Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes Nov 14—22, 2015
Posted by Paul Greenfield
Ecuador is a tiny Andean country that boasts mega-levels of biodiversity—birds, orchids, butterflies, and almost everything else, and this 2015 Northwestern Andean Slopes tour confirmed that fact hands-down. For a week, we covered a decidedly reduced area (only 50 miles as the eagle flies!) just west of the capital city and first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quito. This is perhaps the most bird- and birder-friendly region in all of South America, and we jumped from site to site, from high temperate elfin forest and scrub, dense montane temperate and subtropical jungle to foothill cloudforest and lowland rain forest, sampling the riches and taking advantage of its hospitality. Based out of a single, comfortable birding lodge made the “job” rather pleasant and trouble-free. We visited known, tried-and-true hot-spot locations, as well as an exploratory new one or two. It would be impossible to choose the best bird or trip experience—there were just too many! The following are but a few memorable highlights that stand out in my mind.
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan— Photo: Paul Greenfield
Certainly our morning adventure with Angel and Rodrigo Paz will not be forgotten; Cariño’s (Giant Antpitta) impromptu showing atop dense vegetation along the road was magical, not to mention stellar appearances by María, Wilamina, Susana, and Shakira & friend (Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, and Ochre-breasted antpittas) along trails, and streamside… with Pepita and Pepito (Rufous-breasted Antthrush) walking out along a fallen log, topped off by a special chorus given by an obliging Scaled Antpitta as we arrived at the Cock-of-the-rock lek (I can’t ignore that!), or Golden-headed Quetzals, Golden-winged Manakin…the list goes on and on! How about repeated looks at the “unfathomable” Sword-billed Hummingbird (or Great Sapphirewing, Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented pufflegs, or Buff-winged Starfrontlet) along with Black-chested, Hooded, and Scarlet-bellied mountain-tanagers at Yanacocha; more and more hummingbirds at Casa Rolando, Sachatamia, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, and Amagusa Reserve…who could forget Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-crowned Fairy, Green Thorntail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Collared Inca, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Crowned Woodnymph, or Empress Brilliant among the many seen, some only inches away! Our morning with Doris at her Amagusa Reserve in the Mashpi region… stopping for close-ups of a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar, or that tough-to-see Indigo Flowerpiercer, and then the unforgettable point-blank portrait looks at some of the most awesome tanagers imaginable (as if they all aren’t incredible!)—Flame-faced, Rufous-throated, Glistening-green, and Moss-backed, along with Black-chinned Mountain-tanager… and that last Orange-breasted Fruiteater—OMG!
How about the stoic Barred Puffbird perched right along the road, or our last morning’s drawn-out but successful hunt for the fabulous Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, proving that patience and persistence pay off in the end. “Our” friendly neighborhood Common Potoo was on her nest. Our superb views of Cinnamon Woodpecker from the canopy tower at Río Silanche Bird Sanctuary and our close encounter with a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute certainly got some oohs and aahs from us all. The army ant swarm at Río Silanche that attracted so many woodcreepers (10 Plain-browns, a Wedge-billed, at least a pair each of Black-striped and Northern Barred) along with a few antbirds, was exhilarating, especially while trying to stay clear of the marauding ants!
This isn’t even the half-of-it (I haven’t even mentioned the orchids and botanical riches in general—thanks Peter!—or the butterflies—thanks David!), but it gives testimony to the variety and diversity that make up this wonderful “corner” of this wonderful country. It was a pleasure for David and me to share these riches with such a warm, friendly, and enthusiastic group of people.