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Monday, May 23, 2011

Birding Quito Ecuador

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

The city of Quito Ecuador is a sprawling mass of people, buildings and traffic. It is a starting point for many vacations and birding adventures but never the focus. However, most travelers have at least one free day before starting their primary objective and are not sure what to do during this time. I have been asked on many occasions if there are parks or reserves that can easily be reached for a quick day of birding. For this purpose I am writing this article.

When we live in an area for several years we have a tendency to become oblivious to the wonderful avifauna surrounding us. However, we fail to realize that for those who are visiting for the first time, these birds that we consider commonplace are a boon to the uninitiated.

When walking the streets of Quito there are a number of species that you are guaranteed to encounter. Rufous-collared Sparrows, Great Thrush, and Eared Doves are everywhere. There are, nonetheless, some birds that are a little less commonplace in their appearance yet easily observed while touring the city. Sparkling Violetear and Black-tailed Trainbearer are frequently encountered in the downtown areas and are not extremely shy when foraging for food.

Sparkling Violetear
(Colibri coruscans)
There are a couple of parks that are easily reached by taxi and offer a greater abundance of opportunities to observe many species. The Botanical Gardens that is located in the center of the city at Carolina Park is a haven for many birds and some migrants as well. The Tennessee Warbler makes a regular visit during its migration period. Other birds that may be encountered are Southern-yellow Grosbeak, Cinerious Conebill and American Kestrel.

Metropolitan Park is along the eastern ridge of the city and harbors many species in its vast wooded area. Rusty Flowerpiercer, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Hooded Siskin, Yellow-bellied Seedeater and Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers frequent the area and provide for an enjoyable day of birding.

When touring the city or outlying areas be on the lookout for some unusual birds that may be passing through. I once observed a Great Egret perched high in a tree next to one of the large malls in Valley de los Chillos. There are a couple of reservoirs in the city and it may have been stopping there on its way to more productive habitat. I saw it the following day as well flying across the valley.

Quito has much to offer in the areas of architecture, culture and entertainment but do not rule out the abundance of avifauna that are available for the viewer. With a little patience and observation you can start your birding adventure early and record some new lifers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Visiting Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary

Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata)

Over the past month I have made a couple of trips to Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary. (Follow link for specific details on the reserve.) It is not a place I normally try to tackle on a day trip from Quito but it can be done. One of its strong points is its canopy tower allowing for a more comfortable view of birds that inhabit the canopy and understory. Due to the deforestation of the surrounding area the reserve encounters many flocks and wanderers looking for a place to rest.

Aside from the viewing advantage of the tower, it is a great place to meet people who share the same interest. On my first visit to Rio Silanche this past month I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Jean Paul Perret, founder of Neotropical Birding Tours based in Peru. He was spending some time in Ecuador, scouting the various birding areas. We had several hours to photograph and discuss the various bird species visiting the trees surrounding the tower that morning.

Bronze-winged Parrot
(Pionus chalcopterus)
It was a great morning for birding as there were several flocks passing through during our stay. Chocó Toucans were quite prevalent and the eye level vantage point made for some great photos. Of course, where there are Chocós, you will also find the Pale-mandibled Aracari. (Also called the Collared or Stripe-billed Aracari). A small group of Bronze-winged Parrots perched near the tower and a male White-tailed Trogon paid us a visit and stuck around for a few pics.

One of the highlights of the morning was an extended visit by a White-necked Puffbird. It perched in a nearly bare tree a short distance from the tower. It was an impressive sight as it sat proudly on the limb perusing the countryside. We could hear some White-bearded Manakins clacking away in the forest below but they never showed themselves. All in all it was productive morning and especially so because I met a new friend in Jean Paul.

My second visit to the tower was with Pearl Jordan, the young lady who came on a mission of seeing 8,000 birds by her 80th birthday. (You can read the full account of her trip here.) We arrived early in hopes of seeing some new lifers for her. Along with the species that I had encountered on my previous visit we were able to see the Masked Tityra and the Rufous-winged Tanager. (I saw the Bay-headed Tanager, which is more common, on the first trip.) Unfortunately we had to cut our time in the tower short because it was a clear day and the intense heat of the sun was making our stay unbearable.

We took the main trail around the property in search of the Brown Wood-Rail. We heard one clamoring in the forest near the creek but were unable to get it to show itself. We did, however, encounter the Purple-chested Hummingbird, a Chocó endemic and not very common. Since this was one of Pearl’s target birds it made for a productive day.

Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, a property of the Mindo Cloud Forest foundation, is a great place for the visiting bird fancier. It canopy tower lends itself to wonderful views of many species and a great place to meet new friends. I would recommend adding it to any northwest Ecuador birding adventure.