20 July 2013

10 February 2013

Mid-trip tiredness was definitely starting to set in today, and no doubt was related to yesterday's drenching. This morning however, the sky was clear and it looked as though we might have a good day, provided it didn't get too warm or start raining. I woke at 5:15am, and by 6:30am we were birding the trails around the lodge. Green [Inca] Jay was the first bird of the day, followed by other good sightings such as Blackish Tapaculo, Long-tailed Antbird, Powerful Woodpecker, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Golden-crowned Tanager, Pale-edged Flycatcher, and Masked Trogon. At 7:30am we headed to the antpitta feeding stations, where at the first one we had a good display of two White-bellied Antpitta's. At the Peruvian Antpitta feeding station we had a no-show.

Continuing along the trails we found Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Flavescent Flycatcher (lifer), Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet (lifer) and Barred Becard. By now the forest was becoming muggy, and cloud was starting to build with imminent rain on the horizon. Still, we pushed forward and picked up more great birds such as Capped Conebill, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Pale-eyed Thrush (lifer), Spotted Barbtail (lifer), Yellow-vented Woodpecker (lifer), Golden-headed Quetzal, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Andean Motmot. After completing a large circuit we arrived back at the lodge and picked up some common birds around the feeders and gardens. We then headed down another trail, which was relatively short and unproductive, yet yielded a couple of excellent birds such as Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia (lifer), and Long-tailed Tapaculo (lifer).

After a nice lunch and a bit of a rest we finished the day working the road where we went yesterday evening. As a group we seemed a lot less focused on birding, and actually spent some time talking to each other more than usual. And perhaps not surprisingly, we saw several good birds in what I saw as a more "relaxed"stated of mind. Species included Slate-crowned Antpitta (lifer), Crested Quetzal (lifer), Striped Treehunter (lifer), White-capped Parrot (lifer), Golden-collared Honeycreeper, and Golden-naped Tanager (lifer). After dinner we ended the day with fantastic views of Black-banded Owl.

Total species today: 70
Total cumulative species for the trip:  239
Total lifers today:  11
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 63

9 February 2013

There's only one way to describe today - wet!

At 4:50am I woke to the sound of rain pitter-pattering on the rooftop of the lodge, and with a hope and prayer I had hoped it wouldn't last. As I made my way outside to grab breakfast in the mess hall, I could also see that thick fog enshrouded the forest canopy. Thee were not ideal conditions for birding, but the team pressed on.

At 6:00am we boarded the bus and headed west again, this time to Caymbe-Coca National Park where we decided to drive as far along along the road as we could and gradually walk down hill. The birding was extremely slow, with target species being extremely elusive. When we did see something, keeping rain of the binoculars was a challenge. Our first bird of the day was a Rufous Antpita, a species that had frustratingly dodged our view just yesterday. Next we saw Viridian Metaltail (lifer), followed by White-throated Tyrannulet, Spectacled Redstart, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch (lifer). Continuing down the road, with fog coming and going in globulous balls of visual impediment, I managed to see just one more lifer on this road, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager. Other birds seen included Stripe-headed Brush-Finch, Golden-crowned Tanager, Rufous Wren, Black-crested Warbler and Blue-backed Conebill.

After about three hours of gradually becoming a human sponge, we decided to head back to Guango Lodge in hopes that the weather might be better elsewhere in the valley. At the lodge we had a quick bite of lunch, packed our gear, and slowly made our our way toward San Isidro Lodge. At the Guango feeders we had the usual suspects, including a good look at Sword-billed Hummingbird and a couple of Collared Inca's. As we drew nearer to Baeza the rain gradually subsided, and eventually ended as we headed south. Between Baeza and San Isidro we spotted four Red-billed Parrot's (lifer) perched atop some palms.

