Northern Ecuador 31 March – 15 April 2008

 

Pieter van der Luit & Teus Luijendijk

 

 

Introduction

In April 2008, we made a birding trip through the Northern part of Ecuador. By visiting several places along a roughly West-East axis, we planned to visit several different biotopes, and thus hoped to see as many species as possible. In short, we visited Tandayapa lodge, Sachatamia lodge, Papallacta pass, Guango lodge, Cabañas de San Isidro, Wildsumaco lodge, and Yuturi lodge.

This indeed resulted in a great variety of bird species, but also in limited time at every visited spot, leaving still quite a lot to do (at every place visited).

In total we recorded 489 bird species, of which approx. 25 were heard only.

 

 

Itinerary and daily overview

 

31 March

From Amsterdam, with stopovers at Bonaire and Guayaquil (where we saw Semipalmated Plover on the runway) we arrived at Quito in the morning. Picked up by our guide and driver and drove off to start birding, after having bought some snacks for breakfast. Birding at Pululahua pass (2800 m alt.), just outside Quito.

We then headed for Tandayapa lodge, but stopped on the way at an orchid garden called El Pahuma. This is a good site for White-tailed Hillstar, which indeed was easily seen (the only ones during the trip). During our walk through the garden (where there also was a nesting Beautiful Jay), an ambulance stopped next to our van, and a lady who was being transported to hospital gave birth here to a pair of twins!

At Tandayapa we were thrown into the deep as soon as we reached the hummingbird feeders on the balcony (12 ticks within a few seconds is a bit overwhelming). Enjoyed the dinner and went to bed early after this long day.

1 April

Early a.m. we went to the little hide at Tandayapa lodge, where we saw White-throated Quail-Dove and Immaculate Antbird. Unfortunately no antpitta’s. The rest of the morning we walked some of the trails, and in the afternoon we drove up into the valley a little for some roadside birding. This was quickly canceled due to heavy rain.

2 April

We left the lodge very early heading for Paz de las aves, a place where antpitta’s are being fed by the owners (see Eduard Sangster’s note on this place), and where Cock-of-the-rocks have a display ground (lek). We got there quite in time, saw the Cock-of-the-rocks well at close range, but failed to get views of more than just Giant Antpitta (which in itself is already a stunner, of course). Moustached and Yellow-breasted Antpitta are also present in this forest, but when we were there, they hadn’t come in to the ‘feeding station’ for several weeks.

Another good bird here was Olivaceous Piha.

We enjoyed the ‘second breakfast’ that is included in the fee (U$ 15) for visiting this place, and were interested to hear about a place supposedly not so far away where Oilbirds could be seen. Quickly a plan was made to go there in the afternoon.

Before that we drove to Sachatamia lodge, where lunch was ready for us, and 4 Toucan Barbets obliged by posing for us on the banana feeder (we had only heard this species at Tandayapa).

We then drove to the Cuevas de las Tayos, which can be found at the end of a gravel road that starts (to the right) at a sign for OSHO, along the tarmac road that you will find (going left) after about 20 minutes driving from Sachatamia in the direction of the coast. Underneath the sign there should be a white sign with a phone number, probably the same as this one (that we got at the actual site): 2868341, or mobile phone 082671837, Sr Hugo Morales.

The drive took somewhat longer than expected (it´s exactly one hour from the start of the gravel road, follow the signs for OSHO – you will see the farm down in a distance some 10 minutes before you reach it), so we arrived rather late in the afternoon. The people there put us in a tractor and off we went, to the edge of a small ravine where a torrent runs through. You have 2 options here: either walk around the waterfalls (VERY steep muddy tracks), or climb down a ladder to a place in the stream from where you can see the entrance of the cave. There are 2 more ladders that could bring you right to the cave itself but you will be completely soaked if you descend these (the ladders are IN the streams). In any case, bring a flashlight for optimal views. We got good views of at least 5 Oilbirds here.

Drove back to Sachatamia in torrential rain, which actually caused a huge landslide along the main road. Fortunately this was already bulldozered away when we reached the spot.

3 April

Started the day at the lamp post at the crossroad (´Y´) of Mindo, a place that attracks a lot of birds (the light is on during the whole night). We then continued to do some roadside birding at Milpe.

We had some coffee at a recommended restaurant (Irador Rio Blanco) at Avenida 17 de Julio at Los Bancos, a great place to see toucans and tanagers, as there are a number of feeders here. Beside that, there is a great view from the back over the valley below.

