Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes Nov 13—24, 2006
Posted by Paul Greenfield
So many of my fondest and most vivid memories of the birds I have seen throughout my life involve exceptionally close views, and it is with these in mind that I remain convinced that this tour is very special. It is perhaps on this trip, more than any other I lead or have been on, that we get to see so many great species so well and so closely! It is still true that even on this privileged itinerary some birds are a real challenge to find, while others are just witnessed as a fleeting glance?yet an amazing number of sightings are “up close and personal” and remain truly unsurpassable.
Of the 39 species of hummingbirds we recorded during our ten-day excursion, no less than 33 were basically “point-blank” sightings. Three notorious skulking antpittas and a tinamou were observed better than anyone could ever have hoped for. Our morning visits to the Mindo turn-off offered unbeatably long and unbelievably close looks at dozens of species, including several we could have probably touched had we actually chosen to do so. At least a dozen bird species visited the fruit feeders at Tinalandia, making our task of actually eating quite challenging, but affording us spectacular looks at a diverse variety of feathered beauties. Even a perched Broad-winged Hawk became the best sighting any of our party had ever had of the species!
Excellent first sightings of many species were often topped a few days later by “crippling,” gasp-producing views at other sites. The truth is that birding conditions in Ecuador are becoming ever more refined and specialized, with more reserves and sites set up especially for admiring birds, and the northwestern part of the country is definitely the leader of this development.
The dozens of Club-winged Manakins displaying all around us at the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, even at eye level, with male Golden-winged Manakins flipping in and out just above our heads while a huge mixed foraging flock worked the canopy over, was definitely something else. The entire Giant, Yellow-breasted, and Moustached antpitta (each one with their respective Christian names!) experience was a priceless one indeed, and I know a favorite for most of the group. Having each of these usually frustratingly difficult-to-see species, with their respective personalities, come right up to feed almost at our feet, was unforgettable! The great show at the Tinalandia fruit feeders, with stunning looks at Red-headed and Orange-fronted barbets, Pale-mandibled Araçari, and a slew of other great species, could only be equaled or topped by the spectacularly close Toucan Barbets, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Trogons, and some 25 other species observed so incredibly well at the Mindo turn-off. These were just some of the highlights, while I cannot seem to forget our Torrent Duck, Gray-headed Kite, Tiny Hawk, and multiple tanager sightings, including such nice looks at Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, among so many others.
Interlaced throughout these and so many other experiences was the mesmerizing hummingbird show?certainly another of Ecuador’s claims to fame?that we enjoyed at so many different locations. So much activity, so many species, so much color?so close! Oooohs and ahhhhs, cameras snapping away?who could choose a favorite? Empress Brilliant, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Velvet-purple Coronet at one place, with Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill at another!
On our last morning, loaded up in our van and just beginning our return back to Quito, the fog had rolled in and we had not really begun to allow the idea that the trip was really over to sink in. “Stop!…oh no, it’s just a chicken. Wait! No, it’s a Curve-billed Tinamou!” A female and two chicks were feeding casually right along the road?not that usually startled, scampering shape view I had been used to getting over the years. Just amazing!