21 January 2010

Napo to Quito: Amazon Day 8...Ecuador: January 2, 2010

Well it all had to come to an end sometime. On this day we breakfasted early, jumped back in our now familiar canoe and were paddled back up to the Napo River to connect with our motor boat out to Coca and our flight to Quito for the tour end. We squeezed in as much as we could as we gently made our back up the narrow forest-fringed creek. However, before we reached the creek we crossed the lake one final time and were greeted with the now familiar dawn chorus of hissing Hoatzins, and the boisterous Black-capped Donacobious (top photo) that greeted us noisily each morning of our stay at Napo. Highlight of the morning was surely though an unexpected 4 different Agami Herons, including two juveniles (bottom photo). While drifting along we also came face to face with a female Plumbeous Antbird that hopped onto a small branch alongside our canoe (second photo), and finally had some good looks at Rufous-tailed Flatbills above our canoe, that had been largely avoiding us until then! Other finds before we reached the Napo were several Rufescent Tiger-herons, a female Black-tailed Trogon, Little Cuckoo, and a last gasp roosting Great Potoo, that got pushed out of its prominent roost spot by a rather too friendly group of White-fronted Capuchins and Common Squirrel Monkeys. Although primate highlight was our tenth and final monkey of the trip: a pair of the distinctly odd Monk Saki being seen along there too.

Once back in Coca we took a half hour flight across the Andes, looking down on some impressive volcanic white snow cones in this range, before we dropped down into Quito to end our magical time in the Amazon.

20 January 2010

Napo: Amazon Day 7...Ecuador: January 1, 2010

The New Year literally began with the usual dawn chorus of hissing Hoatzins. Not musical maybe, but a classic Amazon sound. As mist rose up off the lake and we paddled our way to the trailhead we flushed up an Azure Gallinule that posed on the tops of the reeds for some time (top photo). Before we reached the Tiputini Trail, our mornings destination, we put up another flashy bird from beside the creek: another mean, smart looking Agami Heron staring down at us angrily from its creekside perch. Once on the trail we were soon trying to track down another striking celeus woodpecker for our trip, this one the rare Ringed Woodpecker, that some time later was found glowing in the sunlight perched up on a dead snag. Other trail highlights included a creeping Southern Antpipit, striking Warbling Antbird, and a dapper Green Oropendola. An angry Woolly Monkey was also encountered, that had us ducking for cover when it started chucking who knows what down at us (bottom photo)! We finished up with a quick walk on another forest trail, finding a pair of brilliant Banded Antbirds (third photo), a cute Brown Nunlet (second photo), and an incredibly confiding Rufous-capped Antthrush that paced around us repeatedly at just a fast enough pace for me to completely fail in getting a photo as it strutted, chicken-like around us!

Napo: Amazon Day 6...Ecuador: December 31, 2009

New Years Eve began with a short canoe ride to the trail for the canopy tower. Once up in the canopy of the huge Kapok tree we witnessed a Blue-and-yellow Macaw flap lazily into a tree in front of us, and also shared "our" tree with more than a few birds, including a startling male Blue Dacnis, a male Plum-throated Cotinga, a pair of bold White-necked Puffbirds, Sirystes, and a migrant Blackpoll Warbler vacationing in the Amazon for the cool winter boreal months. Down on the trails once the canopy activity had slowed somewhat we came upon my life Yasuni Antwren, a tiny antbird that is only found on the south side of the mighty Napo River.

In the afternoon we were back in the canoes taking a more leisurely pace to our birding by checking once more for a major target bird that had been leaving a gaping hole in our checklist: the multicolored Agami Heron (top photo). As we idled gently along the creek our boatman a movement caught our boatmans eye. He quickly moved the boat around and we soon found ourselves being eyeballed by a fantastic adult Agami, complete with its impressive long, long dagger shaped bill. Nothing else mattered after this stellar sighting, although we were only to happy to add Chestnut-capped Puffbird, pick up all 5 species of South American kingfishers, and a roosting Boat-billed Heron (bottom photo) too before the sun cam down once more in the Amazon.

