Ecuador - 22 March - 19 April 2013

Published by Stephen Blaber (sblaber AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Stephen Blaber, Tessa Blaber

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Introduction

This was a combined family and birding trip, with the first 10 days spent with our daughter in and around Cuenca, with some time spent birding. Following that, we flew to Quito to begin the main birding part of the trip, particular target species being mainly on the NE slope and in the Amazon. From here on, as with all our previous trips to Ecuador, ground transport, general arrangements and accommodation bookings were faultlessly arranged by Jane Lyons (Mindo Bird Tours) – thanks so much once again Jane. Thanks also to our driver Nestor for all his help and understanding. The birding was great throughout, both Wild Sumaco and Sani Lodge way exceeded our expectations!

Itinerary

22 March – Arrive Guayaquil from Australia via Santiago
23 March – Churute mangroves en route to Cuenca
24 March - Cuenca (non-birding)
25 March – El Cajas National Park
26 March – Cuenca (non-birding)
27 March – Yunguilla Reserve
28 March - Cuenca (non-birding)
29 March - El Cajas National Park
30 March-01 April – Cuenca (non-birding)
02 April – Fly from Cuenca to Quito then drive to Papallacta
03 April – Papallacta/Coca Cayambe NP, Guango, Coca, Wild Sumaco Lodge
04 – 08 April – Wild Sumaco Lodge
09 April – Drive to Coca and then Napo River to Sani Lodge
10 – 14 April – Sani Lodge
15 April – Sani Lodge to Coca and then drove to Quito, overnight Quito
16 April – Drive to Yanacocha and then on to Bellavista reserve for the night
17 April – Bellavista in the morning, then Milpe reserve and Mindo, Septimo Paraiso
18 April – Septimo Paraiso then drive to Quito, overnight Quito
19 April – Depart Quito for Santiago

Narrative

In the narrative we have concentrated on our target species, but also have tried to mention any other rare, much sought after, or interesting species.

23 March

After overnighting at the Grand Hotel in Guayaquil we were picked up by Gail and Juan to drive to Cuenca. We stopped on the way at the Churute mangroves, where we birded for about two hours along the road to the visitor centre (closed/disused) and on the mangrove boardwalk. In the deciduous forest along the road into the area, we located two of our target species: Saffron Siskin and Black-and-White Tanager. Despite much searching however, we could not find Crimson-breasted Finch. We spent time around the visitor centre and boardwalk hoping for the elusive Humboldt’s Sapphire – but to no avail. Plenty of birds around, but nothing unusual. The mosquitoes were bad and as the day heated up we headed off for Cuenca.

25 March

Left before daybreak to drive to El Cajas NP. Stopped after the Quinuas checkpoint at the first hairpin bend to the left – where there is parking on the right side. Here we found our first target, Violet-throated Metaltail. Andean Tit-Spinetails were common in this area. Next we headed up to the Toreadora Lake Visitor Centre. We walked down to the Polylepis forest below the Centre and were rewarded with our second lifer, Blue-mantled Thornbill. Despite much searching we could not locate Tit-like Dacnis in this area. Lots of Tawny Antpittas around. We then drove the 0.9 km further up the road to the Illincocha Lake complex of buildings. These are reached by an inconspicuous dirt turnoff on the left, which has a boom gate on it. Here Tit-like Dacnis were common in the forest adjacent to the lake, we saw at least five pairs. Blue-mantled Thornbill, Shining Sunbeam and Ecuadorian Hillstar were also present.

After a good lunch of trout at Quinuas, we drove down towards Cuenca, stopping off at the Lake Llaviucu part of El Cajas NP. This is reached by another inconspicuous turnoff to the right (going down) and there is a narrow cobbled road that goes about 2 km to the lake. The short forest walking track to the lake yielded our fourth lifer, Purple-throated Sunangel. Unfortunately it began to rain and we were forced to abandon further birding and return to Cuenca.

27 March

Today was devoted to visiting the Jocotoco Foundation Yunguilla Reserve to look for the Pale-headed Brush-finch. We had phoned Jocotoco the day before and arranged to meet the guide at the turnoff, next to the two-horses statue, on the main highway at 8 am. This was accomplished and we picked up our guide, Enrique, as arranged. He directed us along the dirt roads for about 6 km until we reached the entrance to the reserve. We walked down into the valley, across a stream and along the contour path in the reserve. Birding was very quiet, and things were not looking good. Eventually however, Enrique heard a Brush-finch, and after some searching and listening, we located several individuals in a group of palms on the slope above us. Despite more searching and climbing the slopes, we did not find any more, and made our way back to the car. No other notable species were seen. Without Enrique’s knowledge we would not have found these birds!

