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Monday, April 18, 2011

Days 9 and 10 of the NW Ecuador Birding Adventure

Plain Xenops

We had left some flexibility in our schedule so that we might be able to backtrack a little to pick up some of the birds we had missed. With this in mind we returned to Milpe Bird Sanctuary before our journey to Quito. The Yellow-collared Chlorophonia had been spotted there 2 weeks earlier and we were hoping we would have a second chance at seeing it.

Plumbeous Sierra-Finch
Furnariids were quite active that morning with Woodcreepers, Foliage-gleaners and Xenops in abundance. Motmots and Quetzals were calling from various trees filling the morning with squawks and grunts. We were disappointed by the Chlorophonia but did locate a couple of other species on Pearl’s list. Since the sun was warming the day the bird activity was dropping off and we decided to head to Quito.

While making the return trip to the capital city we discussed our tactics for the last day. There were a few high-altitude birds left on the list so we thought that Cotopaxi might be a good bet for their discovery.

Early Friday morning we headed for the park with high hopes of finding a couple more targets. It was an overcast morning but at the time there was no rain so we hoped for the best. Upon approaching Lake Limpiopungo we encounter several Carunculated Caracara foraging for food along the paramo tundra. Recent rains had caused the lake to flood and the parking area was inundated with water. We were able to secure a dry location to park with access to the trail.
Carunculated Caracara

Andean Gulls, Coots and Lapwing were in abundance as usual but other than that the bird activity was lower than expected. Not even the Tawny Antpitta could be heard amongst the paramo grasses. This may have been due to the excessive rains that the sierra had been experiences. Undaunted we walked the lake trail in search of our quarry. We had glimpses of the Ecuadorian Hillstar as it fed on some of the high-altitude flora. Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and Plain-colored Seedeaters all showed their presence. We were able to see the Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet for a brief moment, which added to Pearl’s target list. Around 11:00 AM a light misty rain began and we returned to the car to call it a day.

In summary we had a good ten days of birding. Of the 46 species on Pearl’s list we were able to encounter 22 birds. Since we were concentrating on her targets rather than on bird count we did not spend time at feeders in the various reserves. We were also rather lax at recording species other than those that were our quarry. However, at the end of each day we would write down the birds that we recalled encountering. That list included over 175 species in all, some of them rare or uncommon. Pearl was happy with our accomplishments for the trip and we are in the process of planning her next excursion to the Amazon basin in search of other difficult birds. Meanwhile she will be taking her next trip on a Russian ship to Spitzbergen. We wish her luck in her adventures and know that we will see her again soon. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 7 and 8

Black-throated Trogon

We continued our search of the northwest by visiting Mangaloma Reserve. This is a 200 ha (500 ac) forest located 7 km off the main highway north of Pedro Vicente Maldanado. Reservations are required prior to entry but it is worth the effort. Making a right hand turn a little south of Km 104 (there is a sign designating the reserve) you travel along dirt roads until you get to the main gate. After ringing a bell for entry the caretaker will come out to open the gate.

Mangaloma is a great place to find some difficult species such as the Orange-fronted Barbet, Rufous-crowned Antpitta, Long-wattled Umbrellabird, and the Banded-ground Cuckoo. Only one of these birds was on Pearl’s list but in addition to the Orange-fronted Barbet we encountered the Plumbeous Forest-Falcon. Another great sighting was the Black-throated Trogon.

If making a trip to Mangaloma Reserve, good boots are a must. Trails are quite muddy but passable. There are two side trails in addition to the main path. They recently opened a new route leading to additional areas of the property.

On the 8th day we went to Rio Silanche, about 20 km further west. This reserve is part of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation and a 3 day pass can be acquired at any of their four bird sanctuaries, which includes Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Milpe Gardens, Rio Silanche and their newest reserve near the Bellavista lodge. This pass provides entry to any and all of these locations.