At San Isidro we birded the grounds of the lodge and then took a walk down the gravel road that had lead to the lodge. Finally the birding had improved, and we quickly 47 species. The omnipresent Green Jay's were all around the lodge, and amongst the diverse vegetation we also spotted Fawn-breasted Tanager, Sierran Elaenia, eight Blackburnian Warbler's, Brown-capped Vireo, and Streak-necked Flycatcher. Other good observations included  Bronzy Inca, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Russet-crowned Warbler, Russet-backed Oropendola (lifer), Black-capped Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus, and Black-billed Peppershrike (lifer). As the light gradually disappeared, birding continued to be very good, and in the final hour of daylight we added species such as Azara's Spinetail, White-throated Quail-Dove, Emerald Toucanet, Andean Solitaire (lifer), Rufous Spinetail (lifer), White-chested Swift, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and White-chinned Swift (lifer).

We ended the day at 6:15pm, happy in the fact that the rain had subsided, we saw numerous great birds, and had a wonderful dinner at San Isidro. After compiling the days notes, it was once again time for bed at the late hour of 8:30pm. Today we broke 200 species for the trip!

Total species today: 72
Total cumulative species for the trip:  207
Total lifers today:  9
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 52

19 July 2013

8 February 2013

Another early rise, but such is the price for getting to see good birds. Today I woke at 5:00am, and after a quick breakfast in the lodge we were on our way at 6:00am. We headed due west, back toward Papallacta Pass, where we would spend about half the day searching for high elevation specialities. Our first bird of the day was a Tawny Antpitta, which stood in the middle of the gravel road that would take us to the famous "antennas" where we had high hopes to see Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.

The morning weather was perfect for birding, as it was cool, crisp, calm and clear. Rather than spend time birding up to the summit, at the risk of the weather changing as it does so often in the Andes, we made an essential bee-line to the summit (4300 m) and would gauge our pace of birding downward as conditions permitted. On the way to the top we spotted Brown-bellied Swallow, Stout-billed Cinclodes and Andean Tit-Spinetail. Once at the summit the five of us split up in hopes of finding the elusive seedsnipe - a bird I missed in 2011. My path was to head up - up to the highest point to gain the best vantage point for scanning. And it paid off, as in just a few minutes I located the first of three Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (lifer). The bird I found appeared injured, as evidenced by a drooping wing and its preference to remain still or to walk slowly away. The other two birds, seen not much further from the first bird, remained close only for a few minutes before bursting down the mountain slope in full flight.

From the summit we began our gradual descent, but not before taking advantage of the brilliant photo opportunities. Soon after starting our way down the mountain we spotted Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, White-chinned Thistletail, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Many-striped Canestero, and Grass [Sedge] Wren. Once back near the highway we took a small gravel road west to search for a few other specialities, namely Giant Conebill and Paramo Tapaculo. We did get the latter (lifer) after "working" the bird for nearly 30 minutes for everyone to get a good look, but missed the conebill. Along the highway we tried for Giant Conebill again, but had no luck; sadly, the widening of highway had removed a substantial piece of the species' habitat. We then stopped at Papallacta Lake and birded the gravel road east of the lake. It was fairly unproductuive, yielding only six species - the most bothersome of all was a Rufous Antpitta that literally was less than five feet away and we couldnt see it nor coax it into view with playback.

Back at Guango Lodge we worked the feeders for a few minutes before having lunch. In only a few minutes we numerous hummingbirds, including Buff-breasted Coronet, Tourmaline Sunangel, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied Woodstar, Buff-tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird and Mountain Avocetbill (lifer). After lunch we worked the trails around the lodge, still on the hunt for Torrent Duck. Highlights included Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager (lifer), Pearled Treerunner, Slaty Brush-Finch (lifer), Torrent Tyrannulet (lifer), Plain-tailed Wren (lifer), Barred Fruiteater (lifer), Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager (lifer), Scaly-naped Amazon (lifer), Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Dusky Piha (lifer) and Mountain Velvetbreast (lifer). We ended the day, just as it was nearing dark, with a pair of Torrent Ducks on the river with one baby.

