ECUADOR BIRDING TRIP REPORT
2010 Southern Ecuador Birding Tour
We recorded over 500 bird species on our June 2010 southern Ecuador tour in 15 days. Highlights of the tour included close views of Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, a nice view of the rare Black-billed Mountain-Toucan by one person at Tapichalaca, an unconfirmed first record of Yellow-cheeked Becard at Jorupe Forest Reserve, two long looks at the prized Orange-throated Tanager in the Cordillera del Condor, rare views of Subtropical Doradito in the inter-Andean valleys of the central highlands, wonderful looks and photo opportunity of Jocotoco Antpitta at Tapichalaca, two species of umbrellabirds including a female Long-wattled Umbrellabird feeding a chick on the nest, and stellar views of the uncommonly seen Masked Tanager including an excellent photo op. During the tour we recorded 53 species of hummingbirds, 61 species of tanagers, and many Tumbesian/Maranon endemics.
Before the tour began we were a little concerned about the major eruption of Tungurahua Volcano the preceding Friday. We had to drive through Ambato, near the western base of the volcano en route to Cuenca and planned on staying in Banos quite close to the volcano two weeks later on our way back north. As it turned out, there was no problem though we did see ash plumes rising high above the volcanic cone on our way south.
June 5 - Our original plan was to stay overnight in Quito and fly to Cuenca the following morning. However, because we had a small group and everyone was fine with doing the 8-hour drive, we departed early on Saturday June 5. We didn't have a lot of birding time on our way south, but we stopped at Colita Lake where we had good but somewhat fleeting views of Subtropical Doradito flying about in the reedbeds surrounding the lake. Doraditos are quite locally distributed and occur only in the central highlands. We also had an excellent look at Ecuadorian Rail, a likely future split from Virginia Rail, when it came into the open along the edge of the same reedbeds. The Ecuadorian subspecies looked quite different from North American Virginia Rails in that they appeared to have shorter and more brightly orange bills. Along the road we had good looks at Cinereous Harrier, a rather scarce and local highland species, Laughing Falcon, Andean Lapwing, Andean Gull, Chiguango Thrush, Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, and Peruvian Meadowlark. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at the Hacienda Andalucia near Riobamba at mid-day and arrived in Cuenca later than hoped about 7:00 PM, where we stayed at the very pleasant Hotel San Andreas.
June 6 - We departed Cuenca about 7:30 AM. We didn't think our later than usual departure would matter because our plan this day was to bird the highlands and paramo in El Cajas National Park, where birds are likely to be active throughout the day. The park service has recently imposed a rather stringent policy of requiring that a local guide accompany us while in the park, which would have added considerable expense for guide fee plus transport to and from Cuenca for the guide. We decided to pass and bird outside the park boundaries and perhaps a bit along the road within the park. All plans went out the window when we encountered major road construction on the main highway through the park that connects Cuenca with Guayaquil. We were stuck in a 45-minute delay at the first roadblock and then more delay as we traversed several miles of one-way road in the construction zone. By the time we reached the far end of the park, the wind had kicked up and birding was very slow. We turned around and headed back, again being stopped for a considerable delay in the construction zone. This time we were inside the park and had good habitat near the road. It was also an area sheltered from the wind, so the birding was good. While waiting for the road to open, we had stunning looks at a male Blue-mantled Thornbill displaying its green and pink throat just 30 feet from the road. We also had stunning looks at a male Ecuadorian Hillstar in all its finery and a pair of Andean Tit-Spinetails chasing each other about in the scrub. We had fantastic views of the prized Tit-like Dacnis in the same spot. Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant was the most common bird we saw in the area. We heard Many-striped Canastero singing but had to leave because the road re-opened. After we left the park, we made one more stop where we found the bird of the day, a rare Velvet-fronted Metaltail guarding a yellow flowering bush.
We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of fresh trout at Hacienda dos Chorreros and then continued on to the Yunguilla Valley where we stayed the night at the very pleasant Jardin del Valle. There we had a nice scope view of Peruvian Pygmy-Owl perched across the road from our balcony.
This day was our first taste of repeated construction delays throughout the tour. When the new president, Dean Correra, was elected in 2007, he promised to fix the roads. We found out he truly meant it, as construction was taking place throughout the southern Andes and is likely to continue until 2011 or even 2012. Due to the construction we missed a number of highland birds we expected to see around El Cajas.
