Day 14 – Our Last Day in Ecuador – Up to the Volcanoes

After Cayambe Coca, we returned to Puembo Garden. The civil unrest had quieted but it looked like it was heating up again. The plan was to head back to the mountains on Day 14 to the Antisana Volcano and surrounding area and then return to Puembo for our last night before an early trip to the Quito Airport for our flight home. So far our decision to chance it had paid off and we were glad that we had not bailed out early and flown home. We learned, however, that several tours had been canceled and even that some people had come to Ecuador only to find that their trip to the Galapagos had been called off. Now with the unrest returning, there was concern whether we could get to Antisana. That night at Puembo we learned that the road would most likely be open so our guide and driver would pick us up in the morning and head out … unless conditions changed overnight and we would find an alternative.

Jorge and Jorge were right on time as usual and all systems looked good for our trip to the Antisana. We would be higher than we were the previous day – over 14,000 feet. The weather looked great – blue skies and not as cold. Now the challenges would be finding the birds we sought, not getting sun burned in the thin air, and … breathing. We had been at high or really high elevations for all of the trip except our time in the Amazon, mostly over 6,000 feet and often over 10,000 feet. Cindy had a small headache one afternoon, but otherwise we were surprisingly unaffected by the elevation. We did not do any strenuous hiking but we had expected at least shortness of breath. This day at 14,000 feet Jorge was careful to tell us to take it easy.

On the way up to the Antisana, our first stop was at Tambo Condor an ecotourism site in Ecuador that includes a restaurant, lodging, feeders and adjoins an overlook which is the best place in Ecuador to find Andean Condors which often roost on the cliffs across the river. The garden attracts other birds including many hummers. I had seen an Andean Condor in Peru and got an ok photo. Here the first hope was just to see one of these magnificent birds – the heaviest and with the largest wingspan of any bird of flight in the world. The second hope would be that one would soar close enough for a photo.

It is best to arrive early before the rising heat creates thermals that the Condors ride away. The Condor overlook is about two hours from Quito. We fortunately had no road closures from demonstrations but Jorge was not the world’s fastest driver. The weather was perfectly clear but when we arrived at around 9:00 a.m. it was not yet too warm. The bad news was that the condors were pretty distant, across the river valley, pretty far away. The good news is that there were Condors – lots of Condors – some soaring above the cliffs and others perched on the cliffs possibly with some prey. Altogether we counted 15 Andean Condors – a very high number. Online statistics vary but the number of wild Andean Condors in Ecuador seems to range from a low of 50 to a high of around 100. Whatever the number, this was a large concentration. Scope views were great but good photos were hard to come by due to the distance.

Roosting Andean Condors
My Best Andean Condor Flight Shot

The photos above were the best I could get. The Condors never came any closer and in fact sometimes soared further away. The wingspan of an Andean Condor can reach 10 feet and they can weigh up to 33 pounds. By comparison, the California Condor of the U.S. has a wingspan of 9.5 feet and weighs around 20 pounds. A Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any bird – 12 feet. Some interesting facts about Andean Condors: They live for about 50 years in the wild although a captive one lived for 80 years at a zoo; they may soar for 150 miles in search of food and flap their wings when soaring about 1% of the time; they do not build nests – laying eggs on rocky outcroppings; they pair up for life unless one dies or they fail to reproduce. They are quite spectacular with their wing patterns and unique heads. I have cheated and added photos taken by others to show just how awesome they are.

Andean Condor – Not My Photo
Condor in Flight – Not My Photo

At Tambo Condor we also had three hummingbird species – Sparkling Violetear, Shining Sunbeam and Giant Hummingbird. The latter was a new species for the trip but not a lifer as I had seen them in Peru in 2013. Still it was fitting that we would see them here with the Andean Condors as they are the largest hummingbirds in the world just under 10 inches long.

Sparkling Violetear
Giant Hummingbird
Shining Sunbeam

We would return to Tambo Condor for lunch, but now we headed further and higher to Antisana National Park and the Antisana Ecological Reserve, created in 1993 and formed around the Antisana Volcano. We were now definitely above the tree line and had beautiful views of the two volcanos – Antisana and Cotopaxi and the surrounding 120,000 hectares (about 464 square miles). Cotopaxi is 19,347 feet and Antisana is 18,875. As with our birding the previous day, we were looking for mountain specialties. At the Mica Lagoon we found Slate Colored Coot, Silvery Grebe and Andean Ducks. All were new for the trip and very closely resembled our American Coot, Eared Grebe and Ruddy Duck respectively. I had seen the Andean Duck in Argentina in 1989 but the others were World Lifers.

Slate Colored Coot
Silvery Grebe – Highly Magnified
Andean Ducks

I was there to see birds, but the scenery was breathtaking.

Cotopaxi Volcano
Just Another Mountain
Antisana Volcano

In addition to again seeing both species of Cinclodes, Andean Gull and Plumbeous Sierra Finch we also had Plain Capped Ground Tyrant, Many Striped Canastero, and Paramo Pipit. A little lower down we had many Carunculated Caracaras, a pair of Aplomado Falcons, Cinereous Conebill, White Sided Flowerpiercer, Streak Throated Bush Tyrant, Cinereous Harrier, White Browed Spinetail, Andean Lapwing, Black Winged Ground Dove and our 51st and last hummingbird of the trip – Ecuadorian Hillstar.

Plain Capped Ground Tyrant
Many Striped Canastero
Paramo Pipit
Carunculated Caracara
Aplomado Falcons
White Sided Flowerpiercer
Cinereous HarrierVery Distant but Jorge was very happy to see one
Andean Lapwing
Black Winged Ground Dove

My photo of the Ecuadorian Hillstar was one of my worst of the trip. It was downhill from the Restaurant at Tambo Condor where we had a very nice lunch. It was visible for only a few seconds and never came any closer. Disappointing but I was glad to see it and get any photo — I guess.

Ecuadorian Hillstar – an Awful Photo

I cannot end my blogs on Ecuador with such a terrible photo. Coming back down to Tambo Condor a single horseman came down off a hillside and crossed the road in front of us. Not a bird photo but a great “taste of Ecuador” shot.

Vaquero

It was a late lunch at Tambo Condor and then a two hour plus drive back to Puembo. We were getting word that there were threats of expanded demonstrations and possible road closures the next day. It was decision time. Our flight from Quito to Miami was due to depart at 6:40 a.m. We were supposed to get there at least 2 or even 3 hours in advance. With no road problems that would mean leaving Puembo around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m. The plan was for Jorge and Jorge to pick us up then and get us to the airport. Plan B if there were road closures was for them or Mercedes to take backroads which would add an hour to the trip. None of that sounded good if there were demonstrations and in the back of everyone’s mind was the possibility that the demonstrations would move on the airport.

We developed and followed a Plan C – pack up early, go to the airport right then and spend the night there. Not real appealing but safer. So we skipped dinner and repacked, said goodbye to Mercedes and Puembo Birding Garden and went to the airport with Jorge and Jorge. We had probably our worst dinner in Ecuador but ok for a Plan C. Apparently others had the same idea as the lounge area which at least had some recliners and dark areas was pretty full. Not helped by two loud mouths who had to be told to shut up, we probably got at most a few hours of sleep. Processing at the airport was easy. We should have bought some alcohol at the duty free store because hours later, to our shock, there was no customs check in Miami. Our plane departed Quito a half hour or so late, but was eventless to Miami where we had a long layover before our connecting flight to Seattle. It was late by the time we got back to Seattle, grabbed an Uber and made it to Edmonds. But we were home feeling we had dodged a bullet.

It had been a great trip. Great people. Great places. Great food. Great weather. No illness of any kind. New horizons, new experiences. Many photos reminded us of all of the above. Cindy became interested in photography on the trip and together we had close to 10,000 photos. As I wrote in the first blog post about this trip, I had hoped to see more than 500 species in Ecuador of which at least would be lifers to get my World List to a nice round 3000, and I also said it did not quite work out that way. Our final totals were 451 species in Ecuador and 207 Word Lifers. So quantity fell short, but no complaints at all about the quality – of the birds and everything else. We had changed some plans due to the civil unrest but that probably did not entirely explain the shortfall. We were a little light in the Amazon and a little light in other places as well- again as to numbers. It really doesn’t matter because there will be other trips – maybe even back to Ecuador someday.

Without question, the hummingbirds were the best bird group but the tanagers came very close and I really loved the Barbets. We didn’t do well with animals other than birds but it was the totality of the experience that was so pleasing. It was especially rewarding to me that Cindy had such a great time – no issues getting up and out early, no issues with the towers at Sacha, a beginning interest in photography, greatly improved birding skills and identification skills. Moreover a new love for this kind of adventure – out of the ordinary in extraordinary places. We have talked a lot about new trips and signed up for a trip to Tanzania in 2023 as soon as we got home. Writing these blogs has reminded me of many parts of our visit and has made me want to go back – or to Colombia or to Panama or back to Costa Rica or to Indonesia or…or… or … After two down years from Covid, it was so great to make this trip. Let’s all hope our travels can continue,

Ecuador Day 13 – High Up in the Andes

Indeed it got cold at night at Guango but with thick comforters and their water bottles, we were toasty. We would be birding that morning at Guango itself and then heading high up into the mountains, back to Papallacta Pass and up to the Cayambe Coca National Park. We were told it had snowed there the previous night, a very rare occurrence and we might be birding in snow.

