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Northern Peru 25 October - 9 November 2008
With Roger Ahlman guiding and Kevin Easely co-leading.


Ecuador Western Slope and Amazon to Andes, February 3-25 2008
Bird list compiled by Erling Jirle


Southern Ecuador & Extension to Cuenca, February 23 - March 8, 2008

Charlie led 4 keen, sharp-eyed Brits; Peter Symmonds, Jeremy Hickman, David Sewell and Simon Mair for a productive trip for Tumbesian, Marañon and Eastern Andes endemics and recorded just under 500 species, with 469 seen. On this itinerary we firmly support the Jocotoco foundation by staying 6 nights at their 2 lodges and visiting another 2 reserves.

At Manglares Churute Horned Screamers, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Snail Kites kicked off the trip, while a stop at Santa Rosa marshes yielded a good list of waders and herons. Buenaventura reserve provided a spellbinding look at an immature male (not so long) Long-wattled Umbrellabird perched languidly while a Western Two-toed Sloth hung nearby. Club-winged Manakins were plentiful and manically displaying at the neighboring lek. On the way to the leks, a family of Rufous-headed Chachalacas was seen daily. Searching for El Oro Parakeets on the Sambo Tambo road, we say Gray-backed Hawks wheeling along the ridge numerous times and a rare Great Blawk-Hawk perched closeby. David spied a Fasciated Tiger-Heron for us all along the river. Blue-chested Hummingbird on the feeders as well as Red-billed Scythebill on the entrance road were notable. Also, Loja and Tumbesian Tyrannulets were seen.

While playing the iPod for Clapper Rail at Puerto Pitahaya, we were surprised by a Sora popping into view. This would be the southernmost record for the species in Ecuador, with a 110km SW extension beyond Paul Coopman’s record from El Cajas, Azuay.

Heading on to Tumbesian region we had a Solitary Eagle perched near Celica as well as Black-cowled Saltator. At Zapotillo, Baird’s Flycatcher, Chestnut-collared Swallow, Tumbes Sparrow as well as my first Sechura Fox! On the way to la Ceiba Reserve just north, a dozen Comb Ducks along with Tumbes Swift. At Jorupe reserve we had a great view of West Peruvian Screech-Owl. The target furnariids were nesting and shy but we had glimpses of Blackish-headed Spinetail, Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner and Rufous-necked Foliage-Gleaner. Also Ecuadorian Piculet seen a few times, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Tumbes Pewee, Slaty Becard, Collared Antshrike, Black-billed and Striped Cuckoo, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, White-edged and Yellow-tailed Oriole. Around Utuana reserve yielded Chapman’s Antshrike, Saffron Siskin, both Elegant Crescentchest and Gray-headed Antbird proved excruciatingly difficult but were glimpsed by a couple of us. Bearded Guan greeted us first at Cajanuma, followed by a roadside day roost of Rufous-banded Owl and Red-hooded Tanager.

Tapichalaca reserve produced Golden-plumed Parakeet Andean Pygmy-Owl, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Chusquea Tapaculo, a family of four Jocotoco Antpittas coming to be fed. Just beyond the feeding area, a rare and unsolicited Yellow-billed Cacique worked its way into view. Rufous-tailed Tyrant seen frequently above Valladolid and towards Palanda, Marañon Thrush, Speckle-breasted Wren, Rufous-fronted Thornbird building a nest. Above Vilcabamba nice views of Loja Hummingbird.

Over to Bombuscaro at the eastern entrance to Podocarpus and Copalinga Lodge, White-breasted Parakeet, Band-bellied Owl, Blackish Nightjar, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Glittering-throated Emerald, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Black-streaked Puffbird, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker. After 2 days of chasing we finally called in the Coppery-chested Jacamar also saw Yellow-cheeked Becard and Cinnamon Neopipo. On the old Zamora road, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Blackish Antbird, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet while Spangled Coquette and Wire-crested Thorntail shows up nicely at the flower hedge at the lodge. Towards the airport, Blue and Caquetá Seedeater and beyond Saraguro, White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant.

Early morning at Yunguilla granted us intimate contact with pairs of Pale-headed Brush-Finches, as well as Pacific Elaenia. On to Cajas for lunch at the Dos Chorreras Restaurant where Simon was distracted by a flitter and coaxed us out for great views of a perched Violet-throated Metaltail. A flurry of activity before the Park station provided a cleanup of Paramo specialties and two pairs of Tit-like Dacnis just beyond.


Amazon and Northwest Lowlands, C-T Ecotour from Taiwan, February 1-10, 2008

Andean Birding received its first group from Taiwan this year, 5 avid birders who were guided by Roger in la Selva Jungle Lodge and by Charlie to Canande reserve.

