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.