After a delicious dinner, a wee bit of conversation, and a plethora of daily notes to compile, it was time to hit the hay. Tonight I was sharing a room with Howard (due to space limitations), and for days preceding this evening there was near-constant warning and teasing that I wouldn't sleep a wink because of Howard's tendency to snore...and so I was told...quite loudly. Time would tell.

Total species today: 66
Total cumulative species for the trip: 179
Total lifers today: 12
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 43

11 February 2013

7 February 2013

Today I woke at 5:00am, and with the rest of the group met Tropical Birding guide Andrew Spencer in the hotel restaurant at 5:30am. After brief introductions, we reviewed our trip and day plans, ate breakfast, and checked out of the hotel. Waiting outside was our transportation – a 16 passenger mini-bus with plenty of room for the five of us and our gear. Compared to the rental car we had yesterday (the most basic two-door Chevrolet Vitara I’ve seen), when we were like sardines packed into a tin can, this was luxury. We departed the hotel at 6:45am.

Our destination today was Antisana National Park. It took about an hour to drive to the first birding location, a section of road that leads to the preserve but adjacent to a rock quarry. Here we had Tufted Tit-Tyrant (lifer), Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet (lifer), Cinereous Conebill, Black-crested Warbler, and Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant. A little further along the road we had Azara`s Spinetail, Giant Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, and a pair of cooperative Blackish Tapaculo’s (lifer) that responded to call playback.
Ascending further up the road, toward the main access gate, we had good looks at Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and Carunculated Caracara, the latter being a target bird I really wanted to see. As we approached the gate, Andrew indicated that permitting and access to the reserve had recently changed, and that getting into the reserve now required a local person and vehicle. With that, Tropical Birding had arranged with the Guaytara Hacienda to gain access to the reserve with us, in exchange for having the tour stop and have lunch at the hacienda – a fine deal indeed.

After winding down a narrow, twisting road and arriving at the hacienda we learned that there was no need to switch vehicles; the local operator simply joined us in our bus. After spotting a few birds around the buildings, such as Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Shining Sunbeam and Ecuadorian Hillstar, we were back on our way to the reserve. Once in the reserve, the trees and shrubs gradually transitioned to paramo (grassland) habitat. Initial highlights included Black-winged Ground-Dove (lifer), Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Streak-headed Canestero (lifer), Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, and Paramo Pipit (lifer). Further along we got another key bird, Andean Condor; although quite distant, field marks were very distinct, and later in the day at Guaytara we saw another individual a bit closer and in better light.

As we neared the latter third of the Antisana road we descended into a flat depression that was particularly attractive to the local birds. Here we saw more than 100 Carunculated Caracaras, 46 Black-faced Ibis (lifer; also the highest count Andrew had ever observed here), and more than 200 Andean Gull’s. Almost at the end of the road, where we had to pass yet another guard station to get to Mica Lake, the local guide had to apparently convince the gate-keepers that passengers onboard the bus (i.e., us) were incapable of walking to the lake.  Howard was quick to feign his incapacity (and did a fine job), while the rest of us tended to act like sorry sods from a low-budget sitcom. The guard didn’t bother to check our ‘condition’, which honestly would have been pathetic. We passed on through the gate.

At Mica Lake the wind blew hard and cold, and within minutes I had a ear pains. That however didn’t stop us from getting several good birds, including Andean Lapwing (lifer), Andean Teal (lifer), Silvery Grebe (lifer) and Northern Shoveler (a very rare bird in Ecuador, and even more so away from the coast in a remote area such as Antisana). Andrew hastily traversed across the paramo to get a few documentation photos, which later would be posted to SurfBirds. After tallying a few more waterbird species we headed back to Guaytara where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
As we departed Guaytara we added a few more birds to the day's tally, including another five Carunculated Caracara’s, an Andean Tit-Spinetail, Variable Hawk, and several Tourmaline Sunangel's feeding on the bright orange blossoms of the Chuquiragua shrub. Back on the main road out of the reserve we were now on our way to Guango Lodge on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. I think each of us tried to sleep on the bus at some point, but given the state of the roads and driving habits in Ecuador, sleeping was more likely to result in a serious neck injury; as Andrew dozed off his head bobbed about like a Weeble.