18 January 2010

Napo Wildlife Center: Amazon Day 5…Ecuador: December 30, 2009

This day did not turn out to be particularly birdy, and was certainly not a good numbers day. However, it was really about one very special bird. We breakfasted in darkness and then were quietly paddled to the start of the Tiputini Trail just as the birds and animals were waking up. There were many distracting noises but we had to remain focused, ignore them, and keep on track to get to a specific area further up the trail. An hour and half later we reached the spot. It did not look particularly special, or different from any other spot, but one loud call later confirmed we were indeed in a very special part of the forest, for the calls came from a Black-necked Red Cotinga (top two photos), and this was its lek area, where several males regularly come to call and advertise their presence to females. The loud and distinctive call was electrifying, but this crimson vision still remained out of sight. In fact over the next hour as we tracked this striking bird it soon became apparent that despite its vivid red colors and being a fair size, this could be one tricky customer to lay eyes on, and used the foliage well to hide its dazzling plumage. Over the next hour though we did track it down and spend a long time admiring this Amazonian beauty to good effect. The only trouble with being so single-minded in our pursuit of this bird is we had to walk past a number of key birds en-route. Sadly after the cotinga show the rainforest quickly died down. Our best period of activity was when we literally walked into an army antswarm that held five species of antbird including the incomparable White-plumed Antbird. Always a highlight whenever it appears. However on the way back we did pick up a male Black-throated Trogon sitting quietly in the undergrowth, a noisy Citron-bellied Attila that quickly alerted us to its presence by virtue of its loud, far-carrying call, and after a considerable search a spiffing male Striped Manakin was scoped up for all.

Our afternoon was a little more chilled out. We dropped off our muck boots and enjoyed a more tranquil period swanning down a quiet creek, where at one time we followed a Giant Otter as it played with a fish mid-stream (bottom photo). Also along the creek was a belated first Long-billed Woodcreeper of the trip (whose calls had been haunting us for days now!), and a Silvered Antbird. We finished just before the sun sank below the horizon watching a Blackish Nightjar perched on an open branch.

16 January 2010

Sacha to Napo Wildlife Center: Amazon Day 4 (Part II)...Ecuador: December 29, 2009


After our thrilling time at the parrot lick we stopped for a brief lunch at the bodega, which was abandoned several times for such standouts as a pair of thick-billed White-eared Jacamars, and a gaudy Orange-backed Troupial glowing orange from a dark tangle. Then it was back into the boats, although this time into a smaller canoe, where we enjoyed a great afternoon being paddled down the forest-fringed creek to Napo Wildlife Center. It may have taken us hours to get there, though there was never a dull moment as this waterway is just fantastic for birds and other wildlife. As we gently made our way down the channel we ran into troops of Common Squirrel Monkeys passing right over the top of our boat from one side of the creek to the other (top photo), although the A-list primate that afternoon was a Night Monkey peeking out of its roosting hole (bottom photo). Avian highlights were many too, that included the rare, semi-nocturnal Zigzag Heron quietly sitting on its riverside nest (second photo), and a very vocal White-chinned Jacamar calling from alongside our canoe (third photo), 4 species of kingfisher, and several more herons including Rufescent Tiger-heron and Boat-billed Heron. A bunch of hissing Hoatzins and “whooping” Black-capped Donacobious greeted us as we arrived at the scenic lake alongside which this excellent lodge is based, and almost our last bird of the day was an ivory Capped Heron perched by the lakeside.

15 January 2010

Sacha to Napo Wildlife Center: Amazon Day 4 (Part I)...Ecuador: December 29, 2009


This morning we left Sacha (picking up a roosting Great Potoo along the way), hopped into a motorized canoe, and proceeded to the amazing parrot lick within Yasuni National Park. This provided one of the highlights of the trip, and conveniently made a nice stop off on our journey to our next Amazon lodge: Napo Wildlife Center.

On arrival at the purpose built wooden blind, we settled in and immediately noticed shrieks and harsh cries from parrots in the trees high above. We picked out the calls of Orange-cheeked Parrots, and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, although all remained hidden for the time being. We waited and waited and slowly but surely parrots began descending closer to the lick, with a number of the scarce Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet seen among the common Cobalt-winged Parakeets on site. As more of these came into view, the loud harsh cries of a pair of Scarlet Macaws, and even the odd Orange-cheeked began to move into the trees over the blind the excitement mounted as we anticipated their arrival at the lick just out in front of the hide. The tension mounted and then suddenly a falcon whipped into the flock of parrots carrying away a Cobalt-winged in its talons and causing all the parrots to scatter in all directions!

