Northern Ecuador Hummingbird Extravaganza Mar 17—26, 2016

Posted by Paul Greenfield


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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Hummingbirds, hummingbirds, and more hummingbirds! That seems to be the “battle-cry” of our Hummingbird Extravaganza Tour, now in its fourth year. It’s pretty mind-boggling that we actually saw 66 species of these mesmerizing creatures this week, but that alone does not tell even half of the whole story of what we were able to observe and experience. Our itinerary took us to renowned sites on both slopes of Ecuador’s northern Andes mountain chain, exploring different ecosystems, habitats, and floral and faunal communities each day. We initiated (the evening of day two) our immersion into this high-energy world by watching the David Attenborough narrated film, Hummingbirds: Jeweled Messengers, which set the stage for what we had already witnessed and what was to come. We observed hundreds of hummingbirds, both tiny and (relatively) huge as they perched, fed, battled, bathed, protected their food sources, and showed off their glittering plumages and aerobatic abilities to a tune of our “oohs and aahs” and camera clicks.

Velvet-purple Coronet

Velvet-purple Coronet— Photo: Cathy Summa-Wolfe


Our first morning took us to the high-Andean Yanacocha Reserve, and by midday we had already enjoyed amazingly close encounters with Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted pufflegs, Shining Sunbeam, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, the unimaginable Sword-billed Hummingbird, and the world’s second largest hummer, the Great Sapphirewing. We continued downslope and took a coffee/hummingbird break at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge where we collected an impressive number of new species, including Green and Sparkling violetears, Gorgeted Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird, Violet-tailed Sylph, Collared Inca, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-throated Woodstar, and Andean Emerald. By the time we had reached Séptimo Paraíso Lodge—our home for the next few days—we were ready to settle in before meeting for our nightly trip list and first of many great dinners. (Total hummer count: 20 species.)  

After some light pre-breakfast birding and a post-breakfast drive to the foothill-zone Milpe Bird Sanctuary, we began our hummer-quest with yet another hummingbird subset, including close studies of White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail (tons!), Green-crowned Brilliant, Crowned Woodnymph (the male is an eye-opener!), and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Our midday return to Séptimo Paraíso gave us some time for lunch, a little R&R, some hummingbird-watching at the lodge’s feeders, and then a short drive uphill to Sachatamia Lodge, with its spectacular feeders; we added Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Buff-tailed and Velvet-purple coronets, and the impressive Empress Brilliant. (Total hummer count: 30 species.) On the following day we visited the tropical lowlands, about an hour’s drive from our lodge; here, the morning at Río Silanche Bird Sanctuary and a lunch stop at Suamox to enjoy, we encountered more new hummers (mostly away from feeders) including Bronzy and Stripe-throated hermits, Purple-crowned Fairy, and Black-throated Mango, along with Blue-chested and (the Chocó endemic) Purple-chested hummingbirds. We closed out the day with a fantastic visit to “Casa Rolando.” (Total hummer count: 35 species.)

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan— Photo: Cathy Summa-Wolfe


We initiated our return to Quito along the Paseo del Quinde Ecoroute with two great stops at Pacha Quindi and Alambi Cloud Forest Lodge. The hummers were really buzzing, especially at this last stop; in all we were able to add Tawny-bellied Hermit, Rufous-gaped Hillstar, and Western Emerald, along with celebrating a reunion with many of the species we had already observed previously…a great clean-up review of the west-slope hummingbird species! (Total hummer count: 38 species.) Ah, but I forgot to mention just a few of the special non-hummingbirds we happened to see: Crested Guan; Hook-billed, Swallow-tailed, and Plumbeous kites; Gray-lined Hawk; Common Potoo; Chocó (!) and Masked trogons; Rufous Motmot; Red-headed Barbet and the amazing Toucan Barbet; Crimson-rumped Toucanet; Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (wow!); Chocó Toucan; Pacific Parrotlet; Rufous Antpitta; Tyrannine Woodcreeper; ornate Flycatcher; Cinnamon Flycatcher; Beautiful and Turquoise jays; Grass-green Tanager; Scarlet-breasted and Blue-winged mountain-tanagers; Golden-naped, Black-capped, Gray-and-gold, Beryl-spangled, Bay-headed, Flame-faced, Golden, Silver-throated, and Guira tanagers; Black-winged Saltator; and finally Gray-browed, Tricolored, Rufous-naped, and White-winged brush-finches.