Like every other morning, breakfast was early and excellent and I added some eggs to my more preferred breakfast of granola and fruit. We got down to the blind just after 6 a.m. and were greeted by numerous birds already there, most conspicuously Turquoise and Green Jays. Four Brushfinch species picked through the leaf litter and searched on the ground for their breakfast. One of the Turquoise Jays had its mind set on a Rhinoceros Beetle breakfast and we watched for several moments as it sized it up, poked at it, repositioned it, fought off another jay and then eventually grabbed it and flew off.

Turquoise Jay and Rhinoceros Beetle
Just before Takeoff

I saw my first Green Jay at Falcon Dam in Texas on November 29, 1975 – oh my god how can I be that old??!! Since then I have seen them 12 more times in Texas – most recently in January this year – and also in Peru. We had seen some earlier in Ecuador at Rio Quijos and the previous day at Guango, but these were the best views and the best photos. In Ecuador they are often called Inca Jays but I don’t think the species is any different. While green is definitely the dominant color, it is the blue and black and yellow that make this corvid so spectacular for me. Hard to choose a “most beautiful” between the two jays.

Green (Inca) Jay
Turquoise Jay

The four Brushfinches were Pale Naped, Gray Browed, Chestnut Capped and Slaty. The worst photo was of the one that was new at Guango – the Slaty Brushfinch – seen but not photographed the previous day. The one Cindy most enjoyed was the Chestnut Capped which we had seen at the beginning of our trip at Sachatamia Lodge. Its prominent white neck looks like a beard and it is often called the Santa Claus Brushfinch. As I think I may have mentioned before, the Slaty Brushfinch reminds me of a Green Tailed Towhee.

Slaty Brushfinch
Chestnut Capped “Santa Claus” Brushfinch
Pale Naped Brushfinch – a Much Better Photo

There are two groups of birds in Ecuador that include “spingus” in their names: the Chlorospinguses and the Hemispinguses. Searching the Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird (James A Jobling, available online), I learned that “spingos” is Greek for “finch” and “khloros” for “green”. “Hemi” is Greek for “half” or “small”. Neither derivation helped me with the seemingly impossible task of identifying what we saw and since the Chlorospinguses are Bush-Tanagers which I do not believe are finches, I am perplexed. We saw two Chlorospingus and one Hemispingus species at Guango. The latter was a Black Eared Hemispingus, not a great photo but a solid ID. The Chlorospinguses were Common and Short Billed – I think. Making it even more confusing was that the Common Chlorospingus used to be called Common Bush Tanager but there still is a Gray Hooded Bush Tanager (which we also saw at Guango) which is not now called a Gray Hooded Chlorospingus. I give up. In any event I saw a Common Chlorospingus on our Oaxaca trip last November (with a photo). I had originally submitted an Ebird list for Guango with Yellow Throated Chlorospingus instead of Short Billed and included the photo shown below (not the greatest). The Ebird Reviewer said that was in error and that it is a Short Billed. Who am I to argue (especially about a species in Ecuador)? Well I am at least pretty sure they are both “spinguses”.

Black Eared Hemispingus
Short Billed Chlorospingus – at least per Ebird

Watching from the blind we had good looks at both Montane and Tyrannine Woodcreepers and a Streaked Tuftedcheek all of which I had been seen before in Peru but without photos. A Rufous Spinetail was new for Ecuador and my world list but did not cooperate for a photo. My favorite bird of the morning was a Rufous Crowned Tody Flycatcher. We had seen one the previous day but could not get a photo. This very cute and sassy guy was far more cooperative.

Montane Woodcreeper
Tyrannine Woodcreeper
Streaked Tuftedcheek (note tuft on cheek)
Rufous Crowned Tody Flycatcher

We had seen Spectacled Redstarts at Yanacocha and I had seen them at several places in Peru, but this was my first photo. Not a great one, which surprised me since they seemed pretty much in the open, but that had been on the ground when the light had not been great and probably a case of operator error not using the best settings. This would have to do.

Spectacled Redstart

There would be one more good bird that morning. I don’t know if it started with Refugio Paz de las Aves training Antpittas to respond to calls and placed food, but now several lodges in Ecuador feature Antpittas that are brought in for guests. At Guango they were able to lure a Chestnut Crowned Antpitta out of hiding with a meal of worms laid out by the staff. Although seen and photographed before, I will always take the opportunity for more photos of this secretive little bird.

There was one last matter to attend to at Guango. This had not been a trip with visits to craft centers or galleries. Cindy and I are trying to bring back something hand made from each of our trips to have in our home to remind us of our travel experiences. There was a needlepoint wall hanging at the lodge with Turquoise Jays that we admired and learned that there was one more available for purchase. It took a little while to arrange the sale with a credit card and then we were able to find room in our luggage to bring it back safely. It now hangs in our living room.

Needlepoint from Guango

That morning we had seen 30 species. Five were new for Ecuador with only the Rufous Spinetail new for my world list. There would be more ahead as we headed to Papallacta and the Cayambe Coca National Park. We retraced some of the road we had travelled the previous day and headed up towards Papallacta Pass with a couple of stops along the way walking along the road and looking for birds which were not plentiful. I was happy to hear familiar words from our guide Jorge Luna: “Come here quick.” That always signaled a new bird which in this case was a Bar Bellied Woodpecker. New for the trip and a Lifer, it was not real close and at first was hard to find, as it is a small green woodpecker and was buried in the green foliage but it was in good light and it was a male with a red cap which helped once I found the general location.

Bar Bellied Woodpecker – tough to see without that cap
Bar Bellied Woodpecker in the Open

Jorge and I were both very disappointed when we found a Powerful Woodpecker in tall trees across a ravine and very distant. It was a scope view only – an easy ID with its large size, red crest and especially the cinnamon belly, but not a photo op as it worked its way up the tree and then flew off. There were many missed photos on our trip but I think missing this one ranks in the top ten. It was reminiscent of the same kind of view and experience earlier with the Beautiful Jay. You lose some and you win some as pretty soon after missing the woodpecker, Jorge picked out a small hummer on top of a bush downhill from the road. It flew off but fortunately returned to the same branch long enough for a single quick photo. It was a Viridian Metaltail, a small and plain hummingbird which is described as being found near treeline in the high Andes – exactly where we were. It was on my target list but without expectation of a decent photo.

Viridian Metaltail

Papallacta Pass is over 13,000 feet elevation. As we neared the top, we felt it getting colder and were glad we still had our light down jackets. Throughout the drive all eyes scanned the hills looking for Spectacled Bears. Signs along the road said to beware of bear crossings – we need not have worried as there were none either close nor far – somewhat of a disappointment. I had seen one fairly close up in Peru but it was not to be in Ecuador – well unless you count the hat that I bought at the visitor center for the Cayambe Coca National Park which featured a picture of the bear and which was welcomed in the cold when the wind blew.

Cayambe-Coca National Park – just under 13,000 feet
It Was Cold!!! – We put on all the clothing we had.

In one of the small lakes we found 13 ducks – all but one were Andean Teal which was a Lifer. The only other one was a Yellow Billed Pintail, a drab duck that was identified only by its pin tail and bright yellow bill – again a lifer. The Pintail was always moving around and buried among the Teal that were on shore and distant. I was able to get a photo of the one Teal in the lake though. On a little island in the lake, there was a single Andean Gull– the third lifer at the lake.

Andean Teal
Andean Gull

Our goal was to continue higher to the very end of the road and to the highest terrain searching for the real prize for the day – Rufous Bellied Seedsnipe. On the way we found a single Cinerous Conebill – not new for the trip but a much better photo although not an award winner. Seedsnipe are chunky grouse-like birds with beautiful “cryptic” lacey chainmail patterns on their upperparts. They are uncommon and like our Ptarmigan perfectly camouflaged to disappear in the tundra in their hillside habitats. Jorge had been given a heads-up by another guide for a spot where they had been seen. I have heard stories of hours of searching, sometimes unsuccessful, to find this species by other birders. We were fortunate and found a pair within minutes. No haters please… 😉

Cinerous Conebill
Rufous Bellied Seedsnipe
Seedsnipe Pair
Chainmail Plumage Pattern

Without question the Seedsnipe was the highlight of the day, but we had several other high elevation specialty species as well – Stout Billed and Chestnut Winged Cinclodes, Andean Tit Spinetail, and Plumbeous Sierra Finch. I had seen the finch in Peru but both Cinclodes were new. I wondered “Just what is a Cinclodes?” Well in case you are wondering, too, after looking it up in The Helm Dictionary, I have the answer – again going back to Greek where kinklos means “waterside” and oides means “resembling”. Helm points out that waterside here somehow is “used in the sense wagtail“. Now that does not exactly make sense to me but apparently the Cinclodes are considered to be “wagtail like”. I was just happy to add them to Ecuador and World list and to get photos.

Stout Billed Cinclodes
Chestnut Winged Cinclodes
Andean Tit Spinetail
Plumbeous Sierra Finch

We saw only a few more species. I am leaving one – the Carunculated Caracara – for my writeup of the next day. Others were a pair of Variable Hawks and a vary surprising Tawny Antpitta. The former were seen in Peru and the latter was the first Antpitta seen in Ecuador way back on June 16th which seemed like a long time ago.

Variable Hawks
Tawny Antpitta

Not unlike in Washington, species in the high mountains were relatively few and far between, but highly prized. We had 17 species in the mountains of which 12 were new for Ecuador and 10 were World Lifers. For the whole day the totals were 47 species with 18 new species for Ecuador and13 World Lifers.