We arrived at Guango Lodge about 1.5 hours before sunset and immediately started birding. The obvious attraction upon arrival were the hummingbird feeders, where we quickly tallied Tourmaline Sunangel, Long-tailed Sylph, Tyrian Metaltail, White-bellied Woodstar, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant and Collared Inca. Once the initial excitement of the feeders wore off, we then headed down one of the main trails with the intent of finding Torrent Duck from one of several view points along the river. Along the way we spotted Pearled Treerunner, Blue-and-Black Tanager, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher (lifer), Mountain Wren (lifer), Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant (lifer), and White-capped Dipper. We could not find Torrent Duck.

On the return back to the lodge we added Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan and Andean Guan to the day’s list. Back at the lodge we unpacked,  quickly cleaned up, and had dinner at 7:15pm. I think by 9:00pm we were all asleep.

Total species today: 70
Total cumulative species for the trip: 151
Total lifers today: 16
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 31

P.S. Melissa – your Dad sends his love.

10 February 2013

6 February 2013

Late yesterday evening, Simon Buckingham, Howard Jolliffe and Malcolm Goodman arrived from the United Kingdom in good health and ready to see some birds. Today would mark the beginning of Simon’s second trip, and Howard and Malcolm’s first.

About a month ago I proposed that, on our only day together before the Tropical Birding guide arrived, we drive a circuit around the back side of Fuya Fuya volcano north to Otavalo, then south via Laguna San Pablo. This was still the plan, however, I suggested that we try for a few dry montane specialities first in the vicinity of the mysteriously well-hidden horse race track. We departed the hotel at about 6:15am and quickly traversed Quito rush-hour; alas, we could not find the race track, but we did find some good dry montane scrub habitat that produced some excellent birds. The day was kick-started by Band-tailed Sierra-Finch (lifer), Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch and Golden-bellied Grosbeak. With no horse race track in sight, we paid a brief visit to the go-kart race track that I was at yesterday. Here we found Vermilion Flycatcher, Sparkling Violetear, Blue-and-Yellow Tanager, and Hooded Siskin.
To continue with our original birding circuit plan we had to make a bit of a detour now that we had tried to find the horse race track. From La Mitad Del Mundo we proceeded through a rickety set of side streets to eventually join an even worse rough road that traversed extensive dry montane scrub. Despite the bad road, this turned out to be quite productive bird-wise, producing some highlights such as Tropical Mockingbird, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Golden-rumped Euphonia (lifer), Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Giant Hummingbird (lifer), White-tipped Swift (lifer), Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and Streaked Saltator.

As we transitioned from the dry montane scrub into lower temperate forest we passed through the small village of Perucho. Here we had what would likely be our only record of House Sparrow; a virtual rarity in Ecuador. Further along we ascended further into the temperate forest, and increasingly we had issues with thick fog impeding our field of vision and ability to identify birds against a white-gray soup. Despite the challenges, we did find some great birds, and the fog did occasionally part at opportune moments. Highlights for the back road included Red-crested Cotinga, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Supercilliaried Hemispingus (species with the most vowels in a birds name!), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Peregrine Falcon (interior Ecuador rarity), and Sapphire-vented Puffleg.
After several hours of car-jarring roads, we finally returned to the main road that would lead to Otavalo from the west. However, as we passed the local Lafarge plant, speed bumps on the road were large enough to take out the undercarriage of car or small truck; some of the speed bumps looked as if they had been hit particularly hard. Through Otavalo we saw very little, but on the outskirts where we drove the periphery of Laguna San Pablo we did see several waterbirds, including Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Ruddy Duck (Andean), Slate-colored Coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Common Moorhen, Pied-billed Grebe, and Blue-winged Teal.

