Welcome to Birds In My Bins And Lens: Eyeing The Avifauna And Fauna Of The Americas. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to travel to the tropics. I vividly remember being nine years-old, thumbing through seemingly endless stacks of Ranger Rick, National Wildlife, National Geographic and International Wildlife Magazines, dreaming of visiting such wonderful places as: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, etc. in order to see all the great birds and animals that call these places home. Finally, after 40 years, I am fulfilling my childhood dreams.

Photo Above: Flame-faced Tanager (Male) Ecuador August 2014


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Saturday, August 9, 2014

ECUADOR: AUGUST 9-18, 2014


ENDEMICS, EARTHQUAKES & ETC. 
 
This is a work in progress. Please check back often and see what is being posted...
 
 
 One of the views from Yanacocha. This is at about 11,000 feet. Thankfully I had no issues whatsoever with the altitude. The birding here was simply amazing
 
 

This short tour offered great opportunities to see many spectacular endemic species of the extremely diverse Choc√≥ bioregion of the NW slope of the Ecuadorian Andes. Not only were many endemics seen, but also many other interesting and varied birds.

We made several day trips out of Tandayapa Lodge (our home base),  ensuring we visited a wide range of altitudes (altitude, like attitude, is everything--especially in terms of birding), and different forest types, giving us excellent shots at many of the endemic species that make this Choc√≥ region so appealing and a birders dream.

The following is just a "Reader's Digest" summary of a great trip.

 

 

 
Day One: August 9, 2014.  ARRIVING IN ECUADOR

DTW+MIA+OUI=PARADISE


I arrived in Quito with no issues. The plane landed in the airport here safely on its first attempt. I heard from a few of the locals next to me on the plane, that sometimes a plane might have to abort a landing, pull out and try again due to the difficulty of windy and weather conditions that plague this airport. The weather conditions and mountains make for and interesting combination.  Apparently, the old airport was worse.
 
Even though we landed on the first attempt, it was still an interesting landing. I did have my doubts. It was a teeter back and forth and bumpy ride. 
 
Coming into Quito, we were above the clouds. Words cannot describe the formations. It looked prehistoric or alien. I have never seen anything like it. It was eerie and beautiful all at the same time. Especially with the sun shining above and through them.
 
 
Coming into Quito above the clouds and the sun is shinning...
 

We descended through the first thick layer of towering clouds, that seemed endless. The Andes and Ecuador came into view. Beautiful! Some peaks were snow covered and shrouded in clouds, adding to the alien planet feel.
 
Seconds after seeing the sun shine through the couds was taken, we broke through the clouds and a full moon and the Andes came into view.
 


As we descended through the second layer, the sun was replaced by a fullish moon. The lady behind me shrieked, "what happened to the sun." It was interesting going from day to twilight in minutes.
 
Customs was swift and easy. The easiest time I ever had any where I have ever traveled. The lady at the counter never asked me any questions, just stamped my passport and told me to enjoy my stay in Ecuador.
 
My driver was waiting for me outside immigration and drove me to the Hotal de la Rabida, a small Hostal in the middle of the tourist district of Quito, that will be my home for two nights, before I head to the Tandayapa Bird Lodge and begin my birding on August 11th.

I ate dinner with two of my fellow tour companions, Ashley and Owen (two very nice gentlemen), who hail from Australia. The food was fabulous. After dinner, I took a long hot shower, which felt amazing. I watched two episodes of the Simpsons in Spanish (which I really had no problems understanding) and called it a night. 
 
 
 

Day Two: August 10, 2014. HOSTAL DE LA RABIDA
 
QUIET QUITO
 
 

 
The Garden at the Hostal de la Rabida. Not the birdiest place on the trip, but I had my lifers Black-tailed Trainbeare and Eared Dove here. The small black blob in the lower right of the frame is the Hostal's pet rabbit, Brownie.

 
Birding List: Six species of birds (2 lifers): Great Thrush, Eared Dove, Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Rock Pigeon and Black-tailed Trainbearer. The best, of course,  being a stunning male Black-tailed Trainbearer
 

I Woke up this morning at 5:00am which is about normal for me. Still no issues with the altitude which  is a major plus. Seeing Quito is only 9,000 feet elevation, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
 
I took another shower and unpacked my gear and went outside my room around 7:00am to checkout the garden that is the center of the Hostal. I was hoping to find something cool for my first bird for Ecuador. I was really hoping that it would be a new hummingbird
 
I was only outside for a few seconds, when I heard the familiar buzz of the wings of a hummingbird to my right. I looked to where the sound was coming from and saw an awesome, kick--butt Black-tailed Trainbearer  working some flowers. This is a very nice looking hummingbird with a very long tail, that is probably three times as long as the bird itself. Score! My first bird for Ecuador was a lifer and a cool one at that. The hummer landed just about three feet away from me, giving me killer looks at this beauty.

