Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes Nov 08—16, 2008
Posted by Paul Greenfield
What a wonderful way to spend a week! It certainly seemed like much more—we saw so much. The western slopes of Pichincha Volcano continue to prove its ranking as one of the world's "hottest" birding "hot-spots," and the general ease and optimum conditions in which we were able to observe some of the most important species of this region continues to amaze. Lodging at only one location is especially comfortable and, with great birding relatively close by, always a real plus.
There were so many highlights that it's hard to single out the best of them—the collective hummingbird watching experience cannot be beat…anywhere! Thirty-eight species were recorded this time, all but one or two seen repeatedly, closely, and beautifully by all of us: Great Sapphirewing, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Velvet-purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Hoary Puffleg, and Purple-chested Hummingbird to name only a few. Then there were the tanagers (44 in all!), with perhaps the most memorable episode taking place from the canopy tower at Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary as we watched species after species take turns feeding at a sprig of unimpressive brownish berries…what a parade: Gray-and-gold, Emerald, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Blue-necked, Blue-whiskered, Tawny-crested, and Scarlet-browed tanagers and—not to forget—Blue, Yellow-tufted, Scarlet-thighed, and Scarlet-breasted dacnises!
Yes, this is indeed a tour of polychromatic bursts…and two of the most multicolored and sought after denizens of this mega-diverse bioregion are the Toucan Barbet and Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan; of course, we had wonderful views of both of these exquisite species. But, as in all parts of our planet, there also exists a fair share of frustrating, cryptically-colored, and hard to find species that are highly prized if found, and Ecuador has become famous for having the best conditions anywhere for seeing some of the best of them. Much of this fame is brought to us thanks to a humble local "campesino" named Angel Paz who devised a method, on his own, to feed several of these skulkers in what has become one of the most highly anticipated "shows" in all of South America. We joined Angel for a most unforgettable morning where we not only reveled in the true presence of our target birds—Giant, Moustached, and Yellow-breasted antpittas, along with displaying male Cock-of-the-rock, a nesting Olivaceous Piha, and a spectacular multi-species hummingbird session—but we also recorded some unexpected "firsts": first western Ecuador record of Orange-breasted Falcon, and the first recorded nest (found a day earlier) of Orange-breasted Fruiteater, plus the first nestling of this species ever seen…what a thrill!
Our Northwestern Andean Slopes tour offers the opportunity to see many important regional endemic species in a short space of time and distance, and under some of the finest viewing conditions that exist. The birding experiences were so varied: peering at Esmeraldas Antbird through dense undergrowth; finally admiring and photographing an obliging Chocó Trogon after at long last coaxing it to come in; some of us even getting decent looks at a calling Ocellated Tapaculo that was so close, yet impossible to see for the rest of us; watching a pair of brilliant Grass-green Tanagers as they came down along the roadside; watching mesmerized as everything from warblers and foliage-gleaners to toucanets fed on moths point-blank; or juice-testing some local fruity specialties while watching tanagers, euphonias, and other species come in to fruit feeders at only a few feet away. These experiences and so much more formed part of this November's trip, and it is always a pleasure to share this with you.