ththEcuador 4 to 28 January 2008
A trip to Ecuador or Costa Rica had been on the horizon for several years and in the end we decided to take the plunge after numerous discussions with tour operators at the Bird Fair over the last two years. The die was cast and Ecuador came out on top. We ended up speaking and planning at length with two companies; Tropical Birding
http://www.tropicalbirding.com and Neblina Forest
http://www.neblinaforest.com/main.php. Initially both were very helpful with planning
itineraries and deciding where to visit, costing, guides, etc but after a while, as we were about to decide who to trust our arrangements to, Iain Campbell at Tropical Birding took the huff as we had the gall to still be talking to someone else and abruptly told us he wasn’t prepared to reserve a particular guide for us and advised we would be better making other arrangements. I was so taken aback by his attitude I couldn’t think of a
suitable decent reply to his terse email. In some respects this saved us a difficult decision as Byron Palacios, Neblina Forest’s representative in the UK at the time, had impressed
us with his attitude and help to date. Neblina therefore ended up handling all our ground arrangements in Ecuador, including internal flights.
Biologically, South America is the richest continent on Earth. The Amazon Basin holds the largest and most diverse tract of tropical rainforest on the planet and the Andes harbours an astonishing variety of ecosystems ranging from the tundra-like páramo and epiphyte-laden cloud forest to rain-shadow valleys and deciduous deserts. The diversity of birdlife found in Ecuador is the greatest, in relation to size, in South America and with friendly people, relatively short travel distances and good accommodation, birdwatching here is incredible.
We arranged our flights to Ecuador early in October 2007 via St Andrews Travel http://www.standrewstravel.com who had always served us well in the past. We used
KLM flying from Manchester via Amsterdam. Wanting creature comforts we flew thBusiness Class departing Manchester at 19.20 on 4 January and arriving Amsterdam
21.40. Flight KL753 left Amsterdam at 23.25 arriving in Quito at 09.00 the following thmorning. We returned on Flight KL 754 departing Quito at 10.15 on 27 January arriving
Amsterdam 05.00 the next morning, with a connecting flight to Manchester leaving at 07.20 and arriving at 07.45 (local times are used). The Amsterdam-Quito flight uses the same aircraft throughout but stops at Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) and Guayaquil before arrival at Quito and onward return via Bonaire to Amsterdam. Stops are at least 1 hour in each location for fuel, cleaning, debarkation and embarkation.
Manchester-Amsterdam 1 hour
Amsterdam-Bonaire 10 hours
Bonaire-Guayaquil 2 hours 50 minutes
Guayaquil-Quito 30 minutes
Quito-Bonaire 2 hours 10 minutes
Bonaire-Amsterdam 8 hours 30 minutes
Quito-Loja 50 minutes
Quito-Coca 30 minutes
Manchester-Quito Schedules comparison:-
KLM Out 18hrs 40 mins Return 16hrs 30 mins
Iberia Out 26hrs 40 mins Return 20hrs 25 mins
Travelling extensively, our path crossed Quito several times. Whilst here we used Hotel
Sebastian http://www.wcities.com/en/record/,146620/324/record.html staying a total of 6
nights. The rooms are large, with either double or twin beds. Everywhere is clean and very comfortable, the food is good and English is spoken by several of the staff, who are ththall very helpful. We stayed on the 5 and 7 Floors and had no problems with noise from
the street below. The Hotel is 5 km from the airport and proved to be very convenient for all our requirements, including two computers, with free internet access, which are available for guests.
On our travels (where all rooms were en suite) we visited:-
Sachatamia Lodge Mindo http://www.sachatamia.com/SACHA2008/about_us.htm
We had the top floor suite with both a double and single bed and a large adjacent sitting area. This was very comfortable, but probably not representative of all the other rooms. Everywhere was clean, the staff were attentive, although no English was spoken and the food was very good.
Tapichalaca Lodge http://fjocotoco.org/news/news-jul2001tap.htm Our room was a
little on the small size here, but still had a double bed and was very comfortable and clean. Although no English was spoken, the local staff were excellent, being very friendly and providing good food. They were also prepared to provide a very reasonably priced laundry service.
