Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 10, Papallactas Pass, 3/17/16

It was raining as I said my goodbye to Angel and and his staff and I took off in my little rental car.  My flight home was not until late so I had plenty of birding time.  I found a good place with habitat above the town of Papallacta but the rain would not let up.  A pair of Great Thrushes investigated my pishes from the car.

After an hour of waiting I gave up and drove on up to Papallacta Pass and took the rocky road that parallels the highway.  Several Stout-billed Cinclodes braved the rain and I got a shot through the windshield.

Found a couple of Plumbeous Sierra-Finches.  The female is the streaked one.

Here's a Glossy Flowerpiercer.  The similar Black Flowerpiercer lacks the pale shoulders.  I saw both in small uncooperative flockes.

I watched a bank of tubular flowers that are the favorite of the Sword-billed Hummingbird.  A large dark hummer with white tail tips nectared on the hill above.  It had be be Rainbow-bearded Thornbill by the tail, a species I've seen before.  Here's the flowers without a hummer.

Finally I saw a White-throated Tyrannulet, one of the most common birds of the high Andes.  I saw many on my previous two trips.

I had hope this large tyrant flycatcher with lots of white in the tail would be the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant.  But pale eyes mean it's the common Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant.

My first lifer on the trip was a Red-crested Cotinga ten days ago.  Another one came to say goodbye to me.

My last bird of the trip was a common Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle.

It started to rain again so I decided to head on down to the airport.  I returned the car with no problems and Budget took me to the airport where I had a long wait for my overnight flight to Houston.

Day 9, Cueva de Tayos, 3/16/16

Another nice breakfast at the Rio Quijos Ecolodge and I was out on the trails.  There were the usual Black-burnian and Canada Warblers and Swainson's Thrushes.  Then I found an olive woodcreeper with a very straight bill.  The color reminded me of the Spotted Woodcreeper from the cloud foreset of Mexico.  In fact it was a close relative, the Olive-backed Woodcreeper which replaces Spotted Woodcreeper on the eastern slope of the Andes.

I ran into a mixed flock with some tanagers and this Montane Foliage-gleaner.

The flock contained Golden Tanager.

and Golden-eared Tanager among others.  But getting photographs was difficult.

Wandering back to the river I saw a distant Torrent Duck and this White-capped Dipper.

Back at the hummingbird feeders the White-tailed Hillstars still ruled.

I was supposed to meet Angel at noon for our trip to the Oilbird cave but he had a guest who he had invited to lunch.  The man's name was Pedro and apparently he is a influential local oilman.  In Spanish he made a point to tell me it was beneficial for the United States to keep the unrest going in the Middle East to help get the oil prices back up.  I told him he was probably right and ate lunch.  As he was leaving I spotted a new hummer in the yard, a Collared Inca.  This is a common species at Guango and Cabanas San Isidro but was the first I had seen here.

So now Angel and I were ready to head for Cueva de Tayos.  "Tayos" are what the locals call Oilbirds. Ridgley and Greenfield uses "Guacharos" in Birds of Ecuador but Angel was not familiar with that name. Angel drives like all Ecuadoreans who apparently attend the Mario Andretti driver's ed class.  I held on as we sped around the corners and past collapsed portions of the road and minor landslides for the 22 km to Cuevas de Tayos.  There is a small restaurant at the trailhead where I guess you are supposed to pay a fee but no one was there.  As we made our way down a steep wet trail, we flushed a couple of dark birds that were probably antbirds but I could not get my glasses on them.  We reached the bottom and had to wade a small fast flowing steam to the cave.  A female Andean Cock-of-the-rock flushed on the other side but I did not get much of a shot.

The oilbird cave was a perhaps fifty yards long tunnel with a tall ceiling.  I could not tell if the stream had carved its way through creating the tunnel or perhaps a collapse of the hillside had closed the top.  But it was a magnificent setting.

