Ecuador: Tinalandia Pre-trip Nov 09—14, 2011
Posted by Paul Greenfield
This year's Tinalandia Pre-trip proved, yet again, to be the perfect complement to our Northwestern Andean Slopes tour. With an unhurried and relatively relaxed but birdy itinerary, we were able to ease ourselves into the complex world of Neotropical birding and begin to experience the tremendous biodiversity that this pint-sized country of Ecuador has to offer. Many of the species we recorded were not seen on the main tour, and many others were actually seen better.
There is a well-accepted axiom in Andean birding that recognizes the fact that sunny weather (except perhaps in the early morning and late afternoon) is not favorable for finding birds, and in my many years of experience here I have found this to be generally true. This November was unseasonably dry and sunny—I guess the effects of global warming are becoming more evident, even here along the Equator—and the prospect of a constant fight with sun did not seem promising as we began our journey. To my great surprise, the birds were actually "jumping" much of each day, in spite of the dominance of beautiful blue skies on a daily basis during this tour.
Our first day was dedicated to travel along a narrow, winding all-weather track from Quito, Ecuador's capital—perched up in the Andes at an altitude of about 9,000 ft—down to our foothill "center-of-operations," Tinalandia, at just under 2,500 ft. It took us all day, but we had to keep moving downslope, stopping here and there to see whatever showed itself. We sampled birds from temperate forest and woodland to subtropical zone and foothill cloud forest, walking some stretches of road, stopping for a picnic breakfast and lunch, and driving slowly along while keeping eyes and ears keen for anything avian that chipped or fluttered. By the time we rolled in to Tinalandia we had seen quite a bit—a nice intro to one of the world's richest countries—biologically speaking. We had already begun picking up a number of hummingbird species: Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tyrian Metaltail, Collared Inca, and Great Sapphirewing among them. Golden-headed Quetzal, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Pale-mandibled Araçari, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Agile Tit-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Turquoise Jay, White-capped Dipper, along with Scarlet-bellied and Blue-winged mountain-tanagers, and Golden, Flame-faced, Metallic-green, and Beryl-spangled tanagers, among many other species, were also under our belts by the time we sat down to enjoy our dinner and first checklist session.
Tinalandia continues to be an important place to initiate one's Ecuador birding experience. Our first pre-breakfast walk turned up a "pile" of birds, and the fruit and nectar feeders that are set up near the dining veranda kept us busy between bites, followed by the incursion of an impressive mixed foraging flock! Even a Fasciated Tiger-Heron showed up along the Toachi River. A very active morning of over 60 species…and it was only about 9:15! We continued our birding until lunch, adding more species—a little slower-paced as the day heated up—and after a midday break, we headed out to explore a forest trail. In all, we enjoyed a very successful day, with Pallid Dove; Maroon-tailed Parakeet; Bronze-winged Parrot; White-whiskered Hermit; Purple-crowned Fairy; Green Thorntail; Green-crowned Brilliant; Green-crowned Woodnymph; Gartered and Collared trogons; Broad-billed Motmot; Barred Puffbird; Red-headed Barbet; Guayaquil Woodpecker; Snowy-throated Kingbird; Dusky-faced, Flame-rumped, Bay-headed, and Blue-necked tanagers; Green Honeycreeper; Black-winged Saltator; Orange-billed Sparrow; Orange-crowned Euphonia; and Yellow-bellied Siskin among our prizes.
We headed out early the following morning to visit the Río Palenque Reserve, a classic birding hotspot that holds a treasure of lowland birds. We spent the morning walking their main trail through forest and clearings, and then spent much of midday relaxing at an overlook, picking up new species along the Río Baba, down below, and in the vegetation that surrounded us. We then birded along the forested entrance road and drove down to the river's edge before heading back to Tinalandia in the early afternoon. Sounds like a fairly relaxed day—it was, really—though we did record 130 some odd species! At one point, an imitation of Pacific Pygmy-Owl worked like a magnet to call in 20–30 forest species, each spying about in search of the supposed culprit. Just a few of the specialties seen here include Cocoi Heron; Pied Plover; Ecuadorian and Blue ground-doves; Pacific Pygmy-Owl; White-chinned Swift; Band-tailed Barbthroat; Baron's and Stripe-throated hermits; White-tailed, Collared, and Chocó trogons; Rufous and Broad-billed motmots; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; Orange-fronted Barbet; Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner; Red-billed Scythebill; Western Slaty-Antshrike; Dot-winged Antwren; Brown-capped Tyrannulet; Purple-throated Fruitcrow; White-bearded Manakin; Long-billed Gnatwren; Rufous-browed Peppershrike; Black-lored Yellowthroat; Gray-and-gold Warbler; Guira Tanager; Yellow-tufted Dacnis; Slate-colored Grosbeak; and Crimson-breasted Finch.
Our final morning began with a short pre-breakfast drive back to the Chiriboga Road entrance, and at the bridge there, we watched a pair of Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers. After enjoying a close encounter with a mixed species foraging flock, we returned to Tinalandia where we spent the rest of the morning exploring edge and forest trails. We initiated our ascent to Quito after lunch—climbing the western Andean slope and dropping into the pastoral interandean valley—filled with memories of all that we had seen during this brief, but action-packed pre-trip, and ripe with anticipation of great things to come!