Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes Nov 18—29, 2007

Posted by Paul Greenfield

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Paul Greenfield

Paul Greenfield grew up near New York City and became interested in birds as a child. He received his B.F.A. from Temple University where he was an art major at the Tyler S...

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Our November Northwestern Andean Slopes tour again showed off Ecuador's rich biodiversity, along with its pleasant and special birding conditions, packed into a much reduced area just west of the country's capital city, Quito. It brought with it many old friends, species we always expect, and also a few unexpected surprises. We even saw a few interesting mammals too, including a pair of playful grisons, which shot out in front of us as they seemed to play an animated game of jungle "tag" at Río Palenque.

Ecuador is a paradise for hummingbirds, and its northwestern sector presents some of the finest conditions and opportunities on earth to watch these fascinating jewels. We saw so many hummers, as close as one could possibly want to see them, at the many feeder set-ups that flourish throughout this region. We enjoyed repeated views of many of the rare and range-restricted Chocó-Andean specialties from this spectacular area, such as Great Sapphirewing, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Empress Brilliant, Velvet-purple Coronet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail and—the list goes on and on!

Spectacular tanagers are also super-abundant here, and we saw lots—at fruit feeders and in the field. They are mostly all so colorful that it's hard to pick a favorite, although our repeated views of pairs of Rufous-winged Tanager and the rare Blue-whiskered Tanager (among others) that kept coming in to feed on a fruiting epiphyte at Río Silanche were probably among our most prized sightings. It would be hard to ignore the Flame-faced and Rufous-throated tanagers we saw at point-blank range at Mirador Río Blanco feeders as well.

And talking about feeders, Tinalandia's fruit feeders provided the finest possible looks we could ask for of Orange-fronted Barbet, Red-headed Barbet, Green Honeycreeper, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Pale-mandibled Araçari (among several other species). Mirador Río Blanco brought us great close looks at White-throated Quail-Dove and Pallid Dove. And how about our visit to Angel Paz Reserve? It began with five displaying male Cocks-of-the-rock at their lek, and continued with a covey of five Dark-backed Wood-Quail that walked about, right at our feet! We then watched Yellow-breasted Antpitta and Giant Antpitta close up.

But not all of our wonderfully close looks were made possible at feeders that were set up or by feeding techniques devised by local campesinos; we also had exceptional views of Toucan Barbet, Masked Trogon, Streaked-capped Treehunter, and Crimson-rumped Toucanet, along with many other species, right along the road at the "Y" de Mindo, where moths gathered at the street light during the night. We enjoyed long satisfying looks at a pair of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans that decoyed in to a tape along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute, two Chocó Toucans along the Mindo entrance road, and a stunning Club-winged Manakin feeding on melastome fruit at Milpe Bird Sanctuary. Even our sightings of Torrent Ducks along the rapid river that skirts the Chiriboga Road were memorable and special.

Among our surprises, as we were scanning down at the Río Baba from Río Palenque, we came across a flock of what looked superficially like Lesser Seedfinches; after further investigation it turned out to be at least a dozen Chestnut (sometimes called Black-headed) Munias—a species that is traditionally found in Asia! This species has been introduced to Puerto Rico and has spread around the Caribbean; over the last few years there have been a few reports of the species from mainly southwestern Ecuador, which may correspond to escaped cagebirds, though I am not aware of pet stores that sell this species. The bottom line is that the species is in Ecuador and is definitely spreading—we even saw what appeared to be a juvenile individual within the flock, so the species seems to be breeding.

All in all, it was another successful Northwestern Andean Slopes tour in Ecuador, confirming this small country's rich biodiversity and highlighting this tiny region that is so jam-packed with endemism. It was a very enjoyable trip, with a very enjoyable group of birders!