Hotel Libertador Loja http://www.vivatravelguides.com/south-
Our room was large, comfortable and clean, but a little tired. The food in the restaurant was OK but very little English was spoken (the menu was only in Spanish) and we were glad William was with us to act as interpreter. The pillows on the bed were hard (very) and with our room facing the street, there was quite a bit of noise from the road as we tried to get to sleep at 21.30. Free internet access was available to guests via one computer.
Tundaloma Lodge http://www.ecuadorboutiquehotels.com/tundalomalodge The
lodge is in an excellent location and has been under new management for about 6 months (Jan 2008). There were few other guests when we were there and we were allocated cabin No 1, halfway up the steep climb to the dining room and bar on the hilltop where the
property is situated. Andreas, the manager, speaks a little English. The detached cabin was quite small with a double bed and two bunk beds. Air was circulated by a wall mounted fan over the bed but there were frequent lengthy power cuts every day whilst we were there. The windows in the bath room/toilet were large and clear glass and although there was a shower curtain which covered the bath and full window on one side, the other window was only half covered and, looking out over the grounds and car park it was possible to watch birds (and be watched) whilst on the loo. Every time we had a shower, the water ran cold in under a minute. The whole place was in need of a little TLC and although some headway was being made, simple home comforts were missing when we arrived (only one set of towels, no drinking water, no spare loo roll, no non-slip bath mat in shower). The owners are trying but there is quite a bit of room for improvement. Internet access was offered, if required.
Termas de Papallacta Lodge and Spa http://www.termaspapallacta.com We were in
cabin No 10 around the main thermal pools. The room was spotless, very comfortable with a single as well as double bed and was heated by a hot air fan assisted by the thermal springs. There was a spacious dining area and the food was OK. Unfortunately there was a group of North American teenagers on a school trip who appeared to have little or no supervision and around 21.00 as we were turning in for the night, they decided to have a party in and around the pool outside our cabin window until 24.00. Unfortunately there was also a table and two chairs, provided for smokers, on the walkway outside the room, right next to our window and a couple from one of the adjoining rooms chose to drink, smoke and talk loudly there for a few hours…perhaps they were supervising the party!
Needless to say, being up early the next morning, we had very little sleep.
Guango Lodge http://cabanasanisidro.com/pages/guango_lodge.htm We had an
excellent lunch at this small, friendly birding lodge which is under the same ownership as San Isidro. With hindsight, although Termas was very comfortable, we would probably have been better staying overnight here, only 20 minutes down the road and in much more peaceful surroundings.
Cabanas San Isidro http://cabanasanisidro.com We were allocated No2, a very
comfortable semi-detached cabin nearest to the car park. The room had twin beds, was spotless and had its own seating area with table and chairs, plus a small outside balcony overlooking the forest. The food was excellent and perhaps too imaginative for some
tastes. With a North American manageress, language was not an issue. Overall, this was probably the best and most enjoyable accommodation we stayed in.
Napo Wildlife Centre http://www.napowildlifecenter.com Described as a luxury lodge
situated within the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is said to have the largest, best conserved and most diverse tract of Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador. Built on the shore of Añangu Lake, NWC is a conservation project which supports a unique 82 square-mile (22,000 hectare) private nature reserve within the park, and is an ancestral territory of the Añangu community who co-own the centre. Anyway, enough of the publicity material. We were allocated No7 a lakeside cabin providing rustic rather than luxury accommodation (suppose all things are relative in the jungle). We had
a large room with a comfortable double bed and a second, part partitioned section with a further single bed. A ceiling fan kept the air moving. The bathroom was clean, although the brown water, which came from the lake and was recycled back there in an ecologically sound manner, could be a little disconcerting at times. The furniture was however quite dusty, especially the chairs. Each veranda had a hammock slung across it –
a nice idea, but a table and chairs would have been a distinct improvement. Access to our cabin was up a slippery painted concrete slope plus 9 slippery painted concrete steps –
again, a nice idea but not very practical (speaking from experience). Staff were attentive and the meals were quite varied in content and were OK to good overall (as long as you didn’t mind ants in the sugar and occasionally on your plate). The drinking water was
always tepid and would have benefitted from refrigeration. The place has a commercial and touristy feel to it and appears to be run to a set formula (anyone remember “Fantasy
Island”?). Transport throughout is by dugout canoe; although we never found ourselves up a creek without a paddle. The excursions into the jungle all potentially involve an early breakfast with a daily 04.30 wake up call, both for birders and non-birders alike. Overall NWC was probably one of the least enjoyable experiences of our trip. Internet access was offered at US$5 for 30 minutes.
