Ecuador Day 4 – Refugio Paz and More Mindo

There is “early” and there is “even earlier”. Today our start was even earlier, with breakfast at 5:00 a.m. so we could get to the Cock of the Rock lek by 6:00 a.m. It worked out pretty well, setting the stage for another great day in Ecuador. Wikipedia (a workable source here) defines a lek as “an aggregation of male animals gathered to engage in competitive displays and courtship rituals, known as lekking, to entice visiting females which are surveying prospective partners with which to mate. A lek can also indicate an available plot of space able to be utilized by displaying males to defend their own share of territory for the breeding season.” There are not a lot of bird species that use leks, but a very spectacular species of the Andes does – the Andean Cock of the Rock, and that was our first target for the day at a site associated with the Refugio Paz de las Aves. We went there hoping to find the males surrounded by females who might get interested.

I had seen an Andean Cock of the Rock in Peru in 2013 with great views and a decent photo. It is the national bird of Peru and is a “must see” on any trip to the part of the country where they are found. So, too, is it the case in the Andes of Ecuador with the interesting twist that the species in the West is orange and the ones in the East are red. We did see both males and females but unfortunately we did not get great looks as the birds were distant and generally buried in the dense forest. They are bizarre and brilliantly colored but rather than up close and personal it was more like looking at orange Christmas ornaments on a distant fir tree. Here are three photos from our morning – one of the area as we saw it through the camera (remember already magnified through the 500 mm lens) – another further magnified by photo editing and the third a photo from the Refugio Paz showing the male in full splendor.

Andean Cock of the Rock – through the Camera
Andean Cock of the Rock – Edited
Andean Cock of the Rock from Website

Of course we would have liked it close up, but still a fun experience which was shortly followed by Angel Paz, the owner of this private land, calling us over to a Dark-backed Wood-Quail that he had called out in the dense undergrowth. Not the best photo but in the dim light and a tough bird – very exciting. While waiting for Angel to find this prize we heard a Cloud Forest Pygmy Owl and a Rufous Bellied Nighthawk.

Dark Backed Wood Quail

The Wood Quail and Cock of the Rock are prized birds, but there was much more at the Refugio Paz de las Aves including what it is really famous for – the chance to see a number of Antpitta species – generally secretive dark birds of the dense understory that are very hard to find. The story here is that Angel Paz still a farmer on this land, has patiently trained individual Antpittas to come to him by giving them food sometimes by hand or placing them at favored spots on the ground – and calling them by name. More than 3000 visitors come to the refuge drawn by this unique opportunity, the Cock of the Rock, and the chance to see some of the other 180 species reported there.

We spent almost 4 hours at Refugio Paz de las Aves, some of it in the company of Angel Paz and his family and the rest at feeders or with our guide. We were able to see 64 species including good looks of three of the Antpittas as well as a number of other very appealing species plus yet again many hummingbirds and tanagers – 11 species of each. First the Antpittas. There are five possibilities. Rarely does anyone get all five but three is common and four not unusual. We were in the common category seeing Chestnut Crowned, Yellow Breasted and Ochre Breasted Antpittas. There was great disappointment by Angel that the Giant Antpitta was not cooperating this morning. We were happy nonetheless.

Chestnut Crowned Antpitta

There is also a lovely restaurant and a place to stay overnight at the Refugio as well as optional guided tours for anyone considering a trip on their own.

Cindy and Blair with Angel Paz

We walked the road in the refuge and visited the feeders. Here are some of the great birds we saw saving a couple for special comment and not including photos of birds either included in earlier blogs or perhaps seen later in the trip and better included in those blog posts.

