Western Andes – Day 3 – 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. To clarify a bit, this was our second day of real birding but our third day in Ecuador. All following posts will give the day as if it was from the beginning. 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.

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