As we travelled Business Class the in-flight food was good. The only drawback is being woken up at 03.00/04.00 in the morning for breakfast; that is, if you have managed to get to sleep. At least you do have the choice of whether or not you want breakfast. The food in Ecuador varied mainly from good to excellent with the best being San Isidro and Guango Lodges. Food was always plentiful with lots of fresh fruit and fruit juice. One area which could have been improved was the picnic or box lunches provided by Neblina out of Quito. Neither quality nor quantity were a problem, it was the boring repetitive nature of the food. We had 3 or 4 cold chicken leg joints and 2 cold pork steaks as alternatives once the abundance of chicken had been pointed out. This was always accompanied by a pasta salad, which invariably looked and tasted the same. Bags of plantain crisps and a sweet flavoured popcorn always accompanied the meal and were repeatedly returned unopened. A bit more variety would have been appreciated. The picnic lunches provided by both Sachatamia and San Isidro were excellent and surprisingly, as it had accompanied us on the plane from Quito, the lunch on the boat ride down the Napo River was good, with a sandwich rather than cold meat and pasta.
Four wheel drive vehicles and drivers were provided by Neblina Forest. Local flights from Quito to both Loja and Coca and back saved considerable time on the road. Transport at Napo was by dugout canoe. A large proportion of the roads on which we travelled were unmetalled tracks and with heavy rainfall they can at times be very muddy or even disintegrate altogether. The majority can probably be negotiated in an ordinary car but we were very grateful on a number of occasions to be in a 4x4 and this also allowed us to visit some areas which we wouldn't otherwise have attempted.
thstOur main guide, William Perez, met us at the airport and was with us from 5 to 21
January. Augusto was our driver in the north whilst we had Pedro in Loja and the south east. William was very good both at hearing and spotting birds we would otherwise have missed. His identification skills are excellent – there was only one call which had him
confused for a while. He has an easy manner when dealing with people, was good company and invaluable to us as an interpreter. As well as working with Neblina, William guides independently and can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Napo Wildlife Centre provided a local guide, Jorge Ribadeneira and a bird guide, Ruben Proano, for our stay there. Unfortunately the Napo guides were not exclusive to us all the time and when in a mixed party, the quality of birding deteriorated. Jorge was always very courteous and is an excellent spotter and finder of even the most skulking species. Ruben has been a wildlife guide for 10 years, a bird guide for the last 5 and by his own admission is still learning. Most species were identified correctly, but he seemed to rely heavily on Jorge at times. Again, it was good to have Ruben with us as an interpreter, although I think he has a way to go with inter-personal skills yet.
Both bird guides (and others we saw) made extensive use of MP3 players for bird calls. When I first encountered this in Hungary eight years ago, I thought it was a brilliant idea to attract the more difficult, skulking species as long as used sensibly. I am now beginning to wonder about the benefits – in Ecuador I reckon “taping” was less than 50%
effective at producing a sighting. When I asked William he said he felt the percentage was about right, but if he were to go to a relatively new area, such as the Wildsumaco Lodge, http://www.wildsumaco.com/html/sumacobirdinglodge.php success rates would
soar. “Taping” appears to have become the easy option for some guides and over use has perhaps resulted in birds becoming accustomed to playback and not “performing” on
demand. One new innovation we found was the use of laser pointers to indicate the location of birds in the forest. It certainly improved the speed with which we were both able to acquire birds and meant we had longer to enjoy them before they moved on. This practice seems to be OK as long as the laser does not hit and scare the bird.
