31 October 2015

July 22, 2015

Our last day in southern Ecuador, and at 5:00am I woke to the sound of heavy rain and strong wind...not exactly the best of birding conditions. By 6:10am we had departed the lodge, with our guide anxiously trying to figure out the best place to go based on weather. Our goal today was to get to about 3,500m elevation, but each time we tried the wind was howling and the rain was falling nearly sideways. At our first site I did manage to get one lifer, a Glowing Puffleg, and between between wiping the rain from my binoculars I was able get brief glimpses of Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Golden-crowned Tanager, Pearled Treerunner, and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. At our second site we found only Brown-bellied Swallow, and at our third site we found Russet-crowned Warbler, Masked Flowerpiercer, Blue-capped Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Glowing Puffleg, and Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant.

At 1:15pm we had resigned to the fact that the weather was not going to cooperate, and therefore continued to the town of Loja where we would catch our respective flights home. We arrived in Loja at 3:15pm, with about 30 minutes to spare, so we made one last ditch attempt to do some birding with hopes of seeing Tumbes Sparrow. We had no such luck, and only added to our day-list a Pacific Hornero, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Croaking Ground-Dove, Saffron Finch, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and Fasciated Wren.

We arrived a the Loja airport at 3:55pm; I boarded my flight at 4:45pm and was airborne by 5:30pm. I then had a lengthy layover in Quito (from 6:25 to 12:15am), connected in Atlanta the next day at 9:00am, connected again in Seattle at 2:55pm, and eventually arrived home in Victoria at 3:30pm. My bag, thanks to airline services, arrived a day later...but at least it arrived.

For nearly eight full days of birding in southern Ecuador it certainly was a whirlwind, adventurous tour. With definite peaks and valleys in daily tallies, some long drives over rough roads, and bouts of bad luck with a flat tire and bad weather, we actually did quite well. My trip tally was 321 species, of which 77 were lifers.

July 21, 2015

Today's birding was destined to be an improvement over yesterday's, and so at 6:05 am we all met in the breakfast room of the Tapichalaca Lodge with refreshed hope. Following breakfast we began our birding along the primary trail just behind the lodge. The weather was mixed, with scattered showers off-and-on through much of the morning. Our firs bird of the day was Rufous Wren, which was followed shortly after by a Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and a White-banded Tyrannulet. We then encountered a small flock of Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Capped Conebill, and Pearled Treerunner. My first lifer of the day was Citrine Warbler, which ended up being a relatively common bird in this area. We continued to work our way along the trail to the "antpitta station", where our goal bird here was the Jocotoco Antpitta. Further along the trail we aded Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Black-capped Hemispingus, Rufous-chested Tanager, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, and Streaked Tuftedcheek. Upon arriving at the antpitta station, it seemed a tad anticlimactic to find one bird just sitting along side the trail waiting for its breakfast. We all took a seat under the small shelter to get out of the rain, and spent then spent the next 20 minutes or so watching one juvenile and one adult Jocotoco Antpitta eat their complimentary worm breakfast.

 Jocotoco Antpitta coming to the worm-feeding station at Tapichalaca

Adult Jocotoco Antpitta stands over its breakfast buffet

Before leaving the feeding station we tallied a few other birds in the vicinity, including Turquoise Jay, Scaly-naped Parrot, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, White-throated Quail-Dove, and Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant. Upon departing the feeding station the weather broke and the rain subsided. Subsequently, the bird activity picked up and we proceeded to add some good species, the first of which was a Chusquea Tapaculo (lifer). Soon after the tapaculo we added Orange-banded Flycatcher (lifer) and White-throated Hawk (lifer), Tyrian Metaltail, and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager.

We arrived back at the lodge for lunch about half-hour early, and therefore spent some time birding around the feeders. Here we added Amethyst-throated Sunangel (lifer), Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Collared Inca, Flame-throated Sunangel (lifer), Long-tailed Sylph, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Speckled Hummingbird, and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. From noon to nearly 1:30pm we had lunch and took a short break.

At about 1:30pm we drove to the small village of Zumba, located about 30 minutes from the lodge and south toward the Peruvian border. We spent about two and a quarter hours birding among the crop fields, nut trees, fragmented forest, and river bank adding some good birds. Our first tick here was White-capped Dipper, followed by Olivaceous Siskin, Dull-colored Grassquit (lifer), Back-billed Thrush, Silvery Tanager, and Common Tody-Flycatcher. We also found Lafresnaye's Piculet, Sierran Elaenia, Maranon Thrush (lifer), Blue-necked Tanager, and three of Simon's most despised bird, the Bananaquit. Continuing along I didn't add other lifers, but did see some good birds such Ash-browed Spinetail, Bronzy Inca, Silver-beaked Tanager, White-lined Tanager, and Golden-olive Woodpecker.

