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AMAZONIAN ECUADOR, JANUARY 2015

Rain, rain, and more rain!!! There are usually two seasons in the Amazon: the wet season, and the really wet season. Although we had expected to have rain at some point during the tour, persistent downpours seemed to be the norm which was certainly unusual for this time of year. Despite having to dodge the raindrops, we were fortunate to have some sunny windows early in the mornings.
After a 20-minute flight over the Andes Mountains from Quito to the oil town of Coca, we piled into our motorized canoe for a two-hour trip down the Napo River. En route to the flooded forests of the Amazon, we made a few brief stops along the river where we saw Cocoi Heron, Oriole Blackbird, Roadside Hawk (should have called it Riverside Hawk!), Black Caracara, Slender-billed Kite and Greater yellow-headed Vulture, good scope views of an Amazonian Umbrellabird, and two stunning Capped Herons which was a surprise lifer for me.
Next stop was the way station where we disembarked and took a much-needed bathroom break before our trek on the mile-long boardwalk through the forest. While there we had a few moments for birding and picked up White-eared Jacamar, Black- fronted Nunbird, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Boat-billed Flycatcher, and a Red-eyed Vireo on vacation from North America. The flooded forest holds many skulking species such as the Silver Antbird, White-shouldered Antbird, Dot- backed-Antbird, Collared Trogon, Masked Crimson Tanager, various Woodcreepers, Pygmy and Green-and-Rufous Kingfishers, Violaceus Jay, and the musical Hauxwell’s Thrush.
From the woods, it was back into the canoes — this time for a quiet ride in a dugout powered by oars, not motors. Winding our way through a short canal that led to the isolated Sacha Lodge, we were welcomed by Black-capped Donacobius, White-winged and White-banded Swallows, Swallow-tailed Puffbird, Southern House Wren, Silver- beaked Tanager, Piratic Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, and the ever-present prehistoric- looking Hoatzin.
Sacha provides sanctuary from the noise and bustle of the modern world we had left behind: no phones, no television, no roads, no blaring music from restaurant loudspeakers, just the sounds of nature and quiet conversation.
That in itself is reason enough to visit Sacha, but the real attractions are the canopy walkway and the canopy tower where you stand firmly on top of the forest canopy and have a 360-degree field of view that extends as far as your birding scope allows.
While up on the walkway we were again fortunate to have some dry time and we were rewarded handsomely for our effort. Close looks at a sleeping Great Potoo greeted us immediately upon stepping out on the first few feet of the walkway. A Double-toothed Kite perched right on the walkway and then proceeded to give us eye- level looks as it pursued and caught a huge green Katydid in midair.
Many of the trees were loaded with fruit and it wasn’t long before they attracted Many- banded Aracari, White-necked Puffbird, Channel-billed and White-throated Toucan, Gilded Barbet, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Spangled Cotinga, Lawrence’s Thrush, Blue Dacnis, Green and Gold Tanager, and Crested Oropendola. Squirrel and Black-bellied Cuckoo, White Hawk, Violaceus Jay, and the diminutive White-browed Purpletuft all provided great scope views. Believe it or not, that is considered a slow birding day at that location!!!
On the trail back to the lodge, we slogged through a bit of mud and mire for killer looks at two roosting Crested Owls. Not to be outdone by the birds, we were serenaded by Red Howler Monkeys and Noisy-Night Monkeys.
Our next sky journey began at the lodge. Once again we traveled in dugout canoes through the canals of the flooded forest to a trail that brought us to a wooden staircase built around a towering Kapok Tree and extending up for some ninety feet. The top of the Kapok Tree was even higher by another thirty feet!!
Once again, we were in the midst of fruiting trees that lured Black-tailed Tityra, Yellow- browed Tody-Flycatcher, both Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, Purple- throated Fruitcrows, Masked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Magpie Tanagers, more looks at Many-banded Aracari, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, and Crane Hawks. And this was only our second day!!!
Our next magical day was an early morning trip that had us going into the canoes, back out the boardwalk, then back into the motorized boats for a short trip downriver to see parrots at the clay lick. The action at the lick is dependent on good weather: if it is too wet, the parrots and parakeets will not eat the mucky clay. Clay is an important addition to their diet because much of their food source is highly acidic and potentially poisonous. The clay acts as a neutralizing agent that allows them to consume it without ill effect. Once again, we were blessed by perfect weather conditions and the show was a good one.
We spotted and photographed 11 species of parrots and parakeets. Red-bellied Macaws flew over in good numbers. On the lick were hundreds of Mealy- and Yellow- headed Amazons, Blue-headed Parrots, Dusky-headed Parakeets, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets and Orange-cheeked Parrots. We then visited the mineral pool within Yasuni National Park hoping to see some of the same birds as they came to drink the mineral- rich waters coming out of the cave. Sitting comfortably under a thatched-roof bird blind not thirty feet from the pool, we could hear parakeets high up in the trees but they were reluctant to come down. Fortunately for us, while we waited five Scarlet Macaws came into close view and were about to come for a drink when out of the bush came the massive and prehistoric looking Tapir. The Macaws sounded the alarm and scattered. We were there to eat lunch as well, so we had plenty of time to wait for more action. Our patience was once again rewarded with a mass of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets and Orange-cheeked Parrots coming to the pools. It was amazing to see the flashes of gold, green, cobalt blue, reds, and yellows as the the birds frantically jostled for position in the small pool. When they took off en masse, they flew directly at us and came in through the front of the blind and went out the other side, wings whirring and a technicolor cloud of feathers. Once again, the Tapir made another appearance, but by this time the show was well over. It was by far one of the best mornings I have ever experienced at the clay licks and the pool. Pure magic!!
The next two days, the rains came in earnest and we heard from other groups that they’d found the licks deserted. Timing is indeed everything in the birding world.
After five rewarding days in the Amazon, we headed for the mid-montane forests of the western slope to cool off and see some different birds. Our goal was to see the many species of Tanagers and Hummingbirds that inhabit this ecosystem. It was indeed cooler here, but it was also wetter. We couldn’t escape the dark clouds and rain and were relegated to birding from covered patios and feeding stations. Tandayapa is world-famous for their hummingbirds and we were not disappointed. We tallied 22 species of hummingbirds both on the patio and a few hundred meters below at Alambi Sanctuary. Because of the changing weather conditions, many of the regularly seen tanagers were a no-show, although we did manage 16 species including a stunning western race of the Black-faced Dacnis. With the addition of a black light and a white sheet that attracted hundreds of moths each morning, we were able to see some great birds that came in, attracted to the banquet. Masked Trogons, Rufous Motmots, Three-striped Warbler, Rufous-crowned Warbler, Chestnut-capped and White- winged Brushfinch, Smoke-colored Pewee, Uniform Antshrike, Montane Woodcreeper, Streak-capped Treehunter, Red-faced Spinetail, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, and White- sided Flowerpiercer all took advantage of the easy meal.
Because of the uncooperative weather, we were under our normal bird count for this type of trip, however we did tally 220 species and had some awesome experiences.
Join us next year for a brand new itinerary to Southern Ecuador. Check back soon for trip details and don’t forget to visit the gallery.