; Business Class Flights ?2340 each. Economy Flights were ?746 each with KLM ndand ?867 each with Iberia on 22 November 2007 using Expedia.
; Ground arrangements in Ecuador ?3120 each to include: - All accommodation
plus meals in all the lodges and in Loja. Private 4x4 vehicle and driver. Packed
lunches & bottled water when appropriate. Local flights. Guide & driver expenses.
All reserve/park entrance fees.
; Dinner each evening in Quito (6 nights x cUS$50 (?25) per night, including beer
; Quito Airport Tax US$42 (?20) per person.
At the outset we specified we wanted the most comfortable lodges available and also good quality hotels. We were not particularly interested in keeping costs down and could have done the trip for much less, but as we tend to like our creature comforts the flights and accommodation were ideal for us.
RESEARCH & TRIP ESSENTIALS
Brief info on everything for birding can be found on the Fatbirder web site http://www.fatbirder.com/links_geo/america_south/equador.html.
A good selection of trip reports can also be found on the Travelling Birder web site at http://www.travellingbirder.com/tripreports/trip_reports_Ecuador.php?from=1&to=12.
Recommended reading: - Lonely Planet Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands ISBN 1-
74104-295-X, The Birds of Ecuador by Ridgely and Greenfield A Field Guide (Volume 2) ISBN 0-7136-6117-8, Birds of Northern South America An Identification Guide by Restall, Rodner and Lentino ISBN 0-7136-7243-9.
Currency: - US $
Health: - Appropriate protection is required for Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. Malaria is a risk throughout the year below 1500 metres. Malarone is the recommended protection and costing around ?2 a tablet, does not come cheap. Protection was required for both the Choco and Amazon sections of the trip and with hindsight we would have arranged these two areas together to cut down on tablets (and possible side effects) as they need to be taken two days before entering a potential danger area and seven days after leaving. Mossie nets are provided in the Amazon and whilst there are lots of bugs in the forest, it’s not too bad when you’re on the water. Although liberally treated with insect repellent, we both ended up with lots of itching bites, especially around the ankles. Altitude Sickness is also a possibility, although we were never troubled by the height, other than getting a little out of breath when walking up steep slopes for any distance.
Climate: - Even in the dry seasons the weather can be changeable and both
wellingtons/waterproof boots and ponchos/raingear are recommended, especially for the Amazon. Although we were there in the dry season, wellingtons were still essential on the trails. More information on what to expect throughout the year can be found in The Birds of Ecuador Volume 1 by Ridgely and Greenfield ISBN 0-7136-6116-X. This volume also contains information on the various areas and their habitats as well as dealing with the status, distribution and taxonomy of the country’s birds.
Quito was usually dry with a mixture of sunshine and low cloud. Travelling northwest to lower altitudes we saw quite a bit of persistent rain/drizzle around Milpe, Mindo and Bellavista. From Loja to Tapichalaca and beyond, we could nearly always see clouds and rain in the distance but we enjoyed unusually good, hot sunny weather most of the time we were there. Towards San Lorenzo on the Pacific coast the weather became hotter and more humid, although it didn’t rain quite as much as around Milpe. The first time we
went over Papallacta Pass everywhere was shrouded in low cloud and it was noticeably colder. There was also quite a bit of persistent drizzle for a few hours each day. On our return four days later it was brighter and quite clear but there was a howling, freezing
wind by the radio masts as we tried to relocate the 2 seedsnipes we had disturbed on our arrival. San Isidro was cool but clear most of the time with very little rain. Antisana was sunny and reasonably warm, as was Yanacocha early in the morning, until the usual mists rolled in at about 11.00, accompanied by a light drizzle for half an hour as we travelled the Nono-Mindo old road in the afternoon. The Amazon was hot and sticky but dry throughout, with lots of sunshine.
When we first started planning our itinerary, a trip to The Galapagos was firmly on the agenda, but I am an awful sailor and in the end we decided a severe bout of seasickness could spoil our holiday and to compensate, we substituted the Pacific north west “Choco” region and the inland south east Loja area to search for “Tumbesian” endemic species.
Day 1 - 5th Jan – Quito to Mindo via Calacali. o/n Sachatamia Lodge.