For the remainder of the day (4:15-6:00pm) we did a bit more birding around the lodge. However, it was very slow going and we added no new species for the day. However, just as it was about too dark to see and we were about to head inside for dinner, an Undulated Antpitta (lifer) was found walking along one of the trails. We all got great looks, and it was a nice way to end the day.

25 October 2015

July 20, 2015

There is no better way to describe today than frustratingly-laborious. Today was mostly a "travel" day, but how that played out for us is nearly indescribable. In summary, we spent 9 hours driving, of which at least 6 hours were on extremely rough, narrow, and often unmapped roads. We wasted at least an hour back-tracking on roads we were not supposed to be on, and another hour wasted on replacing a flat tire and finding a replacement. We also spent the last hour and half of the day driving in the dark, at which point we hit a dog that leapt out from behind a parked truck. By the time we got to our lodge, I had enough tension built up in by back that it was difficult getting to sleep. And the payoff for the trouble? The lowest species count for the trip, at just 44, and only five lifers...I suppose it could have been worse, so an optimist would say.

We began our 'adventure' at 6:00am, and by 6:40am we had our flat tire. I helped the driver change the tire while Simon and Howard supervised my performance. After that the driver checked-in at a nearby construction site in hopes of acquiring a spare tire. While that happened, we did a bit of birding along the road and chalked up Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Scrub Blackbird, and Long-billed Starthroat. The driver later returned with no tire, so as a group we had a strategic decision to make...press on in the direction we needed to go and hopefully obtain a spare tire in the afternoon, or back-track to another town and cancel our planned route. Ignoring safety as a top priority, we opted to press-on and hope not to get another flat tire...I think however, as we spent the next few hours traversing some of the worst roads we'd ever been on, we were second-guessing this decision.

Our destination today was Tapichalaca Lodge, and there was only one location along the way that we were aiming to do some birding at: Utuana Reserve. We arrived at Utuana at 10:33am, nearly an hour-and-a-half after we had hoped to get here, thanks to the flat tire and taking two wrong roads. The cost of arriving late was two-fold: we had less time to spend birding here, and the morning bird activity window had been largely missed. Despite this, we did manage to find a good variety of birds including Silvery Tanager (lifer), Blue-and-Black Tanager, White-crested Elaenia, Rainbow Starfrontlet (lifer), Speckled Hummingbird, Purple-throated Sunangel (lifer), Red-crested Cotinga, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Chapman's Antshrike (lifer), and Rufous-crested Warbler. We dipped on a couple of targets here, including Black-crested Tit-Tyrant. While at the reserve we had a packed lunch, and at 1:40pm it was time to move along.

From 1:40pm to the time we arrived at Tapichalaca Lodge, I wrote just one bird down, an American Kestrel. The end of this travel day could not come soon enough, as we rolled into the lodge just before 8:00pm.

July 19, 2015

I can't think of a better way to start the day birding than to add a a lifer before breakfast, especially when that lifer is an owl...a Peruvian Screech-Owl.

Breakfast was served at 6:00am, but by 6:30am we were all intently focused on the feeders waiting for some lodge highlights. I didn't have to wait long for the my next lifer to appear, as small flock of White-tailed Jays came to the feeders in the dimmest of light. Also near the feeders were Fasciated Wren, Ecuadorian Thrush, and Plumbeous-backed Thrush, and at the lone hummingbird feeder was an Amazilia Humminbird (lifer). Patiently, as we had waited nearly half-an-hour, our prize bird appeared under the feeders...Pale-browed Tinamou.

Pale-browed Tinamou at Jorupe Lodge

Following breakfast we began walking the local trails, starting with those located near the cabins. Shortly after commencing I got my second-ever Red-billed Scythebill, a gorgeous-looking bird, but frustratingly difficult to see. This was quickly followed by next lifer, Pacific Elaenia, and then by another lifer, Speckle-breasted Wren. Birding around the cabins was rather muted, so we then walked down to the main road in search of other specialities. Here we found several 'regular' birds, such as Tropical Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, and Plain Antvireo, but also a three lifers: Ecuadorian Piculet, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, and the super-skulking, difficult to see, Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner. We wrapped up our birding on the main road with Collared Antshrike, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Harris's Hawk, and then headed to another birding location a little after 10:00am.

At our next location, located only one valley away, we spent 30 minutes looking for our target bird, Sooty-crowned Flycatcher, but we dipped. To add insult to injury, Simon, upon getting out of the car when we arrived, spotted a Crimson-breasted Finch that disappeared before either myself or Howard could get a glimpse. A double-dip...it still hurts even today.