In the afternoon we birded the cablecar road at Mindo, but we were again interrupted by heavy rain. Apart from one big flock, it was rather quiet with birds here anyway. Unfortunately we didn´t know at that time that a pair of Black-and-Chestnut Eagles were nesting more or less opposite the cable car station, otherwise we would of course have driven up the road anyway.

4 April

Today we headed for Papallacta pass, but as we still needed some species from the upper Tandayapa valley, we started there (took the road from Sachatamia towards Bellavista). Failed, however, to locate Tanager-Finch…..

We drove up to Papallacta pass with a stop here and there on the way. We heard Giant Conebill but failed to get any views. It was quite windy in the Polylepis area, which didn´t help either, although we did see Yellow-breasted Brush-finch.

We were lucky to find a mainly cloudless pass. It was thus good birding there, with plenty of Tawny Antpittas, and great views of Ecuadorian Hillstar and a pair of Red-rumped Bush-Tyrants, to name just a few. Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, on the other hand, was apparently playing hide and seek, for we didn’t see a single one.

We descended the eastern slope and stopped for one night at Guango lodge (2800 m alt.). At the feeders we immediately ticked a Sword-billed Hummingbird and a Mountain Avocetbill, the only ones of the trip! Birded around the lodge a little.

5 April

Birding around Guango lodge. Fairly good birding here, but we failed to find any Plushcap and only got lousy flight views of Shining Sunbeam.

We then left to further descend the Eastern slope, heading for San Isidro. We stopped at the little town of Baeza, for some internetting and to buy new walking shoes for me (mine had exploded at Papallacta, probably due to the low pressure there the soles’ air cushions had collapsed). Here we saw Olivaceous Siskin and Golden-rumped Euphonia.

At San Isidro, we birded the antvireo trail, which provides good birding and runs through a truly beautiful patch of forest.

In the evening a San Isidro Owl was easily located at the lodge, while a second bird was heard in the vicinity.

6 April

In the morning we birded around the lodge itself. Here too, some lights are on for the whole night, attracting lots of birds early a.m. Very close views of Chestnut-crowned Antpitta.

In the afternoon we drove to the Cordillera de Huacamayos, but were driven out of there quickly by heavy rain. After return to San Isidro (where it was dry) we birded the log trail here. This runs through rather dense parts of secondary forest (and thus makes birding difficult, especially if you are a group of 3 persons like we), but we ticked some good birds like Bicolored Antvireo and Slaty Finch.

7 April

After a brief start at the lodge, we birded the old Baeza road. This was a big mistake: although it here and there provides nice roadside birding, it yielded virtually nothing and we should have spent our time in the forest instead. At 13.00 h we were picked up at the lodge by Bonnie and Jim Olsson, and drove to their newly built Wildsumaco lodge, much further down the Eastern Andes slope. Here we were again astonished by the number of (new) hummingbird species, attracted by their feeders, for instance Blue-fronted Lancebill, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Black-throated Brilliant and Gould's Jewelfront. We also met Jonas Nilsson here, whom I knew from a trip to Thailand long ago.

8 April – 10 April 

Birding at Wildsumaco lodge, every now and then together with Jonas. That really boosted our list enormously! We ticked some good species like Yellow-throated Spadebill, Grey-tailed Piha, Red-billed Tyrannulet, Golden-winged Tody-flycatcher, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill, Foothill Antwren, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Grey-throated Leaftosser and 2 Great Potoos. This is really a fantastic place, with a bird list of 408 species, to which we added one more: a stunning Andean Laniisoma!

11 April

Birding around the house, and then moving over to Coca. We stopped near Loreto, where there still is a bit of nice forest left. This proved productive, with species like White-necked Puffbird, Plum-throated Cotinga, Golden-collared Toucanet and Chestnut-belted Gnateater. And we weren’t even there early a.m., when this site should particularly be good.

After arrival at Coca, we said goodbye to Jim and Bonnie, who went to the airport for their flight to the US, while we boarded a boat for Yuturi lodge. After some engine trouble we finally took off, and with staggering speed we went downstream to Yuturi. I am still happy our boat driver was experienced in telling apart the deeper parts of the river (which in some places is more than a mile wide) from the places where sandbars were obscured by only a little layer of water. During the boat trip you don’t see much, apart from some Snowy and Great Egrets, some Spotted Sandpipers, and an occasional Large-billed Tern. We reached Yuturi after about 3 hours (it is approximately 145 km from Coca!), where we were the only guests. We set off in a canoe paddled by our guide here, a guy named Hermilo. He does not speak any english, but he knows his birds. Unfortunately he is not as good as the previous guide for Yuturi called Jaime apparently was. This man knew all the bird calls and could easily give you a daily bird list of over 70 species! Hermilo is still learning, but he may become just as good.

