Montane Ecuador

July 31- August 9, 2006

Field Guides Leader: Mitch Lysinger

Thanks to fellow trip partipants: Lynette Connelly, Regina Forni, Diane Pettey, Martin Selzer, Tom Steller, Grace Storch and Joyce Takamine

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July 31, 2006 (Monday)
We left Philadelphia for the short trip to Miami on American Airlines where we met our connecting flight to Quito. Because of a few delays we were about an hour late in arriving but were in our hotel, the 4 Points Sheraton, by 10:15PM. The Sheraton is a lovely hotel only about 10 minutes from the airport but then most of downtown Quito is only about 10 minutes from the airport since the airport is smack in the middle of town. Quito sits south of the equator on a small plateau on the west side of a high valley nestled between 2 arms of the Andes Mountains.

August 1, 2006 (Tuesday)
We left Quito early and traveled west over the mountains to the back side of Volcan Pinchincha. Following the old Quito-Mindo Road we came to the turnoff for Yanacocha . This reserve was established by the Jocotoco Foundation as a preserve for the very rare Black-breasted Puffbird. Only about an hour west of Quito, Yanacocha sits at around 3100 meters and is a delight. It offers an easily walked road that cuts through a lovely temperate forest. Hummingbird feeders have been conveniently set up along the roadside and all of them were active when we arrived.

Although we did not see the Puffleg, we had an incredible number of birds along this short stretch of road including: Shining Sunbeam, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Purple-backed Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Spectacled Whitestart (or Redstart), Cinereous and Blue-backed Conebills, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercer and Rufous-naped Brush-finch.

Walking the road

view of the western slopes

probable Colias euxanthe

It was a bit overcast when we arrived so there wasn’t much butterfly activity on the walk in but as the sun came out so did the leps. The only positive ID was a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui but there were numerous whites, sulphurs, skippers and a fritillary. The predominant lep here and eslewhere was a large chocolate brown bug with a pale creamy line on the underside FW.

We spent most of the morning at Yanacocha before continuing on. Returning to the old Nono-Mindo Road we spent the rest of the afternoon birding along the roadside in lower, more temperate/sub-tropical areas. This road takes us from well over 10,000 feet at Yanacocha down to about 6000 feet at Tandayapa. As we dropped in elevation, silver leafed cecropias began to appear.

We arrived at Tandayapa Lodge in time for "power hour" at the feeders and was that a sight. Dozens of hummers all zipping around madly, totally oblivious to our presence, feeding like crazed dervishes.

With all the activity it was hard to know where to look first. Brown, Green and Sparkling Violet-ears, Blue-tailed Emeralds, Rufous-tails, Fawn-breasted Brilliants, Brown Incas, Purple-bibbed Whitetips, Violet-tailed Slyphs and the incredibly snazzy Booted-Racket-tail with his snazzy white booties.

After this mind-blowing experience we settled in to enjoy our home for the next two nights.

Hummers galore !

August 2, 2006 (Wednesday)
Dawn found us all once again on the veranda watching the hummingbird spectacular. It seems like "power hour" extends all day because things were just as wild this morning as last night. 31 species of hummers have been recorded at the lodge feeders with 14-18 common and hundreds are present at any given moment so the "rare" guys can slip in at any moment. The greatest numbers seem to come in, however, on wet afternoons, especially just before dusk.

Violet-tailed Slyph

Mesosemia sp .. around the lodge

Clearwing sp
probably a Greta .... very common along trails at lodge

Tandayapa lodge itself sits at 5750 feet in the heart of the Choco region, a narrow belt of land with more endemic species of birds (over 70) than anywhere else in the Americas and almost 60 of them have beend found around Tandayapa. Accommodations are excellent but it is the veranda and its hummingbirds that make Tandayapa such a jewel.

We spent the morning birding around the lodge and adjacent trails. After lunch we headed west, birding along the roadside on our way to Milpe Road , about an hour's drive downslope from the lodge, near the town of San Miguel de los Bancos. At 3700 feet we are in the upper reaches of the foothills here. It is the lowest elevation for the tour. It is here in the foothills where some of the most sought after endemics occur. We visited the Milpe Bird Sanctuary established by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation

A few of the birds we found were: Bronze-winged Parrot, White-collared Swifts, Green-crowned Brilliant, Broad-billed Motmot, Red-headed Barbet (western race), Pale-Mandibled Aracari (endemic), Choco Toucan (endemic), Pacific Hornero, Red-faced Spinetail, Club-winged Manakin, Masked Water Tyrant, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Golden Tanager, Blue-necked and Guira Tanager, Swallow Tanager and Black-winged Saltator .