Rufous-winged Tanager
There is a canopy tower a short distance from the entrance at Rio Silanche that provides a great place to view birds at their level. White-tailed Trogon, Lineated Woodpeckers and Choco Toucans were abundant this day. However, the Rufous-winged Tanager was probably the highlight of the morning. Although “The Birds of Ecuador” by Ridgely and Greenfield indicate that the Rufous-winged and the Bay-headed Tanagers have never been found together in Ecuador, I now have photographic proof that they do, as I was able to capture them both with a camera at Rio Silanche.

After spending most of the morning in the tower, we decided to walk the property to see what else may be present. We heard a Brown Wood-rail when we approached the creek but were unable to coax it into the open for a good look. We did run across a flock of Bronze-winged Parrots feeding about 2 meters above the ground in some small trees but they were too embedded in the growth to get any decent photos. The sun came out with a vengeance and the heat was overwhelming for us and the birds, as activity dropped off quickly. By the end of the day we had brought Pearls hit-list to 18 species. The next two days would be spent searching for some of the more illusive birds on the list. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 5 and 6

Collared Trogo

There was no Internet available the last few days so I have to cover a lot of ground.

On day 5 we went on up to Bellavista Lodge to see if we could add anything to Pearl’s list. After talking to several people at the reserve we weren’t given much encouragement but we led to believe that there was a possibility of seeing the White-faced Nunbird along the Research Station road. Not to be discouraged we parked along the road and began walking. After playing some birdsong we began to get a response. 

Although the Nunbird continued to answer it would never show itself. After about an hour of unrewarding communication we decided that our efforts were futile and returned to the car. Pearl was a distance behind me and I decided to call on more time. A Nunbird answered directly in front of her and she waited patiently to see what might transpire. She was rewarded when the White-faced Nunbird appeared briefly and then slipped quietly back into cover.

Club-winged Manakin
After this small victory we decided to head down past Tandayapa and see what birds we might encounter. Along the route we saw several species including a Barred Hawk. Collared Trogon, Rufus Motmot and Red-billed Parrot were some of the other finds for the day. The afternoon rains came in and we spent the afternoon recounting our day’s work.

Day 6 was spent at Milpe Bird Sanctuary. The Club-winged Manakins were very active as usual, as were the Rufous Motmot. This was another damp morning with misty rain creating a slippery environment. We were particularly interested in the Yellow-collared Clorophonia that had been observed there within the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately they did not show as we spent the day observing Toucan Barbets, Crimson-rumped Toucanets and Masked Trogon. By the end of the day Pearl’s total target birds were at 11 and we had several days left to search. I will continue tomorrow, filling in the gaps and the rare finds at Mangaloma and Rio Silanche.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 3 and 4 of the 10-day Adventure

We started the third day off early in the morning on a slow trip from Quito to Mindo via the Old Nono-Tandayapa road. We stopped often to check out bird sightings and bird sound. The high point of the morning was seeing a Black-and-Chestnut Eagle perched in a tree across a ravine. It remained there for several minutes before flying off to other surroundings. It is not often seen in the wild and when encountered it is generally observed flying low over the canopy. A perched bird is an unusual sight that allowed us to enjoy an unexpected moment.

We continued down the mountain and came across a large flock of Band-tailed Pigeons perched in some tall trees. There were about 40 birds in all. After a few minutes they took flight putting on an areal display as they departed.

As we continued down towards Mindo we observed many species of tanagers and flycatchers. The morning had intermittent light rain, which had little affect on our birding opportunities. We arrived in Mindo a little after noon and went on to The Yellow House, which would be our base for the next few days. We were told that a tornado had come through town a couple days earlier and that some of the trails were blocked due to fallen trees. We decided to have lunch and then determine our next course of action.

While dining at a small restaurant in town it began raining. By the time we returned to our lodging the rain had become steady and we decided not to tackle the trails but would review the birds we had observed that day. While sitting on the porch of the cabins we were able to see several other species within the reserve.