Brown Inca
Black Chinned Mountain Tanager
Buff Fronted Foliage Gleaner
Common Potoo – and yes it really does have a head and a mouth
Crested Guan
Golden Headed Quetzal
Gray Breasted Wood Wren
Green Violetear
Velvet Purple Coronet
White Winged Tanager
Squirrel Cuckoo

Two species that are featured at the refuge deserve their own group of photos. The Toucan Barbet and Plate Billed Mountain Toucan are just incredible examples of colorful species that are so appealing. We had great looks at both with many close in photo opportunities, We would see them elsewhere later, but the first impressions made here were memorable and remain some of our favorites for the trip.

Toucan Barbet
Toucan Barbet
Plate Billed Mountain Toucan
Plate Billed Mountain Toucan

While at the refuge we had our first look of one of my favorite birds, a Swallow Tailed Kite. In the Everglades in 2017 two of these gorgeous raptors flew within feet of me for several moments allowing me to get probably my favorite photo ever. This Kite was quite distant but still magnificent with its eponymous swallow tail. We would see many more later in our trip.

Swallow Tailed Kite – a very distant one

Although I included a picture of the Crimson Rumped Toucanet previously, I have to include another one here – a fun close up photo of a very cool species.

Crimson Rumped Toucanet

Eighteen of the 65 species we had at Refugio Paz were Lifers for me and half of the 64 were new for Ecuador. That is only one of the reasons that this place was among our favorites and this morning was perhaps our best. Now we would bird our way back to Sachatamia Lodge and would bird there as well. With apologies I did not track which of the 27 species we saw that afternoon were seen where so they are covered as a group over the entire area/afternoon. Basically most of the birding was along Milpe Road and then back to Sachatamia.

No matter where we were in this part of Ecuador there were many hummingbirds and tanagers and this afternoon there were again 11 of the former and a dozen of the latter. Most of the birds seen in the afternoon had already been seen elsewhere earlier. Only five new species were added: Guayaquil Woodpecker, Cinnamon and One Colored Becards, Slaty Spinetail and Wedge Billed Woodcreeper. Even though we had seen many of the species earlier, it still made for a total count for the day of 81 species.

Cinnamon Becard
Wedge Billed Woodcreeper
Masked Water Tyrant
Guayaquil Woodpecker
Red Faced Spinetail

Back to the lodge for another good dinner and working on lists and photos. We later learned that our guide, Jorge Luna and his family had encouraged Angel Paz to establish his refuge and Jorge’s family has land not too far away – maybe another refuge will follow. At the end of the day, our Ecuador list stood at 191 species and I had added 86 species to my World Life list.

Western Andes – Day 2- Rio Silanche and Milpe Sanctuary

Up early, a big breakfast with fresh fruits which we would have every day on this trip, good coffee and we were ready to go heading to two sanctuaries that are part of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation: Rio Silanche and the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. We would bird at other spots along the way as well – all within an hour or so of Sachatamia. We started birding before 7:00 a.m. and here it gets a little complicated. My biggest (and almost only) negative about our trip was that I did not use internet connectivity except when WIFI was available (at all the lodges) and our guide did not use Ebird. Thus it was very difficult to keep accurate accounts of what was seen where. As a result for most of the trip I have accurate bird lists for each day but not necessarily accurate as to specific locations. So this post will cover all of the birds seen on Day 2 with few details.

We were still in Ecuador of course, so there were still many hummingbirds – 11 species to be exact with 5 new ones for Ecuador and 4 of those were Lifers. Similarly there were lots of tanagers – 8 species plus three closely related Dacnis species. Six from this group were Lifers as well. Again here are some representative photos with tanagers first and then some hummingbirds.

Black Faced Dacnis
Red Throated Tanager
Palm Tanager
Dusky Faced Tanager
Tawny Crested Tanager
Gray and Gold Tanager
Crowned Woodnymph
Green Thorntail
Violet Bellied Hummingbird
Green Crowned Brilliant
Rufous Tailed Hummingbird

A quick comment or two about photo identification. Photos came fast and furious in the field and by far the majority of photos were poor (or worse), but if you are lucky and take enough photos, some will turn out ok. But that doesn’t mean you can remember which species is in the photo, especially for hummingbirds which are often in mixed groups of many, moving fast, and somewhat similar in appearance especially as the colors change in the light and iridescent blues and purples and greens are often just dark. I did not ID photos until I came back home and then with the help of my checklists, two or three guidebooks and the Merlin Photo ID app I made out most of them. That said, there is a good chance that I will have made some errors. Corrections are welcome – but in any event, hopefully readers will enjoy them.