It was now time to head back to Quito. After a bit of GPS misdirection we eventually ended back at the Avis car rental agency. The next 30 minutes was spent doing a 5 minute job – returning a car. A customer ahead of us was renting a vehicle, but the GPS he was renting was missing a part and a replacement couldn’t be found. He decided to make the unit work anyway, but soon found the car he had had no AC socket in which to plug the GPS into. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car without an AC socket, and certainly not among current models. Nevertheless, the customer decided he didn’t want the car, so all paperwork and charges had to be reversed. Eventually we were able to complete the return, grab a taxi back to the hotel, and finally sit down to dinner in the hotel restaurant by 8:30pm, just 30 minutes before closing. Tired and hungry, Simon, Howard and Malcolm all ordered the same thing – beefsteak. To describe how they wanted it cooked, they indicated the plumage of Cliff Flycatcher from the Ecuador bird field guide! The waitress must have thought this strange. I had prawns in coconut sauce.
By 9:30pm we all retired to our respective rooms. Tomorrow, breakfast at 5:30am in the same restaurant, where we hope to meet our Tropical Birding guide and officially begin the tour.

Total species today: 69
Total cumulative species for the trip: 113
Total lifers today: 7
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 15

05 February 2013

5 February 2013

More of the same, or something entirely different? That was the key question today regarding weather. I woke at 5:30am and sprightly looked out the window - it looked clear, or at least I could easily see lights from buildings on several kilometers away. Mission status: Go!

Within 15 minutes I was in the restaurant having a quick breakfast. It wasn't even fully out, but what I needed, cereal, toast and coffee, was. I was on the road by 6:00am, and decided to try Yanacocha again. The clear view was a tad misleading, as it was lightly raining throughout the city. As I left city limits and began to climb in elevation, then the fog settled all around. Another day of the same? I pushed on to find out.

As I turned on to the Yanacocha road it was still drizzle and fog, but within a kilometer the fog suddenly disappeared, giving way to wonderful views of cloud-laden mountains, and most of all, birds! The usual suspects were omnipresent, with Plain-coloured Seedeater, Great Thrush and Rufous-collared Sparrow in nearly every bush. But the fourth bird of the day, well that was a lifer - Supercilliaried Hemispingus - and great looks too. Further along I found Azara's Spinetail, Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, and Rufous Wren.

Along the road was another car-full of birders, a group of three actually (2 from Virginia, 1 from Colorado), and a guide from Mindo Tours. We seemed to play leapfrog all along, but eventually I just stayed behind and pulled over when they saw something. This strategy paid off. The first good bird was Stripe-headed Brush-Finch, followed quickly by Sapphire-vented Puffleg. The guide could hear Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, but it never showed (if it had, it would have been a lifer for me). At the entrance to the Yanacocha trail was a Great Sapphirewing and the first of what would be many Buff-fronted Starfrontlets.

I set off down the trail first, just after paying the extortionate amount of $15 (5x the amount of locals). The weather was mixed - the fog had lifted substantially, but it lightly rained for the entire walk in. Birding was very quiet overall, but there were some gems. However, this was a team effort for the most part. At one spot on the trail I could hear birds but see nothing, and my familiarity with Ecuadorian bird song is abysmal. when the guide and troupe appeared, it didn't take long for him to identify my somewhat excellent rendition (if I do say so myself) of Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager. Within moments, two popped up along with six Golden-crowned Tanagers, each giving us excellent looks. Now the guide and others went ahead, and I paced behind like the scavenger looking for leftovers as a non-paying customer. However, the next birds was so good that the guide quickly walked back to ensure I saw the three Andean Guans they had found - Prize!

