86 Bird Species recorded Galapagos – all endemics again!
Checklists starts on Page 15
230 species recorded Ecuador – 4 days
Leaders Juan Carlos Calvachi, Josele J Saiz, Efren (Galapagos naturalist)
A tour of Contrasts
316 Bird Species recorded Checklist starts on Page 16
86 Bird Species recorded Galapagos – all endemics seen again!
230 Bird species recorded Ecuador – 4 days
Leaders Juan Carlos Calvachi & Josele J Saiz
Efren (Galapagos naturalist)
Day 1 - September 28
The flight from London to Madrid arrives after a short delay, but finally the group embarked on the second leg from Madrid to Quito. The flight produced good aerial views of the South American continent, flying over Venezuela, Colombia and the northern striations of the Andean mountain range, with their circular highland lakes. Arriving in Quito we cleared custom’s and then meet Juan Carlos Calvachi our local and excellent guide, also Edgar the driver of the coach.
It was dusk as we headed across Quito to the comfortable lodge that Juan Carlos possesses in the outskirts of the city. Just one bird is registered in the whole journey through Quito, Great Thrush (my first bird in South América was a simple "turdus"). Quito is a city located at an altitude of 2.800 meters and is seated in the foothills of the powerful volcanoes that form four sides of an immense valley. In this broken valley spreads a city holding 1.6 million inhabitants. The abrupt topography of the terrain has not prevented the city from growing in all directions, occupying impossible slopes where side by side small and simple buildings rise forming immense neighbourhoods growing around the old colonial town. The urban organization is chaotic, as must be most of South Americas big cities. A little tired we arrive at Juan’s lodge El Jardín del Colibri where we enjoyed an excellent dinner and a well-deserved rest in comfortable beds.
Day 2 - September 29
We were treated to an abundant breakfast early in the morning before dawn.
In the gardens we can hear Vermillion Flycatcher, while several Eared Pigeon flutter in the trees. Still dark, we take our 20 seater coach and head towards the Reserve of “Yanacocha”. We cross Quito and get sightings of both Eared Dove and Great Thrush. The omnipresent Cotopaxi volcano (5897 Mts) dressed with an extended cloudy hat is our company through our urban journey. When we arrived at Yanacocha a warm sun is waiting to accompany us during our day. Yanacocha Reserve (also called the “Inca Ditch”) is situated in a high-altitude cloud forest at 3400mts. elevation. The reserve protects 964 hectares of elfin Polylepsis Forest, which is home to many specialties but is noted primarily for its hummingbirds. Formerly the area was owned by the Quito Water Authority. In the early 1990's the land was purchased by the Jocotoco Foundation and established as a protected reserve. It is currently managed by CECIA, the Ornithological Corporation of Ecuador.
We start our walk through the reserve slowly with a strange sensation of fatigue (as if we were 15 years older), soon we forget it as we are enjoying magnificent views of the northeast face of Pichincha volcano (4794 mts). The vegetation is exuberant with dense trees interlacing their tops, and some of the leaves were enormous. In our first stop we have the spectacle of hummingbirds entering and leaving the artificial sugar feeders that are regularly placed along the way. Species such us Tyrian Metaltail, Great Sapphirewing, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Stripe-throated Hermit, and Green Violet-ear are regular suckers that enter and leave the feeders before flying to the nearest branches, dancing and showing their shining colours that change as fast as they move. A Unicolor Tapaculo calls very insistently, while Rufous Wren is seen between the thick vegetation. Here birdwatching is a constant fight to localise the species through the dense vegetation but with patience we are able to observe White-throated and White-banded Tyrannulet, a small fast Purple-backed Thornbill settles briefly in a branch without having time to enjoy its green, white and crimson livery. Immediately after, we can see Spectacled Whitestart, then somebody points to a silhouette in the sky that is a Carunculated Caracara in fast flight crosses the horizon. A couple of Bar-bellied Woodpeckers are watched coming and going from a tree trunk, before the arrival of a Montane Woodcreeper and then a beautiful Streaked Tuftedcheek. One of stars of the day a Pearled Treerunner settles on a branch with enough time to scope this exquisite bird for all the group. Smoky Bush-Tyrant, and Blue-backed Conebill are located, and on the other side of the valley two Streak-throated Bush-Tyrants settle in the dry branches of a distant tree, where both are framed in the telescope. We arrive at another “warehouse” of sugar hanging from a tree, hummingbirds such as Golden-breasted Puffleg, the gorgeous Shining Sunbeam and Purple-throated Woodstar celebrate this easy food delighting us with their fast movements. The spectacular Sword-billed Hummingbird proud of its powerful weapon, which it aims at the sky, is surely one of those must see birds. We return back through the same trail burrowed in the slope of the mountain, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Red-crested Cotinga catch our attention and Brown-bellied Swallow flies intermittently over the area, while a Painted Lady butterfly flutters over the flowers.
