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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.