Once again I hung back, and the others pressed on. This time however, I bumped into a mixed flock that they had just missed. Sadly, they had gone to far and were out of calling range. In the flock were two White-tailed Tyrannulets, one White-throated Tyrannulet, and a Pearled Treerunner.

In just a few hundred more meters I was at the hummingbird feeding station with the others. Gabriel, the guide, was coming down a small hill, telling me I had better get up there as they had just fed worms to a Rufous Antpitta. Gabriel took me there, and in a matter of moments, I had two gobbling up up worms - lifer number 2 for the day. Back at the hummingbird feeders we had a good variety, including Great Sapphirewing, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, and Sword-billed Hummingbird. Alas, the near-mythical Black-breasted Puffleg did not put in an appearance. On the flip side however, a beautiful Hooded Mountain-Tanager did show up - lifer number 3 for the day.

On the return journey I was permitted to walk back with group, after asking sheepishly and not wanting to be a heel. The response was typical among birders - the more eyes the better - and I couldn't agree more. The walk back however was very poor, as the fog rolled up the hillside and enshrouded every tree as if each was smouldering under a low burn. We did pick up another Supercilliaired Hemispingus and a Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.

Back at the entrance we bid farewell, but not without first trying to nail down directions for the "horse racetrack" at La Mitad del Mundo, one of the supposed best locations to find White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Giant Hummingbird and Band-tailed Sierra-Finch. Well, I scoured the area inside-and-out, from all three directions including appropriate (and some inappropriate) side roads. There was no horse racetrack, but I did find a race track for go-karts! I drove the area in a hurry, as unfortunately I had to be off the road in Quito before 4pm. Because of the sheer volume of vehicles, it was made law that if your license plate ended with a 1 or 2, you couldn't drive on Mondays from 7:00am to 9:30am, and again from 4:00pm to 7:30pm. The rule applied for each day of the week, with each successive day accounting for the next two numbers. I was lucky number three.

Back at the go-kart track I hastily moved around trying to find any of the target birds. Instead, all I found was non-target birds, but good ones nonetheless. To start, I I got an excellent look at a male Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, having seen only a female the two days earlier. Next I found two Vermilion Flycatchers and two Golden-bellied Grosbeaks (photos). Time was running short, I had to get going. On the final stretch of road, just before I headed to the highway, I caught glimpse of some movement in the shrubs. Out popped a gorgeous male Band-tailed Seedeater, my fourth lifer for the day. He was shortly followed by two Hooded Siskins and a Cinereous Conebill. The best bird however, was to follow, and it took some tracking to see it well; and that's saying a lot because I never did a great look in full light. What I did get was full-on looks in shade though, including from several angels - what I was seeing was my first Blue-and-Yellow Tanager - my fifth lifer for the day - what a cracker of a bird!

I spent the next 52 minutes driving back to Quito in near-record time in rush hour. I arrived back at the hotel only 8 minutes past my car curfew, and diffused potential mayhem dealing with police. Despite an overall low number of species for the day, the end result was positive. Heavy clouds loom in the distance, but for now it has stopped raining. Simon, Howard and Malcolm should be here within the hour, no doubt jealous of at least some of the birds I've seen - let the games begin!

Total species today: 37
Total cumulative species for the trip: 79
Total lifers today: 5
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 8

P.S. Just did some homework using Google Earth and some web-references. Turns out, the horse race track is near the Virgin Mary shrine about 5kms further along the main road, not near La Mitad del Mundo. Maybe we can squeeze in a quick trip there tomorrow morning before committing to the rest of our pre-planned day.

04 February 2013

4 February 2013

One word can sum up today: wet!