It is just noon and the amount of birds observed is overwhelming, the sun tightens a bit so we look for some shade where we soon enjoyed an abundant and delicious lunch. The return to the main road on the way to our next base at Séptimo Paraiso Lodge is through a narrow and winding track which crosses the interesting zone of Nono Mindo. We descend the slopes of Pichincha volcano, splashed with Andean grass and fields of cattle here and there as in a typical alpine stamp. A pair of American Kestrel intermittently change their perch and are watched from the vehicle. Pat shouts stop! stop! stop!, and puts the group on alert soon seeing two precious birds walking on the ground which are quickly identified as Andean Lapwing, without a doubt one of the stars of the day, we get down from the vehicle and enjoy these birds as Juan Carlos explains to us that this is very unusual to find this species at such a low altitude. Continuing our drive down we see several Rufous-collared Sparrows feeding on the ground, and everybody agreed in the similarity of these birds with our European Rock Bunting. We follow the course of the Alambi river winding through the dense vegetation generated by the cloud forest, and from the vehicle we get views of Black Phoebe, Glossy Black Thrush, and Orange-bellied Euphonia. Juan Carlos knows a place where it is possible to observe the emblematic Cock-of-the-Rock, the group concentrated in silence move forward along the track with the hope to locate one of the most sough-after birds of the tour, regretfully we are not successful although we do find Orange-bellied and Thick-billed Euphonia. Before leaving, two Plumbeous Pigeons are seen resting underneath the leaves of a tree, luckily our presence moved them enough to allow a good sighting by all party. We arrive at the famous reserve of Bellavista. Most coffee-shops in the area are excellent stops for birdwatchers as they all seem to put out bird feeders for hummingbirds and other species. Several species welcome us; a juvenile Rufous Spinetail, Russet-crowned Warbler and Montane Woodcreeper while Red-billed Parrots fly over the forest. Placidly seated we enjoy our drinks accompanied by a host of hummingbirds. In this incredible place we registered 13 different species: Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green Violet-ear, Sparkling Violet-ear, Andean Emerald, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet, Gorgeted Sunangel, the incredible Booted Racket-Tail, one of the favourites, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar and Tyrian Metaltail all in their hyperactive nutritional frenzy. In the gardens and before we board our vehicle a Rufous-naped Brush-Finch delights the group. It is dark when we arrive at EL Septimo Paraiso lodge so we cannot see the enchantments of this place nor even imagine what we will experience in the next days. An excellent dinner was made with local products and 5 different juices accompany the local cuisine. Time for bed in our comfortable rooms. In Spain before children go to bed we use to say something like “good dreams with the little angels”, I think in Ecuador we should say “good dreams with the little birds”, there are just so many here!