We were back to square one, but we could still hear some parrots still hanging about in the trees overhead, so we decided to stay put and wait for the “second half” of the show. It took another hour to come into effect, although finally hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets dropped down to the lick, with half a dozen or more Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets also hiding among their ranks. Then several striking Orange-cheeked Parrots joined the ranks, before suddenly and dramatically a Scarlet Macaw dropped down to the lick, causing all the smaller species to scatter in all directions, a very impressive sight. All in all a wonderful morning seeing one of the great sights of the Amazon. After lunch we began snaking our way down a narrow creek towards Napo Wildlife Center...

Sacha: Amazon Day 3 (Part II)...Ecuador: December 28, 2009

After our island hopping stint in the morning we docked back at Sacha and walked back along a short rainforest trail to the lodge, picking up a pair of our main target bird, Chestnut-belted Gnateater, on our way back, in addition to a White-necked Thrush that came in angrily and suddenly after a little use of playback.

After lunch (when we sidled up to another miniature Pygmy Marmoset-bottom photo- just behind the cabins), we spent another tranquil few hours being quietly paddled down another creek. A steaming hot afternoon made the birding a little difficult with limited activity at first. We spent a while listening to a stubborn Rufous-tailed Flatbill that refused to budge from its hidden position, but having much better luck with Orange-crowned (crested) Manakin. Two birds were found in this area of flooded forest, the second of which gave some choice looks (top photo). Also along there was a Dot-backed Antbird.

Late in the afternoon, we climbed Sacha’s wooden platform that snakes around a massive kapok tree. We waited in the tree while dusk fell, where troops of toucans passed by before night fell, and Cream-colored Woodpecker and Black-banded Woodcreeper were the paltry highlights from our daylight spell up there. As dusk descended around us we played for, and failed to get a response out of, Black-banded Owl, and so opted to head back to the lodge. Half way down the tower, the owl suddenly called backed loudly, and close. It also sounded like it was back where we had been-further up towards the crown of the kapok. As best we could we all scrambled back up the wooden tower, played again and then soon after beamed a fantastic Black-banded Owl glaring straight back at us at eye level. A great end to the day, that began with a tiny owl (Ferruginous Pymgy-Owl outside the lodge restaurant over breakfast), and ended with this large and impressive owl.

14 January 2010

Sacha: Amazon Day 3 (Part I)...Ecuador: December 28, 2009

ISLAND HOPPING. The day began and ended with an owl: first a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calling for our attention just outside the restaurant pre-dawn, (that got perhaps more attention than it wanted once our spotlight found it!) A rather larger owl was found at the end of the day too...

Along the huge
Napo River there are numerous islands of varying vegetation. Some being more heavily covered with trees, being more mature, while others contain little more than low scrub, being in the earlier stages of succession. This is where we headed on this day to go after a number of island specialists, by checking out multiple islands along the Rio Napo. The first island we stopped off at contained very little vegetation, just some bare sand and low tangled scrub. Here we quickly found White-bellied Spinetail, several River Tyrannulets were also highly visible, and a pair of Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants also came out of the low scrub into a small bush for a time too. There was also a mixed flock of seedeaters that every so often emerged onto the top of the low vegetation when they revealed a few male Lesson's Seedeaters among them. A couple of large yellow-headed birds that flew off the island and alighted on trees along the banks of the Napo proved to be a pair of gorgeous lemon-and-black Oriole Blackbirds.

There was no rest for the wicked though, and we were soon off to another island, this time a more mature one, with large
cecropia trees and a dense understorey, very different in character from our first. Soon after getting out of the boat we chased down a Castelnau's Antshrike sneaking through the brush, and then we heard IT, the call of the fabulous Rufous-headed Woodpecker. One of the finest 'peckers in the Amazon from the striking celeus genus. It took some tracking down, as it moved from one cecropia trunk to another (each time buried below the line of the understorey that hid it well), but in the end we managed to find up to four different birds, all of which allowed themselves to be scoped up in the end. Leaving the trees behind we remained on the same island kicking about in the sparser understorey on the edges where we finally found a Parker's Spinetail that played hide-and-seek with us for a while before finally relenting!