Day 2 - 6th Jan – Mindo road junction then Milpe. o/n Sachatamia Lodge.
Day 3 - 7th Jan – Refugio Angel Paz and Bellavista area. o/n Hotel Sebastian.
Day 4 - 8th Jan – Loja area and south via Vilcabamba. o/n Tapichalaca Lodge.
Day 5 - 9th Jan – Jocotoco Antpitta trail then Valladolid area. o/n Tapichalaca Lodge. Day 6 - 10th Jan – Road to El Porvenir then back to Loja. o/n Hotel Libertador.
Day 7 - 11th Jan – San Lorenzo via Otavalo, Ibarra and Lita. o/n Tundaloma Lodge. Day 8 - 12th Jan – Concepcion road and San Francisco area. o/n Tundaloma Lodge.
Day 9 - 13th Jan – Alto Tambo then road to Ricaute near lodge. o/n Tundaloma Lodge. Day 10 - 14th Jan – Progreso Road then return to Quito. o/n Hotel Sebastian.
Day 11 - 15th Jan – Papallacta Pass. o/n Termas de Papallacta Lodge & Spa.
Day 12 - 16th Jan – San Isidro via Guango Lodge, Borja/Baeza. o/n Cabanas San Isidro. Day 13 - 17th Jan – Full day around San Isidro area. o/n Cabanas San Isidro.
Day 14 - 18th Jan – Loreto Road. o/n Cabanas San Isidro.
Day 15 - 19th Jan – Guacamayos Ridge then Quito, via Papallacta. o/n Hotel Sebastian. Day 16 - 20th Jan – Antisana Reserve. o/n Hotel Sebastian.
Day 17 - 21st Jan – Yanacocha returning via Nono-Mindo old road. o/n Hotel Sebastian. Day 18 - 22nd Jan – Quito-Coca flight with VIP. o/n Napo Wildlife Centre.
Day 19 - 23rd Jan – Tiputini Trail plus canoe trip. o/n NWC.
Day 20 - 24th Jan – Forest Canopy Tower plus canoe trip. o/n NWC.
Day 21 - 25th Jan – Parrot clay licks plus Lodge canopy tower. o/n NWC.
Day 22 - 26th Jan – Flight to Quito. o/n Hotel Sebastian.
Day 23 - 27th Jan – Return to UK
DIARY and SITE REVIEW
thDay 0: Friday 4 January 2008
Depart Manchester 19.20. Arrive Amsterdam 21.40. Depart 23.35 for Quito.
thDay 1: January 5 2008.
On arrival at Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito (2800 metres) at 09.00, our guide, William Perez and driver, Augusto, were waiting to drive us out of the city towards the northwest slope and Mindo, along the Quito – Esmeraldas highway. Birding on the way, our first
stop was at the Pululahua crater, a small National Park just outside Quito – great views
but hardly any birds and too many tourists. We passed the new, very commercialised equatorial monument “Mitad del Mundo” and instead visited the original monument in
the centre of Calacali. As we left the town we spotted some bird activity in a garden including Band-tailed Seedeater, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Southern Yellow Grosbeak and Ash-breasted Sierra-finch. Moving on past the Nono road we stopped for a picnic lunch and picked up Cinereous Conebill, Rufous-chested Tanager and Azara’s Spinetail. It started to rain around 14.30 as we were heading towards Sachatamia Lodge (1500 metres) which is situated just off the highway and located in the heart of the subtropical cloud-forest. Numerous hummingbirds and tanagers crowded around the feeders despite the steady drizzle. Dusky Bush-Tanager, Rufous-chested Tanager, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, White-tailed Hillstar and Velvet-purple Coronet were the stars as we notched up 14 hummingbirds and 15 tanagers on our first day. At 16.30 we drove through Mindo and down to the river where we searched in vain for Fasciated Tiger-heron. We did however manage to see Rusty Margined Flycatcher, Golden-face Tyrannulet, White-capped Dipper, White-shouldered Tanager and Golden-headed Quetzal. We ended up with 69 species for the day; not bad, considering the time of our arrival and time spent getting on the road, travelling time and the rainy afternoon.
