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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 3 through 10

Unfortunately I have been without Internet capability for the past week, so I have to summarize what we have been doing since my last report. We spent three days at Wildsumaco lodge in the eastern foothills. We had one day of continuous rain making birding a little difficult, but by the end of our visit there we had recorded 141 species bring our total for the eastern slopes portion of our trip to 240.
Some of the most notable species were the Rufous-throated Sapphire and the Bicolared Hawk.

We returned to Quito to visit Antisana, Parque Jerusalem and Pasachoa. During this period we recorded 60 more species including the Cinerious Harrier and the Black-faced Ibis.

We traveled to Mindo Yesterday after stopping at Yanacocha and by evening we had an additional 40 birds. We walked the Yellow house trails today and had an incredible encounter with a pair of Crimson-backed Woodpeckers as we watched them share food at their nest inside a large dead tree along the Mindo River road. Total bird count so far stands at 350, with visits to Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Rio Silanche, Tandayapa valley and Paz de las Aves still on the calendar. Should have Internet from here on out so I will don't best to stay up to date with the trip progress

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 2 of 15-day birding adventure

Arose this morning at 6:00 am for breakfast. Then proceeded outside to observe the morning visitors to the lodge area. We were greeted by a variety of early risers such as Masked Trogon, Russet-backed Orependolo, along with numerous tanagers and hummingbirds. After visiting the feeding stations to view the White-bellied and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas, we walked the Antvireo trail to see what the forest offered. Undaunted by some showers we were able to spot Speckled-faced Parrots and Emerald Toucanets. In the evening we successfully tracked down an Andean Potoo befor calling it a day. Our total bird count for two days now stands at 100 species. Tomorrow, after a period of biding we will head to Wildsumaco for a three day visit.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 1 of 15- day birding adventure.

Started this morning on a 15-day birding adventure guiding a couple from British Colombia, arrived at Guango Lodge this morning at 8:00 am. After spending a few minutes at the dining area for a cup of coffee, we proceeded to walk the river trail, sighting specifies such as masked trogon, torrent duck, northern mountain cacique and many others. After birding until noon, we observed a total of 31 species.
Leaving Guango Lodge at 12:30pm, we proceeded to San Isidro, arrive a little more than an hour later. After showing my new friends the layout of the lodge and reserve we passes some time at the overlook, observing a total of nine different species of tanagers. We passes the rest of the afternoon viewing hummingbirds and other species, completing the day with a list of 57 species for the day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Finding the Critically Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg

Black-breasted Puffleg - Female (Eriocnemis nigrivestis)

Now that my first book has been completed I decided to get out and see if I can discover a new lifer. This is the time of the year for a visit from the Black-breasted Puffleg up at the Yanacocha Reserve west of Quito. The Jocotoco Foundation purchased this land for the preservation of this critically endangered species and although I have visited the area many times in the past this rare hummingbird has succeeded in eluding me.

When I awoke yesterday morning I was greeted by clear skies. This is not always a good thing. Most of the birds in Ecuador prefer overcast or cloudy skies with little wind. We are now into the dry season and the sun feels much hotter than usual. However, I had my hopes up that this would be the day to track down my prized quarry.

I arrived at Yanacocha Reserve at 7:00 AM after making a minor detour in Quito due to road construction at the Machala Avenue entrance. Most directions suggest passing the Machala Ave. road and making a u-turn to access the Ecoroute. The new bridge being installed forces the traveler to enter from a different direct. Unfortunately, as is common in Ecuador, no signs are provided for a detour. If you are traveling in Quito for the next month or two be aware that you may have to reach Machala Ave. by taking some back roads.

When I arrived at the reserve there was another car parked at the guardhouse so I knew that I was not alone. I set out on the main trail in search of foraging flocks to whet my appetite before reaching the feeders near the tunnels. There was a stiff breeze blowing that made the morning air feel a little cooler than it actually was. As I had expected, the clear skies and wind had greatly affected the bird activity and very little was happening as I walked slowing along the path. About midway to the feeding area I encountered Gustavo Cabezas and his friend Sebastian, two local guides who were out searching the area for any high altitude species. After introductions we decided to walk together since the extra eyes are always an advantage.

Rufous Antpitta (Grallaria rufula)
On the way to the tunnels we saw few birds other than a Rufous Antpitta that appeared on the trail for a few seconds, and a handful of hummers such as the Shining Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing and Buff-winged Starfrontlet. Arriving at the feeders did not produce much more. The activity was the lowest that I have ever encountered in the area. We saw less than 10 hummers while there and only a couple of new species such as the Sword-billed Hummingbird and the Mountain Velvetbreast.

