Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-Trip Jul 03—05, 2012
Posted by Paul Greenfield
The small Andean-Amazonian country of Ecuador has finally begun to receive the world recognition it deserves as a center of mega-biodiversity, and during this brief but jam-packed introductory trip we saw clear evidence of just that. This overnight "sampler" was designed to allow participants on our July Galapagos Cruise to build a simple basis for comparison between the rich cloud forests of the northwestern slopes of the Andes and the austere but unique ecosystems of this Pacific island archipelago. We experienced this famed diversity quickly as we dropped in altitude from Ecuador's beautiful capital city, Quito, down along the west slope of the Andes, with just a few planned stops to see what we might find. We continued to our destination—Séptimo Paraíso Lodge—on the upper slopes of the Mindo Valley.
After a very brief stop at the arid pass, just north of the Equator, we headed downslope to Pacha Quindi, where we enjoyed the idyllic gardens and vista so beautifully set in the lush Tandayapa Valley. Here we enjoyed our first hummingbird show, and although this was considered the "low" season for these spectacular glittering flight-masters, tell that to our dizzied group as our heads spun from side-to-side, focusing on feeder to feeder, species to species! As we broke out of our hypnotic trance and began to identify the 15 or so species that seemed to be everywhere—Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, and Purple-throated Woodstar among them—several non-hummers began to appear. After a couple of hours birding from the deck and garden—with nice looks at a Toucan Barbet; a Crimson-rumped Toucanet threesome; Crimson-mantled Woodpecker; Golden, Golden-naped, and Metallic-green tanagers; Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager; and White-winged Brush-Finch among the prizes—we enjoyed a box lunch and more hummingbirds before continuing onward.
We headed up to the ridge, along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute (a rural road that is co-managed by the local communities precisely for bird tourism) and made our second stop for coffee and more hummingbirds at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge. Before continuing our little journey, we picked up a few more montane species: Speckled Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, Gorgeted Sunangel, and our second Toucan Barbet. As we advanced, we made a couple of stops, first as we came across a fairly large mixed species foraging flock—the kind you might read about in some birding trip report in the Neotropics…like this one! We picked up a bunch of new montane species, including Pearled Treerunner, Montane Woodcreeper, Spectacled Whitestart, Capped Conebill, Grass-green Tanager, and Dusky Bush-Tanager. We continued along a short distance before stopping again to "fish" for the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan—we got great looks at two responsive family groups—and then were blessed by unexpected scope views of a wonderful male Powerful Woodpecker at rest below its nest hole. Quite a fitting end (well, not quite) to a very productive day; actually, we arrived at Séptimo Paraíso Lodge early enough to get a bit settled in our rooms and still have a little time to enjoy a few more hummingbirds before nightfall.
The following day's activities initiated with an early morning walk around the grounds—the dawn chorus predicted things to come. Exceptional looks at a foraging pair of Immaculate Antbirds and Slaty Spinetail at the edge of the driveway started things off. Little by little, more species appeared: Andean Solitaire, Golden-crowned and Rusty-margined flycatchers, Black-and-white Becard, Red-faced Spinetail, Bay Wren, Swallow Tanager, our first Golden-headed Quetzal (a female), Red-headed Barbet, Ornate Flycatcher, Silver-throated Tanager, and so on…it was hard to pull ourselves away for breakfast, but expectations of things to come seemed to move us all along.
After a buffet feast, we headed out to the nearby Milpe Bird Sanctuary, located at a slightly lower elevation, in foothill forest. This is a very birdy site, and we began with a little birding around the reserve's parking lot and headquarters before getting word of the recent discovery of an active lek of Golden-winged Manakins. We started off on our walk, stopping for whatever we could find—first a Broad-billed Motmot, and as we moved slightly downslope, we could hear the strange buzzy twang of a displaying Club-winged Manakin. Several members of our group actually got to see a male Club-winged in action at its display perch before we were led down to the new lek area by the reserve's warden, Luis. We eventually came along a steep slope with a somewhat visible large fallen log lying below the trail; as we organized our viewing positions, Luis began to make a "curious" short squirting sound… and we waited. Eventually a "pint-sized" black and golden-yellow bird worked its way down to the log and began a series of quirky, measured moves and jumps before disappearing and then returning a few times for repeat performances. Apparently, this display was previously described (see under the species' name in the birdlist) at two other sites in Ecuador, but has been witnessed by very few humans. We all felt privileged. Our morning continued with some more forest birding and ample time to enjoy the reserve's nectar feeders with their attendant hummingbirds before heading back to Séptimo Paraíso for lunch, chalking up quite a few new species along the way.
As we arrived back at Séptimo Paraíso in time for lunch, we were "urgently" summoned over to the supply shed where a local guide had been attempting all morning to prompt a Scaled Antpitta to come out to feed on earthworm morsels. The somewhat shy antpitta finally showed itself just as we drove up, and we enjoyed unexpected views of this otherwise frustrating skulker. Our final couple of hours at Séptimo Paraíso were well-spent, checking out the hummingbird feeders and spotting a few more new species for our collection. As we departed towards Quito, we came across three Crested Guans and a pair of Golden-headed Quetzals—a fitting prize for a wonderfully productive pre-trip.