June 7 - We started the day with an early visit to Yunguilla Reserve, owned and operated by Fundacion Jocotoco. The reserve was created to protect the critically endangered Pale-headed Brush-Finch, thought to be extinct until a small population of about 100 pairs was discovered in this valley. Our guide had some fleeting looks at the brush-finch but the rest of us never could get a look at it. On our previous visit in 2006 we had much better looks at the species when we went off the main trails down into the old orange groves. This time we stayed on the main trails and the birds remained very elusive. We did see Striped Cuckoo, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, the "Loja" subspecies of Amazilia Hummingbird (a likely future split), the very local Purple-collared Woodstar, the endemic Tumbesian Tyrannulet, Blackish Tapaculo, Black-lored Yellowthroat, and Rufous-chested Tanager all quite well, along with a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soaring just above the ridgeline as we were leaving.
That afternoon we transferred to Buenaventura Reserve, also owned and operated by Fundacion Jocotoco. En route we stopped at a shrimp farm near Santa Rosa where we picked up some aquatic birds and other species. The most notable bird we saw there was Long-tailed Mockingbird.
June 8 - Buenaventura has a number of birding attractions, not least of which is the Long-wattled Umbrellabird. We left very early for a lek, where one or two males visit even during non-mating season. The morning was rather foggy, but nevertheless we heard two mails "booming" and had very good looks at one of them. We also learned that there was an active umbrellabird nest in a small tree adjacent to the road, probably the first time ever. We went up to the nest site and waited patiently for the female to come to the nest to feed the chick, which she did a half hour later. What a great look as well as wonderful photo op of the female feeding her single baby!
We spent the morning birding the Umbrellabird Trail, where the lek is located, and along the road. Notable birds we saw included the Tumbesian and Choco endemics Gray-backed Hawk, Choco Toucan, Esmeraldas Antbird, and Ecuadorian Thrush plus other good birds including Red-rumped Woodpecker, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Yellow Tyrannulet, Slaty-capped Flycatcher, the strikingly lovely Ornate Flycatcher, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Black-tailed Flycatcher, a pair of Club-winged Manakins (I only saw the female but the male was seen also), White-bearded Manakin, Thrush-like Schiffornis (an often difficult bird to actually see), Cinnamon Becard, Song Wren (another notoriously difficult bird to see!), two species of bush-tanagers, a nice variety of other tanagers, and Orange-crowned Euphonia (quite rare at Buenaventura).
At mid-day we watched hummingbirds and other birds coming to the feeders around the lodge dining room. Several Rufous-headed Chachalacas (a Tumbesian endemic) were present. Notable hummingbirds at the feeders were Brown Violetear, Green Thorntail, Emerald-bellied Woodnymph, Andean Emerald, and Purple-crowned Fairy. White-necked Jacobins were numerous and very aggressive chasing away other hummingbirds.
That afternoon we went to the upper section of the park hoping the fog would lift. Unfortunately it didn't so we saw very little other than a male Collared Trogon. We also had nice scope views of Bronze-winged Parrots perched in a distant tree and had good looks at three Crested Guans in a bare tree near the road on the way up.
June 9 - We departed early, again driving up the road to the upper section of the reserve. It was still very foggy and sometimes dripping a light rain. We did find open patches where the fog lifted and birding was good. On the way up we had a grand view of a Black Hawk-Eagle perched on top of a snag in a valley below the road where it was spreading and drooping its wings trying to dry out. We also saw a Gray-headed Kite perched farther away across the valley. In the higher section of the park we had excellent looks at a pair of Guayaquil Woodpeckers that responded to playback, though the fog rapidly came in and obscured the birds sooner than we would have liked. We also had very good looks at Line-cheeked Spinetail responding to playback. We ate a box lunch there and while eating lunch spotted Violet-tailed Sylph, Loja Tyrannulet, and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner. We saw one of our target birds, El Oro Parakeet, flying overhead but never got good looks of them.
After lunch, we departed for Jorupe Forest Reserve, about a 4½ hour drive away. Along the way we encountered a 6 ft long Boa Constrictor on the road. The traffic in both directions had momentarily stopped without running over the snake, so our quick-thinking guide jumped out of the van and prodded the snake to leave the road using a short stick. What a beautiful snake!
We didn't have much time for birding during the transfer, but we did see Eared Dove, Ecuadorian Ground-Dove, Long-tailed Mockingbird, and Golden-bellied Grosbeak. At Jorupe we did a little owling and had good looks at a beautiful Spectacled Owl near the lodge.