It was then onto yet another island, this one more like the first, with just a low thick tangled layer of vegetation. Just enough to hide a crake or two in. Which was excatly what we had beached ourselves on the island for, the dinky Gray-breasted Crake. We waded into the vegetation (picking up a few chiggers in the process that reminded us of their presence for some itchy time after!), and put the i-pod into gear. Quickly we heard two or three of these phantom crakes calling from a distance away. Then suddenly they were calling right beside us, and we shifted our gaze this way and that at the first sign of any twitching grass stems. Finally, after much head turning, and twitching of grass, we saw at least three of these tiny birds crawling through the grass, that even gave us some stellar looks in the process as they scurried by mere feet away from us!

Our final few stops for our morning on the river, as the day heated up and activity started to dye, was along the banks of the mighty Napo itself, where first a pair of
Brown Jacamars posed on an open branch, and then a cryptic male Ladder-tailed Nightjar (photo) was spotted sleeping inconspicuously on the banks, before we headed back to Sacha for the afternoon...

13 January 2010

Sacha: Amazon Day 2 (Part III)...Ecuador: December 27, 2009

For this afternoon out of Sacha Lodge we went canoeing down a blackwater creek. This is a great way to bird flooded varzea forest. It is also one of the great Amazon birding experiences, to be gently paddled down a narrow creek spotting birds and primates all around. We went down the menacingly named "Anaconda Creek". There was no sign of anacondas anywhere (unfortunately I am still looking for my first), but there were some great birds to be had. Several Slender-billed Kites (with their strange Snail Kite-like bills) were seen scanning the murky waters for snails (bottom photo), a little further along the creek a White-chinned Jacamar gave its hiding place away when it called loudly, and a Chestnut Woodpecker was extremely approachable by gently idling up to it in our small canoe (middle photo). Also along there was another obliging bird untroubled by our boat quietly sidling up to him, a male Silvered Antbird (top photo). One of the group had a distinct woodpecker "fetish" and so was over the moon when we found one of his top target birds that afternoon, the incredible Cream-colored Woodpecker, that even chose to get down to it and mate right in front of us. Bruce was ecstatic! However, the afternoons "Top Trump" was a shy and retiring antbird. All was calm and we were enjoying a slow trickle of new and exciting birds, then a Black Bushbird responded to our overtures. Then it responded and responded again, and before we knew it, it was calling right by the creek (having covered some distance to get to us from its original calling position). Much manoeuvering of the boat was required for us all to get a look at its odd, bent bill that makes this such an unsual and charismatic antbird. Seeing as local guides here see it about twice a year this was a welcome lifer for me and very, very appreciated. Maybe not the most flashy but by virtue of its rarity a highlight of our time in the Amazon. We finished off spotlighting a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl that had eluded us so expertly the night before.

12 January 2010

Sacha: Amazon Day 2 (Part II)...Ecuador: December 27, 2009

Forgot to mention that the Sacha Lodge walkway was not just about birds, as Red Howler Monkeys (bottom photo) were seen stretching and waking up in the treetops a short time after dawn. However, the most entertaining primate sighting was a pair of comical (less than pint-size) Pygmy Marmosets that were undertaking a strange grooming session, presumably to reinforce their bond. From the look on the front marmosets face (top photo), I am not quite sure they were both enjoying it equally!

11 January 2010

Sacha: Amazon Day 2 (Part I)…Ecuador: December 27, 2009

This was one of those classic Amazonian days that are just a joy to be part of. Tons of birds, and a good mix of birding: we began on Sacha’s magnificent canopy walkway, hit the trails in the terra firme forest behind the lodge, and then in the afternoon enjoyed a relaxing canoe ride in varzea forest.

On the way to the walkway we called in a striking Collared Puffbird that sat there in the gloom in our scope for some time. Also on this walk was a very close Rusty-belted Tapaculo that tried its best to hide itself behind a dead log, but failed as by then the game was up as we had already clapped eyes on it.