There were a few leps: an Adelpha sp. (Sister), a Blue Morpho and a few whites and sulphurs.

~ why it's called a cloudforest

August 3, 2006 (Thursday)
AM found us back on the veranda for a last look at the feeders. After breakfast we headed off back along the Nono-Mindo Road, stopping along the way to explore various spots and side roads.

Our first stop brought several nice birds: Yellow-bellied Seed-finch, Russet-crowned Warbler ( western race), Plumbeous Pigeon, a singing pair of Toucan Barbets, Montane Woodcreeper, Speckled Hummingbird, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Ashy-headed Tyrannulet, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager (western race), the spectacular Crimson Mantled Woodpecker, crappy looks at a female Golden headed Quetzal, Green and Black Fruiteater, Blue-backed Conebills, Grass-green Tanager and Streaked Tuftedcheek, Pearled Treerunner, Blue and Black Tanager and Beryl Spangled Tanager.

A stop further down the road produced Dusky Bush-Tanager and more Beryl's Spangled Tanagers plus White-tailed Tyrannulets and Plain-tailed Wrens We also had Golden-naped and Flame-faced Tanagers (the wester race) plus Western Hemispingus

As the day warm up the butterflying picked up and in many ways I found the butterflying more exciting than the birding here. Most of the leps were patrolling along the roadside and few would actually alight but the place was alive with leps. There were puddling Marcella Daggerwings (Marpesia marcella) an amazing butterfly and Rusty-tipped Page. There were Painted Ladies, Peacocks, Sisters, Mexican Silverspots, Actinotes, Marchal's Eighty-Eights, Julias, a brown skipper with cream below and pale orange rays, more of those brown leps with the white lines below, a large blue hairstreak with tails and stripes below, sulphurs and satyrs.

Anartia amathea (Peacock)

Adelpha corcyra collina (Sister)

Dismorphia medora (Mimic-white)

Diaethria marchalii (Marchal's Eighty-Eight)

Marpesia corinna (Corinna Daggerwing) - above

Marpesia corinna (Corinna Daggerwing) - below

Later in the day at Mindo Lomo Hummingbird feeders we had Empress Brilliant, Velvet-Purple Coronet, Andean Hummingbird, Purple-throated Woodstars, Violet-tailed Sylphs and Brown Incas.

The banana feeders were less active although we did get nice looks at Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager

On our trip west a few days ago we looped north of the equator and now on our return we did it again as we crossed back over into the central valley. The valley is warmer and drier but the day was clear and we got great looks at snow-capped Mt. Cotapaxi.

We spent the night back in Quito at the 4 Points Sheraton.

August 4, 2006 (Friday)
After an early morning breakfast we were off again, this time to visit the eastern slopes of the Andes. Along the way we once again got excellent looks at Cotapaxi.

Snow-capped Cotapaxi

This is the day we travel up to our highest elevation as we work our way east to the town of Cosanga and our lodge at San Isidro. We made several stops along various roadsides picking up Black-tailed Trainbearer, Band-tailedSeedeater, Giant Hummingbird, Brown-backed Chat Tyrant, Black Flowerpiercer and Tyrian Metaltail. We also got good looks at Andean Gulls and Carunculated Caracara as well as a perched Puna Hawk and Red-crested Cotinga.

It's amazing how people make a living up here and yet we found scattered houses throughout the mountains with people grazing cattle and farming on incredibly steep hillsides. There is a strong indigenous presence in Ecuador. You see it in the faces of almost everyone you meet.

The weather grew colder the further up we went and the winds began to roar. It was incredible to see ice forming on rocks. Crossing through the Papallacta Pass we climbed up through the paramo or wet grasslands, through stands of Polylepis where we spotted Andean Tit-Spinetail, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cincloides, Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintails and Blue Mantled Thornbills.

The end of the road and the highest elevation came at the radio towers (14,300 feet). Here the weather got really rough with gale force winds blowing the ice off the towers and onto our heads. Just walking the narrow trails was a chore but this was the spot for Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe and we were all very anxious to find this bird. Unfortunately, between the wind and the fog, we dipped out so we had to leave and begin our trip back down... a bit down-hearted but with plans to return on our way back to Quito later on.

On the way down we stopped to hike up to a mountain lake, Lake Suco . The trail was a bit muddy but we did get Andean Duck and Andean Coots . Looking down it was amazing to see the incredible variety of small flowers covering the ground.