29 March

We re-visited Lake Laviucu in the lower part of El Cajas National Park. Although the park was closed for the public holiday, we had previously obtained permission to enter. We followed the boardwalk trail around the lake from where it starts behind the buildings. The main target species was Undulated Antpitta, and in the thick forest on the northern shore of the lake we eventually got a response to playback. After much searching, this elusive species was lured into view with the tape. It perched surprisingly high when calling, at least 3 m off the ground in the gloomy and dense moss encrusted forest. While searching for this species, we also saw Rufous Antpitta. Continuing on around the lake, the forest opens up a bit and there are good views of the lake and forest edges. Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Tyrian Metaltail and Glowing Puffleg were noted. At the far end of the lake, where the trail crosses the marshes, we disturbed several Ecuadorian Rails, including one juvenile. Also present here were Grass Wren and Plain-coloured Seedeater. Andean Gulls wheeled over the lake on which Andean Teal, Andean Ruddy Duck and Andean Coot were present.

02 April

On arriving at the new Quito airport off the LAN flight from Cuenca at 9:30 am, we were met by Nestor who was to be our driver for the rest of the trip. Nestor is also a keen birder and his knowledge and skills should not be underestimated! We left on the main highway to Papallacta, but soon turned off on the old road. This has little traffic and the birding was good. Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Hooded Mountain Tanager and Hooded Siskin were noted. After checking in at the Termas de Papallacta Hotel we set off on the road behind the Termas that goes up to Coca-Cayambe NP. Our targets here were Crescent Faced Antpitta and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. At the well known site next to the pipeline we tried for Crescent-faced Antpitta but no luck! Nestor had seen it at this site two weeks before. Good views of White-chinned Thistletail. Next we drove up to the ranger station at about 4000 m, but saw relatively few birds. We did encounter one mixed flock near the waterfall: Black-backed Bush tanager, Golden crowned Tanager, Pearled Treerunner and Lachrimose Mountain-Tanager. On the way down, just before dusk, we had excellent views of a Great Horned Owl perched on a tree next to the road – a new bird for Ecuador for us.

03 April

Early in the morning another fruitless search for Crescent-faced Antpitta. Again drove up to the ranger station. Here the reward was Masked Mountain-Tanager – a lifer – a pair foraging low down in the bushes around the buildings. Other species noted included: Plushcap, Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, White-throated Tyrannulet and Mountain Wren.

After checking out of the resort we drove down to Guango where we stopped for an hour to watch the feeders. Here we were rewarded with Mountain Avocetbill among the many other hummingbirds to be found at the feeders. Proceeding on we stopped about a km down the road and on the left side followed a steep path into the forest for several hundred metres to a site for Andean Potoo. Nestor knew the roosting tree and was able to locate the bird and we had excellent ‘scope views of this target species.

After stopping for lunch in Baeza we headed off along the road to Coca en route to Wild Sumaco lodge where we arrived mid-afternoon. After being welcomed by our hosts – Bonnie and Bob, we spent the rest of the day watching the hummingbird feeders – for a number of our targets. We were not disappointed, and logged Golden-tailed Sapphire, Napo Sabrewing, Blue-fronted Lancebill and Rufous-vented Whitetip. Other hummers noted were Black-throated Brilliant, Wire-crested Thorntail, Brown Violetear, Booted Racquet-tail, Forked-tailed Woodnymph, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Green Hermit, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Gorgeted Woodstar, White-tailed Hillstar and Gould’s Jewelfront.

04 April

After an early breakfast we set off up the road in heavy rain with Campeon who was going to feed worms to the antpittas behind the research station. We were hoping for Plain-backed Antpitta. It was heavy going in the wet, but after much patience Campeon lured one to the feeding site and we had excellent views. Further along the track we also saw Ochre-breasted Antpitta at a worm feeding station.

Back at the lodge we located two more target species, both around the car park area: Black-billed Treehunter and Ecuadorian Piedtail. After lunch we walked down to the F.A.C.E. trail. Along the road near the entrance to the trail a pair of Yellow-cheeked Becards responded to playback and gave excellent views. A male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock flew across the road right in front of us. The trail itself was quiet with no species of particular interest.