The walkway was slow to get going but eventually we began racking up new birds, and notably many ones with outlandish colors. Through the morning we saw 6 species of cotinga, including Purple-throated, Plum-throated, & Spangled Cotingas from the walkway, and a number of toucans too, including White-throated Toucans, and Ivory-billed & Many-banded Aracaris. Tanagers of color were out too; at one point Opal-crowned and Opal-rumped Tanagers were sat side by side. Also from our lofty position looking down on massive rainforest trees we enjoyed a pair of Bronzy Jacamars (bottom photo), and a majestic perched Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

On the trails en-route back to the lodge the fine form continued with an outrageous pair of manakins sitting side-by-side on the same branch. It was almost as if the male Golden-headed Manakin had attracted in the male Wire-tailed Manakin as they both tried their hardest to outperform each other. It truly was an “eye-damaging” burst of color! One of the most melodic and beautiful songs in all of the tropics was then heard a short time later, and a little use of playback brought in the culprit, a marvelous Musician Wren (middle photo). The same area also held a superb Striated Antthrush that strutted across the trail beside us. We then made one final, very special stop before lunch, at a known stakeout for Crested Owl (top photo), where we soon found one of them sat there. It glared straight at us with a powerful, almost hypnotic stare that left us feeling more than a little intimidated, before we had to force ourselves to leave it and break for lunch!

Boxing Day at Sacha: Amazon Day 1...(Sacha Lodge, Ecuador): December 26, 2009

Our first day in the Amazon, involved a boat ride out across the other (south) side of the Napo River to the Providencia Trail, a well known birding trail passing through excellent terra firme forest. Before we had even got to our boat we were picking up birds thick and fast as expected out of our first day there: Bat Falcon surveyed us from a dead snag, Lettered Aracari sat quietly in a tree overhead, and an Orange-fronted Plushcrown (a strange furnariid or ovenbird), was busy building a nest by the dock. Just after we departed the dock our keen-eyed boat driver spotted a pair of Tropical Screech-owls roosting alongside the Napo.

Just before reaching the creek that would lead to the trail we noticed an
Amazonian Umbrellabird staring down at us in our boat, and on a bank we also eyed a Pied Lapwing feeding on the sand. Canoeing up a narrow forest-fringed creek to the trailhead we bumped into 2 species of monkey: Dusky Titi-Monkey, and a cracking troop of Golden-mantled Tamarins. A very cute primate that is only found on the southern side of the Napo. The same creek saw us reeling in a Solitary Cacique for boatside views too.

One of the most well-reperesented families in the Amazon is the antbirds, an incredible diversoity of which is found throughout the Amazon Basin. We got stuck into a number of these along the trail, including
Black, Lunulated, Scale-backed, and Plumbeous Antbirds, and Dusky-throated, Cinereous, Fasciated, and Spot-winged Antshrikes. As well as a strutting Black-faced Antthrush that strolled around our feet for a while. Also along the trail was a female White-crowned manakin (see top photo) fine Yellow-billed Jacamar, before the sky blackened and we forced into an early retreat by an impressive tropical downpour.

Once the rain had eased we headed out for
Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, failing miserably on this occasion, but picking up a bonus Great Tinamou (see bottom photo) found roosting when we were sweeping with the spotlight to find the owl! More from our Amazon trip to come...

10 January 2010

Raining Tanagers...(Macas area, Central Ecuador): January 9 - 10, 2010

A quick interlude from writing up my Xmas-New Year trip to the Amazon, to update with sightings from my last few days here in Ecuador. Nick Athanas, another Tropical Birding guide, and I decided to escape Quito for the weekend, and scout out the Riobamba-Macas Road, that passes through Sangay National Park. Our first day there was active with birds right from the temperate forest at the top end, down into the patchy foothill forest much lower down near Macas. Unfortunately though, the weather was not too kind on our first day (when we had the most bird activity), and we endured over 8 hours of heavy and persistent rain! Still in that time we managed to rack up 26 species of tanager between us. Proving that in Ecuador, even in harsh weather, anything is possible. Highlights among the tanagers were a pair of very showy Golden-crowned Tanagers (see top photo) in the temperate zone near the top end of the road, that also had some Black-backed Bush-Tanagers for company too. Lower down in the foothills we also got a very confiding pair of Blue-browed Tanagers, that really should have been photographed were it not for an extremely heavy bout of rain putting paid to that idea! Also in the temperate zone were a pair of approachable White-chinned Thistletails (see second photo), and other temperate flocks on our second day held a noisy party of Agile-Tit-Tyrants hanging out in a flock with a bunch of Citrine Warblers.