Another comment about photos: Birds at the feeders were often relatively close, others quite distant. Even at feeders, birds and especially hummingbirds are pretty small and it takes a lot of magnification by the camera and processing later to make the images seen in the photos I include in these blog posts. Generally I was taking photos at full extension of my 100-500 mm lens – so already about a 10X magnification and then cropping would magnify the images again usually at least 2 to 4 times and often much more. Thus birds that might barely be visible with our naked eye and still small viewed through binoculars are much larger in the photos presented. I have not used digiscoping through a spotting scope but our guide did have one and often got great pictures.

This day we would see (or hear) 64 species of which 26 were Lifers. Many people consider hummingbirds and tanagers to be exotic or charismatic – certainly colorful. Before departing I had promised Cindy that we would see many birds that were colorful and/or exotic and the hummers and tanagers had delivered on that promise, and this day we added specialty birds, that like especially the Andean Guan and Crimson Rumped Toucanet of the previous day were further deliveries on that promise. Birds such as motmots, trogons, toucans, parrots, parakeets and Aracaris just seem “foreign” making them exotic in addition to their being colorful and beautiful. Today we had lots of appealing species.

Rufous Motmot
Green Backed Trogon
Collared Aracari
Choco Toucan
Red Masked Parakeet
Bronze Winged Parrot

Those are all pretty showy birds and definitely feel tropical. Some others that were definitely noticeable include the Lineated Woodpecker, Red Billed Scythebill, Orange Billed Sparrow and Orange Fronted Barbet.

Lineated Woodpecker
Red Billed Scythebill
Orange Billed Sparrow
Orange Fronted Barbet

Of course not all of the birds were colorful, dramatic, or even seemingly tropical. Our list included several flycatchers/tyrannulets and there were also several species that were either heard only – Dusky Pigeon and Little Tinamou – or seen but not photographed. Among the latter were Pallid Dove which was high on my “want list” so missing that photo as it was simply too distant and gone too quickly, was disappointing. Others seen but not photographed were White Bearded Manakin, Yellow-Throated Nightingale Thrush and Purple Throated Fruitcrow.

Sooty Headed Tyrannulet Definitely Plain but a Lifer
Choco Tyrannulet – Another “Plain” Lifer

One of the strangest bird groups to me were the Piculets – miniature “almost woodpeckers”. Not a great photo but given the distance a picture I was happy to get was of an Olivaceous Piculet, another Lifer.

Olivaceous Piculet

We were back to Sachatamia by the late afternoon. Our ritual was to meet with Jorge to go over the list for the day and then have dinner always at the lodges where we stayed. Food was great with main course being chicken or trout or pork or beef, always with fresh vegetables and usually rice and or potatoes and a dessert. Portions varied from large to even larger and we were always pleased. After dinner we would retire to our room and I would download photos from the camera to my laptop using an external hard drive since there were usually many hundreds of photos each day. I would try to delete obviously terrible ones, but fell behind on that quickly. As I mentioned before it would have been great if our guide had used Ebird for each stop and then shared the lists. Cindy would keep track of the number of species we had seen each day as we went over the checklist before dinner, but knowing which birds were Lifers was tedious at best. At the end of day three our cumulative list for Ecuador was 153 species of which 64 were new species for my World Life list. I was already developing an awareness that the percentage of Lifers was lower than expected and that we would need some really great days to reach the hoped for 256 lifers to get to 3000, but at the same time, the whole experience was so rewarding that the numbers were becoming less important.