Ecuador Day 12 – Continuing in Eastern Andes – Guango Lodge

We left Rio Quijos Lodge and continued birding in the Eastern Andes making our way to Guango Lodge where we would spend the night. After breakfast we had our last birding at Rio Quijos and then continued on to Cuyuja, Guango and up to Papallacta. Using the same excuse as in other blogs and the same apology, record keeping was not specific and this post will include observations and photos from all of these places.

On our first day of birding at Yanacocha in the West we had seen Black Crested Warblers but I had not gotten a good photo. This morning I finally had one that cooperated and got several photos. It is very reminiscent of the Wilson’s Warbler common and that breeds in Washington State with a bright yellow body but instead of a solid black cap, it has a single black streak down the center of it’s cap. It is a good example of how seemingly very similar species are in very different classifications as the Wilson’s is Cardellina and the Black Crested is Myiothlyptis. We also had Russet Crowned Warblers and more Spectacled Redstarts.

Black Crested Warbler

We left Rio Quijos Lodge but stopped at another spot on the river again hoping for Torrent Duck. Invisible at first, we saw one fairly close that then gave us great looks as it lived up to its name and swam from rock to rock in the fast moving torrent of the river. It was a female, one of the few species and especially duck species where the female is the more colorful. We spent several moments marveling at the duck’s ability to navigate the fast flowing water, even swimming upstream. I had seen a male before and was very pleased to add this observation and photo. For Cindy it was a new experience and one she might have missed if seen where we tried earlier as she had not made the walks down the muddy trail to the river at Rio Quijos.

There may not have been a lot of sparrows in Ecuador but many species had similar behavioral characteristics – scratching at the leaf litter and skulking near the ground. Among these were the Brushfinches. There are 12 Brushfinch species in Ecuador and we saw half of them. I had seen 4 of the others in Peru. We had three beauties this day, all new for the trip: Pale Naped, Slaty and Gray Crowned and had photos of all but the Slaty which I would get the next day.

Gray Browed Brushfinch
Pale Naped Brushfinch

This being Ecuador of course, there were hummingbirds – ten species for the day including 4 new ones for the trip: White Bellied Woodstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Collared Inca and Tourmaline Sunangel. Ebird has the description of Woodstars just right: “tiny hummingbirds that fly like large bumblebees.” That is exactly what they do – fly and flit around like bumblebees – really small and very active. So it is pretty easy to tell that a hummingbird is a Woodstar because of size alone. Identifying other hummingbirds often requires catching a good view of the shape of the bill or its color which is often confusing depending on the light and especially the iridescence. Not so with the Collared Inca. It appears essentially black and white with a highly contrasting large white chest patch (although apparently rufous in some populations elsewhere).

White Bellied Woodstar
Collared Inca
Tourmaline Sunangel

In the Western Andes Mountain Tanagers had been some of our favorites, and today we added two more. I wish I had gotten a better photo of the Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager which had been seen at Yanacocha but without any photo, but no complaints about the coolly and aptly named Lacrimose (tearful) Mountain Tanager or of the Hooded Mountain Tanager. I did not do as well with photos of the three “not mountain” tanagers: Golden Crowned, Beryl Spangled and Blue and Black getting an ok only photo of just the first of them.

Scarlet Bellied Mountain Tanager
Hooded Mountain Tanager
Lacrimose Mountain Tanager – with tear below the eye
Golden Crowned Tanager

Altogether we had nine cotinga species on the trip including the two Umbrellabirds, the Cock of the Rock, one Fruiteater, two Fruitcrows, one Piha and two with cotinga in their name. Aside from some species like Tinamous and Tapaculos that were heard only, this group may have been the one with the worst overall photos with the best picture being of the Red Crested Cotinga seen this day not nearly as colorful as some other cotingas which I will hopefully add to my life list someday. It has a tiny red crest – just barely seen in the photo.

Red Crested Cotinga

I finally got a decent picture of a Wren – as a pair of Rufous Wrens perched in the open for several seconds. A picture of a Mountain Wren was not so good but appreciated. There was one more Wren photo – called a Grass Wren in Ecuador and a Sedge Wren in the U.S., I guess there is some thought that it may be split as a separate species. I vote “YES!”

Rufous Wren
Mountain Wren
Grass/Sedge Wren

Even with the aid of various ID apps and fieldguides, I always had trouble identifying the many woodcreepers and related species. Their often being in poor light did not help but trying to distinguish bill lengths, shades of brown and degrees of streaking or spotting was never easy. This Strong Billed Woodcreeper was an exception as it was in relatively good light, was relatively close and still and had what clearly looks like a “strong bill” but also important was streaking versus barring below which is found on other related species.

Strong Billed Woodcreeper

Caciques are similar to our icterid blackbird species with fairly long and pointed bills. All seven species found in Ecuador are primarily black with most having some yellow or red on their wings or the bases of their tails making them colorful in flight but generally mostly or all black when perched. I tried to get a photo of the Mountain Cacique with lots of yellow showing but was only able to get a decent photo of it perched straight on – the only yellow being its bill but showing its very blue eye.

Mountain Cacique

We had seen five Antpitta species in the Western Andes and today we added a sixth species and our first for the Eastern Andes. There are 17 Antpitta species in Ecuador. Adding the Undulated Antpitta was great but I think it will take a lot more trips to add many more. They are tough. Even tougher are the closely related Tapaculos. We heard both Paramo and Blackish Tapaculos and got brief glimpses of these very dull gray or black birds. No chance for a photo in thick and dense foliage.

Undulated Antpitta

In many ways Guango Lodge was Cindy’s favorite – not compared to the amazing and luxurious Sacha Lodge which was in a class of its own, but Guango had a special feel. It is older and pretty basic, but definitely comfortable and quaint with a unique design and a solidity that was very appealing. It helped that there were spectacular roses in the dining room and friendly and efficient staff. The food was great as were the birds but it was just the feel of the place that appealed most. There was no heating at the lodge and it was projected to get cold at night. The solution – the Lodge provided each of us with a hot water bottle – which stayed warm throughout the night.

A word about roses. Ecuadorian roses have thicker stems and larger buds and blooms than those produced elsewhere enabling them to stand taller and straighter. Exporting roses is a big business with more than 500 varieties grown in the country. Cut flowers are a huge business in Ecuador with roses being almost 3/4 of the revenue. It is the world’s fourth largest producer of cut flowers and roses are the fourth largest revenue producer in the country. They are a big deal and we saw greenhouses in many areas of the country.

Guango Lodge
Our Guango Room
Roses

Three more photos for the day not from Guango itself. A most challenging photo was of a Brown Backed Chat Tyrant taken through a fence which is my excuse for its being somewhat out of focus. Challenging for a different reason was a Cinnamon Flycatcher. It perched on a branch but at an impossible angle – never fully in the open and usually behind at least one leaf. The last is back to the hummingbirds again. Guide Jorge Luna took one of the flowers near a feeder and pour nectar on it and then removed the feeders so it was the only source of nourishment for the hummers. Sindy held the Chinese Lantern and thoroughly enjoyed the visits from several hummers but especially the Collared Inca.

Brown Backed Chat Tyrant
Cinnamon Flycatcher
Collared Inca

We finished the day with 55 species – 27 new for Ecuador and 17 new lifers.

Ecuador Days 10 and 11 – Out of the Amazon and Back in the Andes – Rio Quijos

On the morning of June 24th our trip departing Sacha Lodge reversed our arrival trip so it was canoe, hike, motorized canoe and then to the airport. As written earlier, instead of meeting our guide and driver at Coca, we would instead be flying back to Quito where we would meet them and continue the tour hitting the Eastern Andes. The change in plans meant we would be going to some different places but our next two nights would be spent at Rio Quijos as originally planned. The difference, however, was that under the original plan, we would have birded our way to Rio Quijos from Coca. Instead we would head to Rio Quijos from the Quito Airport and we did not begin our birding until 2:00 p.m. with a couple of stops on the way to Rio Quijos and then some at the Lodge itself. So essentially we lost most of the day of birding. I just wish conditions had allowed us to keep to the original plan. Every detail of changing the program was handled flawlessly by our tour company and by Sacha Lodge. We were very appreciative as it could have been worse.

Worse would have meant ending the trip and trying to fly home. Since the end result was that we were able to continue on schedule and fly home as planned although with a bump, we were glad we stayed and did not bail out. That said this was by far our least productive day of birding and we had a total of only 19 species for the day with only 5 new for the trip and of those only one, a Red Breasted Meadowlark, would not be seen the next day at the Lodge. Looking at trip reports from others, I believe we would or could have had at least another 30 to 50 species if we had been able to travel from Coca as planned. Given the limited birding this day, this post will cover days 10 and 11. That said there was one special bird on day 10.

Mountain ranges are often barriers to movement that over time – lots of time – end up creating either new subspecies, new species or very distinctive variants. This is the case in the U.S. with the Rocky Mountains often being a dividing line between Eastern and Western species and in my home state of Washington there is significant difference in species seen on the Eastern and Western slopes of the Cascade Mountains. This is definitely the case in Ecuador as many species found in the Eastern Andes are not found in the Western Andes and vice versa. In the next days we would see new species in the East that would not be found in the West. But there were also very interesting variant differences for two species that are seen in both areas but with distinctive color differences.

Booted Racket Tails in the East have orange boots compared to the white boots for the Racket Tails in the West. Similarly the Andean Cocks of the Rock in the East have orange bodies while those in the West have red bodies. Both cases in the East are considered “Peruvian” forms as they are the same as the forms found in that country. We found several Eastern Andean Cocks of the Rock on the first day and the Racket Tails were plentiful at the lodge that day and the next.