Lower down (sandwiched between the foothills and the temperate zone), in the
subtropics several productive flocks on our first day held Barred Becards, "teary-eyed" Lacrimose Mountain-Tanagers, gaudy Saffron-crowned Tanagers, several Variegated Bristle-Tyrants (a new Ecuador bird for me), and a few vocal Rufous-breasted Flycatchers. The subtropics also bought us a fine pair of Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers (see bottom photo). Most of this action came within our first rain-drenched day. The rain had us retreating to a welcome resort on the edge of Macas, where we birded the grounds late on, once the rain had finally abated. Highlights there included more tanagers (surprise, surprise), with the electric blue Black-faced Dacnis, the multicolored Guira Tanager, and a roaming group of Turquoise Tanagers too. Best of all though was a Spangled Coquette (a dinky hummingbird), that popped in to feed on some blossoms right near our room. All in all a good few days, although no big surprises that we had been secretly hoping for from our first jaunt into the area! My Xmas Amazon trip write up will follow again after this...

Pihas and Spadebills at Sumaco...(Sumaco, E Ecuador): December 23 - 25, 2009

The run up to Xmas at Sumaco was superb. The birding was excellent despite the regular heavy rains that haunted us, but the food at the WildSumaco Lodge kept our spirirts up-superb. One day we were rained off the trail at peak time in the morning (just after I clapped eyes on a Chestnut-crowned Gnateater clasped to the side of a vertical stem), returned at the first hint of the rain stopping, and quickly picked up a Gray-tailed Piha sitting quietly in the subcanopy: a lifebird all round! Another day saw us walking the F.A.C.E. trail where I was soon smarting at having left my camera in my room, as a pair of gorgeous Scarlet-breasted Fruiteaters were watched nest building at extremely close quarters, below eye level. I could only imagine what the photo might have been! Before we got on the trail though we were overflown by one of the lodges star birds, a Military Macaw that noisyl passed overhead twice before we had even reached the trail. We also could not resist another look at the hummers feeders where all the regulars were there including this Black-throated Brilliant. Late that same afternoon we watched a Blackish Rail come stomping angrily out of the reeds with the use of a little playback! Our final day there was Christmas Day, which was special in many ways. Early on we targeted a rare flycatcher, the Red-billed Tyrannulet, that responded very well and we watched it for some time in the 'scope. Then we decided to have last walk on the Piha Trail, where we soon picked up a Wing-banded Wren near the start, continued with the ultra-rare Yellow-throated Spadebill (a strange spadebill in that you have to look up to see it, and not low in the understorey like many other spadebill species). Our finale was a superb Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, before we finally had to leave the foothills and dropped down to the oil town of Coca to catch our boat to the Amazon...

07 January 2010

Wild, Wild Sumaco…(Sumaco, E Ecuador): December 22, 2009

While the Black-billed Seed-Finch along the way was bird of the day for rarity value, I think Bruce and terri were more impressed with the hummingbird action onc ewe arrived at WildSumaco. On arrival their least impressive hummer feeders on their large deck that views over the rainforest canopy brought one of Terri’s stated targets: Golden-tailed Sapphire, many of which were swarming the feeders. This is one of the commonest of the Sumaco hummers so it felt good to have that as a major target! However, the best action for the hummingbirds came at another set of feeders hidden within the forest. Up to 17 species of hummingbird have been recorded at these feeders, including many rare and difficult ones. Our afternoon arrival also timed with the peak of hummer activity at the feeders in the forest so we settled down and kept a close eye on the many species flitting in and out. We did not manage 17 species, but were very happy with 13, that included all the special ones we were after: Gould’s Jewelfront nipped in and out a couple of times, Napo Sabrewings, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Black-throated Brilliants, Violet-fronted Brilliants, Green Hermit, Gray-chinned Hermit (rare at the feeders itself), Many-spotted Hummingbirds (see top photo), more Golden-tailed Sapphires (see bottom photo), and the eastern, “buff-booted” form of Booted Racket-tail (a familiar face from Tandayapa Lodge where I often work, where they have clean white boots/puffs). We rounded out the day after this hummingbird extravaganza checking the beginning of a small trail where we all managed to clap eyes on a superb close calling Plain-backed Antpitta. Nice finish to our first day at Sumaco that held the promise of much, much more…