There was another important development by this time – Cindy was really getting into photography. From earlier birding trips, I had learned to take a backup camera in case something went wrong. A camera had died on day two of a trip to Arizona and a lens had failed on a trip to see Yellow Rails in Louisiana. This time I brought a Canon SX70 zoom both as a backup and as a way to maybe interest Cindy in taking pictures as I had found that heightened my enjoyment of birding. It was a steep learning curve as she had only taken scenery and people pictures (some excellent ones) with her I-phone previously. Hardly fair to start out a photography course trying to take pictures of tiny hummingbirds zooming around, but tanagers and other birds at feeders were better opportunities. I often turned around to see Cindy looking at pictures on the back of the camera – she was into it.

Showers, then early to bed as it would be a particularly early wake up call the next morning as we would be visiting a Cock of the Rock lek which would be active as the sun came up.

Ecuador June 2022 – Our Start at Puembo Birding Garden and Day 1 on the Western Slope of the Andes

On June 15th, we arrived at Puembo Birding Garden about 12 miles from the Quito Airport around 4:00 pm Quito time which is two hours later than Edmonds time. After the redeye flight to Miami and then the flight to Quito, our bodies were quite confused but we were quickly energized by our new surroundings, meeting our hostess Mercedes Ribadeneira and seeing birds coming to feeders behind a one-way wall. It also helped that Mercedes is a dog lover (and in fact seems to collect stray dogs, having over 30) which instantly established a rapport with Cindy who was already missing our black Lab, Chica. We would be the only guests that night and would be leaving early the next morning.

The bird list started quickly at Puembo. Most numerous were Eared Doves and Saffron Finches followed by numerous Sparkling Violetear Hummingbirds, a single Black Trainbearer Hummer, a Rufous Tailed Hummingbird and a couple of Western Emeralds. There were also three tanager species: Scrub Tanager, Blue and Yellow Tanager and Blue Gray Tanager and many Golden Rumped Euphonias. In the courtyard, I had a great look at the only Croaking Ground Dove I would see during the trip and outside added Great Thrush, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Golden Grosbeak, Rufous Collared Sparrow and Yellow Bellied Seedeater among others. Altogether there were 23 species of which only three were new life birds, but it felt like a great start.

Scrub Tanager – Life Bird
Golden Rumped Euphonia – Life Bird
Great Thrush
Croaking Ground Dove
Southern Beardless Flycatcher
Rufous Collared Sparrow
Saffron Finch
Blue Gray Tanager
Eared Dove

Dinner was great and Cindy had a chance to visit with all of Mercedes’ dogs and we also met her daughter. We were in bed early as the first of many (all?) of our 5:30 am breakfasts would await us the next morning. Promptly at 6:00 we said goodbye and loaded into the car that would be our conveyance for the non-Amazon part of our trip and headed west with Jorge and Jorge. We would be spending the next three nights at Sachatamia Lodge in the Mindo region in the Western Andes and on our way today we would first stop at the Yanacocha Reserve only about 30 miles from Puembo but due to traffic and road conditions, it would be an hour and forty minutes from Puembo.

We drove through part of Quito but never really got into the central city itself. Looking back now, we wish we had added a day to visit the central city as it has interesting architecture, culture and food. Similarly we wish we had been able to visit the Galapagos which everyone raves about. Time and cost were the reasons we did not. Maybe in the future we will return to Ecuador, see Quito, visit the Galapagos and bird in another part of the Country. This morning Quito was only something that slowed our going. It was great to finally get to Yanacocha both to end the bumpy ride and to begin our birding. The reserve was created by the Jocotoco Foundation to preserve habitat for the threatened Black Breasted Puffleg, a hummingbird that we unfortunately did not see. It is in the high altitude cloud forest and is about 2700 acres at an altitude of 10,000 to 13,000 feet.