Andean Cock of the Rock – Orange Eastern Form
Andean Cock of the Rock – Orange Eastern Form

Not a great photo and the bird was either not in the best plumage or was let’s just say “messy” but it was the only Red Breasted Meadowlark seen on the trip.

Red Breasted Meadowlark

Since we would start the morning birding at Rio Quijos, it was a later than usual start on the morning of June 25th – Day 11 in Ecuador. It was great to be back in “feederland” especially for hummingbirds which would be plentiful this day. Once again we did not keep accurate records for each stop of the day. The feeders at Rio Quijos were active for both hummers and tanagers but we did visit other spots as well so apologies if the photos are not site specific as I have reported them all on Ebird as Rio Quijos and vicinity.

I have already mentioned the Eastern/Peruvian form of the Booted Racket Tails – just amazing little gems. I probably took a hundred photos of just this species and it has been hard to leave some out, but these are very representative. I experimented with camera settings to try to stop the hummers in flight – fastest shutter speed was 1/2000 second – pleased but probably could have gone even faster.

Booted Racket Tail
Booted Racket Tail
Booted Racket Tail

A very close second to the Booted Racket Tail was definitely the Long Tailed Sylph another hummer that was frankly hard to believe. Again many many photos to choose from and hopefully these do this spectacular species justice.

Long Tailed Sylph
Long Tailed Sylph
Long Tailed Sylph

The Long Tailed Sylph was one of 12 hummingbird species seen that day, 7 of which including the Sylph were new for Ecuador, of which 4 were new for my world list as well. All were quite spectacular if not quite in the league of the Racket Tail and Sylph unless…the really tiny Gorgeted Woodstars buzzing around more like insects than birds might be considered as such.

Gorgeted Woodstar Male
Gorgeted Woodstar Female
Chestnut Breasted Coronet
Green Backed Hillstar
Green Fronted Lancebill
Violet Fronted Brilliant
Bronzy Inca
Speckled Hummingbird

There is no question that hummingbirds are some of the stars in the world of Ecuadorean avifauna, but Ecuador has an incredible diversity of birds and a diversity of charismatic or showy birds. We had some beautiful additions to our list including Andean Motmots and Crested Quetzal and also two woodpecker species – Smoky Brown Woodpecker and Golden Olive Woodpecker.

Andean Motmot
Andean Motmot
Crested Quetzal
Golden Olive Woodpecker
Smoky Brown Woodpecker

As the name suggests there is a river than runs near the Lodge – the Quijos River. Especially with recent heavy rains there were many waterfalls in the area and the river was running fast and furious. I hiked down to the river with Jorge Luna hoping to find a Torrent Duck. No ducks but we did find several flycatchers along the way including Golden Faced and Torrent Tyrannulets, Black Phoebe, Lemon Browed, Rufous Breasted and Olive Chested Flycatchers, Barred and White Winged Becards and favorite at least photo-wise – a Common Tody Flycatcher.

One of Many Waterfalls
Golden Faced Tyrannulet
Torrent Tyrannulet
Black Phoebe – A Species Currently Being Seen in Washington
Olive Chested Flycatcher
Common Tody Flycatcher

As had been the case at other lodges where we had hummingbirds coming to feeders, there were also tanagers – in this case 7 species. Only the Golden Eared Tanager was new for the trip but I was pleased to also get photos of Blue Necked, White Shouldered and Magpie Tanagers.

Blue Necked Tanager
White Shouldered Tanager
Magpie Tanager

Additional new photos included House Wren, Yellow Browed Sparrow, Southern Lapwing (in a field near the lodge), Scarlet Rumped Cacique, first seen in Costa Rica 25 years ago but no photo showing the scarlet rump, and of a Blue and White Swallow – finally remembering to get a picture when a small group perched. Species I did not have good luck with as far as photos were the spinetails and woodcreepers. An Ash Browed Spinetail was a life bird and the Montane Foliage Gleaner, Olive Woodcreeper and Azara’s Spinetail were new for Ecuador.

House Wren – Interestingly seen in Washington just before and after returning from Ecuador
Yellow Browed SparrowLooking a Little like our Savannah Sparrow
Southern Lapwing
Red Rumped Cacique
Blue and White Swallow

Before ending the blog with a return to the hummingbird feeders and a summary, I want to include photos of a Smooth Billed Ani, a species I still hope to photograph in the U.S., a Chestnut Collared Swift and a Bananaquit. The Chestnut Collared Swift was the 4th swift species seen in Ecuador but the only one I photographed as the others were either too distant, too “swift” or both. There must have been at least a half dozen Bananaquits at the hummingbird feeders and it was surprising to see how they shared the feeders seemingly without any concern about each other.

Smooth Billed Ani
Chestnut Collared Swift

I wish the following photo was mine – it is the species of which I did not get a photo that I really wanted – Golden Collared Honeycreeper – photo by Andres Vazquez Noboa in Ecuador 12 years ago.

Golden Collared Honey Creeper -Photo from Ebird

For the two days we had 69 species. Twenty six were new for Ecuador bringing our total to 390, and 11 were new for my world list which then stood at 2918 species.

There were some really great birds and the hummingbird action was very fun with often many species together – so that will be the last photo for the day.

Ecuador Day 9 – The Kapok Tower

This would be our last day in the Amazon and we would be going to the second and tallest tower at Sacha Lodge, the Kapok Tower which is an astounding 135 feet high. Bolstered by her ascent of the Canopy Walkway Towers, Cindy was undaunted by the challenge. First there was a brief canoe ride across the lake and down yet another of the many channels feeding it. The calls of the Hoatzin have variously described as grunts, groans, squawks, farts and more. The bird itself has been called the Reptile Bird, Skunk Bird and Stinkbird. It is very often just described as an amazingly cool striking and prehistoric looking bird. They definitely stand out and we had several up close as we entered the channel.

Hoatzin

The channels are quintessential Amazon with dense forest of unimaginable diversity. They are full of birds but they are not so easy to see let alone photograph. We again were hoping for river otters but again were otterless. I have never included a video in a blog and find that I do not have a way to do so here under my subscription. Sad as there really is no way to appreciate what it is like to glide smoothly through one of the water channels in the Amazon. You just cannot appreciate the plant diversity – probably hundreds of species all competing for sunlight and nutrients.

It is also not possible to appreciate the Kapok Tower without seeing it – best in person from the bottom, from the top and on the climb all the way up. And since it is in the midst of dense vegetation in the forest adjacent to and intersecting with a giant Kapok Tree that is hundreds of years old and 200 feet high, it is impossible to get the full perspective of the tower. These photos may provide some idea (except for the physical climbing part).

Kapok Tower
Kapok Tower
Atop the Tower
Looking Down from the Tower
View of the Napo River from the Tower

Of course the whole idea for going up the tower was to see birds in the canopy of the many trees. We had both fewer species and fewer better looks at birds from the Kapok Tower than we had from the Canopy Walkway. Oscar said it was just one of those days as there just were not many mixed flocks that came in especially to the Kapok tree itself. As had been the case at the other tower, many species were seen only in flight usually too far distant for photos. These included both Blue and Yellow and Red Bellied Macaws, and Cobalt Winged and Dusky Headed Parakeets. I was able to get a very distant picture of a White Eyed Parakeet.

White eyed Parakeet

We had much better luck with both Chestnut Eared and Many Banded Aracaris which were close enough – and still enough for photos – especially as they perched right on the tower itself. Truly striking birds which scream “tropical”.

Many Banded Aracari

We had seen Masked Tityra earlier on this trip and I had seen them elsewhere. At first I thought I had another on a tree maybe 50 yards away but was happy to find that it was a lifer Black Tailed Tityra. A little further away we had a White Browed Purpletuft – difficult to photograph against the gray sky. And even further away was a Double Toothed Kite. Not the greatest photos of any of them, but I was happy to get any at all as they were all lifers,

Black Tailed Tityra
White Browed Purpletuft
Double Toothed Kite

Much closer was a gorgeous Rufous Bellied Euphonia, a species I had seen 17 years earlier at Rio Cristallino in Brazil. I did not understand how “rufous” got into the name then and still do not. And then much further again was a lifer Slate Colored Hawk, its bright yellow eyes and red bill aids in identifying the otherwise just dark form. The picture of the latter is pretty poor so I have included the greatly magnified “final” photo and the original one showing the distance and at least partially explaining why an ID only photo was the best I could do.

Rufous Bellied Euphonia in the Kapok Tree
Slate Colored Hawk – Distant and Greatly Magnified
The Dark Spot is the Distant Slate Colored Hawk at 500mm

I just kept hoping that some birds would fly in closer but had to settle for whatever was seen anywhere and that included a Lafresnaye’s Piculet that somehow Oscar picked out and was perched just long enough to get another ID quality only photos – of another lifer. A bit closer although not much were a Crowned Slaty Flycatcher and an equally oddly named White Rumped Sirystes another flycatcher type. Again both were life birds.

Lafresnaye’s Piculet
White Rumped Sirystes
Crowned Slaty Flycatcher

A species I was very sorry to see but briefly, hear and never photograph was the Violaceous Jay. I had missed photos of a jay species in Mexico and earlier of the Beautiful Jay in the Western Andes, Now Violaceous Jay would be added to the missed jay photo list. Similarly I missed a photo of a Plumbeous Pigeon but did get one of a Ruddy Pigeon.

Ruddy Pigeon

I an happy to say that my erroneous preconception that Antbirds and their kin were only found near the ground was definitely proved wrong up in the canopy as we had three Antbirds and an Antshrike all pretty close and cooperative enough to get pictures of two of the Antbirds and the Antshrike.