05 April

This morning we walked down to the Garage area and old residence pathways complex. The garage area yielded another target – Coppery-chested Jacamar. We moved up to the feeders at the old workers house and Grey-chinned Hermit was in the bag! We explored the trails in this area, hoping for Black-and-White Tody, but no luck. Species noted included: Swainson’s Thrush, Blackish Antbird, Thrush-like Schiffornis and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrant.

Next we returned to the road and walked back to the beginning of the Waterfall Trail. About 50 m along here, just where the trail goes steeply down, following Bonnie’s advice, we tried for Black-streaked Puffbird. We were in luck, one came straight in to the tape and afforded us excellent views. Along the road we met up with some other birders who had located a large mixed flock. This produced two more lifers: Golden-collared Honeycreeper and Orange-eared Tanager.

After lunch at the lodge we returned to the F.A.C.E. trail. The first species that grabbed our attention were a pair of White-backed Fire-eyes – not a target, but cripplingly close views! On the loop the Short-tailed Antthrushes were calling and with playback we were lucky enough to get good views of one of this target species as it crept through the undergrowth. Further on White-streaked Antvireo responded to the tape and while we were watching this lifer, a pair of Plain-winged Antwrens – another target - appeared close by! Next we located a Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant calling in the mid-canopy so really were on a roll! On the walk back to the road we had good views of Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. Just before dusk the last lifer of the day was Dusky Spinetail near the car park.

06 April

Set out early on the F.A.C.E. trail to the bamboo area in the hope of finding the roosting Black-and-White Owl seen yesterday by another group. Unfortunately it seemed that it had moved its roost and there was no sign of it. We were compensated by a Blue-rumped Manakin, our only lifer of the morning. Other species noted on the trail were Black Hawk Eagle (forest edge), Little Woodpecker, Olivaceous and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Spotted Tanager and Golden-naped Tanager.

After lunch we were invited to accompany Byron, one of the lodge guides, who was taking one of the other guests to the large bamboo area some 5 km below the lodge. Here we racked up Red-billed Tyrannulet, Large-headed Flatbill and Plumbeous Kite. Other notables were Yellow Tyrannulet, Sooty-capped Tyrannulet, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Olivaceous Greenlet and Montane Foliage-Gleaner. Unfortunately no sign of the Black-and-White Tody or the Chestnut-headed Crake. The lift, there and back, and Byron’s skills were much appreciated.

07 April

Firstly to the F.A.C.E. trail again, no owl, but good views of Ornate Antwren and Grey-tailed Piha on the loop trail. Returning to the road we walked down to the forest area adjacent to the start of the Waterfall trail where there are good views over the canopy. Our target was Yellow-breasted Antwren, which responded well to the tape, but took a long time to give us good views. The afternoon was marred by heavy rain.

08 April

Got a lift down to the garage area for an early start looking for the Black-and-White Tody, but to no avail. However, Golden-eyed (=Deep Blue) Flowerpiercer was a lifer in among a mixed flock. Other species noted in this area were Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Scarlet Tanager (beautiful male), Black-throated Mango (at the feeders), Streaked Xenops, White-lined Tanager and Crimson-crested Woodpecker.

This was our final day at Wild Sumaco, where we enjoyed great birding (26 lifers) and hospitality!

09 April

After breakfast we left Wild Sumaco. Bonnie and Bob transported us to Coca where we were due to meet the Sani Lodge staff at La Mision Hotel at 11 am. We arrived early, and took the opportunity to catch up with things on the internet sitting in the hotel foyer. Then went to the jetty and we were met by Domingo Gualinga, one of the bird guides from Sani Lodge, who was to be our guide for our six days there. We were fortunate to secure his services as he is the most experienced of the guides (see article in Neotropical Birding volume 10 by Nicki Hollamby). We were able to spend time discussing our list of target species with Domingo while waiting for the launch. The Neotropical Birding article also gives a lot of detail about the lodge and surrounding areas so we will not repeat them here.

After a 2 hour boat trip down the Napo in canopied boat ,(boxed lunch provided by the lodge) we arrived at the landing point for Sani. From here there is a boardwalk (about 1km) through semi-flooded forest to a black-water channel that connects to Challuacocha Lagoon. From here it is about a 30 minute canoe ride along the stream and across the lagoon to the lodge.

At about 3 pm after settling in, Domingo armed with our list of targets, paddled us up the lagoon to terra firma forest at the far end. It was fairly quiet, but Domingo heard a Rufous-capped Antthrush, and it soon responded to the tape and gave us excellent views. It was dusk by the time we got back to the lodge, where from the balcony of the bar we watched a Bat Falcon hunting over the lagoon.

