Ecuador Hummingbird Venture:
March 9-18, 2018
March 9 -
Most folks arrived in Quito a couple of days prior to the tour to relax and rest after the international flights.
March 10 - Quito to Los Bancos
Breakfast was in the very comfortable Hotel Quito with the breakfast room being on the top floor overlooking the city and the nearby volcanos. The garden had a few birds, most notably being Sparkling Violetear, Great Thrush, Eared Dove and the abundant Rufous-collared Sparrows. We picked up our picnic lunches and drove up to Yanacocha Preserve, high on the slopes of Volcan Pichincha. This new preserve has a new visitor center and a fruit and hummingbird feeding station. The beauty of the reserves and lodges is that one doesn’t have to walk the trails to enjoy the birds and why we planned this trip this way. Some of us walked the trail, while others sat and watched the very active feeders. Highlights at the feeders included a pair of Andean Guans, Black-chested Mountain-Tanagers and several Masked Flowerpiercers plus many hummingbirds. Those of us who walked the trail as far as the tunnel enjoyed spectacular views, watched the feeders along the trail, but overall the birding was fairly quiet. After a picnic lunch at Yanacocha we slowly made our way towards our hotel in Los Bancos. Stops were made for a pair of White-capped Dippers nesting near a trout farm and the amazing hummingbird feeders at Alambi Lodge, which allowed for some excellent hummingbird photography…..our first of many!
March 11 - Los Bancos to Mashpi
Today was going to be a long day with a visit to the wonderful Mashpi Reserve. Breakfast was at 6 and a roadside stop produced one of the few Ringed Kingfishers of the trip. Mashpi Reserve offers some fine western slope birding and the newly-established preserve’s feeders had a blizzard of tanagers coming for bananas; with the highlights being Black-chinned Mountain, Rufous-throated, Glistening-green and the localized Moss-backed Tanager. Hummingbird feeders attracted the somewhat pugnacious Velvet-purple Coronet, as well as several large and striking Empress Brilliants. A highlight was the huge rhinoceros beetle that appeared walking along the top of a cabinet! After lunch at the Mirador; handily equipped with picnic tables, we drove down to the Guallaybamba River and the Oilbird caves. Thankfully access is restricted to this sensitive spot and a visit to a local family allowed us to enjoy close-up views of these amazing birds. I think most of us napped in the van on our long drive back to Los Bancos.
March 12 - Los Bancos to Regugio Paz and San Tadeo
Another early start this morning with a dawn visit to a lek of the amazing Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Just to stand there listening to the raucous calls of these brilliantly-colored birds is very atmospheric, and then to watch the flame-orange males call and fly into patches of open forest – wow! Angel Paz is famous for starting the feeding of Antpittas, notably a Giant Antpitta named Maria. With Maria’s progeny now filling her “shoes”, we had excellent views of Giant, Yellow-breasted and Moustached Antpittas – always a truly incredible experience. Angel’s wife produced some delicious snacks before we left to visit yet more feeders. The feeding station at San Tadeo was incredible with the owner having built extravagant water features, as well as a whole bevy of fruit and seed feeders. Needless to say the show was wonderful with lots of tanagers, as well as Swainson’s Thrush, Red-headed Barbet and Yellow-billed Cacique. We took a few hours of the afternoon to relax and maybe catch up on sleep!
March 13 - Los Bancos to Reserva 23 June and Bellavista Road
Long-wattled Umbrellabirds are always somewhat tough to see, although they do have some reliable leks. A few of us got up early in order to visit one of these about an hour from our hotel. It was a bit of a trek up a river valley and through a muddy cow pasture before we go to our destination. It was a misty morning with the fog blowing across the treetops, but we were lucky enough to see and hear 2 male Umbrellabirds perched atop some dead branches. Aside from that, we had a pretty good selection of tanagers, and both Guayaquil and Lineated Woodpeckers. A brief stop on the Rio Blanco produced a couple of egrets and one of the few sightings of Neotropic Cormorant on the tour.
Birding from the Mirador at the hotel can also be very good with Swallow-tailed Kites soaring over the valley and a nice selection of hummingbirds on the feeders with Green Thorntails being the most abundant. In the afternoon we decided to take the Eco-route from Mindo to Bellavista where in the past we have had some pretty nice flocks along the roadside. This time the weather had deteriorated a little so fog and low cloud tended to obscure the forest making for challenging bird finding. Most birds were heard only, but we did see a very handsome male Masked Trogon, some Dusky Chlorospingus (was Bush-tanager) and at last, a pair of the stunning Grass-green Tanagers that allowed everyone to enjoy.
March 14 - Los Bancos to Milpe and Antisana
Today it was time move and spend the night much higher in elevation so we packed up and headed to Milpe Bird Reserve just up the road. This Milpe Cloudforest Foundation reserve is quite extensive, but some of the trails are rather steep. We birded the area round the building and walked the roads and were lucky enough to find another Long-wattled Umbrellabird – in the parking lot! A female Yellow-collared Chlorophonia showed very well along the road and once again the hummer feeders were a riot of activity and most enjoyable to sit and attempt to identify all of the hummingbirds. Lunch was at Los Armadillos, a small restaurant with yes, more hummingbird feeders! Most of them were repeats, but the close proximity allowed for some great photo opportunities, plus the little gift shop had some very nice mugs! Our next lodging was considerably higher in elevation but overlooked an Andean lake with Yellow-billed Pintail and Andean Gulls feeding on the mud below us. The cliffs opposite us are an evening roost for Andean Condors and we saw a couple heading to roost that evening. Better views tomorrow I know! The small hotel was delightful with Giant Hummers and Sparkling Violetears at the feeder, plus great food and very friendly folks who own the place.
