Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-Trip Jul 16—18, 2013
Posted by Paul Greenfield
The unquestionable antithesis to the austere and biologically impoverished Galapagos Islands most certainly is mainland Ecuador, a land of natural megadiversity in all its splendor! This two-day Tandayapa precursor tour to VENT’s Galapagos Cruise is designed precisely to offer a simple but fascinating basis of comparison between these two extremes, as well as a mouth-watering apéritif to South America’s avian riches, along with the chance to see a nice suite of Chocó bioregional endemic species.
Golden-headed Quetzal— Photo: Paul J. Greenfield
Our trip was set to a leisurely pace and we began with a brief rest stop at a highway gas station near the pass crossing the western Andean ridge, where we ended up spotting a few Variable Hawks. We continued a short stretch further to the nearby village of Calacalí, and to their central square where an Equatorial Monument sits. Aside from the customary “straddling the Equator” photos, we began to see a few common highland birds including Eared Dove, a confiding Black-tailed Trainbearer, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Brown-bellied Swallow. We continued our journey, now dropping ever so steadily downslope through montane forest to our first scheduled stop—Pacha Quindi—the home of VENT leader Tony Nunnery and his lovely wife Barbara Boltz.
Here we settled in for a while, eyes glued to the multiple nectar feeders buzzing with a dozen species of hummingbirds. We had the opportunity to marvel at a rainbow of color and glitter, watch species’ interaction and behavior, and closely compare dozens of Brown, Green, and Sparkling violetears, White-necked Jacobin, Speckled Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-throated Woodstar, Andean Emerald, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird; and according to Tony, this season has been a bit slow! A handful of additional non-hummers showed up too: White-tipped Dove, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and Golden-naped and Beryl-spangled tanagers among them. After one of Juan’s excellent prepared lunches, we continued westward over the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute, making a few stops along the way; highlights included two male Masked Trogons and a female, then a nice male Golden-headed Quetzal to close out the day before arriving at our final destination—Séptimo Paraíso—with an evening list session and a typically excellent dinner.
We initiated our second day with an early morning walk about the grounds of our lodge. Birds were singing as we stepped out in the dim light at dawn, and we slowly began spotting an array of Neotropical species, including a Common Potoo on its day-perch, nice looks at a very cooperative Immaculate Antbird, a soaring White-throated Hawk and 2 Swallow-tailed Kites, along with Montane Woodcreeper, Red-faced Spinetail, Ornate Flycatcher, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant (with expanded crest!), Ecuadorian and Pale-eyed thrushes, Tropical Parula, and Tricolored Brush-Finch among others. All the while, the haunting call of the Wattled Guan rang from somewhere on the forested slope above us. We returned for a sumptuous breakfast and then headed off to the nearby Milpe Bird Sanctuary. This reserve, owned and run by Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, offers plenty, and with only little effort—especially hanging around their nectar and plantain banana feeders—we were treated to great close looks (and photos) of quite a few species. Additional hummers included White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail (tons!), Green-crowned Brilliant, and Green-crowned Woodnymph—oh, and a Bananaquit that came to sip nectar. At the same time, the fruit feeders attracted a nice variety of species “up close and personal” and we enjoyed great views of a female Red-headed Barbet; Thick-billed and Orange-bellied euphonias; Blue-gray, Palm, Lemon-rumped, Silver-throated, Golden, and Flame-faced tanagers; a stunning Orange-billed Sparrow; a “marauding” Rufous Motmot; and finally a bold Pale-mandibled Araçari threesome that showed up to wolf down large chunks of plantain, as cameras clicked frantically! We also came across a couple of mixed foraging flocks and added Buff-fronted and Scaly-throated foliage-gleaners, Spotted Woodcreeper, Brown-billed Scythebill, Cinnamon Becard, Ochre-breasted Tanager, and Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager among others.
At just about lunchtime we headed back to Séptimo Paraíso to “refuel” and spend midday around the lodge before heading back to Quito. As we encountered more new species to enjoy, Wattled Guan sounded off regularly from the dense nearby forest and we began scanning the slopes in hopes of finding the culprit; an hour passed and it was almost time to pack up to initiate our departure. As we continued our search from different vantage points, suddenly a distant silhouette appeared—Wow! A calling Wattled Guan perched out on an open branch about a half-mile away! With scope now zoomed to 60 power, the big-lensed cameras aimed, we were able to view (and photograph) the distinct field marks of this generally secretive species—especially its bright blue base of bill and long yellow wattle. With that exciting finale we initiated our return to Quito with fond memories of the past two days’ experiences and fired-up expectations for the upcoming Galapagos Cruise.