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Ecuador - cloudforest birdwatching at its best
by John Muddeman

Extracts from the Travelling Naturalist / Limosa mainland Ecuador
birding trip 17th - 25th July 2004

Saturday 17th July extension - transfer via Yanacocha reserve to Mindo

We made a leisurely exit at just after 8 a.m. and we set off through the busy city traffic. Climbing up an old cobbled road the first roadside stop was for some terrific views of the peaks of the Antisana and several other snow-capped volcanoes. A Band-tailed Seedeater was one of the first small birds and already we had Buff-winged Starfrontlet © John Muddeman Buff-winged Starfrontlet
Coeligena lutetiae
© John Muddeman
an addition to the cumulative Travelling Naturalist / Limosa list!

We drove to the Yanacocha reserve, a beautiful area of cloud forest clinging to the steep mountainsides at a mere 3500m… Stepping out to get the entry permits we immediately saw the first of many impressively large Great Sapphirewings on the feeder by the publics loos!

The winding walk along an almost flat trail across a mountainside was fantastic. Small flocks of birds had to be teased out of the incredibly species-rich thick cover and trees coated with epiphytes, and the identification Mountain Velvetbreast © John Muddeman Mountain Velvetbreast
Lafresnaya lafresnayi
© John Muddeman
fun began. Glossy, Black and Masked Flowerpiercers were all common, a Brown-backed Chat-tyrant was a little beauty, though when we reached the first set of hummingbird feeders we were left bemused. Great Sapphirewings held court on size, but gangs of Shining Sunbeams and scores of Buff-winged Starfrontlets overpowered for much of the time. The flashing white in the tails of Mountain Velvetbreasts gave them away, while the little white boots of the Sapphire-vented Pufflegs were fun to see. Tyrian Metaltails kept popping Andean Condor © John Muddeman Andean Condor
Vultor gryphus
© John Muddeman
up continuously. What an extraordinary sight!

While this in itself would have been enough, the sudden appearance overhead of no less than 6 Andean Condors was a staggering sight! These even them came down to land for a while, an adult male and female being the stars of the show.

Moving gently along we also found some brightly coloured jobs, including our first Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager and later, Spectacled Whitestarts. The flycatchers (thankfully?!) largely gave us the slip, though a White-banded Tyrannulet did give us good scope views.

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill © John Muddeman Rainbow-bearded Thornbill
Chalcostigma herrani
© John Muddeman

Our troop back was less exciting, since we stopped less, but yet another surprise was in store, this time in the shape of a stunning male Rainbow-bearded Thornbill which sat quietly on a little stick for long periods of time and providing an excellent photo opportunity.

Lunch was an excellent and large box lunch which we ate by the car. Paul also achieved one of his goals when a Sword-billed Hummingbird sped past at height, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock © John Muddeman Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
Rupicola peruviana
© John Muddeman
seen only by him and me, a truly incredible sight.

We continued down the old Nono- Mindo road, noting the extraordinary-looking Silver-leaved Cecropia trees, and made a couple of short stops on the roadside. The second of these was a joy, with a group of displaying male Cock-of-the-Rocks in the trees opposite for at least 30 minutes… What more could one ask?! Better views of the Black-and-chestnut Eagle which Richard and I saw later would have been the icing on the cake, though to see and then hear a pair of Strong-billed Woodcreepers which were working the trees alongside the road which led down to our lodge near Mindo at dusk was a great end to the birds.

Sunday 18th July Séptimo Paraíso, Mindo + Tony's Garden

White-bellied Woodstar © John Muddeman White-bellied Woodstar
Chaetocercus mulsant
© John Muddeman

Our pre-breakfast jaunt saw us convening at 5.45 at the front door, here at c. 1500m in altitude. The light was just starting when we heard our first birds, several pairs of Rufous Motmots calling in the forest, with Golden-headed Quetzals and an Andean Solitaire joining in. Our first sightings included a tiny but very noisy Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, a pair of Golden-crowned Flycatchers, Blue-and-white and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird © John Muddeman Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Amazilia tzacatl
© John Muddeman
Slate-throated Whitestarts, brief Toucan Barbet and three Sickle-winged Guans high in some trees, plus numerous other small birds including the striking Lemon-rumped and dowdier Palm Tanagers, a couple of Masked Tityras, and single Red-headed Barbet, Golden-winged Manikin and Scaled Fruiteater of most note. A Western Red Squirrel also put in a brief appearance. It was an amazing experience!

After a rather later than expected breakfast we started the same walk again, though noted a White-necked Jacobin, a female White-bellied Woodstar and several Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds at the feeders before we'd really started! Blue-winged Mountain Tanager © John Muddeman Blue-winged Mountain Tanager
Anisognathus sumptuosus
© John Muddeman
Pausing along the entrance track we found several Yellow-bellied and a smart male Variable Seed-eater, then more tanagers including Metallic-green Tanager and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager, a Squirrel Cuckoo and Southern Beardless-tyrannulets, all before reaching the gate!

Out on the metalled road we turned towards Mindo, with a few flocks keeping us very busy at broken intervals. A Blue-necked Tanager, a few Red-faced Spinetails, Black-winged and Buff-throated Saltators and Cinnamon Becards, Green-crowned Brilliant © John Muddeman Green-crowned Brilliant
Heliodoxa jacula
© John Muddeman
plus a superb Rufous-winged Tyrannulet were most notable in one of them, but Swallow-tailed Kites kept our eyes also to the sky, and odd highlights included single Wedge-billed Hummingbird and Purple-throated Woodstar, while three Pale-mandibled Araçaris were simply fabulous in a large Cecropia tree, but disappeared all too fast.

