Tandayapa Pre-trip to Galapagos Cruise Nov 28—29, 2008

Posted by Barry Lyon

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Barry Lyon

Barry Lyon's passion for the outdoors and birding has its roots in his childhood where he grew up in southern California. He attended several VENT/ABA youth birding camps i...

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On this single day pre-trip to our Galapagos Islands cruise, we explored the beautiful cloud forests of Ecuador's northwestern Andean slopes. As Ecuador's capital, Quito, sits at nearly 9,000 feet, we simply headed northwest from the city, and dropped over a mountain pass and down into a realm of towering tropical hardwoods, cloud-shrouded peaks and ridges, and lush river valleys. The region that centers on the Mindo and Tandayapa valleys is well-known in the world of ecotourism as a premier place for seeing birds in Ecuador, particularly hummingbirds. As the site of some of the best conservation work taking place in the country, it is a natural "first stop" for people visiting Ecuador for the first time.

While there are a number of significant birding sites in the Mindo/Tandayapa region, we focused on those locations that provide the extravagant hummingbird shows that contribute to the region's fame. And though we had only one full day to work with, we certainly made the most of our time. A morning stop at the Sachatamia Lodge produced an enthralling collection of hummingbirds—so much so, in fact, that many in the group were simply overwhelmed by the variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of the more than 10 species present. Such favorites as Violet-tailed Sylphs and Brown Incas represented the larger end of the spectrum, while diminutive woodstars were the smallest of the hummingbirds we saw. In between were species bearing such angelic names as coronets, jacobins, violet-ears, racket-tails, emeralds, and brilliants. Possibly the most beautiful of them all, the Velvet-purple Coronet, was seen with ease. At times the show was mesmerizing, with countless birds zipping through the gardens, clustering around the feeders, and peering out from nearby trees and bushes.

Moving back up the mountain, a stop along the "old" mountain highway produced a regal Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan near a nest site. Surely one of the Andes' most elegant cloud forest birds, the entire group was treated to prolonged scope views.

We finished our day with a lengthy afternoon vigil in the gardens at the house of Tony Nunnery, a VENT tour leader who lives in Ecuador. Once again, we enjoyed a remarkable performance as multitudes of hummingbirds came and went from the gardens. In addition to many of the same species from earlier in the day, we were treated to an additional 10 species, including such stunners as Collared Inca, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and Empress Brilliant.

Any trip to the northwestern slopes is bound to be rewarding, but in this situation, as a short pre-trip to the Galapagos Islands, participants gain experiences unlike any other they would have in the Galapagos, while receiving a perfect introduction to the joys of birding in Ecuador.