Fasciated Antshrike
Common Scale Backed Antbird
Gray Antbird

Once again there were a number of flycatchers – too often seen but not photographed – just too small or too distant or too buried or too brief or a combination of any of those problems. A flycatcher that had been seen before and now finally photographed, albeit not very well, was another Rufous Tailed Flatbill.

Rufous Tailed Flatbill

We spent several hours at the tower and then descended without issue, did the short walk back to the canoe and then returned to the Lodge in time for lunch. Counting birds seen on the walks, from the canoe and out the tower, we had 48 species but only17 were new for Ecuador of which 9 were lifers – getting me past 2900 but feeling like a long way from 3000. And that way seemed even longer after some news we got when we returned to the Lodge.

Just before our arrival in Ecuador there had been growing unrest and protests throughout the country mostly by indigenous protestors. Although the main part of the protest seemed to be about gasoline prices, there were other matters including demands to drop food prices, extend debt repayment deadlines for small farmers and block mining and oil developments. Underlying it all was a politician trying to unseat the new president. Roads were blocked and we had some of our plans threatened the first few days of our visit. Things had seemingly quieted down but were now heating up again. One significant impact was that instead of being picked up in Coca by our Jorge team, we would fly back to Quito, meet them there and hopefully continue our visit in reverse in the Eastern Andes. This would knock a few hours out of our next day as a minimum, but more importantly we had to think about cutting our trip short and try to fly out of Ecuador early as there was a possibility that the country could fall into martial law and access to the airport could be a problem. It was a very stressful situation.

We were scheduled to go out on another afternoon of birding with Oscar after a rest following lunch. Under the circumstances, we decided to skip that excursion and think through the situation in depth in the quiet of our cabin. As with all the places we stayed, there was decent Wi-Fi reception in our cabin and we were able to keep in touch with current news and most importantly with our tour company who were great keeping in communication with us giving us options and their assessments. The manager at Sacha was also involved as a liaison with Neblina Forest and making sure our arrangements were in place for the flight back to Quito and keeping us advised and comfortable.

So the bottom line was that our plans were changing. We mutually agreed that we should be ok flying to Quito and continuing in reverse while carefully monitoring developments and being ready to change plans again and even to fly out early if necessary. It probably cost us a few species that afternoon and certainly did the next morning, but it in no way took away from a wonderful visit at Sacha. All told in our 3 days plus there we had 168 species and had added 142 species to our Ecuador list and I had added 62 life birds. Each of these totals were below expectations and well below hopes. I had expected at least 80 lifers and close to 200 species. But I had not expected such wonderful people, great food and beauty everywhere. The following is my last photo from Sacha Lodge – a great way to remember it.

Our Final Sunset

Ecuador Day 8 – Back to the Napo River and More Rainforest

Although she was feeling fine after the climb up and down at the Canopy Walkway, Cindy thought it best to rest this morning so I was Oscar’s only charge as we headed out in the morning after another fine breakfast. Our goal was the Yasuni Parrot Lick out on the Napo River. It would be the reverse of our trip into the Lodge – a canoe ride up the lake and through a channel to the take out, then a walk through the rainforest and then getting into a small motorized canoe and travelling on the Napo River in the opposite direction from our passage in. It was pretty dark in the narrow waterway as we moved through. We heard a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – a species I first saw at the King Ranch in Texas. We also heard a Thrushlike Wren, its call/song truly sounding like a mixture of a wren and a thrush. The only picture I got was of a very spiky/spiny tree. Whether we were walking trails or going through undergrowth as we journeyed by canoe, Oscar gave clear instructions NOT to touch the plants – too many bad things could happen – insects, chemical saps, and thorns like these.

The Parrot Clay lick is touted as one of the highlights for visits to the region. The lick is on a cliff along the river and contains minerals that are used by the visiting parrots and parakeets to counteract some toxins the birds build up from the fruits they eat. My cursory check of Ebird found 20 species of parrots, parakeets and parrotlets that been reported from the area of the Lick. Although the Lick is visible only by boat and thus not super close, it is the opportunity to see the birds in numbers and somewhat still as they perch on the clay that is the great appeal. On our way to the Lick we saw several parrots/parakeets in flight barely identifiable but among those we could ID, were several Dusky Headed Parakeets and some Orange Winged Parrots. As we got closer to the lick, a Red Bellied Macaw flew by in the distance and a Chestnut Fronted Macaw followed a few minutes later. Oscar was concerned as he felt we should be seeing more. That concern was well founded as when we got to the clay lick itself, there was not a single bird – nada – nothing – nobody home. We waited a few moments, drifted downriver, motored back and waited some more. No visitors at all. It was a gray morning and it had rained earlier and Oscar felt this was the reason. The cliff was just too wet. Better luck tomorrow, but tomorrow we would be elsewhere. The photo below is what the Clay Lick is supposed to look like.

Yasuni Clay Lick on a Better Day

Of course it was disappointing not to see birds at the lick especially if we could have gotten pictures of the striking Macaws, but back along the river, we did get a couple of parrot photos, one perched and one a highly magnified photo of some Orange Winged Parrots in flight. I later got a truly awful distant photo of a White Eyed Parakeet, but am too embarrassed to even include it.

Blue Headed Parrot
Orange Winged Parrots

Actually it was going to be a day of less than wonderful photos with the dual photo nemeses of distance and gray skies much to blame in addition to the fact that many of our birds would be skulkers who buried themselves in dense foliage and were usually at most only partially visible if at all. Distance was the problem with an Amazonian Umbrellabird high in a tree back from the river. Our Roadside Hawk was closer to the river but still quite far away. I was surprised not to see more raptors on our trip. Caracaras and Vultures were by far the most numerous, hawks, eagles and falcons not so much.

Amazonian Umbrellabird
Roadside (although in this case riverside) Hawk

I did not know it was coming, but our best birding was on an island in the middle of the Napo River that had sand, a little casual water, and mixed low shrubs and grasses, often dense and often high. It was here that we saw two of the very few shorebirds seen in Ecuador – a Greater Yellowlegs and a Collared Plover. The latter had been a successful target on our Oaxaca tip but this was a better view and photo even in very poor light. It reminds of a very rare Lesser Sand Plover – perhaps my best find in Washington almost 10 years ago.

Collared Plover

It is no loss of pride to acknowledge that without guides and their quick eyes, good ears and especially their knowledge, my Ecuador list would be a fraction of what it became. This was less so when their were feeders and maybe even moreso on the island as we rarely saw birds in the open or moving about. Through the combination of Oscar’s talents and some playback, however, we had a pretty good list. Apologies for admittedly poor photos, but I did want to document the morning.

Chestnut Bellied Seedeater – one of the very few birds in the open
Ladder Tailed Nightjar – the first bird we saw on the island
Scarlet Crowned Barbet – a truly poor photo of a gorgeous bird
Oriole Blackbird – Yes in the open but maybe 300 yards away
Small Billed Elaenia – briefly in the open after much coaxing
Spot Breasted Woodpecker
Streaked Flycatcher

As I have written before, I did not do well with the various ant type birds. In my head they were birds only to be found on the forest floor in the mountains and in the Amazon. I did not expect them in scrub brush like on this island, but we had several species, one buried even further than the previous one. We had Black Faced, Black and White and White Shouldered Antbirds well as Castelnau’s and Barred Antshrikes. I am including this photo of what I believe is the Castelnau’s Antshrike BUT without perfect confidence and it may well be the White Sided Antbird and it was the best of 25 attempts to get a photo through the branches and foliage whatever it is/

Castelnau’s Antshrike or perhaps a White Shouldered Antbird

We found two hummingbirds on the island – Olive Spotted Hummingbird and Black Throated Hermit and I was able to get a good photo of the former – and both were new for Ecuador and for my world list. By far the toughest photo to get – and “photo” may be a significant overstatement – was of a Gray Breasted Crake – barely visible but identifiable and any photo of a Crake is unexpected.

Olive Spotted Hummingbird
Gray Breasted Crake – It really is in there

The visit to the island was both frustrating and rewarding as we had to work hard for every species and got few clear looks and fewer photos, but we added a lot of new birds and it was very cool having the island to ourselves and to bushwhack through tall grasses and brush to chase our quarry. Back on the water we continued to see new species and I got some photos despite the distances. Not the best photos but two that I was happy to get were of Swallow Winged Puffbird and Bare Necked Fruitcrow.

Bare Necked Fruitcrow
Swallow Winged Puffbird

We saw both Smooth Billed and Greater Anis and added a Speckled Chachalaca in trees along the riverbank and several Fork Tailed Palm Swifts flew overhead. A Crane Hawk perched above us and I was finally able to get a photo of a Yellow Headed Caracara.

Yellow Headed Caracara
Crane Hawk
Speckled Chachalaca

A Snowy Egret was close to the dock where we left the motorized canoe and a Boat Billed Heron flew past us. We hiked back to the canoe and Oscar paddled us again through the small channel. Part way through the channel we saw a Capped Heron perched in front of us. I find this heron especially beautiful and grabbed a distant photo. Unfortunately it flew off before we could get closer. Later we had a Striated Heron and then towards the end of the channel a Limpkin was perched in the open posing and completing our collection of waders, a Rufescent Tiger Heron made an appearance.

