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).