Ecuador, February 2014

The weather has been unsettled at home and no less so for our latest trip to Ecuador. We started at the mid-elevation cloud forests of Sachatamia, Mindo, Mindo Loma, and Milpe Cloud Forest at 5,550 feet and experienced thirty straight hours of rain!! Luckily, many of our birding locations had covered viewing areas with fruit feeders that provided a cover over our heads while we feasted our eyes on Toucans, Red-headed Barbets and many species of tanagers including Black-capped, Golden, Flame-rumped, Flame-faced, White-lined, and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers. We had just enough of a lull in the downpour to watch enigmatic Club-winged Manakins display on the lek, where they click their wings in a high cricket-like symphony to attract potential female mates. We visited hummingbird locations in Alambi and Milpe and tallied 25 species of hummingbirds in one day!!
Then it was on to high paramo birding at Antisana Preserve at 15,000 feet for a chance at Andean Condor, Andean Teal, Andean Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis, Silvery Grebe, Andean Coot, Paramo Ground-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Giant Hummingbird, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Shining Sunbeam, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and the Carunculated Caracara. But before that, there was a requisite stop at the official equator marker outside of Quito and taste of fire-roasted guinea pig by the hearty among us. Only one other participant was game enough to try besides myself. Take it from me, you can pass on the guinea pig if you are ever in the area!!! The equator marker is off by some 900 feet, but there is no plan to move it anytime soon and the tourists don’t seem to mind the error.
A new lodge named Guaytarra just a few miles from Antisana allowed easy and fast access to the preserve where we saw every bird on our list for the area including an astounding 15 Andean Condors. It’s the most sightings in two days that either our local guide or I had experienced in the past ten years. Antisana is also home to the highest active volcano in the world at 19,650 feet and we had unobstructed views of it and the nearby Cotapaxi volcano at 20,000 feet on one of our rain-free, blue sky days.
After two brisk days at high elevation, we descended 7,000 feet to San Isidro Lodge on the eastern slope and birded all the way down to within 80 miles of the Amazon. When you change elevation, you see completely different birds. Here we were wowed by Paradise Tanager, Powerful Woodpecker, Chestnut- capped and White-bellied Antpitta, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Golden-headed Quetzal, Collared-Inca, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Choco Toucan, Rufous-chested Warbler, Golden-rumped Euphonia and others too numerous to name.
In all, we ticked off more than 260 species in ten days with 35 species of hummingbirds and 31 species of tanagers under pretty trying conditions. With a 20-passenger bus for 10 people, a fantastic local guide, and three different eco-zones to explore, it is impossible not to see this many birds.
Next year, join us for our combo tour. We will explore the far western slope of the Andes for the ever-fabulous hummingbirds and tanagers as well as toucans, fruiteaters, flycatchers, tree-runners, woodcreepers, foilage-gleaners, and woodpeckers as well as butterflies, orchids, great lodges and local cuisine. And we will fly over the Andes to the eastern Amazon and spend four glorious days at Sacha Lodge. At Sacha, we will venture out each day in quiet dugout canoes that are equipped with padded seats and backs to bird two remarkable canopy towers and walkways, jungle canals, and trips to the parrot licks. We can see ten species of parrots and possibly some Macaws as they feed on the alkaline clay above the Napo River. No cell phones, no Wi-Fi, no traffic, no roads, just peace and quiet, great food, comfortable lodging, and hundreds of bird species. Please visit the new gallery and check out the past trip reports for a preview of what’s to come.