March 15 - Antisana to Papallacta
We birded around the lodge before heading into Antisana National Park. The same hummers were around the feeders, but they were joined by Shining Sunbeam, Black-tailed Trainbearer and the diminutive Tyrian Metaltail. A handful of Andean Condors flew off the cliffs and a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle flew across the valley. Antisana was good, as always, and we got all of our target species: Andean Lapwing, Carunculated Caracara and good views of Andean Condor. A nice surprise was Andean Hillstar on its nest under the eaves of an old building – again, some great photo ops! It was a short ride to our next hotel- the Papallacta Hot Springs and a lovely place for some R and R! Plus getting in the hot waters was a wonderful experience and the food wasn’t bad at all. A brief walk around the grounds in the evening was fairly quiet with only a Tufted Tit-Tyrant new to the list.
March 16 - Papallacta to Cayembe-Coca, Guango Lodge and Wildsumaco
It was raining in the morning so our visit to Cayembe-Coca was very wet with poor visibility. Despite that fact, we did manage to see Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant and Many-striped Canastero- both species of the high Paramo habitat. It was also raining when we got to Guango Lodge- a lovely lunch spot with yet more hummer feeders. We were now on the East Slope so many of the hummingbirds were new for the trip: Long-tailed Sylph, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Tourmaline Sunangel and many more. A brief hike before lunch was quiet, but we found our target birds- a pair of beautiful Torrent Duck on the river. The rain became more persistent as we drove east so we were restricted to birding along the road or at a few staked out feeding stations. A pair of Cliff Flycatchers were in their normal spot and one feeder had several White-tailed Hillstars and several Many-spotted Hummingbirds; it’s always interesting to notice how different species of hummingbird appear or disappear as one drops in elevation. We rolled into Wildsumaco in time for dinner – a long day, somewhat damp at times!
March 17 - Wildsumaco
Wildsumaco Lodge and property is an amazing place. If you wish you can relax on the porch, enjoy the view and watch the hummer feeders. You can walk the road where toucans and flycatchers sit atop the bare trees or hike the maze of trails looking for antpittas. We did all three today enjoying the excellent selection of hummingbirds at the feeders with Golden-tailed Sapphire being one of the most common. There are three large uncommon species that frequent the feeders, Black-throated Brilliant, Napo Sabrewing and Violet-fronted Brilliant. They can be a little challenging to identify but we did eventually find all three species. Plenty of northbound migrants were also coming through, and Swainson’s Thrushes seemed to be everywhere. From the ground to high in a fruiting tree, barely a minute went by without us seeing many of them. Scarlet Tanagers were also molting into their bright colors and were feeding on fruit in the Cecropia trees. Several of us did the antpitta vigil in the afternoon where Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas come to be fed at a worm station. We had great views of both species, plus a more familiar Gray-cheeked Thrush which is a rare visitor this far south. The whole Wildsumaco experience is delightful with nice rooms, great food and very friendly staff.
March 18 - Wildsumaco and Quito
We started our last morning with some more porch birding, followed by some birding lower down on the access road. Here the forest is more open with some scattered farms and brushy areas. Species such as Thrush-like Wren, Common Tody-Flycatcher and Magpie Tanager are more common in these disturbed habitats. Our last hummingbird of the trip was a lovely Long-billed Starthroat which was sitting atop a bare tree- more photo ops! Unfortunately we had to leave at lunchtime to drive back to Quito. Most of our flights were late in the evening, so we had a relaxing dinner at Puembo Birding Garden before catching our homebound flights.
We finished the tour with over 300 species of birds, of which 52 were hummingbirds. From the largest hummingbird in the world, the Giant, to the longest billed, the Sword-billed, we had a great variety of species – most seen very well indeed. Many, if not all, of the lodges now have feeders which allow great views of these often tough to see birds. Thanks to Juan and all of the great folks we met throughout the tour. We will definitely be returning.
Birds and Other Wildlife Seen on our Ecuador Venture: March 9-18, 2018
Little Tinamou (Heard)
Ruddy (Andean) Duck
Black-faced (Andean) Ibis
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (Heard)
Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari
Chestnut-backed Antbird (Heard)
Undulated Antpitta (Heard)
Rufous Antpitta (Heard)
Ocellated Tapaculo (Heard)
Blackish Tapaculo (Heard)
White-crowned Antpitta (Heard)
Spillman’s Tapaculo (Heard)
Buffy (Pacific) Tuftedcheek
Pale-legged (Pacific) Hornero
Azara’s Spinetail (Heard)
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (Heard)
Barred Fruiteater (Heard)
Orange-breasted Fruiteater (Heard)
Black-billed Peppershrike (Heard)
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Sedge (Grass) Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Heard)
Golden-bellied (Choco) Warbler
Flame-rumped (Lemon) Tanager
Orange-billed Sparrow (Heard)
Hummingbirds (Total 54)