I was just about to take it's picture when another hummingbird came into the garden, in the form of a Sparkling Violetear who, unfortunately, proceeded to chase off the Trainbearer.  The Violetear was not a lifer, but still nice to see.

Other birds in this small garden, located in the big city, are Eared Doves (lifer) which is similar to our Mourning Dove and the overly common, but still attractive, Rufous-collared Sparrow. 
 
 
 
The overly common, yet attractive Rufous-collared Sparrow

 
As I was watching for more  hummingbirds, I felt something wet hit the side of my right cheek, just missing my eye. I took my hand and wiped it off and saw it was bird crap. I looked up in the tree above me to see who did a doodie on my face. There, on a branch, was a large sized black thrush with a bright orange beak and orange legs. A Great Thrush! A bird I recognized from my trip to Colombia. Not a lifer, unfortunately, but still fun to see.
 
 
 
Great Thrush. This is the little bugger who dropped a deuce on my face

 
Another Great Thrush



 
The thrush then flew to the ground right next to me get a drink of water from Browie's bowl of water. Brownie is the Hostal's black, pet rabbit that has the run of the garden. He is pretty cool for a rabbit and very friendly, Dog and cat friendly.

As with any trip, no bird list is complete without seeing those rats with wings, a Rock Pigeon. Two of these critters were camped out on one of the taller buildings behind the Hostal.

Two lifers just steps outside my room! Tomorrow, on the first official day birding, will no doubt bring many more. Tomorrow is gonna be sweet. Heading to do some higher elevation birding at Yanacocha in the elfin Forest that cloak the slopes of snow capped, Pichincha Volcano. My main targets are: Sword-billed Hummingbird and the very rare and critically endangered, Black-breasted Puffleg. We will have to be very, very lucky to see this hummingbird.
 
 
My small but comfy room at the Hostal. Plenty of hot water with amazing pressure in the shower. A very welcome part of the trip.

 
As I was getting ready to go into the dinning room for breakfast, I could hear a church congregation just outside the gated walls of the Hostal singing a praise and worship song in Spanish. I had to stand there and listen.
 
I immediately recognized the song..Lord, I give you my heart. I never heard it sung in Spanish. It was beautiful. The singing was amazing. Sounded like hundreds of people singing with one voice and no music. Gave me goose bumps. A pretty nice way to cap of my first morning in Ecuador.  You can listen to a version that was pretty close here
 



 DAY THREE: MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 2014
YANACOCHA & OLD NONO-MINDO ROAD 
 
BETTER THAN A ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

 
Me at Yanacocha. the views here were outstanding. Only over shadowed by the amazing birding.


Birding List: 74 species (58 Lifers) Andean Guan, Roadside Hawk, Variable Hawk, Andean Lapwing, Band-tailed Pigeon, Eared Dove, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Shining Sunbeam, Mountain Velvetbreast, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Giant Hummingbird, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, Golden-breasted Puffleg, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tyrian metaltail, Masked Trogon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Speckled-faced (White-capped) Parrot, Rufous Antpitta, Tawny Antpitta, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Red-faced Spinetail, Azara's Spinetail, White-tailed Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-crested Elaenia, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, Smoke-colored Pewee, Black Phoebe, White-browed Ground-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Barred Fruiteater, Red-crested Continga, Barred Becard, Turquoise Jay, Blue-and-white Swallow, Brown-bellied Swallow, Sedge (Grass) Wren, Plain-tailed Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, White-capped Dipper, Great Thrush, Spectacled Redstart (Whitestart), Black-crested Warbler, Superciliaried Hemisphingus, Rufous-chested Tanager, Blue-capped Tanager, Blue-and yellow Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Cinereous Conebill, Blue-backed Conebill, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Black Flowerpiercer, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Masked Flowerpiercer, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Plain-colored Seedeater, Yellow-breasted (Rufous-napped) Brush-Finch, White-winged Brush-Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden-bellied (Southern Yellow) Grosbeak, Hooded Siskin
 
 
We all left Quito very early in the morning (while it was still dark) in our fancy, luxury tour bus and headed to Yanacocha, which is roughly about an hour and a half drive from the Hostal de la Rabida in Quito. This would be our first initial day of birding and what a day it was!
 