Ecuador, February 2013

macawFrom the flooded lowlands of the Amazon at 200 feet above sea level, to the western slope of the Andes Mountains at 7,00 feet we visited a half dozen eco-zones that included Varzea forests to Terra Firma and then to cloud forests where we tallied an astounding 276 species of birds within 8 days of birding. 25 species of hummingbirds 23 species of tanagers, toucans, fruitcrows, antbirds, trogons and more.
We started our journey from Quito where we flew to the Napo River town of Coca on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. From Coca, we boarded a motorized canoe for a two hour journey downriver. Along the way, we picked up Amazonian Umbrellabird, Cocoi Heron, Black and Yellow-headed Caracara, Oriole Blackbird, Greater yellow-headed Vulture, Pied Plover and Drab Water Tyrant. All before we reached our first destination!!! After docking at the way station and taking a much needed bathroom break, we hiked through the flooded (Varzea) forest on an elevated boardwalk for 1.2 miles to another boat launch where we boarded dugout canoes for a 20 minute paddle to Sacha Lodge. No phones, no internet, no cars, no noise. We were greeted with a welcome cocktail and escorted to our screened cabins with ceiling fans, and private bathrooms. All around the cabins were the Hoatzin, hoatzinRusset-backed Oropendelas, Chestnut and Linneated Woodpeckers, Rufous and Green Kingfisher, Striated Heron, Greater Ani and not to be out done by the bird life, we encountered at close range, Common Squirrel Monkey, Red Howlers and Black mantled-Tamarinds and Caiman Lizards. And if birds are not your thing, you can spend every waking moment counting the thousands of different plant and orchid species as well as butterflies. After a scrumptious buffet dinner and a much needed rest, we started the next morning by visiting an observation tower that was built wrapped around a towering 135 foot Kapok tree. With all the trees fruiting this time of year, it wasnt long before we saw Opal -rumped, Opal-crowned, Green and Gold, and Masked Tanagers. Along with them, we saw Orange-bellied, Thick-billed, and White-lored Euphonia, Many-banded Aracari, Spangled and Plum-throated Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Double-toothed Kite and many more too numerous to name here.
Sachas other prize is a canopy walkway that reaches over 100 feet high and stretches over 300 feet long. Though the mornings start out foggy and overcast, it soon cleared to reveal such beauties as Paradise Tanagertanager Pied Puffbird, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, White Hawk, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Gilded Barbet, Spangled Cotinga from 20 feet and eye level, Squirrel Cuckoos arms reach away, Crested Oropendola, Dugand’s Antwren, ( a high canopy species) Black-fronted Nunbird and Black-headed Parrot.
There only two modes of getting around in the Amazon, walking and canoe, and we spent a good deal of time wending our way through narrow channels that took us inside the flooded forest where Tawny-bellied Screech Owls, White bearded, Wire-tailed and Orange-crowned Manakins entertained us on their respective leks. Also seen were Spot-backed Antwrens, Silver Antbirds, Dusky-throated Antshrikes, Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, Yellow -browed Antbird, Coriya Wren and a quartet of the stunning Masked-crimson Tanagers.
Though it is always difficult to leave the jungle when the birds are everywhere,we had a scheduled trip to view a parrot lick, where 11 species of parrots were tallied coming to the riverbank to consume the clay that neutralizes the toxins from the berries and leaves that make up their diet. Mealy and Yellow-headed Amazon, Blue-crowned and Scarlet-shouldered Parrot all put in an appearance. Also in the mix were Dusky-headed and Maroon-tailed Parakeets. We then put in to visit the largest protected park in Ecuador, the Yasuni National Park where we had high hopes of seeing Cobalt-winged Parakeets and Scarlet Macaws coming to the cool water pools to quench their thirst on mineral rich water. Although the parakeets were a no show, after two and a half hours of (sometimes NOT) patient waiting, we were rewarded with killer looks of a Scarlet Macaw at the pool. Magnificent is the only word I have to describe it!!!!macaw
