Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-trip Jul 16—18, 2011

Posted by Michael O'Brien

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Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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With over 1,600 bird species in Ecuador, it seems like a shame to travel all the way to the Galápagos Islands without, at least, a quick sampling of this country's rich mainland. Our pre-trip excursion to the northwestern Andes was designed as exactly that, and we were all dazzled by abundant birdlife and brilliant color. Our efforts were focused around Mindo and the Tandayapa Valley, areas renowned for a high diversity of birdlife, particularly hummingbirds. To make this short trip extra special, we were guided by Paul Greenfield who spent 20 years illustrating and co-authoring The Birds of Ecuador, and Tony Nunnery whose home in the Tandayapa Valley is one of the best spots in the world for viewing hummingbirds. We could not have been in better hands!

On our first morning we headed to the Pacha Quindi Nature Refuge, which also happens to be Tony Nunnery's residence. This pristine reserve in the Andean cloud forest has an extensive trail system and is home to over 300 species of birds. But the biggest attraction here is the hummingbird garden ("pacha quindi" means "hummingbird place") where over 40 species of hummingbirds have been recorded! On our visit, we managed to see a respectable 18 species, including Brown and Collared incas, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and the beautiful Booted Racket-tail. It was simply mesmerizing to watch dozens and dozens of hummingbirds fighting over feeder space, all from the comfort of Tony's back porch. The area was active with other birds as well, including Masked Trogon, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, and Golden-rumped Euphonia.

After lunch at Tony's, we made several stops along the famous "Ecoroute" (a.k.a., Nono-Mindo Road). This road traverses some magnificent cloud forest where, among many highlights, we found Gorgeted Sunangel, Powerful Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, and Spectacled Redstart. But the real prize was seeing a pair of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans visiting their nest! We ended the day at our beautiful lodge, Septimo Paraíso. Upon hearing the amazing calls of Wattled Guan on a nearby hillside, we had to track it down. After much effort, we were finally successful, and in the process also saw a roosting Common Potoo and two Rufous-bellied Nighthawks!

We spent much of the following early morning birding right around the lodge, and on nearby roads. This turned out to be highly productive, with sightings of Violet-tailed Sylph, Golden-headed Quetzal, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Ornate Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, and Swallow Tanager. A real highlight of the morning was a large mixed-species flock with over 100 birds, including 3 species of foliage-gleaners, 3 species of woodcreepers, 5+ species of tanagers, and many more! Later in the morning we headed to nearby Milpe Bird Sanctuary, part of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. The trails and garden here were highly productive, and surprisingly different from Septimo Paraíso, just a short distance away. Highlights included White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail (a new hummer for our trip list, and they were common here!), Green-crowned Woodnymph, Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari, Choco Toucan, Golden-winged and Club-winged manakins, and Fawn-breasted Tanager. We returned to Quito in the afternoon with plenty of time to rest up for the Galapagos cruise beginning the next day.

In less than 48 hours, we amassed an impressive list of birds, plenty to inspire us to return for a longer visit sometime soon!