Ecuador: A Hummingbird Extravaganza Feb 06—15, 2015

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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Is it at all possible to have too many hummingbirds? This is a question that precious few humans will ever have to ask themselves, but which rolled around in our heads at least a few times during this February’s weeklong Hummingbird Extravaganza tour. Our 64 hummer species list may have had something to do with this, but it really was more about the constant whirl of blurred wings at a few birding sites that made us stop to wonder. Two of the east slope sites we visited proved to be relatively slow this year in comparison with 2014, and compared to the hopping west slope sites—but this turned out to be a relatively good thing; it gave us time to think, and take-in and enjoy each species that showed up with certain, and perhaps much needed, calm.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sword-billed Hummingbird— Photo: Jon Dunn

Our story began as we departed Quito and worked our way to the renowned Yanacocha Reserve, perched high-up on the northwestern shoulder of the still active Pichincha Volcano. I think that this, our first brief half-day visit before we headed downslope, may have already started spinning some heads. How could it not, with Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, an elusive Mountain Velvetbreast, the unconscionable Sword-billed Hummingbird, and the robust Great Sapphirewing (the world’s second largest hummer)? We continued our descent westward into the Tandayapa Valley and then climbed steeply, mostly through dense subtropical and lower temperate forest, to our second stop (a coffee, tea, hot chocolate break, as it were) and of course, more hummingbirds—a whole new subset of mid-elevation species: Green Violetear, Gorgeted Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird, our first of many Violet-tailed Sylphs, the totally dapper Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet (by the dozen!), our first (and adorable) Booted Racket-tails, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-throated Woodstar, and Andean Emerald. Wow! It was time to head for home, but not before searching for a real (non-hummingbird) treat, and after a brief bout of waiting—5 Plate-billed Mountain-Toucans came to greet us! A nice way to end the day, as we pulled in to Séptimo Paraíso, our headquarters for the following two days, complete with a Common Potoo nestling visible from the driveway. (Score: 18 hummers)

Our next mission was to explore five relatively nearby localities in the foothills and humid lowlands of this Chocó endemic bioregion. Our second morning, after a pre-breakfast birding bout, was spent at Milpe Bird Sanctuary with yet more buzzing beauties; White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit, the charming Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, Crowned Woodnymph, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird entertained us. Oh, can´t forget some Pale-mandibled Araçaris and three displaying Club-winged Manakins among the array of non-hummers we enjoyed. After a typical filling lunch and some downtime back at Séptimo, we headed up to Sachatamia (only about 6 minutes away) for a truly dizzying experience at their nectar feeders. OMG, I guess expresses it best—Violet-tailed Sylphs galore, Brown Inca, magnificent Velvet-purple Coronets, Booted Racket-tails, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and Empress Brilliant among the new species. (Score: 26 hummers)

Our third day was spent in the western lowlands about an hour away, first with a visit to Río Silanche Bird Sanctuary, with its convenient canopy tower. This site does not have nectar feeders and our goal was to search out any lowland hummingbird species we could locate a la natural. We lucked out with a few, namely Band-tailed Barbthroat, along with Purple-chested and Blue-chested hummingbirds. Later we headed over to nearby Suamox to enjoy homemade ices, wonderful gardens, and fruit and nectar feeders. We eventually headed back to our “headquarters” having added Stripe-throated Hermit, a Purple-crowned Fairy, Black-throated Mango, and Long-billed Starthroat to our ever-growing hummer list. We also found some non-hummers of interest, including Chocó and White-tailed trogons, Orange-fronted Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Chocó Toucan, Chocó Parakeet, Pacific Parrotlet, Bronze-winged Parrot, Pacific Hornero, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, masked Water-Tyrant, Purple-throated Fuitcrow, Gray-and-gold Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique. (Score: 32 hummers)

Our final day along Ecuador’s west slope was spent working our way back to Quito along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute with two planned stops—at Pacha Quindi and Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve (each with their wonderful hummingbird gardens!). These two sites rendered a nice western Andes clean-up before we eventually took to the highway back to the big city, but not before chalking up Tawny-bellied Hermit, Brown Violetear, Rufous-gaped Hillstar, and Western Emerald. Upon arriving in the capital city, we took advantage of a restful evening to rest and refuel in preparation for our upcoming east slope incursion. (Score: 39 hummers)

