Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-Trip Nov 04—06, 2010

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 Tandayapa Pre-trip was not only a great way to prepare for our Galapagos Cruise, but was an exciting introduction to the Neotropics and an especially tantalizing peek at South America's incredible avian diversity. Ecuador may well be one of this continent's best kept secrets, and what a pleasant way to discover it. This year we created a two-day trip to the famous Tandayapa-Mindo region, allowing time to get adjusted to travel mode and at the same time providing an excellent opportunity to get a feel for the Neotropics and build a base for comparison between a highland area on the continent and one in the Galapagos—superficially somewhat similar, but species-wise like two separate planets!

Our first stop on day one was at the gardens of VENT leader Tony Nunnery; he and his wife Barbara own a beautiful property in the upper Tandayapa Valley where they have been feeding hummingbirds for years. Even with the dry spell this area has been experiencing over the past few weeks, which resulted in a supposedly "low" species count, we witnessed a spectacular hummingbird show.

After having been sufficiently dazzled by a flashing prism of colors, we headed off along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute, a country road managed by the local community for birders and nature lovers, to search out some of the hundreds of bird species that inhabit this wonderful cloudforest. We made a stop at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge at the ridge-top and enjoyed another busy hummingbird show—we were already getting pretty spoiled by this time. By mid-afternoon we arrived at our final destination, the excellent Sachatamia Lodge, where yet another blaze of hummers met us—was this overkill? We had tallied 20 species of these spectacular jewels, mostly all seen closely and repeatedly, including specialties like  Western Emerald, Empress Brilliant, Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown and Collared incas, Gorgeted Sunangel, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Purple-throated Woodstar. It would be unfair not to mention non-hummer sightings that made our day, to the tune of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Powerful Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, and Grass-green and Golden-naped tanagers, just to name a few species.

The following morning we were up and out early for a pre-breakfast birding extravaganza right around the Sachatamia grounds—actually it couldn't have been easier. A few "street-lights" set up by the main lodge building act like moth and insect magnets throughout the night and at dawn become spectacular stages for a varied selection of birds that seem absolutely fearless as they feed intently and allow perfect viewing. After a very satisfying episode of woodcreepers, flycatchers, manakins, vireos, tanagers, brush-finches, and euphonias we broke for breakfast and a return to the hummingbird show we left the day before; the feeders were buzzing! Sachatamia is perfectly located close to several top birding areas, and after breakfast we decided to visit the Mindo valley entrance road where the highlight was a beautiful male Golden-headed Quetzal that allowed us to scope it from every angle possible.

We then returned to the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute for a couple of hours to pick up species we had missed the day before. We came across a few mixed foraging flocks and worked our way back to Sachatamia for lunch and more birding around the grounds before heading off in the afternoon for our return to Quito.

This pre-trip gave us an opportunity to experience the riches of Ecuador's northwestern Andean slopes and prepare us for a truly inspiring week in one of the most incredible places on Earth—the Galapagos Islands.