Arriving at La Selva lodge there was great activity in the canopy tower with; Golden-green-, Cream-colored-, Ringed-, Scaly-breasted- and Yellow-throated Woodpeckers, Golden-collared Toucanet and Plum-throated Cotingas. In the afternoon we went by canoe and had gripping views of Agami Heron, Gray-necked Wood-Rail and Plumbeous Antbird.

Next morning we went to the clay-lick across Rio Napo and enjoyed hundreds of Parrots coming in close. A smaller clay-lick nearby had different species but due to a White Hawk perched above, none dared to come down. A displaying brilliant male Wire-tailed Manakin and a perched Gould's Jewelfront were nice bonuses. Along the river we watched a Ladder -tailed Nightjar on daytime roost. We had got a tip that a family of Crested Owls were roosting nearby so we went for them and had two adults and a juvenile sitting right above the trail! Later in the afternoon we tried another lake and finally were rewarded with a Zigzag heron just a few metres from the canoe! Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Silvered- and Dot-backed Antbird were other goodies in the afternoon. Last day was just transport back to Quito. The boatride back produced a Peregrine Falcon a first record for the eastern Ecuadorian lowlands!

In 2 Nissan Pathfinders we birded the interandean site near Mitad del Mundo for Band-tailed and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch and then off to Canande for 3 nights. We had great views of Baudó and Crested Guan as well as Plumbeous and Semi-plumbeous Hawk, Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Rose-faced Parrots showed many times. The leader C-T, lucked out on White-tailed Sicklebill and we all had great views of a Lanceolated Monklet near the displaying Red-capped Manakins. Many birds were seen right off the lodge deck including Chocó Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Pacific and Moustached (Griscom’s) Antwren. In the forest we had Black-striped Woodcreeper, Chocó Tapaculo (heard) Sulphur-rumped as well as a Song Wren which paraded close by. At the overlook on the ridge the Rufous Piha came in nicely a few times to playback. In flocks on the Botrosa logging road we had Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Gray-and-gold, Emerald, Blue-whiskered, Scarlet-browed, Lemon-spectacled and Tawny-crested Tananger.


West slope and Northwestern Lowlands, with Per Ovin, March 31 - April 11, 2008

Charlie led a Swedish birder for 12 days on the West slope and NW lowlands totaling 380 species with 363 seen. We arrived late from the airport to Yanacocha reserve which was slow but we did see Sickle-winged Guan and Golden-crowned Tanager among others. At Bellavista I spotted a White-faced Nunbird perched over the research station road as we were returning for breakfast. It sat for awhile giving us gripping views. We also had great luck with White-throated Quail-Dove, 2 views of Ocellated Tapaculo, Green-and-black Fruiteater and a pair of Tanager Finch. Powerful Woodpecker, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan and Toucan Barbets were very active and visible in the area.

After scoring Giant Antpitta, Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Olivaceous Piha, Rufous-winged Tyrannulet at Paz de las Aves we decided to visit the Oilbird cave and had a powerful experience seeing them and White-collared Swifts plastered on the chasm wall.

A good morning at Septimo Paraiso yielded Gray-headed Kite soaring high above at 1900m, a Plumbeous Forest-Falcon dashed overhead twice in response to playback and the Scaled Antpitta seen beautifully. Later we hiked behind Mindo Loma and waited 1 ½ hours for Hoary Puffleg to finally appear.

Rio Silanche was prolific with Rufous-fronted Wood-Quail running across the trail, dark morph Double-toothed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Griscom’s and Checker-throated Antwren, Yellow-margined Flatbill. Rio Palenque birdy as ever brought us Pallid Dove, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Slaty-winged Foliage-Gleaner and Whiskered Wren.

Canande reserve provided King Vulture, juvenile dark morph Short-tailed Hawk, juvenile Bicolored Hawk as well as Plumbeous Hawk. Barred Forest-Falcon was seen well and giving a unique call which I have uploaded to the Xeno-canto website. We had luck with Blue-fronted Parrotlet on the entrance road and Rose-faced Parrots seen numerous times as well as Red-capped Manakin, Black-tipped Cotinga (see Charlie’s photo). Also Slaty-tailed and Black-throated Trogon, Barred, White-whiskered Puffbird and Lanceolated Monklet, Lita Woodpecker, Northern-barred and Black-striped Woodcreeper, as well as Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant and Song Wren, Fulvous-vented Euphonia and Chestnut-headed Oropendola.

On the Milpe Road we studied a Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, a lifer for Charlie, as well as Glistening-green and Moss-backed Tanager. Rufous Mourner sat in the canopy at the lower end of the road and Thrush-like Schiffornis and Spotted Nightingale-Thrush skulked in the forest of the San Jorge de Milpe entrance trail.