On day 4 we went out on the trails at Yellow House. There was a light rain but nothing that would dampen our spirits. Leaving our cabins we encountered a Squirrel Cuckoo and a Rufous Motmot in the trees near the lodge. After a few photos we headed up the hill towards the trails.

On the way up the hill we spotted a large raptor in one of the trees. It flew closer to give us a better look and we were able to identify it as a Hook-billed Kite. I took some decent photos of it perched on top a dead tree before it flew off to more productive territory.

The Cock-of-the-Rock was quite prevalent as we spotted several as we walked the main trail. Only the #1 secondary trail was open due to the tornado damage, which was quite extensive through the reserve. Many trees were felled and a major cleanup was needed to bring all the trails back into use. This did not, however, daunt us from seeking out our prey.

We saw many furnariids and flycatchers along the trails and keeping up with the different species was difficult at times. We had been told that we could only travel as far as the creek and with a little effort we pushed on. However the tornado destruction prevented us from continuingwe turned back to the lodge and a hearty lunch.

Our first two-day bird count was at 54 species. The second two days we racked up another 58 species. Pearl has recorded 9 of her 46 target birds so we feel that is not a bad start to the trip. Tomorrow we will be off to Bellavista Reserve and high hopes a few more additions to the list.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 2 -Yanacocha

Turquoise Jay

The second day of this trip, a visit to Yanacocha, began with beautiful weather but by late morning the clouds had moved in and rain threatened. We were not as successful in filling in Pearl’s list but we were able to chalk up one more. We had hoped on possibly seeing the Black-breasted Puffleg but it has not yet moved into the area. I will return in about a week and check on a regular basis to see if this allusive little bird will make an appearance.

Barred Fruiteater
Although we were not able to do much with the target list, it was a good day for birding. Scarlet-bellied and Hooded Mountain Tanagers were active as were the Black, Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers. There were several mixed flocks of Spectacled Whitestart and Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch.

The hummingbird feeders were not exceptionally busy but there was a good showing by many species. Gold-breasted, Glowing and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs were all present. Tyrian Metaltail, Buff-winged Starfrontlet and Mountain Velvet-breast were fighting it out over the feeders and the territory. My favorites, the Sword-billed Hummingbird and Great Sapphirewing, made a showing and kept us entertained for several minutes.

Hooded Mountain Tanager
One very interesting sighting was a small flock of Powerful Woodpeckers as they flew through the area. They were making quite a ruckus while they moved from tree to tree, chattering and squawking. They are a magnificent bird, large and colorful.

Although the rain put an early damper on our day, we were able to observe some beautiful species. Tomorrow we will take a slow drive down the old Nono-Tandayapa road. Hopefully I will have internet access and will be able to continue this commentary as we seek out some special birds. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ten-Day Birding Adventure

Today I began a ten-day trip through NW Ecuador guiding a woman from Colorado who is looking for the more obscure birds of the region. Her name is Pearl Jordan and her goal is to have 8,000 birds on her list by her 80th birthday. She needs about 300 more species to accomplish this task and only two years to finish.

We started by going to Guango Lodge in search of some new lifers for her. It was raining all morning, which made it difficult to accomplish this task. However, we were able to add a few to her list. The first one came quickly when a Mountain Avocetbill made an early morning appearance at the feeders. We were off to a good start.

The rain continued but we did not want to give up so we made a quick trip down path leading passed the lodge. Here we encountered a Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch. Since Pearl’s list only included about 10 birds in the higher altitudes we were off to a good start.

Since it was getting late we decided to go up the Termas de Papallacta and have some lunch. While there we thought we might try our luck at one of the trails that paralleled the river. It was getting late and we figured that the birds might be making their late afternoon snack runs. The trip paid off as we saw a White-browed Spinetail and a Flammulated Treehunter along the trail. Not bad for the first day.

In all we spotted about 30 species of birds and were able to make a small dent in her list.

Tomorrow we are off to Yanacocha. Will keep you posted on our progress. I have not downloaded any photos yet but will post them when I do.