Angel pointed out some Oilbirds.  I was surprised by how large they were, nearly two feet long  These birds emerge at night searching for fruit by using echo location.  Apparently the young grow quite fat on the diet of fruit and at one time were harvested as a source of fuel oil.

It was difficult to tell how many birds were in the cave but I am guessing over a hundred.  Dozens flew screaming over our heads and many were perched on the walls high above us.  I was a little worried about disturbing the birds but I guess people have been bothering them here for centuries.  They started calming down after a while.  Here's an iPhone video.


Yours truly enjoying the sights and sounds.

I was huffing and puffing as we make the hike back up the steep trail.  Back at the lodge it was another fine dinner.  I was the only customer.  Angel's son Joel drove in from Quito and I learned that he would like to be a bird guide.  We spent hours that night talking about birding  and how to market the Rio Quijos Ecolodge as a birding lodge.  They have the field guide, a pair of binocs and a great location so all they just need to do is put in the work and learn the birds.  For some reason the lodges I visited on this side of the Andes (Guango, Cabanas San Isidros and Wildsumaco) do not feed the tanagers.  I suggested they experiment with this because they really do have some nice tanagers around.  I also showed them eBird and Xeno-canto.  All of this was done in my poor Spanish and I was mentally exhausted afterwards.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Day 8, Guacamayo Ridge, 3/15/16

Spent last night back at the Rio Quijos Ecolodge.  After a nice breakfast I ran back down to the Guacamayos Ridge to give it another try.  Just too many birds there to ignore it.  I arrived at 8:30 AM and guess what?  It was rainy and foggy. Well too bad cuz I'm birding anyway.  No one was at the little cabin at the trailhead so I just grabbed my camera, binocs and umbrella and was off down the trail.  The trail is actually very well constructed and has been in use as a pack trail for centuries.  Angel at Rio Quijos said it dates from Incan times but I can't find any reference to that.

This was to be a day of quality birds and not quantity.  My first one was a goody.  I saw a large woodpecker and as I expected, it was a Powerful Woodpecker.  I had seen this species once before when a buddy and I birded the cloud forest of the Gualaceo-Macas Road back in 1994.  And it also happened to be the third member of the genus Campephilus for this trip (Crimson-crested, Crimson-bellied and Powerful).  I had my iso turned up so I was able to get a poor shot despite the conditions.

A few minutes later I got a shot of this juvenile tapaculo near the spot where I had the Blackish Tapaculo a few days earlier.

Then I got a real good one.  A small antpitta hopped from the trail in front of me and I only managed a couple of shots.  But it was enough for the ID, Slaty-crowned Antpitta.  Their three note call was heard all day long.  I recorded the call on my phone and played it back.  They came in close but I never saw another one.

All day long the fog would roll in and out and the rain would increase and then let up.  A couple of Turquoise Jays were just silhouettes in the mist.

The Guacamayos Ridge Trail is supposed to be great for tanager flocks among other things.  I encountered only a couple of flocks and all I could make out was Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers.  Occasionally a pair of Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens would sing as they do in the cloud forests of Mexico but I never saw them. Despite the rain and fog it was absolutely beautiful.

After about two kilometers I came across a large bird standing in the trail.  I raised the camera and fired.  I got several shots and then the bird disappeared around the corner.  I could tell it was a quail-dove but that was about it.  Later at the lodge I identified it as a White-throated Quail-Dove.  Apparently this is a fairly common bird but not commonly seen.

I walked to the first stream after the 3 KM marker and it was after 1 PM so I decided I needed to start wandering back.  Then one last good bird for the day.  At first I thought it was just a Great Thrush.  But closer analysis of the photo shows this bird has a reddish belly.  It is the rare Chestnut-bellied Thrush.

The sun almost popped out for few minutes.  I heard toucans and parrots but I couldn't find them.

