23 March 2010

Andes Custom Introtour Day 4 (Mashpi/Tandayapa Valley, NW Ecuador): 28 Feb 2010

For this day we mixed things up a little, spending the morning back in the foothills of the Andes again, although this time at the exciting new "hotspot" of Mashpi. In the afternoon we entered the very different world of the subtropics once more, visiting the upper end of the Tandayapa Valley, targeting a completely different suite of birds.

Mashpi is an area of rich foothill forest near the town of Pacto. Our morning there was characterized by hot, dry sunny weather, a bird guides nightmare in the Andes, as the birds in these mountains prefer a bit of cloud cover and even a bit of rain to keep them active. Thus we experienced a fairly quiet morning there by the heady standards that Mashpi has set itself over recent months. That is not to say though that it was not worthwhile, for we quickly found the regional endemic Moss-backed Tanager just after our arrival, then came upon our first motmot of the tour with a Broad-billed Motmot a little further up this deserted forest road, and also found one of the tour stunners in the form of a super male ORANGE-BREASTED FRUITEATER feeding low in a fruiting tree (middle photo). Indeed this was the first in a brace of fruiteaters that morning as Julie later found a male Scaled Fruiteater sitting quietly beside the track. Better still by the end of the day we had also added a third fruiteater for the day, with a male Green-and-black Fruiteater in the Tandayapa Valley. More Toucan Barbets gorging on cecropia catkins were also much appreciated during our morning at Mashpi.

After picnicking at Mashpi we hit the road back to Tandayapa, and headed up to the ridge at the top. Before reaching the ridge though our keen-eyed driver pointed towards a vivid green shape moving through the trees beside the bus, that bought us face to face with the startling Grass-green Tanager, a vision in green with bright orange bare parts. Walking near the top of the ridge line we encountered another party of PLATE-BILLED MOUNTAIN-TOUCANS, our third sighting in as many days of this standout Andean bird (bottom photo). Some of the repeats were more interesting than the new stuff, as we also came upon another pair of TANAGER FINCHES (our second encounter in three days, and this one in a completely different spot than the first), top photo. After a long day in the field some of the group were itching to return to Tandayapa Lodge and get some shuteye, although a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta hopping along the road in front of the bus stopped us in our tracks, and was quickly followed by another "road block" in the form of a pair of Band-winged Nightjars that took to the wing off the road and were then spotlighted flying around our heads just over head height.

Next up was a visit to another Mindo Cloudforest Foundation sanctuary, Rio Silanche, in the lowlands of the Choco region...

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