-gray, Ochre-breasted, Swallow-Tanager, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, and Orange-bellied Euphonia.

Several Blue Morph butterflies were around, but they never stopped to be photographed. Bronze-winged Parrots and Maroon-tailed Parakeets whizzed by.

Impatients and many other flowers were in this area. Impatients is known as Mira Linde here, or “Look at Me, I’m Beautiful” by translation. The giant mounds of Orange Impatients were certainly beautiful!

By 10am it was too foggy to bird here, so we drove to the Hostal Irador Rio Blanco in Los Bancos. The view at the hotel was also totally obstructed by fog, but there were some hummingbirds at the feeders, including a Green Thorntail. We stayed to enjoy the coffee & tea plus fried Yucca and onion salsa that came with the $3 admission fee.

We rested at Alambi most of the afternoon. Late in the day we walked down to the river in time to see the White-capped Dipper again.

Maria fixed Trout from the nearby farm for Supper with rice and veggies.

We left around 7am on Sept 21 for the Mindo area (0.006S 78.805W). The first stop was at the big faded Cock-of-the-Rock statue on the main road to Los Bancos. It doesn’t look like much of a birding spot, but as soon as we arrived, we found a Golden-headed Quetzal (a very hard to find bird this time of year). It eventually moved to where we could get great photos.

In the scrub trees we photographed a female Masked Trogon, Smoke-colored Pewee, Toucan Barbet, Dusky Bush-Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, Montane Woodcreeper, and Tricolored Brush-Finch. A Wedge-billed Hummingbird was boring into a flowering maple blossom for nectar, except a Violet-tailed Sylph kept trying to chase it away. A Bay-headed Tanager was bathing in an umbrella-sized leaf.

Down the hill, we found a flock of large birds, including 7 Pale-mandibled Aracaris (Toucans) – I got a picture of three of them in the top of a tree. I saw what I thought was a large leaf, but when I looked at it with my binoculars, it turned out to be a Common Potoo (similar to a Frogmouth in Australia). They are super hard to find because when they perch on a limb they look like part of the tree. There were also One-colored Becards, and beautiful Beryl-spangled Tanagers.

I see a lot of Northern Rough-wing swallow in Ohio, so I especially appreciated seeing a Southern Rough-winged Swallow perched on an electric line.

About 10am we arrived at the Mindo Butterfly Farm down by the Rio Blanco River. They raise 24 species of butterfly that are found in the area, including the Blue Morphs and Owl-eye Butterfly.

We birded the dirt road NW of the Butterfly Farm, where we found Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaners, a White-shouldered Tanager, Andean Solitaire, Brown-billed Scythebill, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Narino Tapaculo, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, and Sepia-brown Wren. We were especially pleased to see our first oriole of the trip, a Yellow-tailed Oriole. There are lots of tanagers, but not many orioles are seen around here.

We went back to the Hostal Irador Rio Blanco for lunch. The valley view was spectacular today.

On the trip back to Alambi we took the dirt road from Mindo up to Bellavista and down to Alambi. It was beginning to get foggy, but we did manage to see a Flame-faced Tanager and a pair of Masked Trogons. Before we reached Tandayapa we stopped to see a Coatimundi on the side of the road. Jairo says they are rare in this area.

This was our big birding day of the trip – we saw 100 bird species today!

We left Alambi on September 22 at 9am heading back to Quito. We stopped several places near the Middle of the Earth Monument and Pululahua Crater (0.032N 78.474W) for bird watching. We saw 12 bird species, including some Cinereous Finches, Andean Siskins, Cinereous Conebills, Band-tailed and Plain-colored Seedeaters, and a Golden-rumped Euphonia.

For a farewell lunch we went to a typical Ecuadorian restaurant near the Marriott Hotel. Jairo ordered Sardine Soup. We had Shrimp Ceviche with extra onions and lots of lime juice. We finally found out what the popcorn you see on the buffets in Ecuador is for – you put it in the soup! Beautiful!!!

Then we were off to the Mariscal Market to buy some Spirit of Ecuador liqueur for Maria! We also got some dark chocolate, a tablecloth, a Sun Shirt, scarves, and rings & beads made from Vegetable Ivory (a.k.a. Tagua Palm Nuts).

Great Trip!

Birding Summary:

During Sept 5 thru Sept 22, 2009 we saw 233 bird species in Ecuador:

Quito area – 22 species (photos of 14) Galapagos Islands – 48 species (photos of 47) Cloudforest – 172 species (photos of 97)

The distribution of Species was:

Species Family No. of Species Water & Shore 35 Tanager 30 Hummingbird 26 Finch 23 Flycatcher 15 Raptor 13 Dove 8 Warbler 5 Wren 5 Parrot 4 Woodpecker 4 Treehunter 4 Swift & Swallow 4 Thrush 4 Toucan 3 Trogon & Quetzal 3 Foilage-gleaner 3 Woodcreeper 3 Tapaculo 3 Fruiteater 2 Mockingbird 2 Saltator 2 Spinetail 2 Vireo 2 Grosbeak 2 Becard 2 Barbet 2 Other 22

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