We spent the remainder of the morning looking for birds along the road back to the lodge, but added very little. Back at the lodge, from noon to 1:15pm, our Tropical Birding guide was switched, as Andreas needed to head back to Quito. In the meantime, I spent some time photographing birds near the feeders. Below are a couple of photos.

Plumbeous-backed Thrush 

White-tailed Jay

The afternoon was spent birding the trails around the main lodge. It was very slow going for lifers, but the overall birding was pretty good. All of the typical birds were seen, but some highlights in particular included Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Hepatic Tanager, Whooping Motmot, Short-tailed Hawk, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Black-and-White Becard, One-colored Becard, Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, and Bran-colored Flycatcher. Just two lifers were added this afternoon...one was Sooty-crowned Flycatcher that we had dipped on earlier, and the other was Rufous-headed Chachalaca. We arrived back at the loge shortly after 5:30pm, and had dinner at 7:00pm. It had been a long day, and one of the slowest with only 55 species.

14 October 2015

July 18, 2015

Having bombed yesterday on El Oro Parakeet and Ecuadorian [El Oro] Tapaculo, we started the day earlier than yesterday and headed straight to our target locations...no messing around with 'common' birds this time. We arrived at Buenaventura Reserve at 6:23am, and following a short walk up some steps and into a clearing, we had target bird number one, El Oro Parakeet, in the bag. Conveniently, this lifer was followed shortly after by my second lifer for the day, Guayaquil Woodpecker. Other good birds at this first site included Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Bronze-winged Parrot, Russet Antshrike, and Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner. With no time to waste, we quickly moved to our second site, once again in hopes of getting a glimpse of the shadow-dancing tapaculo, and within minutes lady-luck appeared to be on our side. This time we each saw El Oro Tapaculo, if only for a few seconds, as it darted from one dark shadowy branch to another, seemingly darker, shadowy branch. It was a tick!

With those two tough birds out of the way, it was onto the next location. We back-tracked along the main road that we came in on, and along the way found Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Roadside Hawk, and Torrent Tyrannulet. We then stopped at another site within Buenaventura Reserve, fully enshrouded with fog, at 9:00am. We didn't spend long at this site, but did add Slaty-winged Foliage-Gleaner (lifer), Andean Solitaire, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat (lifer), and Common Chlorospingus.

Roadside Hawk...found along the roadside

Birders in the mist...scanning for Andean Solitaire

Our next stop, which required a drive of just over 2 hours, was at Chaguarpamba. It wasn't really a birding destination...more of a 'side-of-the-road, call of nature, short-term stop'. That didn't prevent us from scanning for a few birds however, and in doing so I added two lifers: Fasciated Wren and Chiguanco Thrush. After we all piled back into the van we drove for another hour and a half to Catacohca where we birded a small road that lead to San Antonio. This road turned out to be very productive from a 'lifer' perspective, as 8 of 16 species that I saw were new. Gray-lined Hawk was the first new species to be seen, followed shortly after by the 'alarming' Scarlet-backed Thrush. We then had stellar views of an Elegant Crescentchest, followed shortly afterward by a Collared Antshrike that I located...another gorgeous looking bird. That was then followed by Croaking Ground-Dove, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, and Black-capped Sparrow. We then worked our way back to the main road, where Andreas was able to locate a Watkins's Antpitta, using call playback, hidden deep in the scrub. Simon and I were able to see the bird briefly, but Howard unfortunately dipped. This species would eventually become Howard's nemesis bird of the trip.

Shortly after leaving Catacocha we came to a screeching halt near a small village where Andreas pointed out a small flock of Pacific Parrotlets (lifer), and with them were a few Long-tailed Mockingbirds. We then continued to drive for nearly another hour, where we spent some quality birding along the side of Highway 68, slowly working our way downhill scanning arid scrub habitat for some key target birds. We found most, including Baird's Flycatcher (lifer), Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant (lifer), Tumbes Hummingbird (lifer), and Peruvian Pygmy-Owl (lifer). We also saw a good number of Red-masked Parakeets, three Fasciated Wrens, and a Golden Grosbeak.

Simon iPhoning the Peruvian Pygmy-Owl

We arrived at Jorupe Lodge at about 6:00pm, and following dinner we did some owling around the lodge, but had no luck. It had been a long day, but despite a relatively low species count (68 for the day), it was rich in lifers (20 for me).

22 July 2015

July 17, 2015

My ‘night owl’ alarm went off even earlier today, at 4:40am, and snooze was not an option. We met in the lodge for breakfast at 5:00am and departed at 5:45am for 45 minute drive to our first birding location. As we drove the access road from the Buenaventura Lodge to the main road, about 6 km long, we tallied several Common Paraque siting on the road.  Our goal today was to add two regional specialities to our lists: El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo.