It was soon time to leave the paramo and continue east. We were, as they say, "losing light".

The east side of the Andes is very different from the west and the central valley. Here everything is lush and green. Water flows everywhere. Waterfalls were abundant and the streams and rivers were all running high.

At the Rio Chalpi Chico we saw just how high as all traffic was stopped because the bridge had washed out. We were told to wait as they "repaired" the bridge but people who walked down to take a look said they were, in fact, "replacing" the bridge. Only the metal support columns were standing. Surprisingly it only took about 1 1/2 hours for them to lay the wooden crossbeams for a new bridge. Then a free-for-all broke out as everyone made a mad dash to cross the bridge.

We finally made it across and arrived at our last stop for the day, Guango Lodge, another lodge owned by the folks who own San Isidro. Here we got to enjoy another hummingbird feeding frenzy.

Hummers crowding the feeders included Glowing Puffleg, Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Gorgeted Woodstar, Gorgeted Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylphs (replacing the Violet-tailed east of the Andes) and Speckled Hummingbird.

left: Sword-billed Hummingbird
above: Chestnut-breasted Coronet

Since it was getting late, we left Guango and proceeded to our home for the next few nights, Cabanas San Isidro near the town of Cosanga, sitting at about 7,000 feet. We did, however, make a quick stop along the river and Martin found an incredibly distant Torrent Duck . Then it was off to the lodge where we quickly dropped our things in the cabin and headed down to the dining room for an Incredible meal.

August 5, 2006 (Saturday)
San Isidro is owned by Mitch's wife, Carmen's, family. It sits on re-growing pasture land surrounded by secondary forest. As the pasture lands have been re-claimed, the birds have moved in. Combine that with lovely cabins and exquisite food and you have the perfect spot to spend your vacation.

After breakfast, we birded the grounds and had an incredible number of birds including: Highland Motmot, Sub-tropical Cacique, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Inca Jays, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Masked Trogan, White-crested Elaenia, Brown-capped Vireo, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Barred Becard, Collared Inca and Black-billed Peppershrike .

Highland Motmot

Inca Jay

We then set out to explore the road outside the gates where we had Olive-backed, Strong-billed and Montane Woodcreepers, Pearled Treerunners, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Mt. Wren, female Glossy Black Thrush and Azara's Spinetail.

But the treat of the morning was a surprising find: a Semi-collared Hawk that perched in a tree over the road allowing everyone excellent scope views. This in an increbily rare bird in this area. Mitch recalled only 2-3 other sightings for the property and was clearly ecstatic over the find. We all enjoyed the bird for as long as possible before continuing on down the road.

There were numerous butterflies also patrolling the roadside. Unfortunately, because the weather was drizzly and overcast I had left my camera on the bus. I was able to retrieve it later when the weather cleared up a bit and the sun came out.

Necyria bellona saudersi

Skipper sp.

possible Oressinoma typhla

Pedaloides sp.

There were also some bluish clearwings, what looked like actinotes and several brown leps with "S" shaped yellow patches in their forewings.

Continuing our walk along the roadside we encountered Russet-backed Oropendolas, Mountain Caciques, Powerful Woodpecker flying across the road, Olivaceous Siskin, Red-Mantled Woodpecker, Cinnamon Pewee, Blue-capped Tanager, Barred Hawk soaring, Dusky Bush-Tanager and Tawny-bellied Hermit.

We returned to the lodge and visited the hummingbird feeders below the dining room where we had: Andean Solitaire, Bronzy Inca, Collared Inca, a male Gorgeted Woodstar, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant and Chestnut-bellied Coronet.

The hummingbird diversity on this trip has been mind-numbing. My total was already at 46 with at least 3 birds I'd missed. That number was sure to climb even higher as the trip progressed.

The rain continued through lunch and a brief siesta before we re-convened at 3PM for a bus excursion to another road nearby. Here we were able to add Chestnut-bellied Chlorophonia, Blue and Black Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Beryl's Spangled Tanager, Sulphur-belied Tyrannulet and Handsome Flycatcher.

A Black-billed Mountain-Toucan flew over showing its heavy dark bill and bright white chest. We also had Andean Toucanet, Green and black Fruiteater (female?), Tyranine Woodcreeper before returning to the lodge and yet another amazing meal.

August 6, 2006 (Sunday)
Today after breakfast we headed out to spend the day exploring Guacamayo Road out beyond the town of Cosanga from an elevation of about 7000 feet down to about 5000 feet. This incredibly rough road is still a major highway and we spent the day dodging buses and trucks but, also, seeing some great birds and butterflies. At our lowest point we had excellent view of the foothills. Before even leaving the lodge, however, we had brief looks at a Rufous-bellied Nightjar over the main trail to the dining room.

