Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mindo Birding - Antpittas & more!

Before heading home briefly to Canada I decided to take one more trip back to the Mindo area to get in some final days of birding.  In particular, I planned on visiting the Refugio Paz de las Aves, the famous reserve where Angel Paz has been attracting rare antpittas and other skulky forest species be viewed by the eyes of excited birders. 

Bothrocophias campbelli
Ecuadorian Toad-headed Pit-viper, Bothrocophias campbelli
When I arrived in Mindo on Sunday night, I spoke with the woman who runs the hostel where I was staying and arranged my plans for transportation to the reserve for Tuesday morning, which gave me Monday to do some birding around town. I got up early Monday morning, planning to head to the trails at Mindo Gardens.  There was a few people birding around the hostel, so I checked out the birding in the area before heading out.  The tree behind the hostel was full of pairs of beautiful Swallow Tanagers, gulping down the fruits from the tree.  I recognized one of the people there that morning, and as we started talking we realized we all went to university together!  Its great seeing familiar faces so far away from home!  Surprised and happy, my friends were interested in doing some hiking and birding for the next couple days which gave us an opportunity to spend some time together and catch up from years ago.  After a nice breakfast of french toast at Caskaffesu in Mindo, we set out towards Mindo Gardens.  Among many birds and insects seen that morning/afternoon along the road and on the trails, a highlight was an Ecuadorian Toad-headed Pit-viper that the gardener turned up at Mindo Gardens.

The next morning we started out super early - we left Mindo at 4:45am to head up to Refugio Paz de las Aves, approximately 30 minutes away.  The first attraction of the day at Paz de las Aves is the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek, which had been recently starting even earlier than usual.  We arrived at the reserve by 5:30 and walked 20 minutes to reach the location of the lek, and by that time the birds had already begun their song and dance.  It was still early dawn at that point, but we got nice views of these impressive birds!  

Giant Antpitta
Panchito, a Giant Antpitta, Grallaria gigantea
Angel then took us on a walk along the trails, calling for Giant Antpitta and the family of Dark-backed Wood-Quails.  Without much success at first, we carried on to where there is a seating area along the trail where within a minute Angel had located and called out "Panchito", a male Giant Antpitta, who came darting onto the trail and over to eat the worms.  

We enjoyed incredible up-close views of Panchito for 10 minutes, and then continued onto the next seating area along the trail.  Here Angel had located the family of Dark-backed Wood-Quails, 3 adults and 2 chicks, who voraciously ate up the worms and banana provided for them.  

Dark-backed Wood-Quail
Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Odontophorus melanonotus
The next exciting bird was "Jose", a mid-sized Moustached Antpitta.  Jose met us not far from where the wood-quails were, and as the group there that morning was large, Angel split us into two groups.  When it was our turn, Jose's worms had been overtaken by the family of wood-quails and Jose had been scared off.  With some patience Angel called him back and we got some nice looks at him, although he was too timid to come out to the path with the aggressive wood-quails around.  Our last antpitta of the day was "Shakira", a tiny Ochre-breasted Antpitta - so cute!  And while we were watching little Shakira, another Ochre-breasted Antpitta came in to meet the group as well.

The rest of the morning finished up with a visit to the hummingbird feeders where we saw Booted Rackettail, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, Velvet-purple Coronet, Andean Emerald and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.  Before heading back down to Mindo, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of bolones (fried green plantain balls with chicken inside) and cheese empanadas.  It was a memorable visit with lots of exciting birds to see, and I know for sure I will return in the future.

~ Jenn 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eastern foothills of Ecuador - Sumaco Biosphere Reserve