At 6:28am we arrived at our first birding site, or at least so we thought. We spotted some birds from the road actively feeding on insects that were attracted to a single lamp located next to an old animal pen (probably for goats or pigs). In just a few minutes we added Brown-capped Vireo, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Bronze-winged Parrot, Violet-tailed Sylph, Line-cheeked Spinetail (first lifer for the day), Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Loja Tyrannulet (now known as Golden-faced Tyrannulet, and a lifer), Russet Anthshrike, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, and Red-faced Parakeet (lifer) among others.

Birding at the Buenaventura Biological Reserve

From this site we then drove to where we would try for our first target, El Oro Tapaculo. Tapaculo’s in general are a difficult species to see, as the majority are relatively dark-plumaged, usually ranging from dark to darker gray. The exception is Ocellated Tapaculo, but that was not on our list of expected species for the trip. After a short hike up a gentle grade we arrived at some older forest where at least four tapaculo’s were known to have territories. In order to see one, it is necessary to entice them into view, and in order to do that we had to use call playback, a common technique amongst guides who use an mp3 player to broadcast the birds song in hopes of encouraging it to inspect the “intruder”. Our guide played the song and elicited a response, but the bird was frustratingly difficult to see in the thick dark underbrush. Only glimpses of the bird darting from one clump of debris to another was what was afforded. We worked the area for nearly two hours, trying different angles, different birds, and even taking a break. We eventually had to give up, and decided we would try our luck tomorrow morning, but even earlier.

Despite missing the tapaculo, we did tally Common Chlorspingus, Silver-throated Tanager, Roadside Hawk, Crested Guan, Three-striped Warbler, Uniform Antshrike, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant, Chestnut-collared Swift, and Short-tailed Hawk. Our next stop was back where we first saw the mixed species flock feeding on insects around the lamp. Here we were to walk another short trail in an attempt to find El Oro Parakeet, our other target bird for the day. Sadly, we were disappointed again…a ‘double-dip’ some might say. We did however see Ornate Flycatcher, Golden Tanager, Scale-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Cinnamon Becard, and Streaked Xenops.

Back at the car we slowly worked our way back to the lodge, stopping occasionally to check patches of forest for birds. At these stops we found Flame-faced Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, Glistening-green Tanager,  and Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner.  At the lodge, from 11:45am-1:15pm, we had all of the same hummingbirds as previously reported, and also added the following species to our trip list: White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph, Yellow Tyrannulet, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Buff-rumped Warbler. Following lunch we took a short siesta until 3:00pm, when we reconvened our birding above the umbrellabird trail.

We spent about two hours walking the road back to the lodge, for approximately 6km. Although no lifers were added, several notable birds added to the trip list, including: Broad-billed Motmot, Esmerelda’s Antbird, Striped Woodhaunter, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Checker-throated Antwren, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Song Wren, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, White-whiskered Hermit, Guira Tanager, Immaculate Antbird, and Plain-brown Woodcreeper. We ended the day with a nice dinner back at the lodge.

Our three-room cabin at Buenaventura Lodge

July 16, 2015

The appropriately named ‘night-owl’ alarm rings from my iphone at 5:00am; it’s time to get up and begin day two. At the elevator I meet up with Simon, and in the lobby is Howard. Both had just had 1-2 hours of sleep following the red-eye they took from Miami to Guayaquil. Stepping out of the lobby the warmth and humidity slapped us in the face as if we’d insulted the climate…this was going to be an interesting day.

We departed Hotel Continental at 6:00am, with our driver Bennicio and our guide Andreas. Within just 20 minutes we were tallying our day list, frantically identifying and ticking birds as we whipped down the freeway and wondering if we were going to stop in case we missed something new. The fare was typical for the humid coastal lowlands that had been heavily disturbed: Saffron Finch, Gray-breasted Martin, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Wattled Jacana, and Smooth-billed Ani. At 6:35 we stopped at a small bridge where I tallied two lifers, Chestnut-collared Swallow and Short-tailed Woodstar. Five minutes later we were back on the road, adding Savanna Hawk, Crested Caracara, Striated Heron, Black-necked Stilt, and Scrub Blackbird to the list.