June 10 - We began the day early, birding the entrance road where the forest is opened up by the road cut and is mainly secondary deciduous forest with fairly dense understory. We found several target birds, with good but quick views of Henna-headed Foliage-gleaner, Watkin's Antpitta, Elegant Crescentchest, and Black-capped Sparrow and excellent views of Collared Antshrike, Pacific Elaenia, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, Sooty-capped Flycatcher, Slaty Becard, White-tailed Jay, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Gray-and-gold Warbler, and White-edged Oriole, all Tumbesian endemics. We had very nice looks of a pair of Scarlet-backed Woodpeckers in a Kapok tree and later a male of the Tumbesian endemic Blackish-headed Spinetail as it flitted about and chattered in the dense brush near the road. Other noteworthy birds we saw this morning included Gray-backed Hawk, Harris's Hawk, distant scope views of a Bat Falcon perched high in a tree, Gray-cheeked Parakeets flying overhead, another good look at Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, the darker subspecies of Amazilia Hummingbird, Plain Antvireo, Pacific Elaenia, Black-and-white Becard, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. It was a very good morning indeed, yet the day wasn't quite over!
Back at the lodge I (Jim) saw a male Yellow-cheeked Becard land in the open on a bare tree branch about 50 ft away. I had a very good look at this bird through binoculars, and it had all the distinctive markings of the species including black cap, bright yellow cheeks, yellowish breast, and olive back and tail. Unfortunately, I was the only one who saw the bird and I couldn't get a photo. I later learned that this species has never been reported at Jorupe before and is normally found only on the east slope of the Andes.
Several hummingbird feeders are present outside the lodge dining room, but there was very little activity while we were there. The only species we saw was Long-billed Starthroat. We don't know if that was because the staff wasn't maintaining the feeders or other species were dispersed at that time of year anyway. We also saw a King Vulture soaring high overhead while at the lodge.
That afternoon we birded a trail through the forest behind the lodge, where we had very good looks at Guayaquil Woodpeckers, which twice showed very nicely, plus very good looks at Ecuadorian Trogon, Ecuadorian Piculet, and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner. We also heard Red-billed Scythebill but only our guide saw it before it flew.
June 11 - We departed very early for Utuana Reserve, a 2-hour drive from Jorupe. En route we stopped at daybreak in the town plaza of Sozoranga, where a large population of Chestnut-collared Swallows were nesting in the eaves of buildings. We arrived at Utuana about 7:30 AM. Utuana is a higher elevation site and features primarily evergreen cloud forest habitat. We walked up the 4-wheel-drive road toward the area where hummingbird feeders are set up. Unfortunately, the feeders hadn't been maintained by the local ranger, so very few hummingbirds were in evidence. We did see some hummingbirds visiting flowers on the hillside below the road, including Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Mountain Velvetbreast, Purple-throated Sunangel, Green-tailed Trainbearer (I assume, as our guide identified it at the time as Black-tailed Trainbearer, a species not present anywhere near Utuana), and White-bellied Woodstar. Along the road we had great views of a Chestnut-crowned Antpitta walking up the road in front of us! Other notable birds we saw included the Tumbesian endemic Chapman's Antshrike, a species we missed at Jorupe, Blue-capped Tanager which Laura photographed near the hummingbird feeders, and Black-cowled Saltator. We unfortunately missed two other target species, namely Black-crested Tit-Tyrant and Bay-crowned Brush-Finch.
From Utuana we drove to Tapichalaca, stopping en route in the Catamayo Valley. Birding success in the valley depends largely on the presence of seeds in the native grasses, and seeds were notably absent. Hence, so were the seedeaters we hoped to see. The only noteworthy bird we saw there was the Tumbes Sparrow, another near endemic.
Late that afternoon we encountered a very nice mixed flock along the road to Tapichalaca. We saw the following species in the flock: White-banded Tyrannulet, Sierran Elaenia, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Spectacled Whitestart, Black-crested Warbler, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Blue-and-black Tanager, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Pale-naped Brush-Finch. When the sun hits the Golden-crested Tanager, it glows a stunning neon purple. Also in the same area as the flock were Green-fronted Lancebill, Flame-throated Sunangel, and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. Near the lodge at Tapichalcaca we had good views of Rufous Wren skulking in a thicket and Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant perched in the open along the road.