Day 3 – September 30th
EL Septimo Paraiso Lodge is located in one of the numerous gorges forming the Mindo valley, unarguably a place that birdwatchers visiting Ecuador should not miss. This lodge is ideal as a headquarters for exploration of the well-known Mindo-Nambillo jungle. It is a part of the endemic Choco bio-region, which stretches from northern Ecuador to western Panama. Nowadays the lodge is owned by an Ecuadorian couple: the former owner divorced from an Italian tourist and a local birding guide, both are exceedingly nice hosts. The lodge is exquisitely built in the traditional style, well integrated into the environment and has an excellent accommodation service, comfortable and beautiful rooms, excellent food and a never ending bird list.
After an early breakfast we were ready to squeeze in as much of the day as possible. It started cloudy and overcast, quite typical for the area. The first bird is an early riser House Wren, this little bird keeps on singing on the top of the lodge. It is odd that its singing is quite similar in tone to the European Winter Wren. In front of the entrance door, many feeders are already crammed with hummingbirds such as Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-Bibbed White tip, Empress Brilliant, Velvet Purple Coronet and Brown Inca.
In the gardens the day starts with a Tropical Kingbird. Around the swimming pool one of the many magic moments of the tour was about to begin, a mixed flock granting us neither respite nor time to assimilate, another appeared even prettier that the latter and so on… Flame-faced Tanager, followed by Blue-grey, Swallow, Golden and Beryl-spangled were the “appetizer”. A bit further several Golden-headed Quetzal were moving among the trees. The first birds of prey; two Black Vultures came into view and while we were enjoying this high bird diversity, we continued with Ecuadorian Thrush, Black-winged Saltator, two Ruddy Pigeon, Golden-crowned and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Blue-necked Tanager, and then a Red-tailed Squirrel appeared briefly to the delight of those who could catch a glimpse of it. The magic of birds and birding continued……..
Cinnamon Becard, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Roadside Hawk flying above us, Metallic-green Tanager, the first Red-eyed Vireos, and a female Black-and-white Becard. Over the swimming pool several Southern Rough-winged Swallows were trying to get some water, while in the sky the first Turkey Vulture appeared and huge White-collared Swifts were seen.
Good views were had of a Squirrel Cuckoo which Juan helped people locate with the use of his laser pen. Juan Carlos then asks us to look through his telescope and shows us a Common Potoo on its daytime roost looking amazingly like the extension of the tree trunk.
By 8.00am we had observed over 50 bird species, so happy with our tally we continued on our walk. After just 300 metres, Edgar informs us that one of the garden caretakers has found a coiled up snake in a state of lethargy, in the pool’s edge under the fallen leaves, right where we had spent the first hours of the day. There are many people gathering around the mysterious serpent, dark-grey and with dotted scales, arousing all sorts of speculation about its identification. Although laying still it was not very wise to approach to closely. The snake turns out to be either a highly venomous young “Bushmaster”, or a “Small-eyed Lancehead” at 1.30m long, it is one of those species that deserves a lot of respect and should be left well alone. With the pleasant feeling of having enjoyed a unique experience, we get on the bus and head for the Parque Tropicale reserve, a centre for the protection of hummingbirds, with numerous bird feeders. The feeders are so near the visitors that you feel you could pick up the birds with your hands. In this wonderful place, we have the opportunity to observe new species such as White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violet-ear, Green Crowned Woodnymph and several Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. For the first time, we see a feeder for different birds consisting of a small platform with fruit, mostly bananas, that feeds species such as Orange-bellied Euphonia, Golden-necked Tanager, several Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet and the plentiful Bananquit. As we leave a Smoke-coloured Pewee perched on top of a tree waves us farewell.
It is raining persistently and we stop at another café specialised in feeding birds. Here we find a White-Necked Jacobin, one of the several North American migrants of the tour an Eastern Kingbird, and several Red-billed Parrots on the crown of a tree.
Birds keep arriving to the feeders: Gray-headed Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Variable and
Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Bay-headed Tanager and Palm Tanager. Part of the group has gone out to the garden where they locate both Ecuadorian Thrush and a Social Flycatcher.
We decide to stop in the small town of Mindo, whose main street is full of shops. We take 20 minutes to buy postcards, make phone calls and so on. Some of the group heads for the nearby park and locate a very trusting Pacific Hornero which is seen leaping from bench to bench.