Our first main birding area was about an hour south of Guayaquil, off the main road and along a small dirt track, in an area known as the Manglares Churute Ecological Reserve. Before entering however, we were required by law to have a local ranger accompany us, and so we met our “extra” passenger just before proceeding. We arrived at the reserve at 6:20am, and spent the next two hours birding the road and nearby trails. Along the road we tallied Jet Antbird, Collared Aracari, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Olivaceous Piculet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Superciliated Wren,  and three new lifers for me: Gray-and-Gold Warbler, Red-billed Scythebill, and Ecuadorian Trogon. Off the road, and along the trails, we added Whiskered Wren and Long-tailed Hermit, but dipped on our target species, Royal Flycatcher. We also added a male Blue-black Grosbeak, which we observed hover-attacking a huge spider in a web and eventually succeeding in taking from the web and consuming it….disgusting! As we left that part of the reserve we added Pacific Hornero and Green Kingfisher to the day-list. We then moved to Laguna del Canclon, which essentially was a series of flooded rice fields with presumably some ‘natural’ wetlands nearby. Immediately we saw several Snail Kites, followed by Masked Water-Tyrant, numerous Cattle Egret and Black-necked Stilt, and our primary target bird for this area, Horned Screamer (of which we saw four). This was soon followed by Peruvian Meadowlark, Vermilion Flycatcher, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and two more lifers: Gray-cheeked Parakeet and Ecuadorian Ground Dove. As we left this area, having spent just over an hour there, we added another Savanna Hawk and Yellow-rumped Cacique.

Snail Kite

Horned Screamer

Savanna Hawk

We now had a long drive to Buenaventura Lodge, which would take several hours. We made just a few minor stops along the way, the key one being to get ice cream. We tallied a few noteworthy birds along the way, including: Boat-billed Flycatcher, Killdeer, Cocoi Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, Long-tailed Mockingbird (lifer), and White Ibis. Once off the paved road and driving a short (~6 km) gravel road to the lodge we made three short stops when we saw or heard bird activity. Highlights at these three stops included Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Flame-rumped Tanager, Orange-crowned Euphonia, Bay-headed Tanager, Squirrel Cuckoo, Purple-crowned Fairy, and Black-mandibled Toucan.

We arrived at Buenaventura Lodge, part of the Jocotoco Reserve network, we had about two hours of light to target some key species. At the hummingbird feeders located around the lodge we added White-necked Jacobin, Velvet-purple Coronet (lifer), Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, Andean Emerald, and Brown Violetear. We then drove a short distance to the ‘umbrellabird’ trail, with the hope of seeing the Long-wattled Umbrellabird this evening and freeing up time the next day to target other species. The walk down the drain was about 300-400m, and reasonably steep and a bit slippery. It was quite dark, as the sun was setting and there was heavy cloud. We arrive at the site where the birds were supposed to be, and without disappointment two birds presented very well. In fact, they showed so well that even the guide commented on how cooperative they were. After watching the birds for about 30 minutes, and commenting on the obscenely long wattle (hence the name), we began to walk back to the vehicle. On the way we added Brown-winged Schiffornis, Orange-billed Sparrow, Bearded Manakin, and Club-winged Manakin to the trip list.

Scoping the Long-wattled Umbrellabird

A digiscoped photo of the Long-wattled Umbrellabird

Continuing to get good looks at the umbrellabird...this is how 'birders neck' develops

Back at the car there was still enough light to do a bit of birding, and so we decided to walk part of the road back to the lodge. Along the road we saw Spotted Woodcreeper, Ornate Flycatcher, Gray-backed Hawk (lifer), and Ecuadorian Thrush. Back at the lodge we compiled our notes, had a beer, enjoyed a great meal, and ended the day at 7:00pm with a Black-and-White Owl (lifer).

15 July 2015

July 15, 2015

I woke at 4:45am and downstairs in the hotel restaurant at 5:00am for a quick breakfast. At 5:30am sharp Tropical Birding guide Andreas, and the driver for the day, picked me up. It was a chilly morning, around 14 degrees Celsius, with a slight breeze. Our first stop, just at sunrise, was near Calacali where we scanned some arid scrub habitat littered with garbage and marked by a few buildings, an old horse track, and a small mine. Here we tried for White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, but it was a dip. I did however get my first lifer for the trip: Purple-collared Woodstar. We also saw at this site, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Streak-backed Canestero, and Common Ground-Dove. 

From our first stop we followed the main road toward the junction leading to Tandayapa Lodge. Along the way we made one short stop on a side road, where I added my second and third life birds for the trip, Green-tailed Trainbearer and Andean Siskin, respectively. I also got great looks at Gray-browed Brush-Finch and Plain-tailed Wren. Once at the Tandayapa Lodge turnoff, we followed the bumpy track for about 2 kms where we jumped out to try for Whiskered Wren. We got it within seconds, and that was my fourth lifer so far. This site also yielded a good variety of other species, including Masked Tityra, Swallow Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Golden-naped Tanager, and Golden-crowned Flycatcher.