After spending a little more time at the feeders we decided to head back towards the entrance. We encountered a few more birds along the way including the Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch and a couple of Andean Guans. The Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercers were present but not in as great a number as usual. When we reached the Black-breasted Puffleg trail we decided to go down for a look and see if there was anything occurring. When we arrived in the clearing about 100 meters from the main trail there were several birds moving around. A couple of Rufous Wrens were hopping through the trees and two more Rufous Antpittas came out on the trail looking for food. A pair of Barred Fruiteaters was present and a nice addition to a fairly slow day. We heard a hummingbird but it took several minutes to discover where it was located.

After some anxious moments the hummer finally perched on a branch about five meters from us and remained there for several minutes while we decided if we had finally discovered that jewel we had been seeking. Since none of us had encountered the Black-breasted Puffleg before we wanted to be sure that what was sitting in front of us was more than a dream. This was a female, which has different markings and more difficult to identify. The hummer would fly away to collect nectar from some of the nearby flowers but would return to allow us more time to observe its various features. I took several photos in case it flew away and did not return before we made our final analysis. After several discussions our prognosis was that we had indeed encountered one of the most rare and elusive birds on the Ecuadorian mainland.

We remained in the area for a while longer before deciding to return to our cars. Upon arriving at the entrance we sat down and reviewed our day over a snack before heading home to Quito with a new lifer on our lists. Patience had paid off with a great reward. Perhaps I will never see this particular species again but I have my memories and photos to remind me of another wonderful day of birding in one of the most biodiverse countries of the world.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Birding Northwest Ecuador

I have been so busy over the past several months working on my book, “Birding Northwest Ecuador”, that I haven’t had much time to work on this blog. But the book is finished now and available on so I can return to traveling around the countryside in search of some of those elusive birds.

The book concentrates on the more frequently visited birding areas such as Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Paz de las Aves. These areas are discussed in depth and include GPS coordinates and detailed maps on how to reach each location. There are also bird lists for the areas to help narrow down the species that one may encounter.

While in the process of collecting information for the next volume, “Birding Northeast Ecuador”, I thought that I would concentrate this blog on those lesser-known birding areas that people hear about but never have the opportunity to access. Some of these regions have little local traffic and are relatively devoid of avetourists. Only local guides or enthusiasts are familiar with many of these places.

I remember when I first moved to Ecuador 12 years ago and I tried to find my way around. The road system was poor, street signs were almost nonexistent and most people could not give you descent directions. I wasted a lot of time trying to find places through trial and error. It has improved greatly over the past several years but it can still be a daunting process of getting to where you want to go, even if you are familiar with the area. Hopefully through these blogs I can help others avoid the pitfalls that I have encountered.

As I travel around the country I will be creating directional maps along with bird lists, GPS coordinates and pertinent information that will help the enthusiast in their discovery of all that Ecuador has to offer. If anyone has any questions or comments about the areas that I visit I welcome their input. I may be contacted at I have also opened a new Facebook page titled “Birding Ona Budget Ecuador” where I will post recommendations on places to go along with lodging and restaurants. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paz de las Aves - Jewel of the Cloud Forest

Crimson-rumped Toucanet
(Aulacorhynchus haematopygus)

Paz de las Aves is a small private reserve located well off the beaten path but one of the most popular in northwest Ecuador. I would just like to add some personal comments to the article that I wrote for HubPages, which you can read here.

The small farm of Angel Paz is not an easy location to find and the 5:30 AM arrive time requirement can be rather daunting, but the ability to observe species that are endangered or seldom spotted is well worth the effort. Giant, Yellow-breasted and Mustached Antpitta, among other obscure birds of the cloud forest understory, make a visit to this simple farmland a twitcher’s dream.

My first visit to Paz de las Aves was with a friend several years ago. Our primary interest was the Cock-of-the-Rock lek where we were told a view of these exotic birds was almost guaranteed. It was a little difficult driving my sedan along the 4 km. stretch of dirt road to get to the reserve but we arrived without mishap. There was another group of birders at the entrance preparing for the trek through the forest so they could arrive at the hide before dawn.

Maria: Giant Antpitta
(Grallaria gigantea)
When we arrived at the desired location we were in for a disappointment. Not a squawk or grunt could be heard from the amorous males. We had come on one of the few days out of the year that they all appeared to have secured a date with a mate. Our disenchantment was short lived, however, when this bulbous, brick colored bird came hopping down the trail to meet us. Angel introduced us to Maria, a Giant Antpitta that he had trained to come out in the open for morsels of worm. She would come quite close, within 4 to 5 meters, and pose for photos. The sight of this endangered species helped us forget about our previous quarry, instead concentrating on admiring this beauty of nature. We saw several other rarities during our morning adventure and spent a wonderful time conversing with the other travelers over breakfast. It was a good day with new ticks added to our lists and friends appended to our email register.

