Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-Trip Jul 23—25, 2014

Posted by Paul Greenfield

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Paul Greenfield

Paul Greenfield grew up near New York City and became interested in birds as a child. He received his B.F.A. from Temple University where he was an art major at the Tyler S...

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The Ecuador: Tandayapa Pre-trip was originally designed as an opportunity to experience a “snapshot” sample of the avian riches of this extremely biodiverse South American country as a setting for comparison with the relatively austere ecosystem of the Galapagos Archipelago. It should go without saying that nature can be very unpredictable and, in reality, there is no way to actually predict what this brief 48-hour itinerary will bring. I, for one, am always surprised! This July’s pre-trip began with a slight change of plans; news of a problem en route to our originally planned first stop forced us to move to a “Plan B.”

We began with a leisurely departure from Hotel Quito, after a sumptuous buffet breakfast and checkout. We headed northwest across the Equatorial line and made two brief stops, one at a local gas station and then at a small Equatorial Monument at the Calacalí town square (the more famous Monument, and complex, we passed by actually does not sit firmly on the Equator!). Along with some more touristy activities and photos, we saw a few local Andean bird species before continuing on to our “Plan B” stop-site, Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve.

Violet-tailed Sylph

Violet-tailed Sylph— Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

Wow, what a way to dive into our “experience”’! It is not easy to describe the dizzying hummingbird activity here; as we settled in, each of us taking our place along a narrow terrace, face-to-face with a series of nectar feeders and flowering shrubs, we were bombarded with many dozens of hummers everywhere—hover-feeding, perched, fighting, zooming every-which-way…all at once! Mesmerizing, confused, and dazzling might describe the atmosphere. Slowly we began to settle in and identify species as they appeared (and disappeared in a flash!). The wonderful thing about these feeding stations is that each of us is given repeated opportunities to see every species, each with their specific behavior and field marks, and eventually become familiar with this diverse collection of whirling gems: White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered and Tawny-bellied hermits, Brown and Sparkling violetears, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted and Green-crowned brilliants, White-bellied and Purple-throated woodstars, and Western and Andean emeralds along with Rufous-tailed Hummingbird kept us in a sort of tunnel-vision mode. Most of our group did not even notice the plantain banana feeders off to our left until a female Red-headed Barbet showed up; then came Thick-billed and Orange-bellied euphonias and Silver-throated Tanager among other visitors…it was hard to know where to look! Just before breaking into our box-lunches, we  took a short stroll to the Alambi river bank to see what we could find. Dang! Not bad: Torrent Tyrannulet, a pair of White-capped Dippers, and a nesting female Andean Cock-of-the-rock were the highlights. Back to lunch, more hummers, and then off towards our final destination, with one additional planned stop on the way.

We drove on and then turned up a short distance along the lower end of the renowned Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute, a narrow country road, set up for bird and nature-watching. Here we chose a spot, parked our bus, and hung around a bit. A mixed-species foraging flock appeared with some fancy participants—Blue-winged and Black-chinned mountain-tanagers, with Golden and Beryl-spangled tanagers among them. This was followed by some movement in a tree just down the road…a male Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, foraging on some fruit! This fine spectacle, followed by a family group of Powerful Woodpeckers, signaled us that it was time to head for home, about a ten-minute drive to Séptimo Paraíso Lodge. We settled in, and some of us did a little late afternoon birding before getting to our day-list and dinner. The biggest surprise was a Scaled Antpitta in the bar/game room at Séptimo. I had no idea that that was this species’ preferred habitat!

A dawn walk around the Séptimo Paraíso grounds followed, with a nice selection of species, some expected and some not: a singing Wattled Guan was spotted by Tony; Dark-backed Wood-Quail were seen right by the lodge by Steve and Michelle; and Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, a pair of Slaty Antwrens, Ornate Flycatcher, Golden Tanager, and a pair of Blue Seedeaters gathering nesting material were among the more memorable finds. After a fine breakfast we headed out for a short drive to Milpe Bird Sanctuary where we spent the rest of the morning. We had barely gotten off the bus when we were summoned by Luis, the reserve’s manager, to see a pair of Chocó Toucans gulfing down plantain bananas at the fruit feeders—nice start! The nectar feeders were also busy, and we had great looks at Green Thorntail and Crowned Woodnymph among the 8 or so species there. The fruit feeders, forest edge, and entrance trail were also very active and we encountered quite a bit: a pair of Red-headed Barbets; Pale-mandibled Araçaris; Chestnut-mandibled Toucan; Golden-olive Woodpecker; Maroon-tailed Parakeet; Spotted Woodcreeper; Buff-fronted and Scaly-throated foliage-gleaners; Snowy-throated Kingbird; Cinnamon and One-colored becards; Ecuadorian Thrush; Three-striped, Buff-rumped, and Chocó warblers; Blue-necked, Rufous-throated, and Flame-faced tanagers; Green Honeycreeper; Bananaquit; Black-winged Saltator; and Orange-billed Sparrow among other species. It was tough to pry ourselves from this great place, but we eventually returned to Séptimo Paraíso for lunch and some final birding, especially checking out the nectar feeders; Violet-tailed Sylph was the star at this point.

One final and unexpected treat was finding a male Pinoccho Anole right near the dining room; this odd lizard is very rare, local, range-restricted, and known from only a handful of sites—thought to be extinct for nearly 50 years and with a total world range of a mere 310 square miles!  What a way to wrap up this Tandayapa Pre-trip, and what a way to prepare for our next adventure.