Snowy Egret
Capped Heron
Striated Heron
Limpkin
Rufescent Tiger Heron

Although we missed out on a parrot display at the Clay Lick, it had been a great morning with new birds and something akin to the thrill of the hunt on the Island. Oscar had proved yet again to be good company and a great guide. I joined up with Cindy and had another scrumptious lunch. We had a short siesta and then rejoined Oscar for another canoe excursion – this time along different channels out from the lake. We hoped to find some River Otters that had been seen by others the previous day and coming back towards duck, perhaps there would be a Caiman.

It poured during our rest and completely stopped by the time we were back in the canoe with Oscar. We were fortunate weather wise throughout our trip as there was heavy rain a couple of nights and this afternoon as we rested but we never got caught in the rain itself – just the mud that followed sometimes. A word about mud. There would be more at later stops but it really was not too bad at Sacha and we were prepared for it in any event as the Lodge provided high quality rubber boots for everyone. And a word about bugs. There were lots of ants although none that were problematic and there were the occasional flies or mosquito but truly just a few and again never a problem. We did see a single Bullet Ant and kept clear as they deliver a very painful bite. I never felt it happen but somehow I did get a few bites, always in areas covered by clothing, not painful but irritations that lasted several days. Interestingly I have never had insect problems on any of my trips – Africa, Brazil, Peru, Belize, Costa Rica, Trinidad, India – nowhere. I even escaped serious bug issues in Alaska and Maine – but I cannot say the same for North Carolina – chiggers, mosquitos, ticks, gnats and flies – no thank you!!

Bullet Ant
Leaf Cutter Ants

It was a little humid after the rain but not too hot, no wind and clear skies. Back in the canoe and back to the birds. Observations were from the boat and photo ops only so-so but we had nice birds. Both Ringed and American Pygmy Kingfishers zipped by. A Black Fronted Nunbird perched overhead not far from a Chestnut Eared Aracari. We had a lovely Lineated Woodpecker and both Elegant and Striped Woodcreepers heard and seen. Similar species were both Dark Breasted and White Bellied Spinetail. An Orange Crowned Manakin played hide and seek and posed briefly in the open. Crested Oropendolas flew by and we saw Oropendola nests hanging from a distant tree beautiful in their symmetry and amazing to think about how they were constructed.

Black Fronted Nunbird
Chestnut Eared Aracari
Lineated Woodpecker
Orange Crowned Manakin
Oropendola Nests

It was a good afternoon for flycatchers as well with both Great and Lesser Kiskadees, Slender Footed Tyrannulet, Fuscous and Gray Capped Flycatchers, Drab Water Tyrant and Cinnamon Attila.

Lesser Kiskadee
Gray Capped Flycatcher

We saw both Ringed and Green and Rufous Kingfishers. One flew so close by we thought it would hit us. Only one was perched – long enough for a quick picture.

Green and Rufous Kingfisher

There were many missed photos as a canoe is not always the best platform for photography. One was of a Magpie Tanager, another striking tanager, one that I had seen in both Brazil and Peru and don’t recall if I have photos from those encounters. A miss I cannot believe is of the Crested Oropendolas as they were common and visible. Looking through my photos, I just don’t see one. Probably thought there would be a better shot so why bother. I had seen them in Peru, Brazil and a million years ago in Trinidad. Bet I could find a photo in some old files. As it was getting on towards dusk, we were back in the lake skirting the edges looking for a Caiman. Another canoe seemed to stopped and the folks aboard were looking down in the water at something. We paddled over and saw a Caiman that was in the shallows – all 3 feet of him/her. Hardly the terrifying monster of the dark waters as it is portrayed. We know there are bigger ones there and had we gone out on a night trip perhaps we would have seen one. I had seen some very large ones in Belize and Brazil.

Scenery on the Channels

We were back in time for doing our list, having a drink and enjoying a beautiful sunset and then another excellent dinner. The next day would be our last at Sacha Lodge and we would visit the Kapok Tower – even taller than the Canopy Walkway. Our count for the day was 83 species with 47 new for Ecuador and 18 lifers. I still needed 102 to get to 3000. We would need some really good days for that.

Ecuador Day 7 – Amazon Day 2 – The Canopy Tower

Ten weeks before our departure for Ecuador, Cindy was in the hospital having her right knee replaced. She had the left knee replaced in 2019 and worked hard on her rehab and had a remarkable recovery – driving within a few weeks and at full use not long afterwards. We planned the Ecuador trip before the second surgery and agreed that unless things went awry, 10 weeks should be enough time for her to fully participate – with one probable exception – the Towers at Sacha Lodge. In the recovery weeks before the trip her only even partially difficult issues were climbing down stairs. That coupled with her not being too crazy about heights suggested that she may well sit out the trip up (and down) the 95 foot Canopy Tower and the even taller Kapok Tower. Our first full day at Sacha included the Canopy Tower. She was feeling great and was really enjoying the rainforest and the birds, and so, motivated by the chance to view many of them close up and also to test her own fortitude, she was game to go. The agreement was that if there were any issues she could change her mind.

The Canopy Tower at Sacha is incredible. It is actually a narrow walkway 94 feet high and maybe 4 feet wide between three towers spanning 940 feet. There is a viewing platform at each of the three towers with 360 degree views. Much of the activity in the rainforest is in the canopies of the trees and these platforms provide viewing opportunities that would be impossible without the towers. It was a relatively short hike on good trails to get to the tower. Cindy was still game when we got there being both a little anxious about the imposing climb ahead but also excited by the challenge.

Aerial of the Canopy Walkway/Tower
Another View

The towers were sturdy and the steps regularly spaced and easy to climb, but there were a lot of them. If we had been at the high elevations visited in the first part of the trip, it would have been a very tough climb, but we are both in pretty good shape and with a few pauses we made it pretty easily. It helped that it was not a real hot or humid day. Cindy’s concerns about height were not a problem at all as the dense trees and vegetation below makes it seem like it is not so high off the ground – at least mostly. For the first hour we had the tower platform completely to ourselves. Oscar had climbed with his spotting scope and it was often put to great use as many of the birds were still pretty distant. The birds would come in singly or in groups and a few were fairly close in adjacent canopy tops. There would be periods of great activity and then nothing. The view though was always outstanding especially of distant giant Kapok trees silhouetted against a sometimes foggy sky.

Kapok Tree above the Fog

I did not keep track of when each species came and went or the sequencing of their visits. It felt like we were in a blind watching nature unfold in front of us as birds big and small flew in, flew by or were seen perched out in the rainforest. Without commenting on them, these are many of the birds we saw from one or another of the three tower platforms.

Crane Hawk
Cream Colored Woodpecker
Lemon Throated Barbet
Pale Vented Pigeon
Paradise Tanager
Scale Breasted Woodpecker
Turquoise Tanager
Yellow Tufted Woodpecker
Plumbeous Kite
Screaming Piha
Crimson Crested Woodpecker
Thick Billed Euphonia

Only a few of the photos above were at close range. Almost all were taken with my zoom lens fully extended to 500 mm and all were cropped and magnified in processing. These three photos of a female Purple Honeycreeper give a good sense of what we were seeing compared to the post finishing photos – remembering that even the smallest one with the red arrow pointing it out is still magnified about 10X by the zoom lens.

A number of species flew by in the distance without a chance to get a good photo. These included King Vulture, Swallow Tailed Kite, Green Ibis, Red Bellied, Blue and Yellow and Chestnut Fronted Macaws, Dusky Headed and Cobalt Winged Parakeets, Mealy, Orange Winged and Blue Headed Parrots, and Black Hawk Eagle. I also missed several shots of perching birds which were either buried in foliage or too briefly in view. The photos I really wanted were of Purple Throated Cotinga, Purplish Jacamar, White Throated Toucan and Masked Crimson Tanager. I got an ID quality only photo of the first and none of the other 3. I include a few photos by others from Ebird to give a better sense of what all was seen.

Purple Throated Cotinga – Photo by Sherry Lane
Purplish Jacamar – David Bird – This photo was taken at the same tower. Our view was brief and directly below us – head and bill visible through foliage only
Masked Crimson Tanager – Photo by Renato Espinosa

This photo is proof that Cindy made it onto the tower and since she is here with me today, that is proof that she made it down. There was a little residual soreness in her knee the next day but not enough to in any way affect her in our other walks and in climbing another tower. I was exceptionally proud of her.

Cindy on the Tower Walkway

Since we saw a lot birds on the walks to and back from the Tower (stay tuned) and I did not keep specific notes, I am not certain of this number but believe we saw about 55 species from the Tower in the 2 plus hours that we were there. We also had very distant views of Red Howler Monkeys – a terrible photo is included only as proof it was seen.

Red Howler Monkey

On the way back to the Lodge after the towers, we were able to add some new birds and a few photos. Sadly again, many photos were missed in the dense foliage and with rapidly moving birds. A bird that was heard and not seen was a Cinerous Tinamou, its piercing shrill whistled call hard to miss. Two Antbird species were first identified by their calls, then seen briefly before they disappeared in dense foliage: Peruvian Warbling Antbird and Spot Winged Antbird. In the dense foliage there was a major dilemma – try to see the bird with binoculars and then follow up trying to get a photo or forego the binocular view and try for a photo – essentially birding by camera. The trouble was that even getting a single view was often difficult and getting that view by camera was even harder than with the bins. The Peruvian Warbling Antbird perched in the open for a second and had I tried with the camera first, I probably would have gotten a photo, but as I switched from bins to camera it was gone – no photo – but a lifer tick in any event.

