29 September 2011

One week to go!

In just seven short days, our trip to Ecuador begins. I've spent a lot of time over the past few months planning where we'll stay and where we'll go. We have exactly 13 days to visit as many areas, and see as many species, as is reasonable to do so without being constantly on the move and burning ourselves out. Planning was more challenging than I had anticipated, as unlike Panama, there is no comprehensive "Where to Find Birds in Ecuador" book. Instead, information had to be obtained piecemeal from a smattering of published information in books, and a huge range of websites, blogs, and discussion groups. Some of the best sources of information that were key to forming final decisions on where to go included:
The Birds of Ecuador (Ridgely and Greenfield)
Where to Watch Birds in South America (Wheatley)
Ecuador and the Galapogos Islands (Lonely Planet)

Another good source of information, particularly for lodging, is the Avitourism Strategy published by the Ecuador Ministry of Tourism and available through the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation (http://www.mindocloudforest.org/avitourism/).

Whereas the above references were key to narrowing down the list of potential places to go birding, I likely visited at least another 100 websites to finalize our itinerary. Some of the more helpful sites were those hosted by the various birding  lodges, with each providing a wealth of information on their local area, and often specifically for their plot of land.

For anyone even remotely considering a trip to Ecuador, or for any birder that has taken a global interest in patterns of species distributions, it should come as no surprise that relative to its size, Ecuador is the most species rich country in the world for birds. What is slightly more subtle however, is that the vast majority of theses species are extremely range specific, and thus are distributed finely into specific habitats carved out over time by differences in precipitation, slope, aspect, elevation, and for some species (particularly neotropical migrants), seasonality. Other processes have also contributed to diversification and isolation of some species, including competition for resources and, in several instances, extreme specialization for a specific resource. Ecuador has more than 1,600 species in total. The exact number is not known and depending on the information source you consult, you`ll likely find differing results. The problem is further compounded by regular changes in taxonomic nomenclature which provides updates on the splitting or lumping of species based on new information. Often these changes take some time to appear in bird checklist updates.

I guess the long and short of it is, that in order to see a lot of species, you need to visit a lot of "niches". In other words, be sure to cover lots of ground latitudinally, longitudinally, and elvationally. That is how I planned our trip, at least for longitude and elevation.

Our port of landing is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Quito is in the northern 1/3 of Ecuador, just south of the equator, and is ideally located on the western slope of the Andes, not too far from the Continental Divide. As indicated above, it almost goes without say that the Andes have acted as a natural barrier ultimately resulting in very distinct eastern and western slope bird communities, with elevation adding to further regional diversification. It therefore should come as no surprise that for my trip, the plan is to cover both the western and eastern slopes, and as much of the range in elevation as is possible. Two areas where we will not be able to visit on this trip include the Amazon basin (eastern slope below 300 m), and the Pacific coast including the Galapagos Islands.

The following is list of key locations where we will be staying and places we will be birding. More information on each of these sites will be published over the next few days before we depart.

Tandayapa Lodge (3 nights, 1 day of birding)
Bellavista Lodge (1 day of birding only)
Nono-Mindo Road (1 day of birding)
Rio Silanche (1 day of birding)
Mindo Gardens Lodge (2 nights)
Milpe Bird Sanctuary (1 day of birding)
Yanachoca (1 day of birding)
San Isidro Lodge (2 nights, 1 day of birding)
Papallacta Pass (1.5 days of birding)
Wild Sumaco Lodge (3 nights, 2 days birding)
Guango Lodge (0.5 days of birding only)

Until next time, happy birding.