After five days and over 175 species we reluctantly boarded our canoe and headed for the Coca airport where were then flew back to Quito. Upon arrival, we immediately headed out on the birding trail where the world famous Tandayapa Bird Lodge awaited us. Tandayapa is famous for its hummingbird feeders and surrounding dry forest at 7,00 feet. A definite relief from the hot and humid Amazon lowlands, it offered temperatures 30 degrees cooler as well as very little humidity in a small comfortable setting. Arriving just two hour before sunset, we were treated to 15 species of hummingbirds that included the Fawn-breasted Brilliant,Purple throated Woodstar, Green-crowned Brilliant, Andean Emerald, Brown Violetear, Buff-tailed Coronet and others. Awaiting us on the other side of the patio were Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Masked Trogon, Red-headed Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanette and Barred Becard.
Though we could have easily spent the last two days just sitting on the patio, we ventured a bit farther afield to the Milpe Cloud Forest Preserve 1 hour from Tandayapa. Greeted with uncoopertive weather that alternated between downpour and drizzle, I was a bit downcast about our chances for decent birding. Our first visit was to the dark forest to see the ever present Club-winged Manakin on the lek, where they make a very weird electric sounding noise with their wings to attract potential mates. birdThe hummingbird feeders provided us with another species that we lacked; the gaudy but beautiful Velvet-Purple Coronet. We then donned our rain gear and took a wet stroll down a nearby gravel road in hopes of picking up a few more birds even though the weather didnt seem conducive to do so. Boy was I wrong to worry!!!! We ran into a feeding mixed flock of Flame faced, Fawn-breasted, Silver throated, Swallow and Masked Tanagers, Montane, Buff-throated and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Buff-throated Saltator, Yellow-bellied Siskin and the extremely rare Yellow-collared Cholorophonia. Even the guide was excited to see that one!!! In all, we tallied about 25 species within this one mixed flock.
You never know what new and magical discovery awaits you on the next tour to Ecuador. For 2014, we are planning a trip to headwaters of the Napo River high up in the Andes for the mountain specialties. We will be after Andean Condor, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Giant Hummingbird, Aplomado Falcon and many other high elevation species like the Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Paramo Ground Tyrant and others.

Ecuador, January 2012

WOW!!! That just about sums up our latest tour to Ecuador. With visits to world famous Tandayapa Lodge where we photographed over 20 species of hummingbirds, Masked Trogons from 3 feet away, as well as such beauties as Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Red-Headed Barbets, Scaled Fruiteater, Montane Woodcreeper, and dozens of others within arms reach.
tiny hawkThough it was hard to pull away from a place where you could easily spend your entire time, we had other target species on our list. Milpe Reserve, just an hours drive away is one of the best places to see and photograph the Club-winged Manakin as it "dances" on its lek to attract females. We were rewarded with at least three males displaying in view as well as great looks at the feeders of Saffron-crowned Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, both Orange-breasted and Thick-billed Euphonia, Black-winged Saltators and others.
The biggest treat was extended looks at the rare and elusive Tiny Hawk that was eating prey high in the canopy. A bird rarely seen, let alone almost never photographed, allowed everyone to get some shots in. WOW indeed.
From there we headed to the high Paramo of Antisana Preserve. At 15,000 feet it is one of the best locations to look for roosting and soaring Andean Condor. Although the altitude is high, the birding is easy.
The birding and photography is right from the road, which is flat and easy to walk on. Specialties there include the critically endangered Black-faced Ibis, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, Andean Teal, Silvery Grebe and the Ecuadorian Hillstar. On our second day there (two days minimum is a must) we were rewarded with a Condor taking off from the ground and soaring 100 feet over our heads for fantastic photo ops. WOW again.