I had better luck with two tyrannulets. The to me the inaptly named Yellow Crowned Tyrannulet remained in the open for quite a while, even hanging upside down at one point, something I had not seen before with flycatchers. The White Lored Tyrannulet was more a lucky shot as it flew off immediately after its brief pose for my photo. I had seen it before in Peru but the Yellow Crowned was a Lifer. I was not able to get photos of several other flycatchers: Yellow Margined Flycatcher, Double Banded Pygmy Tyrant or Rufous Tailed Flatbill. I was almost certain I had gotten a photo of a Cinnamon Attila, but I have not been able to find the photo. It’s possible it was inadvertently deleted as in the first times through the thousands of photos, I tried to delete bad photos (as in really bad). Maybe it was a poor shot and fell victim to the initial editing.

Yellow Crowned Tyrannulet
White Lored Tyrannulet

It is not often that I describe getting a photo as fun, but such was the case with the Wire Tailed Manakin, a little beauty. It played hide and seek for several minutes. I would finally think I had it in my camera’s sights and it would then get fully or partially hidden in the foliage. Finally I synchronized my movements with the bird’s and got an ok photo of its striking profile. I had seen a distant one briefly the previous day and figured there would never be a photo, so getting this one was very satisfying … and fun even if it takes several photos to see the cool details including the wire tail!

Wire Tailed Manakin
Wire Tailed Manakin – You Can Sort of See the Wire Tail
Wire Tail of the Wire Tailed Manakin

We saw and/or heard 4 species of woodcreeper on our hike: Plain Brown, Cinnamon Throated, Striped and Buff Throated. The latter two were lifers and the Cinnamon Throated was new for Ecuador. I have posted a photo of the Plain Brown previously and did not get a picture of the Buff Throated.

Striped Woodcreeper
Cinnamon Throated Woodcreeper

Wrens were really problematic as we heard Scaly Breasted, Thrushlike and Musician Wrens but got only fleeting glances of any of them. There were two more photos – a Straight Billed Hermit – seen but not photographed the previous day and another photo of one of the two Crested Owls seen the day before and had returned to their favored day roost today in a little better light.

Straight Billed Hermit
Crested Owl

No way around it, it was an AWESOME morning. We had seen or heard more than 75 species. Forty-two species were new for Ecuador, but only 20 were Lifers, as we had seen many before and I had seen others in other trips to South America. There would be another excursion after lunch

Lunch was a little of this and a little of that – well actually “little” is not the right word as portions were much larger than we should have taken from the buffet offerings, but will power was low and the quality was high. We justified our portions by remembering our hikes and tower climbing, but calorie intake was much higher than calories burned. Afterwards we returned to our cabin for an hour of rest and then met Oscar at the canoe launch around 3:00 and headed off across the lake and ducked into a small channel in absolute solitude. One of the first birds we saw was one of the most spectacular birds of the region, the Hoatzin, which looks like a throw back to prehistoric times. We had had distant looks at some on the boat trip to Sacha but this was the first really good look – and many more would follow. Crossing the lake and entering the channel, we also added both Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, Social and Boat Billed Flycatchers, White Winged and White Banded Swallows, Gray Breasted Martin and Black Capped Donacobius plus Short Tailed Swifts. Flyovers included three Caracara species: Black, Red-Throated and Yellow Headed Caracaras.

Hoatzin
Black Capped Donacobius

This turned out to be more of a very pleasant relaxed trip through the flooded rainforest than a birding trip as it was very very quiet. There were a few small groups of Squirrel Monkeys overhead including one that missed its branch and fell into the water not far from our boat. He was drenched and I could also swear he had an embarrassed look on his face as he quickly clambered back up the tree to join his group.

Squirrel Monkey

We did see an owl but unfortunately it was only an Owl Butterfly – pretty big and with a certain owlish look.

Owl Butterfly

As we were coming out of our little channel we caught site of what may be Cindy’s favorite bird of the trip – a Zigzag Heron sitting on its nest – frozen and stiff with its bill pointed skyward. We got very close without disturbing it and took lots of photos. Note the mosquito on its eye.

We had added maybe another dozen species on the trip bringing the total for the day to 90 with a total of 298 species for our trip list and my World Life List up to 2880 – with 136 added so far.

Into the Amazon – Ecuador Day 6

I am departing somewhat from the previous Ecuador blogs as there won’t be a whole lot about birds because much of this day was spent getting from Puembo to Sacha Lodge, our beautiful sanctuary in the Amazon Region of Ecuador and i want to write about that trip, the marvelous lodge and the Amazon. The original plan for our itinerary was to fly from Quito to Coca where we would be met by people from Sacha Lodge and we would then go by boat to the Lodge. We would stay there 4 nights and then our team from the first part of our trip, Jorge and Jorge would meet us in Coca and we would take several days to drive back to Quito for our flight home stopping at lodges on the Eastern side of the Andes. As will be discussed in later blogs, that was changed and we instead flew back to Quito from Coca and visited the Eastern Andes in reverse order. But that is getting ahead of myself.

It is a long drive from Quito to Coca about 5 1/2 hours – although less than 200 miles almost due east of Quito and a bit south. My mental map of Ecuador was completely flawed as I pictured the Amazon being mostly south. The flight was barely 40 minutes, although getting to the airport and going through the check in etc still meant an early departure from Puembo Birding Garden. The flight was smooth and procedures at both airports were easy. There were others on the flight going to Sacha Lodge and we were met by a Sacha team at the airport, driven to the Sacha offices in Coca and then loaded onto a large motorized canoe for the 90 minute trip down the Napo River, a large tributary of the Amazon – one of many. We were given heavy duty ponchos and life jackets for the journey, It was at the offices that we met Oscar who would be our personal guide for the entire stay. Lots about him later.

Map of Amazon Region Showing Sacha Lodge

The Amazon Region in Ecuador is approximately 48% of the land mass of the country (128,000 square km) but is inhabited by only about 5% of the population. About 7% of the Region is in Yasuni National Park home to a number of indigenous tribes. There is substantial oil underground and the area is at risk after an initiative to protect it failed in 2014. On our trip down the Napo River we passed along part of the Park. As in other rainforest areas, there are also threats from mining, logging and deforestation to develop crop land. Ecuador is a leader in conservation however and values its ecotourism businesses. Several lodges in the area including Sacha are safe enclaves of preservation, safe and comfortable and provide unparalleled opportunities to experience this unique and awesome wilderness and global treasure. That is why we were there.

The motorized canoe ride into the Amazon Area was among other things, impressive. The passengers – a dozen plus were in one canoe while all our baggage was in another. We were under a canopy which would provide at least some cover if it rained hard – which fortunately it did not. We were towards the back of the canoe and thus were not exposed to any spray – which there was only a little. Our pilot was at the back of the canoe and could not possibly have had a clear view of what was directly ahead. Which was interesting since he guided the canoe flawlessly through the current, avoiding shallows, shoals, islands and debris, moving from the left side of the river to the right and back again frequently, often slowing but usually charging full speed ahead which Cindy estimated to be at least 20 knots – she is the boat person in the family.

Loading Onto the Motorized Canoe at Coca

Along the way we dis see a few birds – Snowy and Great Egrets, a single Roseate Spoonbill, two Southern Lapwings, some Caracaras and some swallows. At great distance there were two large birds perched atop a tree that a guide called out as Umbrellabirds. I got a quick and pretty poor photo that showed one with a white belly. Everything I have seen says Umbrellabirds are entirely black yet the shape and size are right – an early mystery of the Amazon!

Umbrellabirds or Not?

There were no mammals and few signs of civilization although we were surprised to see some industry, a few cabins and even cars and trucks. There are a few roads – mostly put in to serve the oil industry and we saw other boats and barges. The river was brown – as is the case with most of the Amazon river system – lots of silt carried down from the mountains and forests. After about 90 minutes we disembarked at a dock and followed our guides along a trail through the rain forest for about 30 minutes. No stopping for birds, although I am sure we passed by many. At the end of our easy flat walk we arrived at another dock where we loaded into a small canoe with just Oscar who paddled us through the forest in a beautiful small channel for maybe another 30 minutes until we arrived at an opening into a beautiful lagoon with the lodge itself visible perhaps a half mile away. We disembarked at the Balsa – a lovely thatched roof structure where we would have breakfast and lunch during our stay. We had a welcoming drink, got the key to our private cabin – #303 and followed the walkway up a short rise – past more water and through the rain forest. There are 29 cabins at Sacha, each exquisite and each private, out of sight of the others. Our baggage awaited us when we arrived and we entered our splendid new home. Wow!!

An aerial view of the Balsa and entrance to the Lodge itself
The Balsa, and the Dinner Restaurant and Bar – the Cabins are up in the rainforest itself beyond the restaurant all connected with nice well lit walkways.
Me at Cabin 303

Construction of the Lodge began in 1991 and Phase 1 was completed the next year with 6 guest rooms, a dining room and housing for guides and staff. There have been several expansions and updates since then now including air conditioning in the cabins. Every staff member we met was superb – friendly, knowledgeable and friendly. Service was outstanding. The food was also amazing with a great buffet for every breakfast and lunch with multiple choices of everything you could want and always fresh fruit and juices. There were marvelous desserts at lunch and in general – way too much food. Dinners in the restaurant were what one might expect at a sophisticated foodie restaurant in Seattle, LA or whatever. The quality was always excellent although serving size was small and always with some showy embellishment.

These photos show one of the special dishes at lunch and a menu for one of the evening dinners. We were truly on vacation here so took advantage of the bar with either drinks or wine – mostly South American origins. Cindy had her first Caipirinha and was sold.