I knew things were bad when I started the day by sleeping in. In my of spending the previous day travelling with virtually no sleep, I set the time and alarm in reverse am/pm. So the alarm was set for 5:15pm, and the clock, at the time was set at 9:15am. I only woke when light shone into the room. I got up in a panic, with a few choice words thrown into the mix, looked outside, and went back to bed. Thick gray cloud shrouded the city, and as far as I could see, it was raining. I only stayed in bed for 45 more minutes, by brain churning, convincing me that somewhere else it isn't raining. Ok then, I'll get up, have some breakfast, and see where the road leads.

By 8:30am I was on the road, slowly working my way through Quito traffic and trying not to sit behind an excessively bad, smog-polluting bus. I made my way toward Yanacocha, and after getting a bit lost, did find myself on the right road. The drizzle had subsided, and although patchy the fog was low. Bumping along the access road to Yanacocha I picked up very little, but did add a few new trip species: Black Flowerpiercer, Cinereous Conebill, Plain-colored Seedeater and Black-tailed Trainbearer.

Before reaching the entrance to Yanacocha the sky opened up fully, and a downpour made any hope of birding in this area impossible. Given the state of the road, I had no choice but to turnaround and head back to the Nono-Mindo Road where I had started. Looking at the sky, it made sense to head farther north, as the clouds were a slightly lighter shade of gray, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it might not be raining toward Tandayapa. Soon after heading down the Nono-Mindo Road I picked up an American Kestrel, but that was about it as the rain pummeled down. I passed several great spots that had been very birdy on my previous trip.

About 6kms south of Tandayapa the rain had stopped, and no sooner after could I hear the sounds of birds. I pulled over and immediately began scanning. The first highlight was two Turquoise Jays, followed by a pair of Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrants. I also picked up a Golden-crowned Flycatcher, and my second lifer for the trip, a Streak-necked Flycatcher. A little further along the road and I ran into a fairly decent mixed-species flock. Of the 16 species seen, some highlights included Blue-capped Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, and White-sided Flowerpiercer.

The next stretch of birding was from Tandayapa to Bellavista, about 6km. Right at Tandayapa I picked up Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Tropical Parula, Black-and-White Seedeater, and Turkey Vulture. The remainder of the road was pretty quite, and as the road ascened ever higher, the fog grew thicker. At about 600m from the Bellavista lodge I could hear from the car a fairly good-sized feeding flock. I jumped out and immediately started to glean what I could. One of the first birds I saw was a Moss-backed Tanager, my third lifer for the trip and second for the day. Next I picked up Red-faced Spinetail, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Red-headed Barbet, Montane Woodcreeper, Long-tailed Antbird, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Northern Shiffornis and White-tailed Tyrannulet. By now, about 20 minutes had passed, the fog was thick, and the rain had begun again.

I drove to the Bellavista lodge and contemplated stopping, but the rain was so heavy I decided to cut my losses and head back to Quito. It was now 3:30pm. I decided to take the back way to the highway via the Bellavista research station, hoping the rain would subside and a few more birds could be had. But it wasn't to be. It poured all the way back to Quito - the only new bird I added was Band-tailed Pigeon, six of them sitting bedraggled in a snag. Plodding through Quito during rush hour in the rain is no fun. I got back to the hotel at about 5:45pm.

Total species today: 44
Total cumulative species for the trip: 54
Total lifers today: 2
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 3

03 February 2013

3 February 2013

The flight from San Francisco departed on-time, and over the course of the next 9.5 hours I would watch three movies, eat some lame food, have a kid shine his flashlight in my eyes while attempted to get what roughly worked out to 2 hours of broken and interrupted sleep. When we finally landed, a Korean woman persistently pushed me forward, as if I could go anywhere being in the 38th row and 37 rows worth of people lined up in front of me, also wanting to get off.

So there I was in Lima, Peru...my first visit ever, and its pitch black and nothing to see. For midnight, the airport was remarkable busy, with the departure board being full of flights leaving between midnight and 4am. I managed to lay down across three seats and get a bit of sleep. It was noisy, and I woke occasionally, but I'm sure there was at least one solid hour in there, and another hour of broken sleep. At 4:00am I lifted from the makeshift bed in a daze, went and brushed my teeth, and browsed the gift shops. I then went for breakfast - pre-fab eggs with ham with two slices of toast that could have been mistaken for crackers.