June 12 - Our primary goal this day was to see the Jocotoco Antpitta. We birded the Quebrada Honda leading to the site where a local ranger has conditioned a third-generation of the species to come into the open for food. Along the trail we saw numerous Slaty Finches, a rather erratic species that can be common or absent. We also saw a White-throated Quail-Dove scurrying along the trail in front of us. We had very good views of Chusquea Tapaculo in a stand of bamboo. The bird landed very close to us in response to playback. At the antpitta site, the Jocotoco Antpitta did not disappoint. We mainly saw one adult, but a juvenile bird appeared briefly on the trail as well. We spent about 20 minutes watching and photographing the antpitta as it gobbled up native giant worms placed on the trail by the park ranger. On our way back along the same trail we had wonderful views of a Barred Fruiteater perched in the open and good looks at an Ash-colored Tapaculo we lured into the open with playback.
Later that afternoon we birded some distance down the road from the lodge. Things were very quiet at first, but then we encountered a nice mixed flock that included Pearled Treerunner, Capped Conebill, Common Bush-Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, and Beryl-spangled Tanager. Farther along the road we had very good looks at a pair of Dusky Pihas that flew across the road and landed in a tree 100 ft. away. We also had a pair of White-capped Tanagers fly up the hillside behind us, but all we got were silhouette views of them.
June 13 - We left for Zumba at 4:00 AM to avoid road closures due to construction along the road. We had good looks at Maranon Thrush along the road and a pair of Black-faced Tanagers perched in a small tree in the valley before we reached Zumba. We also saw Little Woodpecker and Rufous-fronted Thornbird in a small tree near Zumba. Beyond the town we ferreted out a Maranon Spinetail lurking in thick underbrush for fleeting views and had good looks at Maranon Slaty-Antshrike singing in forest understory along the road. Other birds of interest we saw this day included a juvenile White-rumped Hawk, a group of White-eyed Parakeets flying overhead, good looks at the near endemic Coppery-chested Jacamar, Red-headed Barbet, Lafresnaye's Piculet, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Olive-chested Flycatcher, and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Because of the road construction we had to turn back 2 hours earlier than would normally be done on a birding tour, which prevented us from reaching the Peru border. As a result, we missed the Peruvian Pigeon and Maranon Crescentchest we had hoped to see.
While we were birding the road to Zumba, Laura stayed behind to photograph hummingbirds at Tapichalaca and had a great look at a rare Black-billed Mountain-Toucan that perched in the open on a tree beyond the porch outside the dining room. Unfortunately, the bird flew as soon as she reached for her camera to photograph it.
June 14 - We left Tapichalaca early, birding the road on the way out because the road was only open at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM due to construction. We encountered a very nice mixed flock consisting of Pearled Treerunner, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Black-capped Hemispingus, Blue-backed Conebill, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager, Plushcap (which we only heard), Golden-crowned Tanager, and Rufous-naped Brush-Finch. A bit farther down the road we found a Red-hooded Tanager that posed in the open for a long time while we watched it and took photos. At the same spot we also saw a Mouse-colored Thistletail and a Smoky Bush-Tyrant. We continued on to Vilcabamba, where we looked in some marshy areas along the road near town for Plumbeous Rail. We heard the bird calling but could never actually see it.
From Vilcabamba we continued to the Cajanuma entrance of Podocarpus National Park. We had nice looks at Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant that perched on a small dead tree in pasture along the road on the way in. We were going to drive to the ranger station and hike the trails, but we discovered the road was blocked by a mudslide a mile short of the ranger station. Hence, we set out walking in the soft misty rain that was coming down. Not far beyond the mudslide we played a tape of Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, pretty much at a random spot. We heard a response, turned around and 3 birds flew across the road and perched just 20 ft away. One perched above the road on a bare branch, where we had fantastic views of it. Wow! For a bird that is normally very difficult to see even at a distance, this was just primo. We didn't see a lot of other birds this morning, as the weather was uncooperative. Even so, we did see Glowing Puffleg, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Sierran Elaenia, White-capped Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Grass-green Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, and Glossy Flowerpiercer. Our guide also scared up an Undulated Antpitta from the trail in front of him, but the rest of us missed it. We spent that night relaxing at the very nice Hotel La Castellana in Loja.