Octopus and Shrimp Causa – one of many options at one lunch
Typical Dinner Menu

All of our expenses except for drinks were paid as part of our overall tour package. I have not looked and really do not want to know, but I am sure that Sacha Lodge is quite expensive. The quality of the room, the facilities, the food and the service were all first class. And then there was Oscar. When you sign up for Sacha you are asked about your interests and are assigned a guide accordingly. He was with us the whole time beginning in Coca. Oscar is their bird specialist and he was awesome. He is from one of the indigenous tribes in the area. He had been working at one of the other lodges in the area when he was discovered by the owner of Sacha in I think 1996. He recruited him to come to Sacha and sent him to Quito to learn English. That was only a two week course but it provided the basis for his excellent, if somewhat accented, English today which he speaks in addition to Spanish and his native indigenous language Quichua, a dialect of Quechua – and he also knows the Latin names of all of the birds. Oscar was always in good spirits, full of energy and his keen senses picked out birds by sight and sound. As was so helpful with Jorge Luna, Oscar did use playback and used his green laser to help us find the birds he spotted. Although he always brought a scope and had his binoculars, his eyesight was better than mine using my binoculars. Extraordinary.

Cindy, Oscar and Blair (with Caipirinha) after “the List”

After lunch, Oscar took us out for our first birding in the Amazon – walking the trails. We had been greeted by Great Kiskadees and White Winged Swallows at lunch and they would be seen every day.

White Winged Swallows
Great Kiskadee

Among the many big differences between birding in the Amazon and birding in the Andes foremost was that there are no feeders. Of course I can see how this keeps everything natural, but it sure would have been nice to have feeders to attract the many species in close for good views and good photos. Despite Oscar’s best efforts, both were relatively hard to come by and there will be far fewer photos from this part of our trip. We did add two new hummingbirds though, a Straight Billed Hermit and a Long Billed Starthroat getting a photo of only the latter. We also heard Great and Variegated Tinamous – both rarely seen.

Long Billed Starthroat

Most of the birds we saw we were not able to photograph and it would take some adjustments of equipment and by me to get pictures. Most of the species we saw were flyovers or fly-aways including some parrots and parakeets, a motmot and a trogon – but fortunately we would see them all again. As it was getting later and as we were heading back to the lodge, Oscar took a little side trail and said he hoped to have a surprise. The surprise turned out to be a pair of Crested Owls – super birds and the only owl species we would actually see on the trip. They were in a very dark spot and our photos were pretty bad but it was a great end to the day.

Crested Owls

Not much of a day for birding or at least for numbers of good views of birds and photos, but it had been a great day and we were in the Amazon – a first for Cindy and bringing memories back to me of wonderful trips in 2005 to Brazil and in 2013 to Peru. The species list for the day was 32 of which 10 were actually Lifers (all to be seen better and again later) and 26 were new for Ecuador. That’s what happens when you change habitats and there was no question that this was a new and exciting habitat. The Ecuador list was now at 246 species and there had been 110 Lifers.

Ecuador Day 5 – Sachatamia and Back to Puembo

Since we would be birding in the morning at the Lodge, breakfast was a bit later but we were back to birding around 6 or maybe 6:30. I may have written too much on the birds in the earlier blogs and they were the focus for most of our stays, but the lodges themselves were great with pleasant bedrooms and dining rooms and the feeders and trails were great as well. This was our bedroom at Sachatamia – comfortable and quiet.

Sachatamia Bedroom

The feeders are not shown but this was a favorite spot – for breakfast or lunch while watching the birds coming in to the feeders in front of us full of hummingbirds and tanagers as elsewhere. It was from this spot that we saw one of the very few mammals seen during our entire trip – a single Agouti – a very common medium sized rodent. There was almost always a beautiful view throughout our trip

Sachatamia Overlook

Our morning started at the “moth wall blind”. It is a very productive and ingenious set up. A canvas sheet is stretched over a form and a light is turned on at night that attracts moths and insects many of which remain on the sheet when the light is turned off at dawn. This is like a deli case for birds that learn to come in early for easy pickings. We had a good list of birds there and would probably have had more if a juvenile Barred Forest Falcon had not come in and remained for more than 20 minutes. The good news is that we got great photos of the falcon but the bad news is that the activity that was picking up before its arrival, slowed dramatically afterwards.

The Moth Wall Sheet

One bird that was not deterred by the falcon was a Masked Trogon that remained for the entire time that the falcon was there. Among other birds seen at the blind were a Mountain Wren, Three Striped Warbler, Plain Brown Woodcreeper, Ornate and Golden Crowned Flycatchers, Lineated and Scaly Breasted Foliage Gleaners, Chestnut Capped and White Winged Brushfinchs, Marble Faced Bristle Tyrant and Dusky Chlorospingus. It was a very shaded area so photos were often challenging.

Chestnut Capped Brushfinch
Lineated Foliage Gleaner
Dusky Chlorospingus
Marble Faced Bristle Tyrant
Plain Brown Woodcreeper
Ornate Flycatcher
Golden Crowned Flycatcher
Three Striped Warbler with Moth
Mountain Wren

We continued birding on the grounds after an hour plus at the blind and found some more nice new birds. We did not spend more time at the feeders as there would be another place with active feeders ahead and we had a lot of ground to cover on the way back to Puembo. A bird seen only briefly but unfortunately without a photo was the Long Wattled Umbrellabird. It is such a striking and strange bird I am including a photo from Ebird taken by Stephen Davies ten years ago in the same general area. The photos after that one are mine.

Long Wattled Umbrella Bird – 2012 Photo by Stephen Davies
Ecuadorian Thrush
Golden Olive Woodpecker
Rusty Margined Flycatcher
Scrub Blackbird

We reluctantly said goodbye to Sachatamia and headed toward the Quinde Luna Reserve near Nanagelito where there were wonderful hummingbirds among other species. As soon as we arrived a White Throated Quail Dove perched at the feeders for a few moments. It was the only quail-dove seen on the trip, sadly, as I find them really appealing.

White Throated Quail Dove

It was showtime at the hummingbird feeders with 14 species and multiples of many of them. I am including photos of some but without question the highlights were very cooperative Violet Tailed Sylphs and White Booted Racket-tails for which multiple photos are included.

White Booted Racket-tail (Western) at Feeder
White Booted Racket-tail (Western) in Flight
Violet Tailed Sylph
Violet Tailed Sylph

This was the Western version of the Booted Racket-tail – with white “boots”. Later we would see the Peruvian or Eastern version in the Eastern Andes with orange boots. Similarly in the Eastern Andes we would later see another sylph species – the Long Tailed Sylph. These had been among my most wanted hummingbirds. You cannot tell it from these photos but the Booted Racket-tail is actually fairly small – if that long racket tail is excluded.

It wasn’t new for the trip but here I got our first photo of a Golden Naped Tanager. There was also another White Sided Flowerpiercer, another species seen earlier but I had not included a photo in that post. We would see many of them later, but this was where we had our first Russet Backed Oropendolas, a species I had first seen in Peru. Jorge and I hiked down to a fast moving stream hoping for a Torrent Duck, a species we had missed at Sachatamia. No luck but we did find a Torrent Tyrannulet, another species I had seen in Peru and 25 years ago in Costa Rica.

Golden Naped Tanager
White Sided Flowerpiercer
Russet Backed Oropendola
Torrent Tyrannulet

We had lunch at a hillside restaurant (with more birds) and then headed back towards Puembo with a very important stop along the way at the Intinan Museum in San Antonio de Pichincha just outside Quito. There are a number of exhibits but the main draw is the equator itself which runs through the museum and makes for some fun experiences. On the way to Intinan, we grabbed a couple of photos of what we were told was a better area of Quito, homes perched on the hill.

Cindy and Driver Jorge at Lunch
Quito View
Museo Intinan

Quite simply the equator divides our planet into halves, the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, but as initially discovered by the 19th Century French Mathematician/Engineer, Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis, there is something more to it. The “Coriolis” force/effect is an apparent inertial force caused by the earth’s rotation on its axis that causes a deflection of moving objects to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. This affects the movement of airplanes and both air and water, so for example, water going down a drain (or a toilet) theoretically moves clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. I say theoretically because there are other factors involved and the notion has been pooh-poohed by no less than Scientific American. HOWEVER, at the museum there was a very convincing demonstration in front of our own eyes that seemed to confirm that phenomenon. Water poured from a bucket down a drain went clockwise merely feet to the north of the line and in the opposite direction merely feet to the south.

Coriolis Exhibit

There seems to be some question of whether any of the places that profess to be on the equator really are, but the GPS on the cell phone confirmed we were neither north or south. I have actually been at the equator before as it runs through Kenya and we made a big deal about being astride it on the tour. Still somehow it does seem pretty cool.

All Zeroes Latitude
Equator Marker

From the museum it was back to Puembo Birding Garden. At Puembo I was able to get photos of two species missed on our first day there, The first is a digiscoped photo of a Crimson Mantled Woodpecker which was missed entirely the first day and the second is/are photos of male and female Golden Grosbeaks. I had seen a male that first day at Puembo Birding Garden but the only photo I got was of a yellow/gold form behind some leaves.

Crimson Mantled Woodpecker.

We would have dinner and spend the night at Puembo and then Jorge and Jorge would pick us up and take us to the airport the next morning for a short flight to Coca, entry point for the Amazon. It had been another great day as altogether we had seen 85 species. I had missed some photos along the way but also got some good ones, many included in this post. The totals were now 220 species for Ecuador and 14 new Lifers. I would need a rally in the Amazon to get back on track to reach 3000 on my World Life List. We’ll see.

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.