We made a couple stops on our way to the reserve, giving us great looks at: Andean Guan, Southern Yellow Grosbeak, Variable Hawk and many others,
 
Yanacocha is a beautiful reserve in the elfin forest that cloaks the scenic slopes of Pichincha Volcano. the views here are simply amazing.
 

 Although the surrounding terrain is steep and high elevation (11,000+ feet) walking here was very easy and the birds were amazing. I was worried that I would have issues at this elevation, but thankfully, I had not even the slightest issue. No headaches, no breathing issues...nada!
 
 
 
 
Variable Hawk (juvenile). Basically, a glorified Red-tailed Hawk, but it's a lifer raptor!!
 
 
 
The same Variable Hawk Kiting looking or prey
 
 
 
This was the only site of the tour that we visited that is in the temperate zone, meaning that this would be the only opportunity to see many species of birds, mainly certain hummingbirds that can't be seen any where else on the tour. Well placed feeders placed on the trails, afforded amazing looks at these winged jewels, such as: Great Sapphirewing, Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented and Golden-breasted Pufflegs, Sword-billed Hummingbird (a very impressive hummingbird!) and Shinning Sunbeam, just to name a few. The tanagers, flower piercers and others were equally impressive.
 
 
Masked Flowerpiercer. A common and beautiful visitor to the many hummingbird feeders along the trail at Yanacocha.

 
 
Buff-winged Starfrontlets. The most common hummingbird at the feeders
 
 
Glossy Flowerpiercer


After a full morning of outstanding birding in the reserve, we continued on our journey towards Tandayapa, driving down the Old Nono-Mindo Road in the afternoon, making selected stops to look at Andean Lapwing, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, White-capped Dipper, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Masked Trogon and many more.
 
video
 
Just a small fraction of the activity at one of the feeders on a trail at Yanacocha
 
 
The first official day birding was simply outstanding. The top five birds for the first day are really hard to pick, seeing that so many possible options are available. But, if I were to choose, I would choose the following: Sword-billed Hummingbird, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Shinning Sunbeam, Turqouise Jay and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager.
 
After a nice and birdy day, we arrived to our home base, the Tandayapa Bird Lodge. We were given our room assignments and sat down to an incredible, three course dinner.
 
After dinner, I took a moderately warm shower and set off to bed to get recharged for another full and exciting day of birding.
 
 
 
DAY FOUR: TUESDAY, AUGUST 12, 2014
TANDAYAPA VALLEY & TANDAYAPA LODGE
 
EARTHQUAKES AND HUMMINGBIRDS
 
 
The back side and patio of the lodge
 

 
Another view of the back
 

 
The view off the patio, showing a glimpse of the cloud forest. There were a handful of hummingbird feeders here, which afforded amazing looks and photo opportunities of these winged jewels
 

 
Another view of the cloud forest backyard
 

 
Oh, and yet another view of the patio where three of us were standing when the initial and moderate earthquake (5.1-5.3 magnitude) hit
 

 
A view of the dinning hall where we ate the most amazing meals I have ever had. Our guide, Jose ("muy Guapo") is seen in the photo. The windows to the left of our table and Jose, are where fruit feeders are loaded with fresh fruit daily to entice a great variety of birds to visit during breakfast.
 

 
The common room and lounging area just to the right of the dining area. The open door to the right of the frame leads out to the patio where the hummingbird feeders are located
 
 
  video
 
A little hummingbird action and variety. It's always fun seeing several species of Hummingbirds at once. such is the case here: Rufous-tailed, Booted Rackettail, Brown Violetear, Sparkiling Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-necked Jacobin and Ecuadorian Emerald.
 
 
Booted Rackettail. One of the more common, yet stunning hummingbirds that visited the Lodge's feeders

Buff-tailed Coronet. a great hummingbird.
 
 
 
another Buff-tailed Coronet showing off his "true colors"
 
 

Ecuadorian Emerald. A cute little hummingbird

White-necked Jacobin. Not an overly abundant hummer at the feeders. I have seen these guys in Colombia and Panama. Always worth looking at these stunning birds.

Sparkling Violetear. One of three species of violetears that visited the feeders.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet. A beautiful toucan. This one was visiting the fruit feeder outside the dining room while we ate our breakfast one morning.
 
 
 
 
 
White-throated Quail Dove