June 15 - We left Loja early intending to spend the morning birding the entire length of the old Loja-Zamora Road. However, we again encountered construction and learned that the road was closed part way down. As a result, we drove to the lower end of the old road after getting through the construction zone and birded our way up the road. By that time it was raining pretty hard, the worst weather of the entire tour. We persevered and tried to see what we could in the rain. My glasses were fogging up a lot, so I couldn't see as much as I would have liked. We did find a nice mixed flock in the heavy rain. About all I could see were many Paradise Tanagers and a single Montane Foliage-gleaner, but the others saw Bananaquit, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Spotted Tanager, and Blue Dacnis as well. During the interludes when the rain slowed down or stopped, we picked up Short-tailed Hawk, Green-fronted Lancebill, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Booted Racket-tail (the eastern Andes subspecies that is a possible future split), Spectacled Bristle-Tyrant, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Cliff Flycatcher (just below the bridge over the river), Andean Solitaire, Magpie Tanager, Orange-eared Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Spotted Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, and Russet-backed Oropendola.
We enjoyed a nice lunch at Copalinga lodge and watched hummingbirds coming to the feeders. The main species present were Green Hermit, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Glittering-throated Emerald, and Violet-fronted Brilliant. Later in the afternoon we birded the access road toward the Bombuscaro entrance of Podocarpus National Park and a little bit of the trail into the park. We had distant looks at perched Plumbeous Kite and White Hawk. A flock of Barred Parakeets flew overhead for a quick but unsatisfying view. We had a good look at the near endemic Coppery-chested Jacamar. Other birds we saw included Streak-necked Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Olive-chested Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Tyrant, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Orange-eared Tanager, Golden Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Spotted Tanager, and Crested Oropendola.
June 16 - We birded the main trail inside Podocarpus National Park beginning early next morning. The weather was good but birding seemed slow. We saw two juvenile Western Striped-Manakins early on, but only our guide saw the adult. We also heard a Lanceolated Monklet calling but couldn't bring it in with playback.
Later in the morning we encountered a nice mixed flock with the core species being Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager and Ash-throated Bush-Tanager. Other flock followers included Montane Foliage-gleaner, Yellow-bellied Antwren, which we saw very well, Foothill Elaenia, a very good bird to pick up, Blue-necked Tanager, and Orange-bellied Euphonia. Other notable birds we saw during the morning were Gray-fronted Dove, Highland Motmot, Ash-browed Spinetail, a female Blackish Antbird, Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Orange-eared Tanager, Golden Tanager, Yellow-bellied Tanager, and Spotted Tanager. We missed several of our target birds, especially Golden-plumed Parakeet, Black-streaked Puffbird, and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.
Back at Copalinga, I had excellent looks at Pale-tailed Barbthroat behind my cabana. Everyone saw a female Many-spotted Hummingbird visiting the feeders near the dining area.
After lunch, we departed for Cordillera del Condor, stopping for some birding at the abandoned airstrip outside Zamora en route. Interesting birds we saw at the airstrip were Little Cuckoo, Long-tailed Tyrant, Black-capped Donacobius, Magpie Tanager, and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater. It's about a 3½ hour drive from Zamora to Cabanas Yankuam, not so much because of distance but because the roads are bad once one leaves the main highway. Along the dirt road we picked up Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (somewhat distant views of a pair in a dead tree), a Masked Tanager that posed 20 ft from us in the open where we could photograph it against the blue sky, Yellow-browed Sparrow, and a female Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch. After our arrival at Cabanas Yankuam, we had time for a little birding on the property. There we finished the day with our first of many looks at Black Caracara, which is quite common in the area, a flyover of 8 Military Macaws, which repeated the performance about the same time every afternoon we were there, saw several Gray-breasted Sabrewings, pretty much the only hummingbird species visiting the feeders, a distant scope look at Channel-billed Toucan, and numerous looks at Violaceous Jay, which were quite common.
June 17 - Our goal this morning was to see the highly range-restricted Orange-breasted Tanager, known in Ecuador only from this area and known in neighboring Peru only in an area that requires a 3-day expedition to reach. The main site for seeing Orange-breasted Tanager required a boat trip to the Shuar village of Shaime followed by a difficult trek through a pasture of knee-deep mud followed by a steep-trail up into the forest. However, the tanagers had recently been seen near another Shuar village outside the Shuar indigenous area and closer to Cabanas Yankuam. We took the boat to the end of a dirt road about half way to Shaime and then birded our way back along the road to where it meets the river again not far from the Cabanas. White-banded Swallows were quite common along the river. We were told the tanagers were most often seen before reaching the village, but we found no sign of them. We did see Speckled Chachalaca, many Black Caracaras, Laughing Falcon, Bat Falcon, nice scope views of Red-billed Parrot, Gray-rumped Swift, Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, Amazonian Violaceous Trogon, Purplish Jacamar, which we saw very well perched on an open branch in a tree, a female Gilded Barbet, Lemon-throated Barbet, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Long-tailed Tyrant, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, an uncommon specialty of Cordillera del Condor, a female Yellow-cheeked Becard, the only time we saw this species except for the accidental at Jorupe Forest Reserve, Thrush-like Wren that showed very nicely for us, a nice look at a male Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Masked Tanager, Black-faced Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Giant Cowbird, good scope views of a Casqued Oropendola, an Amazonian lowland species, and White-vented Euphonia. We also heard a Blue-naped Chlorophonia that we never managed to see. However, there was no sign of any Orange-breasted Tanagers by the time we reached the village in late morning.