A bit further along the road we made another brief stop and added my fifth lifer for the day, Yellow-bellied Siskin. Things were going very well (except for the White-tailed Bush-Tyrant). Before visiting Tanadaya Lodge for lunch we proceeded first to Bellavista lodge and the forest that lay at the head of the Tandayapa valley. Our first stop was rather unproductive, but we did add some good birds: Black-eared Hemispingus, Striped Treehunter, Dusky Chlorospingus, and Russet-crowned Warbler. Our next stop however was much better, where we added Lineated Foliage-Gleaner, Sharpe's Wren, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Tawny-bellied Hermit, and Spotted Barbtail. Followed by those was my next lifer, Spot-crowned Swift, and shortly after that, Andean Pygmy-Owl. The latter cooperated very well after a touch of enticement from our friend iPod, and the bird sat just above eye-level giving excellent views from about 30-40 feet.

On our walk drive back to Tandayapa Lodge we picked up Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, and at the lodge we had a hummingbird fiesta. The guests included Sparkling Violetear, Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail, Buff-tailed Coronet, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Green Violetear, Green-fronted Brilliant, Brown Violetear, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, White-necked Jacobin, and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. As we ate lunch, a Crimson-rumped Toucanet paid a visit to a feeder located just outside the window.

From Tandayapa Lodge we began the long journey back to Quito airport for our trip to Guayaquil. Exhaustion caught up with my and I grabbed a 30-minute cat-nap. We tried again for White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, but the bird was determined not to show itself. We searched some ponds near the airport for Rusty Flowerpiercer, but no luck; just a few Yellow-billed Pintail and two Andean Gulls. Once at the airport we checked in, had a bite to eat, departed on time at 7:00pm, and arrived at Hotel Continental in Guayaquil at 8:45pm. Tomorrow we start our 7-day blitz of the south of Ecuador; hopefully Simon and Howard arrive safely (at the ungodly hour of 12:50am) and are able to squeeze in a few hours of sleep on the plane. We depart tomorrow at 6:00am, following a 5:30am breakfast. 

Total lifers today: 7
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 7

14 July 2015

Ecuador 2015 Begins

3:30am. It's wake up time, and the beginning of my third trip to Ecuador for eight days of birding with Tropical Birding. My destination, this time, is the south, but with one day birding out of Quito in the Yanachocha and Tandayapa areas. The remainder of the trip will include one night in Guayaquil, two nights in the Umbrellabird Lodge in Buenaventura Reserve, two nights in Urraca Lodge in Jorupe Reserve, and two nights in Casa Simpson Lodge in Tapichalaca Reserve.

Today is relatively boring. A short flight to Seattle followed by a two-hour layover, then a flight to Atlanta with a one-and-a-half hour layover before transiting to Quito and arriving at 10:10pm. It will be a long day, but hopefully with a couple of movies and a nap it will pass relatively quickly. Time to go scan for 'airport' birds...gotta add something to the trip list, as current list is 0!

Update: Because of a delayed flight out of Atlanta, I arrived in Quito an hour late at 10:55pm, and got to my hotel at 11:45pm. Exhausted does not begin to describe how I feel, and with a wake-up at 4:45am tomorrow morning, the first day of birding is going to be rough.

23 January 2015

16 February 2013

Our last day in Ecuador, and what a long day it was going to be as we had to drive back to Quito before going our separate ways...Simon to the United Kingdom, myself back to Canada, and Howard and Malcolm to continue their extended tour to Tandayapa with Andrew. In good-ole birder fashion we weren't about to let a long day of driving, flying, and sitting in airports get in the way of a bit of early morning birding. Once again we awoke at 5:30am , had breakfast at 6:00am, and were on the F.A.C.E trail by 6:30am. I think we all somehow thought we had exhausted the possibility of adding lifers to our respective lists, and perhaps it was even a stretch to add new trip species at this point. I further supported this belief by the fact that we had already spent three days birding on this trail, and we only had until about 10:00am before we had to get in the van and start driving back to Quito.

Our first bird of the day was Violet-headed Hummingbird, followed shortly after by a Black-billed Treehunter, Montane Foliage-Gleaner, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, and Common Tody-Flycatcher. Once in the forest we added White-crowned Manakin, Ornate Flycatcher, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, and White-shouldered Antshrike. Following that was an immediate rejection of our speculation above, as Andrew Spencer lured out a very difficult to watch Musician Wren. Further along the trail we added Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant to the day list, followed shortly thereafter by a Golden-crowned Toucanet. This was soon followed by my next lifer for the day, Gray-tailed Piha.