Although we did not see the rare Black Breasted Puffleg, we did see 9 other hummingbird species, mostly coming to feeders at the Reserve. We also saw a number of other exciting birds, 27 in all in the morning of which 10 where Lifers for me. In these blog posts I am not going to add photos of every bird we saw at each stop, as tempting as that is. The choices are hard, but my goal is to include photos that are special to me – either because of the species or maybe just the photo itself sometime adding special stories that go with them. There will still be many, many photos as the birds and places were truly spectacular. A first visit to a place that has active hummingbird feeders is pretty overwhelming. There are often a dozen or two hummers flitting around at several feeders. They land and feed for an instant or several seconds and then are off again. There may be many different species and usually males and females are different and immatures may be different as well. It is hard enough to get good looks for identification let alone getting pictures of the hummers you want in the quickly changing drama. And oh yeah there may be fruit feeders (usually bananas in Ecuador) with other species putting on their own spectacle. Such was definitely the case at Yanacocha. The following is just a small sampling of the action at the hummingbird feeders.

Oh wait there is another photo I have to include – one of the most sought after and incredible of the Hummingbirds – the Sword Billed Hummingbird which has the largest bill of any hummingbird in the world and indeed has the longest bill in relation to its body length of any bird in the world!!

Sword Billed Hummingbird

The hummers tried to steal the show, but two Mountain Tanagers were equally magnificent with their vibrant colors and from the reaction of our guide when they appeared, we were fortunate to see them.

It may not be fair to leave out so many other birds, but I cannot move on without including two other beauties – the Barred Fruiteater and the Masked Flowerpiercer, one of three flowerpiercer species we saw and by far the most numerous – probably at least a dozen.

Barred Fruiteater
Masked Flowerpiercer

Oh wait again (sorry that’s the last time I will do that). Another of the birds that is protected at the Yanacocha Reserve is the Andean Guan. We first got a distant view and then a pair came in to the feeders for great up close photo opportunities.

Andean Guan – Lifer

We left the feeders and our guide, Jorge Luna, took us to two special spots on one of the roads through the reserve – our targets were Antpittas. At the feeders Jorge had already established himself as an excellent guide as he called out the identification of each species as it landed on a feeder, perched nearby or zoomed in front of us. Now he proved his excellence with his special knowledge of where to find very challenging species. Antpittas are highly sought out specialty species of subtropical and tropical South and Central America. They are generally forest birds that feed on insects on or near the ground. Often secretive in dense foliage, they are hard to find and see – unless you are with Jorge. We went down two trails into the brush and in each case we heard what would become a familiar and very welcomed phrase: “I’ve got it – come here.” Jorge would often use his green laser to point out the bird’s location always being careful to keep it below or to the side so as not to disturb it. Locating a bird in dense brush or foliage is not my strong point, so I was very appreciative and these two Antpittas were my first proof that this would be a very successful procedure. Even after such great hummingbirds and mountain tanagers, these were the best birds of the visit…and it was still early.

We left Yanacocha and continued west into the Andes following the so-called Ecoruta birding around 7000 feet elevation. Birding was excellent as we saw 45 species including 13 Lifers in just about 2 hours. Since there were no feeders, photos were much harder to come by and while there were three hummingbird species (none new) it was the diversity of the birds that was most appreciated. I was very pleased to get a photo of a Turquoise Jay (there would be many more later) and thrilled to glimpse a Beautiful Jay in the distance but unhappy not to get its photo. A fun little flycatcher was a Tufted Tit-tyrant with its tuft barely visible. A Red Crested Cotinga was our second Cotinga for the day and a pair of Red Headed Barbets were among my favorite pictures of the trip.

Turquoise Jay
Tufted Tit-tyrant
Red Crested Cotinga

There would be one more stop before arriving at our lodge – the Alambi Reserve. With great feeders for hummingbirds and others, the photo ops were great and we saw 28 species including 12 hummingbirds and 12 tanagers (including closely related Euphonias). Altogether another 11 Lifers.