It stops raining and we head for the Nambillo river, where we are going to try to locate the impressive Lyre-tailed Nightjar at nightfall. We stop at the river and immediately we find a Torrent Tyrannulet in the riverbed hopping on and off the pebbles as though it was a “cinclus”. We were ready to put an end to our exploration of the riverbed when a quick, missile-like shadow crosses over our heads and disappears in the vegetation. A Bat Falcon had parted our hair, but only five people in the group managed to actually “see” it. Before getting on the bus, a Snowy Egret’s white shape flies cross the river slowly and majestically. We eventually get to our destination to locate the nightjar. It has rained and the atmosphere is wet. Night falls slowly and the last daylight fades away behind the trees. In the distance, the Common Potoo and Mottled Owl’s calls can be heard, and a fast Rufous-bellied Nighthawk comes across the path. The group, well directed by the guides and in absolute silence, scans the surroundings in search of the target bird, yet the only thing coming out from the woods is the luminous sparkles from displaying glow-worms, dancing in the air, the scene is amazing, time has stopped and the light rain falling from all over wraps the group transforming the surroundings in a surrealist enchanted forest. We decide to stop and return to our base, but we still hadn’t topped it all. With the aid of his torch, Juan Carlos locates a Common Potoo on a dry trunk, and a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar in the hollow of a wall, where we place the scopes appropriately. This UNBELIEVABLE day ends with the deep sparkle in the nightjars luminous red eyes. A good and abundant diner at El Septimo Paraiso puts an end to one of the most exciting days ever in my 48-year life.
Day 4 - October 1st
Remembering the previous day, we get up, have breakfast and get ready for another intense birdwatching day, starting off at a nice reserve. Along the way we see numerous farms and fruit tree plantations, mainly bananas which seem to be the base of the local economy. Deep down in a valley a great colony of Cattle Egret leave their roost and many Black and Turkey Vultures patrol the sky at low altitude. Juan Carlos leaps to his feet from his seat and asks Edgar to stop. Two enormous birds come out from a tree crossing over the small valley stopping on a dry trunk. Juan Carlos identifies them as Lineated and Guayaquil Woodpeckers. We locate the Lineated Woodpecker in the distance. The group stares at the beauty of this species which is easily identifiable due to its white face band crossing its cheek.. Moving through a tree a Pacific Hornero delights the group and several Tropical Kingbirds are perched on the fences. On our way, we locate a Variable Seedeater, a Scrub Blackbird and several Masked Water-Tyrants seen jumping to the ground to capture some insects. Somebody remarks quite reasonably that they are very similar to our European Wheatears. Further on we see a Roadside Hawk, several Yellow-bellied-Seedeaters and a Purple-rumped Cacique, with its beautiful blue eye set in its black head like a jewel. We make a stop at a river, where our first species is a Buff-rumped Warbler followed by a singing Bay Wren which was impossible to find. Josele comes across one of the jewels of the day in his telescope: an animal that turns out to be a Basilisc lizard Basiliscus basiliscos. (A well known reptile famous for running on the water). It creeps along the riverbed between the dead vegetation, where its camouflage makes it is difficult to locate; finally all party get good views. Just before going across the bridge a monotone and insistent “peeeEEEE" ,
"peeeEEEE", "peeeEEEE” draws Juan Carlos’ attention. He immediately says Rufous-tailed Jacamar and everyone is alert as we tried to find it in the thick vegetation of the riverbank. More than 20 minutes passed before one of the guides scream very excitedly: “I’ve got it, I’ve got it”. From a muddy terrace, in the bushes, this beautiful could be seen and was enjoyed by everyone. Two Pale-mandible Aracari come out from the thick vegetation and delighted us as they hopped along some branches.
