After spending a few days in Quito, the last time that I was able to update this, last Monday, a week ago today, we hired a driver to take us to Mindo via Yanacocha Reserve and a few other places. I dont know if my mom will ever forgive me for that drive.
The birding was great, starting off up around 12,000 fasl I believe, with lots of high altitude birds, with gaudy names such as Supercillaried Hemispingus and Undulated Antpitta. The prize for there though has to go to the absolutely stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (above), one of the birds of the trip for sure. From there we headed down the western slope of the Andes, on the worst road either of us had ever been on. Some parts of it were basically mud puddles up to 1.5 feet deep that enveloped the whole road, for up to 15 feet at a stretch. We were thankful that we had a great driver and a nice big 4x4. Other times the whole road was rutted out a few feet deep except for two raised areas where your tires would go, and if you deviated slightly, you'd be there for a while. But hey, the birds were good.
After a couple hours more on the "road" we got to our second stop, Tony Nunnery's house/feeders, which are unbelievable for hummingbirds. I got 13 life hummingbirds at this one stop. Booted Racket-tails, one of the cutest little hummers, were beyond abundant, with at least 30, and they were joined by Violet-tailed Sylphs, a hummingbird with a, get this, violet tail that can be up to a foot long, compared to their little 3 inch body. These were my first real superb hummer feeders, and they were a sight to remember. Highly recommended.
We proceeded on with a quick stop at Bellavista Lodge, where we found food and lodging to be too expensive for our tastes, and then after another hour or so on the bumpy road, we were onto blessed pavement. Joyous times. Our driver had arranged a snack for us at this lovely little place called Mindo Loma, a restaurant and hotel, and we feasted on cheese and fried plantains there while the feeders abounded with Velvet-purple Coronets, one of the most beautiful hummingbirds, in my opinion. Of course it had been raining by then for a few hours, but when we got to Mindo, our spirits were undampened.
Also, I would really like to recommend our driver and his company, Fausto Gómez of Tzanza Tours, for their great service and very reasonable pricing. He only charged $90 for what ended up being over 8 hours, and that included a four-wheel drive car, birding stops at which he let us take as long as we wanted, and even a little snack break at Mindo Loma.
Since then I've been birding as much as possible, big surprise there, and luckily on the first night we were introduced to some local birders by the owner of our hotel, Susan of Caskeffesu, and they've kindly driven me around pretty much every day since then. We've visited Rio Silanche, Mirador Rio Blanco in Los Bancos, Milpe Reserve, Bellavista, and many places in between in the last week. Thank you so much Gary and Karen Schiltz.
Highlights have been many, but Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserves, both owned by the Mindo Cloudforest Association have been the best birding so far. Our visit to Silanche was nothing short of spectacular, where from the canopy tower there we had a flock come through that had almost all the specialties of the area, and almost all of them beautiful birds as well. Blue-whiskered, Scarlet-browed, Emerald, Bay-headed, Blue-naped, Golden-hooded, and Gray-and-gold Tanagers, as well as Scarlet-breasted, Scarlet-thighed, Yellow-tufted, and Blue Dacnises. At times the colors were almost enough to make your eyes hurt. The best Ecuadorian bird though was a Bay-breasted Warbler that we had on the entrance road, not thinking of it much, but when we looked in the field guide, there are only three records listed for Ecuador! :O Quite a surprise, but I'm 100% sure thats what it was.
Our visit to Milpe was almost equally birdy, albeit without so many glamour birds, even though there were more then a few. Some of the better birds included the lekking Club-winged Manakins there, always hard to beat, Golden-winged Manakin as well, Brown-billed Scythebill, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Rufous-throated Tanager, and the always nice Ornate Flycatcher, even if it is common. The best part of Milpe was this absolutely huge flock that we hit, that we were able to bird for over two hours, while only having to move down the trail a slight ways. I'm sure we only began to tap into the diversity in that flock, especially without knowing many of the calls.
Another good time was when while driving up to Bellavista we ran into Kai and Phil, a couple of friends of mine who some of you may know, and we ended up picking them up and birding with them for the rest of the afternoon. Lots of fun.
One of the better places we've been while we've been in Mindo, and a place that my mom actually came with me to, was Angel Paz's antpitta show. Some of you may have heard of this, but if not, it is this reserve that a native, now former, rancher made, where Angel has three species of antpitta that he has taught to come in for food on a daily basis, and one of them to actually eat out of his hand. Couple that with a dawn trip to a Cock-of-the-Rock lek, and you have another memorable day. When we were there we were lucky to be able to see all three species of the antpittas that he has there: Giant, Yellow-breasted, and Moustached. To be more specific, we saw Maria, Cariño, Willie, and Susan. One of Angel's quirks is that he has named the antpittas, and so Maria and Cariño are Giant Antpittas, mother and son as a matter of fact, and Willie is a Yellow-breasted, while Susan is the shy and retiring Moustached Antpitta. You've got to see it to believe it.
For all you listers out there, my species total is just under 700, with 691 now, and if I can make it to the south of the country, with some luck I might be able to make it out of here with over 900 species. To put that in perspective, in two months of not-so-hardcore birding here, it is possible to see as many or more species then have ever been recorded in all of continental North America. It is truly amazing. It's getting hard to find species here around Mindo though anymore, I need truly hard stuff now like Yellow-collared Chlorophonia and Long-wattled Umbrellabird for the most part. Today I managed to scrape up a Double-toothed Kite and a couple Olive-crowned Yellowthroats however.
Christmas was kind of anticlimactic here, it's kind of hard to believe that its actually December 25th when you're up to your ears in tanagers and it's in the 70s. In any case, Feliz Navidad and a happy new year to all!
I'm still unsure what I'm going to be up to for the last couple weeks here, my mom and her friend Janet are going to be doing touristy stuff in Quito and Otovalo, which is famed for its native market, and that is not my cup of tea at all. Right now I'm hoping to be able to take a 15h+ bus to the southern part of the country and go to a couple Fundacíon Jocotoco reserves, on my own, but as of yet nothing is concrete, and we'll see how that goes. If I manage that, 900 is for sure attainable, if not, I'll be lucky to end with 750.
As usual, photos are up on my Picasa, the link is: http://picasaweb.google.com/goshawk227/EcuadorNovember152008January152009#
Currently Mindo, Pichincha, Ecuador
Species from the west slope:
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Southern Rough-winged Swallow