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