Ecuador: Tinalandia Pre-trip Nov 07—12, 2012
Posted by Paul Greenfield
In a country that is marked by high biodiversity, Northwestern Ecuador has a lot to offer. This Tinalandia Pre-Trip was designed to complement our main Northwestern Andean Slopes Tour, adding some species that might be more difficult or unlikely to find on that trip. Here even the shortest distances from almost any spot offer new possibilities and we experienced this by visiting two relatively nearby sites—Tinalandia and Río Palenque—that together constitute the oldest classic birding hot-spots in Ecuador, guarded among South America's best-kept secrets way back when the country was hardly known, and birding was practiced by only a handful of intrepid eccentrics. This November all of our participants took part in both tours, which afforded us all an added bonus!
Green Honeycreeper— Photo: Paul Greenfield
Our adventure began with a day-long excursion en route between Ecuador's capital city, Quito, and Tinalandia, following a winding transect down the southwestern slope of Pichincha Volcano through the temperate, subtropical, and foothill life-zones—a fitting introduction to the country's astounding diversity. It turned out to be quite a day with excellent views of four mountain-tanager species, Crested and Golden-headed quetzals, our first White-capped Dipper, and, at our lunch stop, spectacular views of Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Toucan Barbet, among the many species we encountered.
Tinalandia continues to offer ideal opportunities for initiating one's incursion into the complex world of birding in Ecuador (and South America, for that matter) and is the perfect complement to our Northwestern Andean Slopes Tour. We began our visit with a pre-breakfast walk and continued the day exploring the grounds and checking out its feeders just outside the dining terrace. Along with a nice pair of Central American agoutis (a nearly tailless South American rodent), Double-toothed Kite, Wattled Guan (the first record for Tinalandia and perhaps the lowest altitudinal record for Ecuador!), Short-tailed Nighthawk, Rufous and Broad-billed motmots, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Pale-mandibled Araçari, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Yellow Tyrannulet, Snowy-throated Kingbird, Ecuadorian Thrush, Dusky-faced Tanager, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Crimson-breasted Finch, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Scrub Blackbird were noteworthy among the 84 bird species we recorded on this first day here.
The following morning we headed out early to Río Palenque Science Center, about an hour-drive to the south, to explore a remnant patch of tropical lowland forest. We birded clearings, edge, forest trails, and the banks of the Río Baba at this isolated reserve, surrounded on all sides by oil palm, rubber, and banana plantations along with pastureland. We were able to pick up quite a few new species, including Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Pacific Parrotlet, Baron's and Stripe-throated hermits, the tumbesian endemic Ecuadorian Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Orange-fronted and Red-headed barbets, Olivaceous Piculet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Slaty and Dot-winged antwrens, Masked Water-Tyrant, the scarce and local Ochraceous Atilla, more Snowy-throated Kingbirds, White-bearded Manakin, White-thighed Swallow, Gray-and-gold Warbler (another tumbesian endemic), Buff-rumped Warbler, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, among the more than 90 species we recorded there.
Our final day began with a short early morning drive to the bridge at the low end of the Chiriboga Road; our mission was to find Torrent Duck, which we quickly accomplished—a pair of this attractive and fascinating species were foraging counter-current through white-water rapids, offering an entertaining show until they disappeared around the bend. We spent about an hour in the area, picking up several species at the tail-end of a mixed foraging flock, before heading back to Tinalandia for breakfast and a morning of "clean-up" birding. I am always surprised at how many new species can be found by just retracing one's footsteps; Green Thorntail, a pair of confiding Chocó Trogons, four Broad-billed Motmots, Cinnamon Becard, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Guira Tanager, Black-winged Saltator, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique all showed themselves nicely. After lunch we headed back to Quito with images of the birds we'd seen and anticipation for our upcoming Northwestern Andean Slopes Tour.