By now it was close to 9:15am and it was time to make our way back to the lodge. We maintained a rather quick pace, so by the time we got near the trail head we only added Russet-backed Oropendola and Olive-striped Flycatcher to the day list. Just before the trail head Andrew pointed out a flycatcher, but before anyone could their binoculars on it the bird flitted left about 10 meters...I was the first to get on the bird, but it wasn;t the same bird Andrew had just seen. I immediately started describing the bird and its location. It looked like a fruiteater...yellow chest, black cap, dark green back, slight barring on the flanks. Andrew then yelled a series of expletives! It's a %$^$#! Andean Laniisoma. That was soon followed by a machine-gun-like firing of his camera...The Andean Laniisoma, now known as Shrike-like Cotinga, is a close member of the fruiteater family. At Wild Sumaco, and for that matter in Ecuador generally, Shrike-like Cotinga is a very rare east slope bird. I don't know exactly how many records there are of this species in Ecuador, but this one created a lot of excitement amongst our small group. We had heard earlier, while at Guango Lodge, that a Swiss birding group had found the bird in the same location, but we didn't think it would stick around long enough for us to see it. And, given we had spent three days on this same trail and didn't see it, we certainly did not expect to find it on the last morning. This bird truly was the icing on the cake for me...it was my last lifer for the trip.

Once we all had a great look at the bird, and eventually it flew out of sight, we headed back to the lodge, packed our bags, had a quick wash, and were in the van and on our way by 10:20am. I jotted a few bird records down during the return trip, but saw nothing terribly special. Two Magpie Tanagers on Sumaco Road, seven Smooth-billed Ani's on the way to Narupa, and a Black-billed Thrush and Blue-and-White Swallow in Narupa. Off-and-on we all dozed as the van bumped along the winding road while the rain fell almost constantly through the mountains. We arrived in Quito about 4 hours later where the last bird for the trip that I saw was an Eared Dove. Howard and Malcolm continued off with Andrew, and Simon and I began the long sit. Simon's flight was first to leave, and mine was about an hour later. What a fantastic trip, and one I won't soon forget...afterall, this final trip report post was written nearly two years after the trip ended.

Total species today: 36
Total cumulative species for the trip:  446 (443)*
Total lifers today:  3
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 155 (157)*

* Due to species' name changes and taxonomic splits and lumps, the totals in parentheses reflect current taxonomy (Clements World Bird Checklist, Version 6.9).

22 January 2015

15 February 2013

For our last full day in the Wild Sumaco area we decided the night before to head a little further afield, down toward the Amazon basin. We were kinda winging it so to speak, as we really had no clear plan on where we were heading or what we expected to see. The drive from the lodge to Lareto took about an hour, and in less than half that time we descended several hundreds of meters out of a landscape dominated by mountains and into one that was so flat that no end could be seen from an elevated vantage point. Along with the descent in elevation came a rapid increase in humidity and temperature, two of my least favourite things.

We woke at 5:00am and departed the lodge at 6:00am. The first half of the drive was in the dark, but as soon as the light was enough for bird activity, we soon began to see a variety of new species. The first bird of the day for me was a lifer, Black Caracara, just outside of the village of Lareto. Within the village were several Black Vultures, Tropical Kingbirds, Smooth-billed Anis, and a single Russet-backed Oropendola. At a small pool of water we added Spotted Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper to the day list, as well as Blue-and-White Swallow, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Black-billed Thrush.

Once through the village of Lareto we were on the lookout for a place to get off the main road and do some birding by foot. A few miles later we found what we were looking for - Suyuno River Road. Immediately upon starting to bird this road I got my second, third, and fourth lifer for the day: Solitary Black Cacique, White-shouldered Antbird, and Chestnut-eared Aracari. We then saw Short-tailed Swift and Gilded Barbet before adding my next lifer, Great Antshrike. I should note already that although it wasn't even 8:00am yet, the heat and humidity were starting to get to me. Thankfully, more good birds kept my attention diverted from the discomfort, such as White-fronted Nunbird and Black-capped Donacobius of which both were lifers. Shortly after those were three more lifers...Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Orange-winged Parrot, and Opal-crowned Tanager. How good can this place be?

