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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.