We finished the morning with a trip to a local bar, where we 'twitched' White-whiskered Hermit, a simply superb large Green-tailed Trainbearer © John Muddeman Green-tailed Trainbearer
Lesbia nuna
© John Muddeman
hummer, which even came inside the covered bar to take a look after taking a few drinks from the feeders! We also had our introductions to both Green-crowned Woodnymph and Green-crowned Brilliant among dozens of Rufous-tailed Hummers.

We met again after lunch at 14:30 to go for more hummingbirds at the descriptively named Tony's Garden! This sounds odd deep Collared Inca © John Muddeman Collared Inca
Coeligena torquata
© John Muddeman
in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, but after a stop which revealed both Black- and Blue-capped Tanagers, Pearled Treerunner and Streaked Tuftedcheek, we finally reached the site. A short walk down a little path brought us to a house with huge veranda overlooking a garden stuffed with feeders. But where to look! Dozens upon dozens of hummers whizzed around and chased and displayed and of course fed in front. Before we left we'd seen no less than 16 species! Rufous-tailed Hummers, Green and Sparkling Violetears and Fawn-breasted Brilliants were the commonest, but we also noted a few gems such as Booted Racket-tail, Brown and Collared Incas, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Green-tailed Trainbearer and a Gorgeted Sunangel. Just the names invoke emotion and this was a superb experience simply Booted Racket-tail © John Muddeman Booted Racket-tail
Ochreatus underwoodii
© John Muddeman
enhanced by other birds such as Barred Becard, Golden and Metallic-green Tanagers, and White-sided Flowerpiercers amongst a few others.

Wednesday 21st July Guango Lodge to San Isidro

Our usual 6 a.m. start found us watching hummers from the porch, though two stunning Turquoise Jays taking the moths from around the lights almost as we walked out shone like beacons in the half-light!

Chestnut-breasted Coronet © John Muddeman Chestnut-breasted Coronet
Boissonneaua matthewsii
© John Muddeman

The feeders were very busy with dozens of Tourmaline Sunangels and Tyrian Metaltails, plenty of Buff-tailed and Chestnut-breasted Coronets and the bee-like White-bellied Woodstars, a couple of Mountain Velvetbreasts, several of the extraordinary Sword-billed Hummingbirds and Long-tailed Sylphs, various smart (and aggressive) Collared Incas, and a couple of Buff-winged Starfrontlets, while single female Gorgeted Woodstar, Glowing Puffleg, Speckled Hummingbird and Great Sapphirewing also put in brief appearances. This was amazing and almost the entire lodge list! Just as most had gone into breakfast, an odd small hummer sat discretely in a bush was a Long-tailed Sylph © John Muddeman Long-tailed Sylph
Aglaiocercus kingi mocoa
© John Muddeman
Mountain Avocetbill, though sadly just Roberto, Richard and I were able to see it before it was chased off never to be seen again… This was a lifer for Roberto though.

At breakfast the heavens opened, and as this continued for over an hour afterwards, we simply reassembled on the patio to continue watching the hummers. Given the incredible and continuous activity of 20 or 30 of these amazing birds we stood and watched in amazement at their continual comings and goings, with numerous aerial face-offs being a repeated sight. As we'd also seen earlier, a couple of Masked Flowerpiercers were also at the feeders, Mountain Wrens sneaked through the undergrowth and a Great Thrush Sword-billed Hummingbird © John Muddeman Sword-billed Hummingbird
Ensifera ensifera
© John Muddeman
on the lawn provided some variety, plus the first of several White-banded Tyrannulets.

Eventually the rain eased so we decided to risk it by walking along the main road. This was a good move. A short way uphill first revealed a reasonable stretch of river, where a stunning male Torrent Duck perched nonchalantly on a rock in full view, barely even raising its head to survey proceedings.

Light rain decided to return, so we headed downhill, trying to tease out a few small birds from the bushes as we went, including smart Northern Mountain-caciques, a superb female Barred Fruiteater, an exquisite male Purple-backed Thornbill feeding on some yellow flowers in low canopy, though shortly afterwards we also disturbed a couple of superb Andean Guans Andean Guan Penelope © John Muddeman Andean Guan
Penelope montagnii
© John Muddeman
almost from the roadside which then flew up and landed, and stayed, in full view until we left!

The rain strengthened, but we continued on, seeing a couple of perched Roadside Hawks at close range, but it was difficult viewing as the optics steamed up…

We returned to the lodge a little earlier than planned only to find a large feeding flock passing through the trees in front of Roadside Hawk © John Muddeman Roadside Hawk
Buteo magnirostris
© John Muddeman
the car park: Lacrimose and Fawn-breasted Mountain-tanagers, Grey-hooded Bush-tanager, Blue-backed and Capped Conebills, Pearled Treerunners, Cinnamon Flycatchers, a male Barred Becard, Montane Woodcreeper and a few other bits and pieces! This very rapidly moved on, but we luckily had a second bite at nearly all of these when the flock returned about 20 minutes later when we were again ogling the hummers!

We moved on towards our final destination, though stopped for more Inca Jays, only to find a small group of Subtropical Caciques on the roadside, then as we watched these, an astonishingly coloured Crimson-mantled Woodpecker flew over and fortunately landed where we could see it, despite being in quite dense foliage. Another stop was made for a female Olivaceous Siskin on a roadside wire, though we made San Isidro in good time.

In fact, the earlier members of the group to head to the bar were greeted with the sight of 4 or 5 impressively large and short-tailed Rufous-bellied Nighthawks powering their way around the various lights as they hawked for insects.

A full account of the trip and the 263 bird species seen will soon be published on the Travelling Naturalist website. A report of the trip to Galápagos which immediately preceded this can be found on Liz Leyden's website.

John Muddeman

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