birds In addition to that, we also had extended looks at Giant Hummingbirds feeding on freshly blossoming flowers.
The final stop on this ten day tour was San Isidro Lodge. A welcome respite from the high altitude. At 6,000 feet, it is known for the San Isidro Mystery Owl.

owlOriginally thought to be a Black-banded Owl, it has yet to be determined if it is a separate species due to different vocalizations. Whatever it is ultimately called, we had killer looks at it as it called and sat on the wires not 20 feet from us. We also had great looks at Crested and Golden-headed Quetzal, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Inca Jay, more Masked Trogons, Russet backed Oropendelas and others. With rain moving in on the last day, we headed to lower elevations in Baeza to try and find some sun. birdsNot only did we find better weather, but we hit the jackpot with great looks at the very rare and elusive Golden-collared Honeycreeper.

Even our guide was excited!!! Not thinking we could see anything better than that, we didnt expect to be wowed by two sightings of Andean Cock of the Rock flying over our heads. What a great end to a great trip. . Tours are available for this great itinerary to Northern Ecuador for either birding or photography or both. Limit 8 people per trip, with a vehicle that has a sliding window for each person, excellent guides and good accommodations.
We are adding Southern Ecuador next year. Join us!!!!

Ecuador, February 2011

birdsThough we started on an ominous note of rain and mud slides upon our arrival, we improvised and made the best of the day by heading for cover at the wonderful Mindo Loma lodge. A covered veranda afforded us the opportunity to see some great birds at the feeders, even though the weather was less than perfect. Beauties such as the Flame-faced and Golden Tanagers were regular visitors as well as Crimson-rumped Toucans, Woodcreepers, Spinetails, Hummingbirds and Flower-piercers. After lunch we were rewarded with close up views of a Common Potoo perched on a snag with his eyes wide open!!! All in all, we logged some 25 species of birds at this fabulous location.
Then it was onto higher elevations at Guango Lodge and and Papallacta pass. Guango Lodge offers the chance to see lots of hummingbirds in all their glorious colors as well as killer looks at Torrent ducks( male and female) Turquoise Jay, Andean Guan, and a great mixed flock of tanagers, Chat-tyrants, foliage cleaners and many others.
Though Papallacta pass is cold and sparsely vegetated, it affords the opportunity to see the rare Ecuadorian Hillstar Hummingbird and the Rufus- bellied Seedsnipe. Both birds presented crippling good views.
Next on the birding hit parade was one of my favorite stops; Antisana Reserve. Run by a private foundation called the Jocoto Foundation, it offers stunning panoramas of high paramo landscape with a back drop of three snow capped volcanoes. and if the scenery was not enough, we had good looks at 6 Andean Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Black-faced Ibis, Andean Lapwing and Gull and literally dozens of Carunculated Caracara within very close proximity. We also lucked out on the road in and had multiple views of the Giant Hummingbird!!!!
Though it is hard leaving a place like that, we had another fabulous lodge to get to; the San Isidro Lodge. The lower elevation was a warm relief from chilly high country, but we didn't have to sacrifice good birds just to be warm. The lodge has mercury vapor lights that it leaves on at night and in the morning swarms of birds turn out to feast on the insects that were attracted to the lights the previous night. Crimson-mantled Woodpeckers, Oropendelas, Woodcreepers, Masked Trogon, Inca Jay and even some familiar N. American warblers like the Blackburnian and Canada were in good numbers. There is also a small group of Cock -of-the-Rocks on the property and even though they are in dense forest, we had good looks at them on the Lek. We also were fortunate to see the famous and recently discovered San Isidro mystery owl. Though it appears to be a Black-banded Owl, the vocalization is unlike any owl known, hence the mystery!!
Whether you are at 12,00 feet in the high paramo of the Andes, or lowlands of the Amazon, you can be assured that every day is a great day in Ecuador. With 1600 species of birds in a country the size of Colorado, its not hard to see hundreds on a one week trip. And as a bonus, out of the 212 species we logged in 5 days, we were able to photograph an astounding 72% of them. Ecuador awaits.