12 April

Birding at a terra firme area fairly close to the lodge. We left early a.m. and arranged for our breakfast to be brought along (fresh coffee in the jungle!).

There are also 2 trails in the terra firme part behind the lodge itself, we birded here in the afternoon, but the heat made everything then very quiet.

13 April

Another part of terra firme forest, in the afternoon we used the canoe to look for dolphins and otters, but failed to find any.

14 April

Return to Coca, but we stopped on the way at one of the riverine islands where we had great views of Amazonian Umbrellabird, and at Yarina lodge, where we walked to (and climbed) the canopy tower. Harrassed by ‘sweat bees’, we didn’t see very much, but a pair of Moriche Orioles was nice. The little lagoon near the lodge yielded very little, it is probably better early a.m.

After arrival at Coca we were brought to the little airport where we took the 17.00h flight to Quito. There we were picked up by our guides Vinicio and Segundo again, who brought us to our hotel (Hosteria San Jorge), somewhat outside town. Too bad that it was already dark and our flight next morning would leave early, for this area looked nice for a morning of birding.

15 April

Return flight to Amsterdam, with a stop at Bonaire, where we ticked some nice local species like Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, Laughing Gull and Bare-eyed Pigeon.

 

 

 

 

The lodges in short

Tandayapa

+    brilliant hummingbird feeder veranda

+    nice location, good forest nearby

+    good food

-     small room

 

Sachatamia

+    feeders that attract Toucan Barbets

+    good starting point for birding in the Mindo area

+    luxurious, we had a spacious room

-     close to the main road

-     few trails (but we probably didn’t check enough due to lack of time)

-     somewhat simple food

 

Guango

+    good hummingbird feeders

+    good birding directly outside the lodge

-     very small rooms

-     close to the main road

 

San Isidro

+    good birding in a wide area at and around the lodge (and close to Huacamayos)

+    rooms (cabines) are large

 

Wildsumaco

+    brandnew, luxurious lodge

+    immense bird list

+    very well-maintained trails

-     the best trails do not start a the lodge, but a bit further down the road (1500 m)

 

Yuturi

+    far away from (almost) everything: you are really in the jungle!

+    good food (though simple)

-     a bit basic

-     few options to bird if you are not going out with a canoe

 

 

Guiding

Of course you can go out birding on your own in Ecuador, but it is wiser to have someone arranging transport and assistance at the birding places. Mostly because these people know where exactly to go, what bird species occurs where, and to recognize the calls. You can (and should) bring recordings of all the calls and songs of the birds of Ecuador (as I did), but if you don’t know them all by heart you will undoubtedly be lost when you go birding. A guide who tells you what species he is hearing is invaluable.

 

Our travel agent had arranged for a guide and a driver during the first part of the trip (on the W slope and at Guango and San Isidro), and at Yuturi, but unfortunately neither of these was very good in bird sounds. Jonas Nilsson, whom we birded with for some hours at Wildsumaco was quite the opposite: he knows ALL the calls, has an incredible knowledge of all the Ecuadorian birds, and recognizes them already on jizz alone. All the more impressive when he told me that he actually is (red-green) colour blind!

 

What to bring and what not

Don’t bring any drugs (either in or out)….. OK, so much for that.

Apart from the other obvious stuff, it is useful and recommendable to bring: DEET in a spray can (to spray against chiggers – we had an infestation of them one day at Wildsumaco), Wellingtons (there are plenty of muddy places!), a telescope (don’t underestimate the risk of a sore neck when you’re checking the canopy flocks with your bins).

Used books: Birds of Ecuador (by Ridgely & Greenfield), Birds of Northern South-America (by Restall, Rodner & Lentino)(which I found rather disappointing), Handbook to the birds of South-America (by Ridgely & Tudor; I brought a minitiaturised copy), and Birds of South-America (by Dunning; the old work is still useful!). I also brought Birds of the High Andes (by Fjeldså & Krabbe), Birds of South-America (non-passerines)(by Erize, Rodriguez Mata & Rumboll), but didn’t use these much.

 

In the species list (presented here in pdf format), all bird species recorded by us are given, together with a rough indication at what locality we saw it; the last row represents "roads", which means that birds noted here were seen from the car while driving to another place, or at sites briefly visited (see in that case for more details the text above).

 

 

 

 

Species list (pdf format)

 

Mammal list (pdf format)

 

 


Copyright ©Teus Luijendijk 2008