By the time I got back to the car it was raining extremely hard.  I had spent seven hours on the Guacamayos Ridge Trail and had seen eight species of birds.  I got back to the Rio Quijos exhausted and soaked. Tomorrow it's the Cuevas de Tayos (Oilbird Cave).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Day 7, Wildsumaco, 3/14/16

Another fine breakfast at Wildsumaco Lodge and it was not raining so things were looking up.  I grabbed my stuff like yesterday and headed down the road towards the start of the FACE trail.  Loud screeching and squawking announced a pair of macaws overhead.  I had seen a few the past few days but the poor light would not allow me to ID them.  This morning the light was better and I could tell they were the rare Military Macaws.  Not a lifer as I've seen a few in Mexico but still a good bird for the trip.

Briefly they investigated a hole in a tall dead palm and then shot off elsewhere.

I heard a repeated hoarse yelping that I thought might be a toucan.  Sure enough it was a Black-mandibled Toucan, a lifer and my only seen toucan of the trip.  I don't know why things were so difficult this trip.  I've never had trouble seeing toucans in the past. 

A couple of flocks of very large swifts flew way overhead that were most likely White-collared Swift but I don't know if I can rule out White-chested Swift..

A pair of smaller macaws proved to be Chestnut-fronted Macaw.

Pretty good start!  I entered the FACE trail and soon found a Collared Trogon.

Then I heard the loud drumming of a large woodpecker.  Maybe my best bird of the trip, it was the very hard to find Crimson-bellied Woodpecker.  What a bird!

The Turkish birders had been shown a Band-bellied Owl by their guide somewhere the previous day and not being much of an owler (I go to bed when it gets dark) I didn't pay much attention.  But before I left this morning, one of the local guides told me in Spanish to look for something high in the bamboo.  Problem was I didn't understand what I was to look for.  But when I came to a large patch of bamboo, I remembered I was supposed to be looking for something.  And, holy smokes, I found two Band-bellied Owls roosting high in the bamboo.

The trail soon came to an overlook with a bench and a heck of a view.

I sat there and enjoyed the birds in the distance.  Ornate Flycatcher is usually easy to see but once again this was my only one of the trip.

There were also a few tanagers and both Red-headed and Guilded Barbets.

 Back on the trail I found my only manakin of the trip, White-crowned Manakin.

So far I've refrained from posting any butterfly photos.  I've seen a few on this trip but not as many as expected.  This one was a doozy!

Saw both Wedge-billed and Olivaceous Woodcreepers and then a lifer tanager, Orange-eared.

I had seen Rufous-vented Whitetip at the feeders but it's always nice to find one doing its own thing away from the feeders.  Apparently they are a rare migrant here and are only present for a brief while.

As I looped around back to the start of the trail, a large flash of bright orange and black flying low through the trees could be only one thing, Andean Cock-of-the-rock.  I could not refind it.  Out in the open a Swallow-tailed Kite flew overhead.

As I walked back to the lodge I ran into Jonas, one of the Swedish owners of the Lodge.  He had left Quito the previous day and ran into the landslides caused by the heavy rain.  So he had to backtrack to Baeza, and then go east to Lago Agrio, down to Coca and then through Loreto to Wildsumaco from the east.  He told me it took fourteen hours but he's done it before.  Jonas was pleased to hear about the Crimson-bellied Woodpecker and said they were very hard to find.  

At this point I was still playing with the idea of going south to Tena, but I thought I needed to get back north while the roads were still passable.  I checked out of Wildsumaco and drove back west.  I thought this raptor was going to be some good forest-falcon but it's just a Roadside Hawk.  They really look different down here.

I passed through about twenty of so small landslides that had closed the road last night in some places.

As I drove along I listened to the radio and heard about flooding down in Tena and Misahualli so I aimed back north to Baeza and the friendly, comfortable and economical Rio Quijos Ecolodge.  I wanted to spend more time on Guacamaya Ridge and then there's that Oilbird cave I need to see.