Two other very nice birds were a Crimson Rumped Toucanet and a Black Winged Saltator. It is easy to see how a “toucanet” gets its name, essentially a small toucan, but I was stumped by “saltator”. The only guidance I found was that it is Latin for “leaper” or “dancer” and supposed was given to this genus of birds because they hop around heavily on the ground – a behavior we did not see.

Crimson Rumped Toucanet
Black Winged Saltator

We continued on to Sachatamia Lodge in the Cloud/Rain Forest which was wonderful with a nice room, good food and good birds, but that is a story for the next blog post. Our first full day in Ecuador had been outstanding with 91 species including 35 Lifers for me. We had 21 hummingbirds and 15 tanagers and the two Antpittas. The running total was 108 species for Ecuador and 38 Lifers. We were ready for more.

Sachatamia Lodge

Ecuador – June 2022 – The Adventure Begins

It is now just over three weeks since Cindy and I returned from a marvelous trip to Ecuador. I have spent hours each day going over the 8000 plus photos I took, editing, organizing, discarding and enjoying them. I am finally sitting down to start what I expect will be at least several blog posts trying to recapture some of the highlights of the trip and I am struggling trying to determine the best way to share our adventure. Should the posts be a recital of what we did and saw in calendar order, or organized by the diverse ecoregions we visited, by the species we saw or featuring some of the special adventures we so fortunately were able to enjoy together? Since our trip was organized to visit three different areas of Ecuador: Mindo and the Western Andes, the Amazon and the Eastern Andes in somewhat equal time blocks of 4 or 5 days each, I am going to mostly follow the itinerary/timeline of the trip perhaps with some sidebars and detours along the way.

First some background and an overview. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Towards the northwest corner of South America, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the West, Colombia to the north, and Peru to the South and East, its area is just under 110,000 square miles. Well that is if you exclude the ocean between the Galapagos Islands (part of Ecuador) which are about 600 miles from the mainland. If it were a U.S. state it would be the 8th largest – just between Colorado and Nevada but it is the 4th smallest of the 12 countries in South America. The highest point in Ecuador is the summit of Mount Chimborazo at 20,549 feet and the lowest of course is the coast next to the Pacific Ocean. In between most of the country is dominated by the Eastern and Western Andes where we spent 2/3 of our trip at elevations of 5,000 to 14,000 feet and even the Amazon region that we visited was almost 1000 feet above sea level. The capital city of Quito is at 9,350 feet. It is this change of elevations plus the amazing richness of the Amazon region that creates the many habitats of the country. It is the resulting biodiversity that drew us to Ecuador because of the many bird species found there.

Northern South America

Although the science of speciation is changing with DNA studies, it has generally been believed that there are about 11,000 species of birds in the world. In all of the continental United States plus Alaska and Canada (to birders “the ABA area”), which together are about 7.6 million square miles, around 1100 bird species have been seen – including many that have been seen only a few times. By contrast in tiny Ecuador, more than 1650 species have been recorded, the fifth most in any country behind Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Indonesia. All except Indonesia include parts of Amazonia and the Andes range. Of these, Ecuador is by far the smallest, less than 25% as large as any of the others. Here is a stunning comparison: If the same proportionate number of species by area was found in Ecuador as on the ABA Area, there would only be 16 species in the entire country!!! Turned around, if the number of species per square mile in Ecuador were found in the ABA Area, there would be 114,000 species. Wouldn’t birders love that?

It is the opportunity to see a large number of species in a relatively small area that puts Ecuador near the top of every world birder’s list of places to go. I had visited both Peru and Brazil before with the trip to the former being almost exclusively for birds and to the latter with much less focus on birds. There is significant overlap in the species found in all of those countries. It takes even expert birders many trips to any of the countries to find even a majority of the birds. Before the trip, my world Life List was at 2744. I was hoping to see over 500 species in Ecuador including at least the 256 needed to get to 3000. Friends who had visited Ecuador last year in November on essentially the same itinerary as we would follow had seen more than 550 species. That is a somewhat better time to go but my goals seemed possible if not probable. It did not quite work out that way as will be detailed later.