Sumaco Volcano
Sumaco Volcano
I continued my travels in eastern Ecuador into the foothills of the Andes.  On November 5-7, I visited a community called Pacto Sumaco, located approximately from Tena by bus.  Pacto Sumaco is a small community of farming families, and is surrounded by extensive protected areas including the Sumaco nearby Napo-Galeras National Park and the Gran Sumaco Biosphere Reserve (400-3900 masl) surrounding the Sumaco Volcano, a designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  Prior to my visit, I had only passed through this area numerous times by bus, always wanting to return to do some exploring and birding.  The environment is is very biologically diverse, and is home to a multitude of plants and animals, including the rare and vulnerable Military Macaw, and includes areas of primary forest, extensive secondary forest and intermixed with open areas from the local farming communities surrounding the area.
Pacto Sumaco Forest
Lush humid secondary forest at Pacto Sumaco
Getting to Pacto Sumaco was an adventure all together.  The community itself is located 8 km off the main highway that goes from Tena to Coca, at the end of the road, less than a kilometre past WildSumaco Lodge.  I met my friend David Ortega, the director of the Turismo Comunitario in Pacto Sumaco, in Tena and we headed by bus to the community later that afternoon.  Usually this is a rather uneventful and easy trip; however, there is currently a bridge along the highway that is under construction for the next several months, and requires a transfer of vehicles as the bridge can only be walked across at the moment.  By the time we got to the bridge, it was dark and raining very heavily.  We crossed the bridge by foot and not too long later were in the back of a truck headed to Pacto Sumaco.  All seemed great until the truck headed out on the highway, and stalled almost immediately.  Starting up again, the truck drove a little further and stalled again.  There appeared to be a poor connection between a cable that connected the headlights to the engine, so after several stalls on the main highway, we finally made it to the road to Pacto Sumaco.  Very dark and very rainy, and in order to get enough engine power to make it up the road the drive needed to turn off the lights, and we guided the driver with headlamps and cellphone lights and by voice "por la derecha!", "por la izquierda!", and eventually made it safely to the community, a little wide-eyed and a little later than expected! 

Pacto Sumaco Sunrise
Sunrise over the Sumaco landscape
The next morning we started out early.  David showed me the cabana they have built near the community that has an incredible view of the surrounding environment and is in the perfect location to watch Chestnut-fronted Macaws flyby at sunrise.  The community's tourism initiative at the moment has 1 cabana that can accommodate up to 8 people, and have just received funding to build 4 more cabanas, which should be completed in the near future.  The Turismo Comunitario de Pacto Sumaco offers excursions to the crater of Sumaco Volcano, a 3-4 day round trip hike from the community.  In addition to visiting the volcano, the area is rich in birdlife and attracts visitors, birders and biologists from all over the world. 

Squirrel Cuckoo
Squirrel Cuckoo, Piaya cayana, drying out after a rainstorm.
My interest in visiting Pacto Sumaco was to go birding; and David, a budding naturalist with an excellent knowledge of the plants of the area, is interested in learning more about the birdlife in the area as well.  The surrounding area is home to approximately 500 species of birds, where impressively 224 of them are regional specialties.  The area spans varying altitude ranges, and therefore there is a nice mix of upper eastern slope, cloud forest species and amazonian lowland species.  Highlights included Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Wire-crested Thorntail, Gorgeted Woodstar, Black-billed Thrush, Spotted Tanager, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Olivaceous Siskin, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Lined Antshrike, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Bronze-green Euphonia, Golden-eared Tanager and Grayish Saltator.  It is also an important destination for boreal and austral migrants, and we saw no shortage of Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Western Wood-Pewees, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Blackburnian Warblers and lucked out with 2 (possibly 3) Cerulean Warblers. 

Packing naranjillas in Pacto Sumaco
In addition to being out on the trails and birding, there were opportunities to help out in the community as well.  David's family farms naranjillas and were doing a monthly harvest while I was there, so when not out birding, I helped with packing naranjillas and preparing them to be taken to market in Ambato!

Thanks to the friendship and hospitality of David Ortega and the community of Pacto Sumaco for a nice visit!  If you are in eastern Ecuador and interested in birding at Pacto Sumaco, you can check out their website for more information. 

~ Jenn 

El Oriente

As I headed into my 3rd month in Ecuador this fall, and finished paying up a month's rent in Quito, I headed out to eastern Ecuador (known as el Oriente).  With only 2 weeks left in Ecuador before heading home for a bit, I wanted to get out of Quito, go somewhere warmer and do some more birding!  Being back out here for a week brought back a lot of memories from time spent here while working with GVI in 2010, and it was so nice to be back!  Here are a couple photos taken in Tena, province of Napo, Ecuador.
Amazon Kingfisher
Male Amazon Kingfisher, Chloroceryle amazona, along the river in Tena
Tire Parrots
Cute parrots made out of times hanging out in Parque Amazonico in Tena - great idea! 
Tire Parrots
Tire macaw.  They have decorated the footbridge that passes over the river in Tena with these parrots as well!
More to come from eastern Ecuador!  
~ Jenn