08 October 2011

Ecuador, At Last

We departed Miami on-time at 2:00pm, although actual departures were a bit back-logged due to the intense rain. By 2:20pm we were in the air. I went to sleep immediately, but woke about an hour later for some dinner. From Seattle to Miami we got nothing on Alaska Airlines, but LAN was a pleasant surprise. We got a blanket, pillow, earphones, hot dinner, and free tv and movies. It was like travelling in the 60s (my recollection being only that which I have seen in movies) with all the frills and being treated like someone important. Even the leg room was excellent, and the chairs reclined more than usual.

According to the flight map we flew right over Panama, but I would never have known it with all the cloud cover. I didn`t see land until we reached the coast of Ecuador, and even then there were huge billowing cumulous clouds reaching nearly 30,000 feet. As we began our decent, rain was evident, but there were definately clear patches as we could see one volcano towering above the clouds. We touched down in Quito on time, at 5:10pm. Getting through customs was remarkably quick, and took less than 5 minutes. We spent close to 15 minutes waiting for our bags, which I was beginning to worry about as they had unloaded three crates and ours wasn't there. Finally, a fourth crate arrived and both our bags were delivered.

Next stop was the car rental agency, which was very poorly signed, but eventually found outside and across the street from the terminal. The car I had requested was not available, but after going through some options, I ended up with a Toyota Fortuner. We departed the airport at 6:30, and after eventually getting a GPS signal, navigated our way down typical South American city roadways in a series of bumps, swerves, horn-honking, random pedestrians, and our GPS telling us to turn the wrong way down a one-way road. We eventually found our hotel, the Radisson, checked in expeditiously, and began to organize for tomorrow's early morning start.

While I personally didn't see any birds in the wee bit of light we had left after our arrival (sunset is at 5:58pm), Joanna did spot a Rufous-collared Sparrow at the terminal while I was renting the car.

Not sure when I`ll be able to make the next post, as I don`t know where we will next have internet. So, until next time, happy birding.

In Miami

It’s 12:30pm here in Miami and it’s raining cats, dogs, birds, bugs, elephants. What a downpour, with lightning and thunder to boot. We can only hope that it passes in the next hour or so as our flight is scheduled to leave at 2:00pm. I haven’t seen any flights depart now for about 20 minutes, but then again, I can’t see much further than about 200-300 meters.

Passing the time in the airport has been, well, interesting. After arriving at 7:45am and clearing the plane, Joanna and I cleaned ourselves up after what can only be described as a rough and uncomfortable flight. With on-again, off-again sleep throughout, I think I had about 3 hours, and Joanna only 1. We went for breakfast at Chili’s and had scrambled eggs from a carton, some weird cinder-like sausage, and fried toast. Apparently even toasters are too much trouble – so just throw it on the grill with everything else.
After eating we went to check in with LAN airlines for our next leg, but no one was there. To pass the time, we trolled a few stores then went for a joy ride on the moving sidewalks followed by a shuttle train to the rental cars. That was fun...for about 10 minutes! We did a bit (2 minutes) of birding from the train and picked up 4 species. We then scanned from the airport windows an area comprised mostly of industrial buildings and construction areas. We did spot a few additional species, of which two were lifers for Joanna: Boat-tailed Grackle and Fish Crow. We also spotted Common Grackle, Laughing Gull, Merlin, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Cattle Egret, Northern Mockingbird, and Eurasian Collared-Dove.
We browsed a few more stores and I picked up a small Altec Lansing external speaker for my iPod so that I can broadcast bird calls, or at the very least, so that Joanna and I can listen to them simultaneously without having to share a pair of earbuds. We then proceeded to security and went to our gate to wait out the final 1.5 hours.  Joanna’s gone for snacks, but it has been more than 30 minutes since she left – hope she returns soon – I’m thirsty!
In the time it’s taken to write this posting, the sky has begin to break and the rain has mostly subsided. Next post will be from Quito, Ecuador. Yeah.
Happy Birding!

07 October 2011

The Journey Begins

After a long day of cleaning the house, packing our bags, and running last minute errands, we're finally on our way. My parents picked us up from our house at 3:45pm and drove us to the Victoria airport where we promptly checked in, and went for dinner at the White Spot. Mmmmm, lovely Bishop's Curry with a pint.