Unlike our trip to Oaxaca Mexico last year which combined birding with cultural and artistic activities, this was going to be hard core birding only and at first I was concerned that it might not appeal to Cindy. However, as we visited websites for the lovely lodges where we would stay and saw photos of some of the birds we would see and learned of the different areas we would visit, Cindy was eager to go. It would be her first trip to South America, to the Andes and especially to any rainforest, let alone the Amazon. Then there was the question of her physical condition. She had been in great shape from dedicated workouts with a trainer over the past year plus, but that had stopped when she had knee replacement surgery just 10 weeks before our departure. She had recovered quickly from the same procedure on her other knee two years earlier. We had to schedule the trip before the second surgery and agreed we would change the timing if there were complications or she might sit out certain activities – like climbing the giant canopy towers in the Amazon if need be. Later you will see how she did. Frankly, I was more concerned about the need to head out early every morning for our birding. I am a morning person and she is not, so having breakfast at 5:00 or 5:30 would be a heavy ask. No suspense here. We did start early every morning and she made it without anything negative every morning.

Our Excellent Tour Company

Our visit was arranged through an Ecuadorian touring company, the same company that my friends had used in November 2021. We would have been happy to join a small existing tour, but as it worked out we had a private tour with our own vehicle, driver and guide. Another friendly interesting couple may have been great, but this worked out really well, even though it was a bit more expensive. We flew out of Seattle on June 14th on a red-eye flight to Miami. After a not too bad layover we then flew to a very nice relatively new airport in Quito arriving in the early afternoon. There is always a moment of apprehension when arriving in a foreign country where the tour company is supposed to meet you. Every detail of our interactions with Xavier Munoz, the owner of Neblina Forest, had been fantastic and reassuring – but that was from the familiar safety of our own Edmonds home. This was different but all apprehension was immediately put to rest as Jorge Luna, our guide and companion for most of the next two weeks, was there as we exited the baggage claim area with our names on a sign. We were in Ecuador. We were in good hands and we were ready for adventure.

Super Guide – Jorge Luna

The next blog post will begin our journey at Puembo Birding Garden, near the Quito Airport and just outside of Quito. Not to shortcut the story, here is a summary of our birding during the trip. We saw a total of 450 species in Ecuador, photographed 300 species and I added 207 species to my World Life List – admittedly short of what was hoped for to get to 3000, but the quality of birds seen and photographed and of the trip itself completely overshadowed any disappointment. Every day was incredible, fun and rewarding. Those 450 species included more than 50 species each of hummingbirds, tanagers (broadly defined) and flycatchers. Additionally among our favorites were 6 species of Antpittas and 6 species of Barbets plus many trogons, toucans and toucanets, parrots, parakeets, motmots, woodpeckers, raptors (including an incredible 15 Andean Condors), both forms of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and the bizarre Hoatzins in Amazonas.

Unfortunately I have to add a word about the civil unrest and demonstrations that occurred during the second half of the trip. Spurred by an increase in gas prices (which are regulated and set by the government in Ecuador) but greatly complicated by politics, there were many days of demonstrations that closed roads and parks, shut down commerce and caused many tour operators to cancel or modify trips. We came close to ending our trip early as access to some areas we were to visit and even to the airport were threatened. We had excellent up to date information from Neblina Forest and decided to stick it out. Two parts of the trip were modified. Instead of being picked up at Coca in the Amazon region by our guide and then heading back to Quito through the Eastern Andes, we flew back to Quito and covered most of the same area in reverse order. Also at the very end, as access to the airport was a big concern, instead of spending the last night in Puembo, we went to the Airport early and spent the night there before our flight back to Miami the next morning. Not fun, but we made it out on schedule and it is now just part of the story which will be told in blog posts to follow.