Ecuador: Tinalandia Pre-trip Nov 10—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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The relatively small Northwest region of Ecuador offers tremendous riches, far more than can be enjoyed in one visit. It is with this in mind that our Tinalandia Pre-trip was designed: to complement our weeklong Northwestern Andean Slopes tour. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but the area we explore during these four field-days is located only a “hop, skip-and-a jump” from the other; on our first morning, for instance, we enjoy a field breakfast at a spot where we can plainly see the area where we will initiate the Northwestern tour. Why would we do that? Well, if you understand this land of mega-biodiversity, the reasoning makes plain sense. Yes, there will be quite a bit of possible species overlap, but in a country that boasts such complex diversity and conditions, for one thing, more exposure can’t hurt… what’s more, it really helps! But mainly, there are enough differences, even including overall birding conditions, habitats, climate, and possibilities of finding species in one area that are harder or basically impossible to find in the other, that it’s really worth it! The two main sites we visit over the next few days are located in the lowlands—Tinalandia at about 700–800 meters above sea level and then Río Palenque at about 250m; they too have many similarities…and many differences—and this trip celebrates the differences. Craziest of all is that probably the bird of the trip turned out to be a species basically never to be expected in either area! Go figure.

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper— Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

Our journey began with a day of roadside birding along the long and curvy Chiriboga Road, aka “Old” Road  to Santa Domingo, which transects the west slope of the Andes. We headed up to the pass southwest of Quito for a field breakfast and from there initiated our long, steady descent from the high temperate zone down through the subtropics and upper foothills before reaching the main highway, just a short distance to Tinalandia, our base of operations for the next few days. The morning was quite sunny so birding was slow for starters—we still picked up several temperate zone species: Black-tailed Trainbearer, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Red-crested Cotinga, Black-crested Warbler, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and Blue-and-black and Blue-capped tanagers were among the most memorable. The sky clouded over later in the morning and the action began—by this time we were in the subtropic zone and we hit a particularly active hotspot with Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Montane Woodcreeper, Pearled Treerunner, Cinnamon Flycatcher,  Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, and Golden Tanager among the treasures unearthed there. We continued along, and the birds added up as the afternoon came upon us; Broad-winged Hawk, Red-billed Parrots, Broad-billed Motmot, Torrent Tyrannulet, Black-Phoebe, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Brown-capped Vireo, Sharp’s (Sepia-brown) Wren, Glossy-black Thrush, Brown-capped Vireo, Russet-crowned Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, Beryl-spangled and Flame-faced tanagers, Capped Conebill, White-sided Flowerpiercer, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique kept us busy, and by the time we made it to the last bridge, a pair of White-capped Dippers, a Green-fronted Lancebill, and Buff-rumped Warbler signaled to us that we were geting hungry! We “hit” the highway and headed straight to Tinalandia and a delicious and well-deserved dinner. 

Tinalandia, which is Ecuador’s classic birding site, never disappoints. It’s one of those birdy places, jumping with activity, with easy and varied viewing conditions and even a few surprises. A pre-breakfast walk, active fruit (papaya) and nectar feeders, beautiful scenery, easy edge birding, a lily pond, and great food made for some enjoyable moments (lots of them!). Just some of the highlights included: Neotropic Cormorant; Little and Squirrel cuckoos; Common Pauraque; Band-tailed Barbthroat; White-whiskered and Stripe-throated hermits; Purple-throated Woodstar (first record for Tinalandia!); Crowned Woodnymph; Rufous Motmot; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; Red-headed Barbet; Chestnut-mandibled (Yellow-throated) and Chocó toucans; Olivaceous Piculet; Black-cheeked, Golden-olive, Lineated, and Guayaquil woodpeckers; Laughing Falcon; Pacific Parrotlet; Black-crowned Antshrike; Red-biled Scythebill; Pacific Hornero; Ochre-bellied Flycatcher; Band-backed Wren; Blue-necked Tanager (shockingly beautiful!); Swallow Tanager; Yellow-tufted Dacnis; Orange-billed Sparrow; and Orange-crowned Euphonia.

Rio Palenque, an hour drive away, is now an isolated remnant forest patch totally surrounded by agricultural land. We arrived early, to the sound of Rufous-headed Chachalacas, and just as we were getting into the activity, a tiny shape caught our eye at some flowering shrubs…another woodstar… Río Palenque does not have any woodstar records to date, so we proceeded with careful study of this one. Its minute size and cinnamon overall coloration suggested Little, a rather rare and unpredictable species, but further scrutiny (dark—green—central tail-feathers, white superciliary, “long sideburns,” etc.) pointed to something else… Esmeraldas Woodstar… a very rare and local endemic hummer that has only rarely been recorded any distance from its tiny coastal range! What a find! What a way to start the day! Shortly after, and to my unhappy surprise, I realized that my iPod had somehow run out of “juice” even though it had plenty yesterday afternoon! Oh well, back to the age-old practice of human-produced bird-call imitation! I was able to sort-of call in a few species, but at one point I began to imitate the song of a Pacific Pygmy-Owl (a Tumbesian endemic species relatively new to this area)—to our collective surprise we got a distant response and a 30-40 minute  bout of “communicating” ensued (with no positive results). As we continued down a forested trail, out of nowhere, the owl appeared on an understory perch—cool scope views! But best of all, the singing continued…and the fun began as a varied collection of agitated species descended on our “prize”; Dot-winged Antwrens, Sulphur-rumped and Acadian flycatchers, Long-billed Gnatwren, Gray-and-gold Warbler, and Dusky-faced Tanagers were just a few of the marauders that afforded us great looks…now this is fun! By the time we initiated our return to Tinalandia, we had tucked some pretty fine species under our birding “belts”: Blue Ground-Dove; Baron’s Hermit; White-tipped Sicklebill (Peter saw and photographed this one!); Ecuadorian, White-tailed, and Collared trogons; Orange-fronted Barbet; Snowy-throated Kingbird; Purple-throated Fruitcrow; White-bearded Manakin; White-thighed Swallow; Slate-colored Grosbeak; and Yellow-rumped Cacique among the many.

Our final morning took us on a pre-breakfast drive back to the Chiriboga Road bridge; after coming across a small mixed foraging flock with Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Tropical Parula, and White-shouldered Tanager among the attendants, we spotted a distant Torrent Duck (now that’s a duck!), and as we came back across the bridge on our return, a beautiful pair of Torrents sat up on a rock for nice scope views—mission accomplished! After a filling breakfast—and more feeder birds!—we decided to head for some uncharted territory, along a road that borders Tinalandia to the west. What a great hunch! The birding was fun and productive: perched Bronze-winged Parrots and Chocó (Maroon-tailed) Parakeets, Chocó and Chestnut-mandibled toucans, a pair of Chocó endemic Chocó Trogons (!), Red-rumped Woodpecker, Russet Antshrike, Plain Xenops, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Dusky-capped and Streaked flycatchers, variable Seedeater, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak. After our final lunch we packed up and headed off on our return to Quito, now fully prepared to take on the Northwestern Andean Slopes tour.