We boarded our Horizon Air flight at 6:30pm, and departed 5 minutes early. Yes, early!. In just 23 minutes we were back on the ground at the Seattle International airport. We cleared customs without any problems and rode the funky shuttle trains (3 of them) to our next gate. It's 8:15pm and we're sitting down enjoying a cup of Starbuck's finest, where in the city where it all began.

Our next flight, to Miami, is at 10:40pm, so we have a couple of ours to relax.

Planning: Papalacta to Sumaco

This post coming soon.

05 October 2011

Planning: Mindo to Yanacocha

After spending three nights at the Tandayapa Lodge, our next stop will be the Mindo Gardens Lodge, another birder-centric eco-lodge located near the town of Mindo and about 80 km west of Quito. The Mindo area is one of the premier birding sites in the world and is home to the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation. Before arriving at the lodge, we plan to bird the roads and associated trails between Tandayapa and Mindo, then in the late afternoon we'll bird the garden trails and feeders. The next day we plan to visit the Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, a Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve property about one hour drive to the west. Rio Silanche will be the lowest elevation site we visit at just over 300 meters. Some of the relatively common species, and unique to our planned 2-week trip, include: Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Bright-rumped Atilla, Golden-hooded Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Pacific Parrotlet, Pale-legged Hornero, Purple Honeycreeper, Purple-chested Hummingbird, Scrub Blackbird, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, White-beared Manakin, and Yellow-tufted Dacnis.

The next day, after our second and final night at Mindo Gardens, we'll be birding Milpe Bird Sanctuary, another Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation property and one that includes the Mindo Gardens property. At 100 hectares, and between 1,000 and 1,150 meters, Milpe is ranked as one of the best places anywhere in Ecuador to bird. Part of its allure is that it supports some of the more spectacular Choco endemics. Some of the relatively common species, that we expect to see only here, include: Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Choc√≥ Warbler, Club-winged Manakin, Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Rufous-throated Tanager, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, and White-whiskered Hermit.

After a morning of birding at Milpe we'll be gradually making our way back east to Quito where we'll spend two nights. The next day, Saturday, will be split between birding at Yanacocha Reserve, and visiting the El Ejido Market in Quito. The Yancocha Reserve is a 964 ha property managed by the Jocotoco Foundation, and is about an hour's drive west of Quito on the slopes of Volcan Pichincha. The reserve is most famous for the almost mythical, and quite possibly the rarest hummingbird in the world, Black-breasted Puffleg. While our hopes aren't high for seeing this bird, some relatively common species that we don't expect to find elsewhere include: Andean Snipe, Blue-black Conebill, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Redstart, Tyrian Metaltail, and White-throated Tyrannulet.

In the next update I'll cover our plans for the final leg of our journey, birding the eastern slopes of the Andes.

Happy Birding

01 October 2011

Planning: Quito to Tandayapa

Our arrival in Quito, via Seattle and Miami, would see us arriving a little before 6pm, just minutes before sunset. After a long day of travelling, and after going through customs, collecting our bags, and picking up a rental car, staying overnight in Quito was a no-brainer. It really didn't matter where we chose to stay, though I did pick a hotel relatively close to the airport and in close proximity to the direction we were going to travel the next day. The Radisson Royal Quito Hotel seemed to fit the bill.

The first 7 days of our trip are going to be spent on the western slope, ranging from the Nono-Mindo Road that starts a short ways out of Quito, to Rio Silanche about 200 kms to the west. Our first day of birding will be along the Nono-Mindo Road, a popular birding destination through a mix of rural farmland and pockets of remnant forest. The Nono-Mindo road used to be the main road heading west out of Quito, but the relatively new A Los Bancos highway, located further north, has significantly reduced the volume of traffic owing to its shorter travel time between major destinations.

Tandayapa Lodge is our first birding node. It is located about 50 km west of the Quito airport, and for the most part, specifically caters to birders.  We will be spending three nights at the lodge, but likely will spend only one day birding the immediate trails that wind through the property. Our second day will be spent birding at and near the Bellavista Lodge, another ecolodge catering largely to birders and birding. Tandayapa and Bellavista are not all that far apart, and although they share a number of similar species, there are some notable differences that apparently make spending a day at each well worth the time. Both lodges are renowned for their hummingbirds, each attracting from 15 to 20 species on any given day. They also support numerous other birder ammentities, such as blinds and fruit feeders. While too numerous too list, the birds of Bellavista Lodge can be found here, and the birds of Tandayapa Lodge can be found here.