My most recent visit to Paz de las Aves brought some new revelations. The Cock-of-the-Rock were very active that morning, much to the delight of the young lady I was guiding. Maria had not been seen in several months but there was another Giant Antpitta that came for the spoils. Angel had built a new fruit feeder, the original being abandoned because the Sickle-winged Guans had taken it over. The road into the property was a little easier to drive, although it will probably never be paved. (I much prefer it that way)

On this visit I was able to spend a considerable amount of time with Angel and his brother Rodrigo who is now helping with the groups. Neither of them speaks English so I interpreted for my companion. Angel had just secured a loan with the bank so that he could build a lodge on the property to accommodate visitors. He sounded a little apprehensive about this endeavor but I understand that this is a big step for a former farmer/new conservationist. I am sure that with the encouragement of his family and friends that this will be a success.

Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager
(Anisognathus notabilis)
The best part of my visit with the brothers Paz was when we talked about the birds on the reserve. Angel’s demeanor changed from that of an apprentice businessman to the gentle manner of a father. When he talked about the Antpittas it was as though he was bragging on his children. There is such a close connection between him and his wards that one can almost hear a tear in his voice. I saw this also when we were out on the trails; the way he protected his charges from too close encroachment from the less sensitive visitors. It is this empathy that he has with his environment that draws me back.

I recommend a visit to Paz de las Aves for any birder who wishes to observe nature at its finest. But I also advocate watching Angel and his brother as they lead you around the reserve. You may not understand the words that he speaks, but you can definitely feel his heart as he expounds on the virtues of his children. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Yellow House Trails - Hacienda San Vicente

I have been very busy lately and haven’t had much time for writing so I have gotten behind on my blog updates. I hope to remedy that over the next few weeks.

I just completed an article on Yellow House Trails (Hacienda San Vicente) in Mindo Ecuador. In that article I concentrated on describing how to reach the area and the birding trails available. I try not to promote any particular lodge in my articles as they are more for general information, but here I can express my personal opinion.

Yellow House has become my place to stay when in the Mindo area. The rooms are very spacious and inexpensive and you cannot beat the Garzon family for hospitality and friendliness. I recommend it to everyone who asks me for a place to stay in the area and I have never heard a complaint about the accommodations or the birding opportunities.  I know of no other place that can be beaten for price and comfort.

Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
The few articles that I have seen concerning the Yellow House trails state that they see more birds on the walk up to the main primary forest than they do once entering. To some extent I can agree with them but I have to explain why I believe this to be the case. You can, on average, see over 50 species of birds around the lodge itself on a daily basis. There are several Squirrel Cuckoos that visit the trees in the early morning and there are also Rufous Motmot on a regular basis. Many people spend time observing these beautiful species before setting out on the 20-minute walk up to the forest.

The problem is that the hike up the hill has such an abundance of birds that the 20 minutes turns into an hour or more. By the time most visitors get to the main trail it has become late morning and the activity has slowed down considerably. You also have the fact that more species are observed at the forest borders than in the dense foliage. However, if you take the time to search the understory you can be rewarded with some great discoveries.

There is a Cock-of-the-Rock lek on the reserve but this requires an early morning start time and a walk through the darkness to get there at the proper moment. If you have to have breakfast before starting your day then this is easily remedied. If you mention this to Maria Elena the night before she will prepare you a bag breakfast to take with you and will set it out on the porch for you to carry along.
Be prepared for biting insects, whether at Yellow House or any other area of Mindo. The mosquitoes are not as much of a pest as the no-see-ums. The itch from their bite can last a week or more. I suggest long pants (no shorts) and long sleeve shirts in addition to some form of insect repellent.

Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)
The charge for taking the trails is minimal if you do not stay at the lodge, and access to the reserve is included in the price of lodging if you do spend the night. I find that this is a great place to set up a base when birding the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest. When I return to my room at night I still have the opportunity to see various species from the porch or go out in the evenings in search of owls or the Common Potoo that frequents the area around the main house.

If you can speak a little Spanish I recommend spending a little time talking with Maria Elena, her sister Inez and her mother Carlotta. They are wonderful people and will make you feel like one of the family. Even if you don’t speak Spanish you will still enjoy sitting with them and smiling. They serve breakfast in their home and this is a great way to start your day. They grow fruit on the property and they serve fresh fruit juice any time of the day. Sit down, savor the sweet nectar and enjoy a wonderful time in the rainforest.