10 April

After a five-o-clock breakfast we set off by canoe paddled by Domingo and his assistant Claudio up to the end of the lagoon where we followed the trail to the 37 m high canopy tower built around a huge Kapok tree. The tower affords great 360 degree views over the canopy. The first birds to appear were Yellow-bellied Dacnis and a pair of Double-toothed Kites catching the first rays of the sun. Next a pair of Common Piping Guans were found in an adjacent tree. Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Grey-crowned Flycatcher and Rufous-bellied Euphonia flitted in the branches close to us. Our first lifer was Lettered Aracari, with several appearing in the company of Ivory-billed Aracaris and Many-banded Aracaris. They were followed by a pair of White-browed Purpletuft, perching and hawking from the branches close to us! After about two hours things quietened down and we descended, but half way down the tower Domingo heard Moustached (= Short-billed) Antwren and we were able to tape it in for close views.

We returned to the canoe and paddled along a stream in the semi-flooded forest. Here with the aid of playback we obtained good views of Dot-backed Antbird, White-shouldered Antbird and Cocha Antshrike. In the trees that met above our heads over the stream we had good views of another lifer - Slender-billed Kite.

11 April

Starting early – we returned to the Napo River and travelled upstream to an island in search of early succession species. We were not disappointed and found River Tyrannulet, Riverside Tyrant, Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Parker’s Spinetail, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Lesser Wagtail Tyrant and Lesson’s Seedeater. Other notables seen on the island were Purple Gallinule, Sora, Willow Flycatcher, White-bellied Spinetail, Orange-headed Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. Although Domingo located a Castelnau’s Antshrike calling, it led us a merry dance and we could not gain views of it here.

We returned to the north bank of the Napo at 9 am, where Domingo located another Castelnau’s Antshrike which was more cooperative! We continued our walk along the trail that leads through tall cane along the bank of the river. Here among areas of semi- cultivation and overgrown banana plantations we found Orange-backed Troupial and Chestnut-capped Puffbird. Further along – quite close to the Sani landing site, Domingo heard White-lored Antpitta, and after considerable time we lured it into view among the dense canes – a really difficult species to see!

In the afternoon we explored the terra firma trails behind the lodge. Reasonably quiet, but got good views of two target species: Great Jacamar and Chestnut-belted Gnateater. Other notables were White-necked Puffbird and Amazonian White-tailed Trogon.

12 April

Set out before light to try for Zigzag Heron in the swamp area behind the lodge. Although we heard it calling we could not get a sight of it. Returned for breakfast and then off to the terra firma at the end of the lagoon – following the same trail we walked on the first afternoon. Excellent views of four target species along the ridge: Collared Puffbird, Brownish Twistwing, Black-throated Hermit and Elegant Woodcreeper. Back near the water Domingo finally heard a Black Bushbird and after a lot of effort in swampy and log-strewn forest using playback we obtained brief views of this elusive species. Other notable species in this area were Great Potoo, Golden-collared Toucanet, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Cinereous Antshrike, Brown Nunlet, Scale-backed Antbird, Wire-tailed Manakin, Purplish Jacamar, Ruddy Quail Dove and Plain-throated Antwren.

While paddling along the edge of the lagoon, on our way back to the lodge, we disturbed an Arapaima resting at the surface of the water close to the Eichornia. This fish was at least 3 m in length and an exciting event! We had spotted a Black Caiman (about 3.5 metres) while paddling across the lake in the morning and managed to approach for a close up view.

In the late afternoon we returned to the steel canopy tower in the hope of seeing Black-banded Owl. Although one did start calling just after dark in an adjacent tree we were unable to obtain any sighting, and retreated down the tower as thunder and lightening approached!

13 April

This morning was devoted to birding the forest on the south bank of the Napo. We travelled upstream for about 30 minutes before landing at a village by about 6.30 am. We followed the path into the forest and almost immediately Domingo heard a Zigzag Heron down the slope on the inland side. Creeping towards it we were fortunate to obtain lengthy views of this enigmatic bird perched about 8 m up in a tree in the thick swamp forest. Further along the path we obtained good views of Lunulated Antbird, Black-spotted Bare-eye, Yasuni Antwren and Rio Suno Antwren, all tape responsive. Following up on its call, we stalked a Thrush-like Antpitta in thick undergrowth, eventually getting within 3 m of the bird for excellent views!