The weather was also dodgy with drizzle and overcast finally giving way to sun. It was hard to imagine, given the soggy start, just what a great day lay ahead of us.

Some of the many birds seen were Montane Foliage-gleaner, White-tipped Sicklebill, Blue-browed, Golden-eared, Orange -eared, Blue-necked, Paradise, White-lined, White-shouldered, Spotted and Magpie Tanagers, Sharpe's Wren, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Lined Antshrike, Black and white and Chestnut-bellied Seedeaters, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Plain-breasted Hawk, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Black-billed Thrush, Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Greenish Puffleg, Ornate Flycatcher and Blackish Antbird.

Sumaco Volcano

There were also some nice leps patrolling the roadside and a few actually landed in the road allowing for nice looks.

probable Perisama oppelii

probable Perisama oppelii

Actinote sp.

Skipper sp.

After reaching our lowest elevation, we returned and re-traced our route. By now the sun was shining and we were able to pick up birds we had missed earlier in the day including: Olivaceous Siskin, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, White-tailed Hillstar, Fufous-breasted Flycatcher. Rufous-crested Tanager, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-throated Tanager,Booted Rackettail (western race with the buffy booties), Andean Solitaire, Yellow-vented Woodpecker and Black-billed Mountain-Toucan.

We returned to the lodge exhausted after a long day in the field but what an amazing day!!!!

August 7, 2006 (Monday)
After yet another great meal and much better looks at Rufous-belllied Nightjars , we drove back through Cosaga to the Guacamayo Ridge Trail, a steep and narrow trail that wanders through dense vegetation. The trail was great and the lush greenery was beautiful but the birding was hard. Still we had some nice birds like Hooded and Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Black-capped Hemispingus, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Bluish Flowerpiercer, Sepia capped Wrens, Barred Antthrush, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Smoky Bush-Tyrant and Rufous-tailed Tyrant

Then it was back to the lodge for a lovely lunch before a short afternoon walk. I bowed out early since I wasn't feeling too well and consequently missed a few nice birds but ...

Around 6 PM we went out for a nice evening drive and got excellent looks at Torrent Tyrannulets, 3 awesome Lyre-tailed Nightjars and Glossy-black Thrushes coming into a roost. .

Not many chances to photograph butterflies today. Photographed this little guy right outside the cabana door.

August 8, 2006 (Tuesday)
It's hard to believe this is the last day. The time simply flew by and here we are. After another lovely meal (kudos to Carmen and the entire staff at San Isidro), we left early to begin the slow winding road back to Quito.

Our first stop along a side road yielded tons of Band-tailed Pigeons, Golden-naped Tanagers, White and Chestnut-collared Swifts, and Golden-olive woodpecker. Then it was back to Guango .

We managed to pick up a nice birdflock near the end of our visit. We had to chase them back and forth along the road side before finally getting good looks at Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Capped Conebill, Great Thrush, Spectacled Whitestart, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, White-banded Tyrannulet, Black-crested Warbler, Slaty Brush-Finch, Pale-napped Brush-Finch and Buff-breasted Mt. Tanager .

The hummingbird feeders were just as active as on our first visit with many of the same birds we saw earlier so I spent most of the time in the fields out back looking at butterflies.

Great Thrush

Pedaloides sp.

Pedaloides sp.

probable Colias dimera

Skipper sp

Sadly we had to pull ourselves away but we needed to get back up Papallacta Pass again to try for the birds we missed on our first visit. Fortunately the weather this time was much better and we had much better luck. Climbing up through the paramo we picked up Black-backed Bush-Tanager, both Cincloides, Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and, luckily thanks to Diane, 2 Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. YIP! YIP! YIP!

With the BIG target bird taken care of we began the descent picking up Chimborazo Hillstar, Tawny Antpitta singing at the top of a bush, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Blue-mantled Thorntail, Viridian Metaltail and 2 Black-chested Buzzard Eagles (Thanks Martin!)

And then it was all over and time to head back to Quito. We arrived back at the hotel through all the city traffic around 6PM. After a lovely dinner, it was time to say goodbye after an amazing 8 days of birding and butterflying.

August 9, 2006 (Wednesday)
We got to the airport around 6:15AM for our 8:23AM flight which was delayed an hour but we finally got to Miami and then caught the flight to Philadelphia arriving back around 7PM.