As birds seemed to be everywhere in the morning, the temperature was gradually climbing and you could literally feel the bird activity starting to dwindle. Nevertheless, the birding was still quite good as we observed Giant Cowbird, Dusky-headed Parakeet (lifer), Crested Oropendola, Plumbeous Kite, and Yellow-billed Dacnis. By about 10:00am we had moved a couple of miles down the road where we located a small, yet muddy, footpath leading into the forest. At the entrance to the trail I added Greater Yellow-headed Vulture to my life list, and just inside the trail Andrew found Golden-bellied Euphonia and Ruddy Pigeon. We decided to hike further into the forest to see what we could find, but the hiking was slow going through the mud and the heat and humidity were quickly causing exhaustion. About 1000 m into the forest we found Dusky-chested Flycatcher along with four Black-mantled Tamarins and four Squirrel Monkey's, but otherwise the birding was slow. Howard and I were both feeling the struggle, and so decided to go back to the van before we became a health risk. Simon, Malcom and Andrew pressed on for about another hour or so, while Howard and I tried to lower our core temperature. We drank plenty of water and had a bite to eat and did begin to feel better. We did walk up and down the road a bit while waiting for the others, but we only managed to add a couple of birds, of which one, the Masked Crimson-Tanager, was a lifer for me.

Once the three amigos returned from the forest, with about 10 species that Howard and I didn't get to see, we continued the day walking along the road, slowly adding a few species here and there. Highlights included Orange-backed Troupial, Crane Hawk, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Bat Falcon, Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch, and Rufescent Tiger-Heron. By now we had thoroughly exhausted ourselves during our few hours in the Amazon basin, and on the way back to the lodge we were excited to stop for ice cream, even if it only provided temporary relief from the heat. Back at the lodge, fully showered and resting on the balcony, we watched birds heading to their roosts as the sun set. Despite the heat and humidity, it was an excellent day of birding.

Total species today: 70
Total cumulative species for the trip:  442
Total lifers today:  17
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 152

14 February 2013

Our third full day at Wild Sumaco and we spent the entire time working the various trails around the lodge. Once again it was an early rise at 5:30am, and a departure from the lodge at 6:25am. As first light began to break, a small family of Speckled Chachalaca hopped about the large cercopias behind the lodge. At one of the feeders, a Golden-tailed Sapphire was the first of several hummingbirds to begin the daily routine. Around the bungalows was Canada Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, and Yellow-browed Sparrow. After leaving the lodge grounds we made our way to the F.A.C.E trail, which soon began to once again churn out good birds.

Near the entrance to the trail we saw Plain Antvireo and Linneated Foliage-Gleaner, followed shortly after by Linneated Antshrike, White-winged Becard, and four Chestnut-fronted Macaw's flying overhead. There were also several Yellow-tufted Woodpecker's chattering as they jumped among various snags. Once on the F.A.C.E trail I got my first lifer for the day, White-streaked Antvireo. This was immediately followed by my second lifer for the day, Yellow-throated Spadebill, a tough bird to get in the area and one that our tour leader Andrew Spencer was very excited to see and photograph. Further along the trail we added Paradise Tanager, White-crowned Manakin, Foothill Elaenia (lifer), Ash-browed Spinetail, Flame-crested Tanager (lifer), Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner, and Rufous-tailed Foliage-Gleaner (lifer). The day was off to a fantastic start, especially with the addition of so many new species.

Following this surge of lifers was a lull. We saw several good species, such as Ashy-throated Chlorospingus, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Orange-eared Tanager, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, and Silver-beaked Tanager, but not were new for the life list. By now it was nearing mid-day and so we headed back to the lodge for lunch and a short break. While at the lodge I added several birds to the day list, including Black-mandibled Mountain-Toucan, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Red-headed Barbet, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Gould's Jewelfront, and Wire-crested Thorntail. After lunch we walked the Piha trail, which was a short drive down the road and a long walk downhill...a very long walk, riddled with stairs. Going down wasn't so bad, but knowing I had to come back up was looming in the back of my mind. I was certain I had not done enough Stairmaster steps to prepare for this trail!

Along the trail we saw very little in the way of birds. Only when we got to the bottom was there a small hint of bird activity. My only lifer on this trail was Collared Trogon, but other good birds included Purple Honeycreeper, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Ornate Flycatcher, and White-backed Fire-eye. After climbing back up the stairs, all 719 of them, I was more than happy to sit on the benches at the top and watch the hummingbird feeders for an hour. Here we saw several good hummingbirds, including Blue-fronted Lancebill, Black-throated Brilliant, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Napo Sabrewing, and Ecuadorian Piedtail.

As the day began to wind down we slowly worked our way back along the road adding several birds to the day list, such as Military Macaw, Magpie Tanager, Olivaceous Siskin, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, White-collared Swift, and Green-and-Gold Tanager. My last lifer for the day was Black-banded Woodcreeper, and my last new bird before dinner was Blue-browed Tanager. Following dinner we decided to do a bit of night-birding. In the span of about an hour we added Common Paraque (heard only) and Band-bellied Owl (excellent views).

Total species today: 82
Total cumulative species for the trip:  407
Total lifers today:  7
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 135