At last we arrive at the reserve. It was a little cloudy, but our arrival was greeted by a male Lineated Woodpecker sitting on a mast as if it was a flag. The light was not good but it did allow good opportunities to the “digiscopers”. We get on to a 25-metre-high platform from where you can look out over the reserve. Birds slowly appear including Variable, Lesson’s Seedeater and Lesser Seed Finch. Several members of the group have already left the platform and are busy searching for butterflies and flowers in the surroundings. An astonishing Choco Toucan poses for the group on a nearby tree, while a Grey-rumped Swift flies timidly over us. After some time doing nothing, all of a sudden action is brewing in a small group of trees where leaf sheaths hang down and attract birds. In a very few moments we can find White-shouldered Tanager, two Ruddy Pigeons and the scarce Grey-and-Gold Tanager. We leave the platform and take a walk in the lush vegetation of the reserve. It is a chaotic rainforest full of very tall intertwined trees forming a dome which hides the sky, there are roots which have fallen to the ground and vegetation of gigantic leaves, branches and trunks where beautiful mushroom bunches are flourishing. Coming out of nowhere (of the forest, actually), a never ending row of leaf-cutter ants are watched carrying pieces of leaves and taking them to some mysterious anthill. The only noise that breaks the silence of the place is ours. When arriving at the deepest part of the gorge, we arrive at a little stream which crosses over the path where birds have decided to gather. In a moment, Juan Carlos begins masterly recognizing the birds that can be found under that dark mantle of vegetation. We manage to see a shy Purple Honeycreeper, Golden-hooded Tanager, Boat-billed Flycatcher and a couple of Wedge-billed Woodcreepers which move sidewards and perch very nearby, allowing excellent views. A distinctive whistle gives away a cracking Orange-billed Sparrow leaping from branch to branch, and two Plain Xenops and a female Plain Antvireo complete our magic moment in the valley’s depths. Coming back to the car park, we take another path that closes the circuit giving us the opportunity to increase the day list with species such as Dot-winged Antwren, and an amazing pair of Rufous Motmot. Juan Carlos locates a difficult to see Western White-tailed Trogon, with its blue, yellow and white combination of plumage. The day is becoming clearer as the sun shines through the clouds. We head to the river-bed to have lunch. On our way we find a Golden-Olive Woodpecker, and a young Striated Heron flies off when we pass through landing on the opposite bank. While we enjoy taking a succulent picnic a White-bearded-Manakin is reluctant to show his peculiar black and white design. Meanwhile, a Social Flycatcher and a Variable Seedeater appear through the reeds. We set off to our last destination: the bustling town of San Miguel de los Bancos, home of the Rio Blanco Mirador Café. This café has one of the best views over the rainforest in Mindo valley. On our way, we see some Pacific Parrotlets, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. The café is situated on the top of one of the steep and high slopes that the Mindo river has formed by flowing down the valley. From its terrace, there is a spectacular view with the river running over several kilometres and the jungle covering the horizon. Under the terrace, a well looked after allotment and orchard complemented with several impressive trees holds numerous bird feeders with fruits. The number of birds here recorded and the chances to take some good pictures of them, made the visit to this café one of the best moments of the tour. The feeders are visited by tanagers of different species in an endless procession. From the terrace we can observe a Southern-beardless Tyrannulet while two Slaty Spinetail flutter around the garden ground seeking material to built their nest, which we locate under a small fruit tree. Two Black-striped Sparrows show well and we locate Cinnamon Becard and Tropical Parula, while a group of ten Mountain Parakeets fly across the valley. In the feeders, we could enjoy the presence of Flame-throated, Silver-throated, Blue-necked and Bay-Headed Tanagers, as well as a spectacular and colourful female Red-headed Barbet and a Black-cheeked Woodpecker. We thank the place’s owner and get in our vehicle. The way back home seems long, however we have good memories from this exceptional birdwatching day in one the best and most famous areas in Ecuador. We arrive El Septimo Paraiso where hummingbirds are, as usual, at the feeders. From the top of the forest a distinctive and noisy bird call is coming out. This bird turns out to be the rare