We returned to the lodge for lunch. Notables in the channel were Cinnamon Attila, Cocha Antshrike, Green Ibis and Cocoi Heron. Late in the afternoon we returned to the south bank of the Napo, our target was the Rufous-headed Woodpecker and we were not disappointed. This Cecropia specialist gave us excellent views. We spent some time chasing and luring Chestnut-headed Crake in the Cane forest, but could not get sightings in the thick vegetation. Lots of Eastern Kingbirds and Fork-tailed Flycatchers in the trees along the river. Towards evening, we crossed the river to the main Sani settlement, from where we walked into the forest. Our target was the Long-tailed Potoo. After dark, one eventually responded to the tape and flew in, giving a brief view, before disappearing. Other night birds calling in this area were Tropical and Tawny-bellied Screech Owls.

14 April

Reached another site on the south bank of the Napo by about 7 am. Climbed through terra firma forest along a ridge. Stunning views of Banded Antbird which was lured to within a metre or two. Also present in the same area were White-plumed and Hairy-crested Antbirds. The latter was a target species and we spent much time pursuing one, but no luck! Other species seen in this ridge area were: Cinnamon throated Woodcreeper, Lefresnayes Piculet, Yellow-green Vireo, White-flanked Antwren, White-eyed Tody, Olive-faced Flatbill, Sooty Antbird, Long-billed Gnatwren, Coraya Wren, Yellow-browed Antbird, Straight-billed Hermit and Spot-bellied Woodpecker.

Returning towards the river, Domingo heard an Ochre-striped Antpitta down slope. We decided to try for it, and headed down into a thickly wooded stream. Here the bird responded to the playback, circling around us for about an hour. Eventually it was located on a log, calling vociferously. Crippling views of a very hard-to-see species – Domingo admitted it was only the third time he had seen one.

Got back to the boat in heavy rain and headed for the Sani community area on the north bank where we stopped for lunch under cover. Waited most of the afternoon for the rain to stop before heading back to the lodge. The bonus near the community meeting area was Orange-fronted Plushcrown in a mixed flock in the Cecropias.

This was our final day at Sani, one of the best places we have been in the Amazon. It gave us 38 lifers. Thanks especially to Domingo for his knowledge, skills and excellent company and to Claudio for his patience and help in difficult terrain! It was an absolute pleasure spending time at Sani!

15 April

Left Sani in rain, crossed the boardwalk in rain and travelled for 3 hours along the Napo in rain tucked under the poncho’s provided! Nestor was waiting for us in Coca and we set off for the drive to Quito, appreciative of the dry interior of the vehicle! Stopped at Baeza for lunch and then re-visiting Papallacta/Coca-Cayambe NP to look once more for the Crescent-faced Antpitta – no luck! Reached Quito and the Howard Johnson Hotel by 5 pm.

16 April

Nestor collected us at 5.30 am, and we drove up to Yanacocha. Our target here was Rainbow-bearded Thornbill. Early on we had good views of a male Purple-backed Thornbill, but it was not until we had passed the first feeder along the main trail that we spotted a female Rainbow-bearded Thornbill atop a tall tree – good sunlight showed the colours well. After time spent watching the feeders at the end of the trail we returned for a picnic lunch at the Jocotoco office area. After this we drove to Bellavista via the old Nono-Mindo road. We spent a comfortable night here and renewed our acquaintance with Richard, we had last stayed at Bellavista in 2002!

17 April

The first part of the morning was spent along the road near the research station where Nestor had previously seen Flammulated Treehunter. Despite much searching and playback there was no sign of the bird.

Moved on to Milpe where we stopped for lunch and birded for a couple of hours, but little of interest. Drove to Mindo and spent time searching for Sunbittern along the river. Nestor was extremely persistent in trying to locate this bird for us, trying various sites. As we were about to give up, one flew across the road and landed in a garden – affording unbelievable views! It only flew off when chased by a dog.

We waited until just before dusk before driving to a cliff-side site near the river in Mindo where Nestor had previously seen Lyre-tailed Nightjar. One responded to playback and we had good views of a spectacular male as it flew around just before darkness descended. We then proceeded to Septimo Paraiso for the night.

18 April

Early morning walk along the entrance road to Septimo Paraiso, and then later a long walk along the main valley trail. Plenty of the usual species, but nothing of particular interest. After an early lunch we set off for Quito and the Howard Johnson Hotel (which we highly recommend).

19 April

Departed Quito for Santiago on the 7.30 LAN flight.