Part II of our Extravaganza found us traveling over the eastern cordillera, where we made a brief stop at the misty and cold 13,000 foot Papallacta Pass to search for Blue-mantled Thornbill, which we finally found (too close to appreciate!). An interesting development ensued when playing back tape of that species: a Viridian Metaltail showed up (somewhat out of range) to defend its nectar/food source…this was fascinating that one species would recognize the song of its competitor! From here we continued downslope—stopping to thrill in the presence of a family of Torrent Ducks along the Río Cosanga—to eventually make a lunch stop at the Río Hollín (great location) where Restaurante Susana has placed some nectar feeders out, has a beautiful waterfall overlook, and keeps an area of Verbena shrubs that kept us quite entertained; in all, we ended up watching a young male Red Howler Monkey, along with our first of many Wire-crested Thorntails, a White-tailed Hillstar, Black-throated Brilliant, at least 2 wonderful male Gorgeted Woodstars with their brilliant red gorgets, a seemingly out of place Glittering-throated Emerald, Violet-headed and Many-spotted hummingbirds, and Golden-tailed Sapphire. By midafternoon we had reached Wildsumaco Lodge with time to enjoy more hummers before dinner…more Wire-crested Thorntails, Black-throated Brilliants, Violet-headed and Many-spotted hummingbirds, and Golden-tailed Sapphires were accompanied by our first Green Hermit, Blue-fronted Lancebill, 40 or so Brown Violetears, Sparkling Violetear, the buff-booted form of Booted Racket-tail, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Gould’s Jewelfront (wow!), Violet-fronted Brilliant, Napo Sabrewing, and Fork-tailed Woodnymph—quite a show! (Total hummer count: 54 species.)

Booted Racket-tail

Booted Racket-tail— Photo: Cathy Summa-Wolfe


After a morning at Wildsumaco, with a visit to another set of nectar feeders at a forest clearing, complete with rain and a species-by-species public bath, we headed back upslope to Cabañas San Isidro, but not before spying a juvenile Bicolored Hawk, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-mandibled Toucan, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Military and Chestnut-fronted macaws, Lined Antshrike, White-crowned Manakin (a female), Magpie Tanager, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and a big flock of Crested Oropendolas. We ended our day with a delicious dinner at San Isidro after picking up a few new hummingbirds along with other avian specialties—Long-tailed Sylph, Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, a gleaming Andean Motmot, our first Inca Jays, and Subtropical Cacique. After dinner we had excellent long views of the as yet to be classified “San Isidro Mystery Owl.” (Total hummer count: 58 species.) The following morning we spent birding the San Isidro grounds and roadside, as well as engaging in more pleasant hummingbirding; after another famed San Isidro lunch, we departed upslope again to Guango Lodge, having secured looks at another pair of Masked Trogons; Streak-headed Antbird; a pair of obliging White-bellied Antpittas; Strong-billed Woodcreeper; Pale-edged and Golden-crowned flycatchers; Black-billed Shrike-Vireo; more Inca Jays; Black-crested, Canada, Blackpoll, and Blackburnian warblers; Glossy-black Thrush; Black-eared Hemispingus; and Saffron-crowned Tanager, among other species. We reached Guango in time to fit in some afternoon hummers before dinner, with a few newcomers along with some old friends: Tourmaline Sunangels were common, Speckled Hummingbird, more Long-tailed Sylphs, Tyrian Metaltail, Glowing Puffleg (after a lot of waiting!), Collared Inca, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-tailed (usually rare on the east slope) and Chestnut-breasted coronets, and White-bellied Woodstar (many). (Total hummer count: 62 species.)

Our last morning began with a pre-breakfast birding bout with Andean Guan, Pearled Treerunner, White-banded Tyrannulet, Turquoise Jay, Spectacled Whitestart, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, and Masked Flowerpiercer, and we can’t forget the Chestnut-crowned Antpitta! We packed up and headed towards Quito, with a detour south and back eastward to the Antisana National Park area, actually not entering the park, but rather visiting the Tambo Condor Restaurant and the Hostería Guaytara entrance road where we searched for our last hummingbird species…with some pretty good luck, I might add. While a Sparkling Violetear sang its monotonous song, we spotted a perched Andean Condor, eventually seeing 3 in all, and then began to locate a few of our sought after prizes: first a perched Black-tailed Trainbearer, then a Shining Sunbeam; a distant Giant Hummingbird was spotted, but only a few of our group got to see it. We headed over to the Guaytara road, where between having our box lunch and standing around looking over a mass of Chuquiragua shrubs (Ecuador’s national flower), Cathy asked about a bird she had just photographed…oh man! An Ecuadorian Hillstar! We set out to find another, eventually glimpsing a few more, along with a male Green-tailed Trainbearer…now back for one last try for the Giant Hummingbird before our final return to Quito. Finally, a male began feeding low in some distant Siphocampylus flowers and eventually perched up on a few stalks for all to see (Total hummer count: 66 species!) This was true immersion into a world of glitter and frenzy, diversity and wonder, and a joy to share with such a special group of enthusiastic travelers.