Continuing on past the village about 200 yards, we suddenly spotted them - two Orange-breasted Tanagers perched in the open on a tree limb at eye level about 150 ft away! The spot was a low ravine filled with moss-covered trees and vines but not thickets. What an extraordinary bird! We spent a good amount of time there viewing the tanagers and other birds in the flock they were with. We had great looks at a Green-and-gold Tanager that landed in a Cecropia just 20 ft. from us, poked around in the foliage for a minute or so, and then left. We also had a good scope look at a female White-throated Woodpecker, a very good lowland bird that is only occasionally observed. Other birds we saw in that area were Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, another Amazonian species, Lineated Woodcreeper, Plain-winged Antshrike, Magpie Tanager, and Flame-crested Tanager. In addition, we heard but didn't see Rufous-winged Antwren and Gray Antbird. What a nice collection of birds in one location!
We continued on down the road, where we stopped for a box lunch. There, while eating lunch, we had another great look at two Orange-breasted Tanagers. After lunch we encountered yet another flock, this time consisting of Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Amazonian Barred-Woodcreeper, Fiery-throated Fruiteater (seen by the guide only), Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Green-and-gold Tanager, Masked Tanager, and several other species. As we were approaching the boat launch, we picked up Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher and Golden-winged Tody-Flycatcher in thick underbrush along the road. I missed both species but our one client saw them.
June 18 - Our intention this day was to hopefully hike up to the Tepui highlands where some very good birds are found. The trail up is a Shuar trail and is quite steep but certainly doable. I would say we underestimated what it would take to reach the highlands, which was based on information we had been provided in advance, since we were only a third of the way there by noon when we reached a tent-camp site. The only feasible way to get to the highlands is to camp overnight on the way up, which we weren't prepared to do. We didn't have a high species count this day, but we saw some very good birds. We had a long scope view of Golden-collared Toucanet hiding in the mid-story foliage. We had very good looks at a Great Jacamar that responded to playback and perched overhead. We also had a long scope view of the very hard to see Wing-barred Piprites and very good looks at Grayish Mourner. Our guide twice saw Royal Sunangel, one of our target birds, feeding on red flowers in the forest but no one else saw it. The first sighting was not very far up the trail. Some other notable birds we saw along the trail were Speckled Chachalaca, Gray-chinned Hermit, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Peruvian Warbling-Antbird, Zimmer's Antbird, White-crowned Manakin, and Yellow-throated Tanager,. Our guide also saw Velvety Manakin and Yellow-backed Tanager, but no one else saw either.
We returned to the lodge mid-afternoon, relaxed a short while, and then birded along the road in late afternoon. The only new birds we saw were Tyrannine Woodcreeper, White-browed Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, and White-necked Thrush. Our guide also saw a Bronze-green Euphonia that the rest of us missed.
June 19 - This day was largely devoted to driving from Cabanas Yankuam to Macas, where this portion of the tour ended. Everyone was going on our extension to northwest Ecuador, so no one was flying back to Quito from there. The drive takes about 8 hours, partly because of the bad road between Cabanas Yankuam and the Trans-Amazonian Highway and partly because of delays due to extensive road construction north of Gualaquiza. Once the construction is completed (2011 or 2012), the trip should take a couple less hours time.
On the road from Cabanas Yankuam we spotted a male Amazonian Umbrellabird perched on a small tree in the open, though some distance away. We had rather distant scope views of this very magnificent bird. We also saw Laughing Falcon and Bat Falcon while driving to the main road. At Macas our one client saw a Tropical Screech-Owl, but I was in my room at the time and missed it.
- Jim Wittenberger, Exotic Birding LLC