th 2008. Day 2: January 6
At first light and before breakfast we set off down the Milpe Road to the Mindo junction to watch the frenzy of birds feeding on the moths and insects attracted to the lights there. Unfortunately, today the main light was out, but birds are creatures of habit and we were not disappointed. As we arrived at the junction a beautiful Black and White Owl was sitting on top of the huge roadside sign there, whilst a Short-tailed Nighthawk made the best of the early light to finish off the night’s feeding. Streak-capped Treehunter,
Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Tricoloured Brush-finch, Sepia-brown Wren, Slaty Spinetail, Strong-billed Woodcreeper and Golden-crowned Flycatcher were just a few of the early morning appetisers. Returning to the Lodge we saw Brown Violetear, Buff-tailed Coronet and Green-crowned Brilliant before a leisurely breakfast. We then moved on to the Milpe Bird Sanctuary (1000 metres) owned by the Mindo Cloud-forest Foundation http://www.mindocloudforest.org/. We stopped the vehicle almost as soon as we turned
off the highway down the approach road to Milpe as there were birds everywhere, despite a light drizzle. White-thighed Swallow, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Pale-mandibled Aracari , Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Red-faced Spinetail, Rufous-throated Tanager, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Swallow Tanager, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner and Black-winged Saltator all put in an appearance, whilst the first three, of many, magnificent Swallow-tailed Kite sailed overhead. The rain stopped as we progressed down the track but as we arrived at the Bird Sanctuary the heavens opened for 30 minutes. Relief was at hand – the Sanctuary has a small visitor centre providing coffee and toilet facilities and of course there were hummingbird feeders, where we saw Green-crowned Woodnymph, White-whiskered Hermit and Green Thorntail, amongst others. As
the rain slackened off we headed for the trails and found Orange-billed Sparrow, Yellow Tyrannulet, Immaculate Antbird, Choco Warbler, Smoky Brown Woodpecker, both Golden-winged and Club-winged Manakin, plus Scaly-throated, Buff-fronted and Lineated Foliage Gleaner. We returned to the Lodge for lunch, during which William leaped up and ran outside, as somehow, he had spotted three Toucan Barbet land in the large tree opposite the front entrance, where they remained for a few minutes, enabling us to get excellent views.
Further along the main north western road, about 40 km beyond Sachatamia, is the Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary near the town of Pedro Vicente Maldonado. The reserve is well known for the Choco endemics to be found there at the southern edge of their range and was originally on our itinerary. As we were heading to San Lorenzo and the heart of the Choco region later in our trip we decided our time in the area would be better spent with a return to Milpe after lunch, where we added Choco Toucan, One-coloured Becard, White-winged Becard, Arcadian Flycatcher, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Spotted Woodcreeper and an excellent Spotted Nightingale-thrush. Despite the cloud cover the temperature was around 20?C for most of the day and apart from one downpour, there was a light drizzle on and off all day – apparently good birding weather as we had 108
species, taking our total to 144.
th 2008. Day 3: January 7
Today we were out by 05.00 to visit the Refugio Paz de las Aves (1850 metres) http://www.neotropicalbirdclub.org/articles/neobirding/neobirding2.pdf to see Angel Paz
and hopefully some antpittas. Please note visits must be pre-booked – see link. We
arrived in the dark and with wellingtons and torches at the ready, set off for a 30 minute walk down a steep, rocky, slippery muddy path to the site’s Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek.