06 January 2010

Rare Finch in the Foothills...(San Isidro to Sumaco, Ecuador): December 22, 2009

After a very satisfactory few hours at San Isidro being amazed by antpittas, dazzled by hummingbirds, and recovering from the dawn siege of bird activity right around our cabins we had to move on. For me, Bruce and Terri this was truly exciting, as none of us had visited there before. Despite living and guiding in Ecuador for nearly five years I just had not got around to seeing the new WildSumaco Lodge, nestled within the eastern foothills of the Andes, and now famously home to some often rare and difficult species. Few guides who had visited there for the first time had come back without a lifer or two, no matter how experienced! As we were all keen to get into the foothills, an area the group had not birded much, that offered multiple lifebirds, we did not intend to hang about much birding en-route. Indeed, we did not see that many birds en-route, although it just so happened the ones we did see were not half bad. First up we stopped just beyond the Cordillera de Guacamayos, in rich moss-laden subtropical forest, where we found our main quarry with surprisingly little effort, a pair of vocal Black-billed Mountain-Toucans obliging by remaining fixed in my 'scope for some time. Then it was full steam ahead for the foothills, though we made a few stops to break up the journey. In one of these innocuous stops as we descended into the foothill zone we made one of the discoveries of the trip... Perched right out on top of a stand of roadside bamboo was a chunky jet black finch with massive, swollen black bill, the well-named Black-billed Seed-Finch, a rare bird throughout its range and a top quality lifer all round! I frantically rattled off some shots knowing the significance of this (see photos). After lapping up the finch and pausing for the odd Blue Dacnis en-route we made our way to Sumaco, and the promise of more top quality foothill birds...

More from San Isidro...(E Ecuador): December 22, 2009

As well as the frenzied feeding around the lights just after dawn at San Isidro, that attracted this male Masked Trogon (top photo), and this Subtropical Cacique (second photo) glaring at us with its sky blue eye, we also watched two species of antpitta coming in to feed on worms laid down for them by the local ranger. First up we waited and fixed our stares down a muddy forest trail, where the usually ultra shy White-bellied Antpitta hopped on and off the trail for worms. The more common species ironically, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta (third photo) was not quite so cooperative and required significantly more whistling and a little more waiting (five whole minutes!), before it hopped out of the flowerbeds and stood on the open path in front of us, while we watched on open mouthed.

After all this excitement in merely our first hour and a half on site we relaxed by one of their sets of hummer feeders, where the action was far from relaxing as hummers zipped in and out and frequently took time out to fight with one another. As usual the Chestnut-breasted Coronets were some of the most aggressive on the scene, regularly having a pop at the glistening Long-tailed Sylphs, sharp-dressed Collared Incas (see fourth photo), Bronzy Incas (bottom photo), and Speckled Hummingbirds in attendance. Rain started to lash down, a sign of a wet few days in the foothills to come, although the hummers were unconcerned and went on busily feeding, before we finally had to leave them after our short stopover here, and head downslope to the foothill forests in the shadow of Volcan Sumaco...

05 January 2010

Jays of the Incas...(San Isidro, E Ecuador): December 22, 2009

We awoke from our beds at San Isidro, quickly wolfed down a breakfast and emerged from our cabins for the famous frenzy of dawn activity right outside the rooms. Street lights burning brightly all night attract a large number of moths, and around dawn birds of all shapes and sizes came in to take advantage of the feast on offer. The most visible of these were the noisy Inca Jays (see photos), a close relative of the Green Jay that creeps into the southern United States (indeed some say they are actually a race of the Green Jay). A number of these lime green birds, with the electric blue facial skin, and lemon yellow bellies hopped in and out of the foliage just a few feet away to pick off the bugs and insects that had come in overnight. These were not the only birds in attendance though. The area was pumping with activity. Also there was the plump Barred Becard, the beautifully dotted Pearled Treerunner, the scarce Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatchers, "mouthy" Subtropical Caciques, a pair of motionless Masked Trogons, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Azara's Spinetail, and Black-eared Hemspinguses to name but a few! The action continued for over an hour and then suddenly died down, as the birds moved off to their more "normal" feeding areas. More photos from the frenzy to follow soon...