Chestnut-breasted Coronet

Chestnut-breasted Coronet— Photo: Ed Campbell

This morning’s departure took us to the high-Andean páramo (tundra-like) zone, just below the entrance to Antisana Ecological Reserve. Here we found a special collection of high-elevation hummingbirds—Sparkling Violetear, Ecuadorian Hillstar (!!), Black-tailed Trainbearer, Shining Sunbeam, and the oddly-huge Giant Hummingbird. Not bad for a hurried visit! We returned downhill and then continued up to and over the 13,000 ft. Papallacta Pass to begin our impressive descent down the eastern Andean slope to Guango Lodge and…you guessed it, more hummingbirds. Here the feeders were buzzing with activity, offering close looks at an array of temperate-zone species with such new and impressive stars including Tourmaline Sunangel, Glowing Puffleg, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, and White-bellied Woodstar. After a packed lunch and some non-hummer birding we continued down to San Isidro Lodge for the night, after a (now renowned) delicious and pleasant home-cooked dinner, and for PJG, Ed, and Dan, nice looks at a San Isidro “Mystery” Owl—un-named to date, though closely related to the Black-banded Owl of the Amazonian lowlands. (Score: 46 hummers)

Our new day initiated with some incredible pre-breakfast birding around the San Isidro grounds with excellent close looks at a range of species: Emerald Toucanet, a pair of White-bellied Antpittas, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Inca Jay, Mountain Wren, Black-eared Hemispingus, Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced tanagers, Common Chlorospingus, Russet-backed Oropendola, and Subtropical Cacique. The hummingbird feeders were disappointing here, and only a very brief glimpse was afforded of the normally fairly common Bronzy Inca, along with other now familiar species. After an enjoyable lunch we headed off for our final destination—Wildsumaco Lodge—in the eastern Andean foothills. We made a stop at some nectar feeders by the beautiful Río Hollín where we had close looks at White-tailed Hillstar, and as we arrived at the Wildsumaco entrance road, we took some birding time before pulling into the lodge’s driveway. We spent the next day-and-a-half watching feeders and birding from the lodge’s deck and at a second set of forest edge feeders located not too far away. We also birded the road nearby. Again, here the feeders were notably inactive, but with patience, most of the area’s hummingbird species showed up, some repeatedly; also, it didn’t help that by this time we were getting a bit spoiled and dazed with all that we had seen up to this point. Birding right from the deck and nearby areas was incredible here, and as we waited for the hummers to make their showing, we saw Speckled Chachalaca; Sickle-winged Guan; Green-backed Trogon; Gilded Barbet; Many-banded Araçari; Golden-collared Toucanet; Black-mandibled and Channel-billed toucans; Yellow-tufted Woodpecker; Chestnut-fronted Macaw; Scaly-naped Amazon; Lafresnaye’s Piculet; White-backed Fire-eye; Montane Foliage-gleaner; Andean Cock-of-the-rock; Black-billed Thrush; Silver-beaked, Orange-eared, Paradise (wow!), Golden-eared, and Swallow tanagers; Crested Oropendola; and eye-catching Blue-naped Chlorophonia. Dan went off briefly with a local guide to see (with a smile!) Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted antpittas and White-crowned Tapaculo. But, wait a minute, what about the hummingbirds that Wildsumaco is so well-known for? We enjoyed quite a few, in the end, with Green Violetear, the very cute Wire-crested Thorntail, the “buff-booted” Booted Racket-tail, Gould’s Jewelfront, Black-throated and Violet-fronted brilliants, Gorgeted Woodstar, Violet-headed Hummingbird (mostly at Verbena shrubs), Napo Sabrewing, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Many-spotted Hummingbird, and Golden-tailed Sapphire keeping us busy each day. (Score: 62 species)

Our final day had come, and as we departed Wildsumaco our plan was to make one last stop at their forest edge feeding station and then return over the Andes, perhaps making a stop or two to see if we could pick up any missed hummers before reaching Quito. The feeders did not bring in anything new, though we enjoyed some of the species that were now becoming familiar to us, but while we watched a stand of nearby Heliconia inside the forest, a Gray-chinned Hermit buzzed by, and we took that as a signal to continue our journey. En route we stopped at an overlook over the Río Cosanga and spied a nice pair of Torrent Ducks; then we headed onward to the high temperate zone for a packed lunch at the Termas de Papallacta (thermal baths) installations and an obliging Viridian Metaltail for desert. We worked our way back to Quito having reached our 8-day grand total of 64 species of hummingbirds (could this be some sort of world record?) while answering the question and confirming the old birding adage that even too much is never really enough!