It was still dark, deep in the forest, when we arrived at the small hide overlooking the lek. As dawn chased the night away we eventually picked up three male Cock-of-the-rock deep in the foliage about 30 metres away. Returning in the daylight towards the antpitta sites we saw 2 Rufous-bellied Nighthawk at their roost and a beautiful male Masked Trogon. “Maria” (the Giant Antpitta) was playing hard to get today and after waiting for well over 30 minutes, we were eventually asked to slip-slide down another steep, muddy, rocky path towards the river bed. Whilst waiting we were fortunate to pick up an Olivaceous Piha in the foliage overhead. Down at the river we were finally successful with Giant Antpitta and moving along to another riverside site we saw a Yellow-breasted Antpitta (“Willy”). Re-tracing our steps back uphill towards another favoured site we saw Scaled Fruiteater, Black-chinned Mountain Tanager, 2 Capuchin Monkeys and “Shakira”,
an Ochre-breasted Antpitta with a penchant for wiggling its rear end. Further up the hill we rested for a while at the hummingbird feeder station where we picked up Gorgeted Sunangel, Andean Solitaire and, a little further on, Yellow-faced Grassquit. Unfortunately photo opportunities were almost non-existent in the dark forested conditions, despite the proximity of the antpittas. Back at the old farmhouse in the car park area we had a late, local breakfast courtesy of the Paz family, before moving on to the Bellavista area (2000-2200 metres). As we made our first stop it started to rain; lightly at first but very quickly turning persistent. In worsening conditions we managed to
see at least two Plate-billed Mountain Toucan. As we were eventually heading back to Quito the day nearly ended there at 13.00, but as we were passing Bellavista Lodge William came up with the idea of a stop at Tony’s house for the hummingbird feeders
and our picnic lunch. This was an excellent idea: we were able to eat our lunch, seated comfortably under cover, under part of the property, whilst watching hummingbirds milling around the numerous feeders in the garden. Tony Nunnery, a Texan and his German wife Barbara have lived in Ecuador for a number of years and apparently, first brought the idea of hummingbird feeders to the area. Visitors are always made very welcome here, for a small fee to help with the cost of maintaining the feeders. In his “spare time” Tony guides tours for Victor Emmanuel Tours in South America. Whilst lunching we saw White-sided Flowerpiercer, Western Emerald, Brown Violetear and Rufous-winged Tyrannulet: moreover Tony took us around his “garden” to show us a
Common Potoo at its daytime roost. Afterwards we returned to Quito via the Tandayapa valley and Calacali, where we once again stopped for some dry habitat birding and tried
rare White-tailed Shrike-tyrant, without success; but we did pick up two male for the
Black-tailed Trainbearer. Over the years the area around Bellavista and its forested valley has gained an impressive reputation for the quality and number of birds usually seen there. However with the weather very much against us, a fairly full morning spent at the antpitta reserve and Quito beckoning, we managed just 55 birds for the day.
thDay 4: January 8 2008.
Another early start this morning – up at 04.30 and out by 05.45 – as our 50 minute flight
from Quito to Loja departs just before 07.00. The alternative is a 700km drive taking between 11 and 12 hours. The area around Catamayo airport (1300 metres) near Loja is ideal birding terrain and having packed our cases in the back of our new driver Pedro’s
vehicle, we were immediately on the lookout for Tumbesian endemics. Before we left the airport car park we had already picked up Saffron Finch, Croaking Ground-dove, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Peruvian Meadowlark and Pacific Pygmy Owl. After about 30 minutes we finally left the car park and moved on to a waste-land type site virtually across the road and under 1km away. Whilst there we met Santiago Hidalgo, whose family own the land, as well as sugar plantations in the area. Talking to Santiago was very interesting and he appeared to take his responsibilities to his workforce very seriously, as well as keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Although he was quite happy for us to explore the land, workmen were clearing a substantial area for a house to be built and access might not be so easy in the future. Driving along a track into a dry valley we got out of the vehicle and were rewarded with Tumbes Sparrow, Purple-collared Woodstar, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Elegant Crescent-chest, Fasciated Wren, Tawny-crowned Pygmy Tyrant, Amazilia Hummingbird, Parrot-billed Seedeater and Collared Warbling-finch. We spent over an hour here and picked up some really good birds. We then left the site and returned to the paved road for a short while before tuning off on to a track, described as a short cut, which bypassed Loja (2000 metres) and headed towards the Podocarpus National Park. On the way we added Long-billed Starthroat, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Collared Antshrike and Black-capped Sparrow. We drove down a track just before the town of Vilcabamba (1600 metres) to eat our picnic lunch, but the birds just wouldn’t stop coming: we saw Yellow-tailed Oriole, Glowing Puffleg and