5:00am has finally rolled around and its time to board the plane for the last leg of the journey. A full 2.5 hours from Lima to Quito, and I'm quite sure I slept for most of it, but interrupted occasionally. I was one of the last people off, and apparently slept through the part where they handed out customs forms. I had to stay behind and complete one, while everyone else passed me by. By the time I got to the customs agents, I was 4th from last in line...but it didn't really matter, it was only 8:45am and I had to wait until 10:00am to get a car. I passed the time having some lunch, which would seem weird at 9:00am, if it weren't for having breakfast at 4:00am.

First bird of the Ecuador trip? Chestnut-collared Sparrow. That was followed quickly by Eared Dove and Great Thrush. After receiving my vehicle I headed straight to Puluahua Crater in homes of picking up a few lifers and good number of birds. Uh-oh. Fog! Can't see a damn thing, and the road is narrow and surprisingly busy. There were very few opportunities to pull over, but when I did I would inevitably have one or more vehicles pass. My first 'good' bird was Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, followed two Black-crested Warblers. Later I had Slate-throated Redstart, Speckled Hummingbird, Capped Conebill, Rufous-chested Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Sparkling Violetear, White-winged Brush-Finch, Masked Flowerpiercer, Hooded Siskin and Golden-bellied Grosbeak.

On the way back, just as I was about to rejoin the highway, a decided to pull over and scan some adjacent fields. As I was preparing to get out of the car, a small bird perched atop a shrub. It was definitely a sierra-finch, but which type. I took detailed notes: light brown, fine streaks on back and breast, no eye ring, greysih bill, black eye, no markings on tail, dull legs...and it was gone. At the time, I wasn't sure exactly what I had, but after consulting Robin Restall's Birds of Northern South America, I knew I had seen a female Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch! My first lifer for the trip.

By 3:00pm it was drizzling and the fog was thicker. I decided to head back to town, check-in to the hotel, get an excellent nights rest, and start afresh tomorrow at Yanacocha. I sure hope I get a good sleep - it's not exactly quiet in the room, and sounds like the window is open. Actually, it may as well be; the soundproof seal has long since passed its effective date.

Total species today: 21
Total cumulative species for the trip: 21
Total lifers today: 1
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 1

02 February 2013

Departure Day

2:30am! What was I thinking? When I booked my flight to Ecuador, departing at 6:00am didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time. But now, as I'm sitting in the airport having gone through check-in, security, and customs and having started the process by getting up at 2:30am, I'm having second thoughts. Nevertheless, there is no going back now. Plane is starting to load and I'm to San Francisco for my first connection. No birds to report thus far - its pitch black, and even they know not to fly until its a reasonable hour.

8:20am. Landed in San Francisco on time. Got about an hour of sleep on the flight. The airport is pretty quiet, but between two security guards and an information assistant I got conflicting directions on how to get to the international terminal. I suppose what was most concerning is that they didn't know LAN Airlines - not exactly a small carrier!

Birding is slim pickin's, as expected for an airport. Highlight was three White-throated Swifts cruising overhead. Other species include California Gull (1 perched on top of the tail of my plane - a sign of good luck?), several American Crows, Rock Pigeons and Brewer's Blackbirds, and a single Western Gull. Just 24 more hours and I'll be birding Ecuador (current time - 9:50am).

Ecuador, Again!

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2011 Post-trip Summary

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21 October 2011

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20 October 2011

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19 October 2011

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18 October 2011

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17 October 2011

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16 October 2011

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15 October 2011

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14 October 2011

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13 October 2011

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12 October 2011

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11 October 2011

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10 October 2011

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9 October 2011

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