Birdwatching and Culture and Crafts Trip Report
Ecuador East and West Slopes and Central Valley
24th January-6th February 2008
Click here for birdlist

This is a brief report of a trip we made to Ecuador in early 2008. Although it is intended mainly to interest birdwatchers, it doesn't consist of a 'blow-by-blow' account of every bird we saw, but contains more general impressions of different aspects of a trip that we planned to be more than just about birds. Above all it is meant to be a compliment to the estimable Charlie Vogt of Andean Birding whose professionalism, good humour, patience, wide-ranging knowledge and birding skills allowed us to share a truly memorable experience.

Following a trip to Brazil's Atlantic Rainforest in March 2007, I had been toying with the idea of a visit to Ecuador and attended the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water in August with this in mind. I approached the Andean Birding stand and chatted to their representative, Charlie Vogt, about a possible 'Custom Tour'. We discussed the birding, but could he do something in terms of culture and crafts? No problem, the Central Valley was full of possibilities and the market of indigenous crafts at Otavalo was a must. Otavalo is a town two hours north of Quito where the locals produce a range of goods, particularly textiles, of excellent quality, and a tradition of craftsmanship, hard work and enterprise has been established. Suddenly my wife Stephanie, an exceptional spotter of distant birds but not such a 'full-on' enthusiast as me, was on board, as was our friend Russell Wilson, an illustrator with a keen interest in wildlife, indigenous art and conservation. An exchange of e-mails resolved an itinerary of four nights on the West Slope, three on the East Slope and four nights in the Central Valley. A good number of trip reports on the Internet helped our preparations. The trip could easily be wet, especially on the West Slope where January is part of the wet season, and the altitude would be a challenge. Our itinerary would keep us away from extreme heat - which doesn't suit Stephanie - and from most biting bugs - which like to bite her. We bought good quality wet-weather gear and endeavoured to prepare for the altitude by walking and swimming. I bought both volumes of the superb and invaluable 'Birds of Ecuador' by Ridgely and Greenfield. In the illustrated section of the Field Guide there are six pages of hummingbirds, seven of tanagers and nine of flycatchers. Ecuador is home to over 1600 bird species, a massive opportunity but a major challenge for identification and recall. When dawn broke we were over the Colombian Andes but the world's second largest mountain range was completely obscured by cloud. However, as we approached Ecuador we began to see volcanoes protruding through the clouds, first Cayambe then Cotopaxi, then there was an announcement from the pilot that we were changing course to avoid Tungurahua, which was erupting. Shortly afterwards and distantly we could see ash emerging from Tungurahua, an unforgettable sight.

We landed at Guayaquil in a misty downpour, touchdown being greeted by appreciative applause , and returned north to Quito, seeing Tungurahua continuing its activities. We landed at Quito in warm sunshine, to be met by Charlie, and conducted uphill to Yanacocha Reserve, on the slopes of volcano Pichincha, where the altitude restricted our activities. We then journeyed to the Mitad del Mundo Equator Monument before finding some Central Valley species near Calacali, and travelling over the Western Divide, and immediately into rainforest, with rain to match, on the way downslope to our first lodge. Bellavista consists of a series of timber-framed buildings atop a precipitous ridge and the views must be superb when the cloud clears - which it didn't. The cuisine is vegetarian and the service very good.

Next morning, after an agreeable and much-needed night's sleep in our comfortable and spacious room, we birded the trails from dawn. The first bird of the day was the local Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, an encouraging start. We then returned for breakfast and a series of excellent sightings near the buildings, including Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Toucan Barbet and Sickle-winged Guan. More birding from the trails followed, and a visit downslope to Tony Nunnery's famous hummingbird garden, during a feeding frenzy, boosted our hummingbird totals, while the iconic Plate-billed Mountain Toucan also Put in an appearance. Heavy rain continued to test our waterproof defences - they passed, and the resident Common Potoo obliged in the evening. Next morning after exploring the upper trails in more heavy rain we said our goodbyes to Bellavista and continued downslope to Septimo Paraiso, stopping at Mindo Loma for lunch while watching the excellent feeders, where the scarce and beautiful Velvet-purple Coronet starred at point-blank range.

We arrived at Septimo Paraiso, a larger, timber chalet-style lodge in extensive grounds, and shortly afterwards the rain finally relented; on the road into Mindo there were birds everywhere, including a Little Cuckoo, as the sun came out.

Septimo Paraiso proved exceptionally comfortable but we retired early in preparation for our 4.00 a.m. alarm call for the trip to the amazing 'Paz de las Aves' with, hopefully, close-up views of antpittas. We awoke to the now predictable rain and after a journey of one hour, much of it along a very rough track, we arrived in pitch darkness and found the trails to be steep, muddy and slippery; I made the mistake of declining the loan of a stick. Still, we arrived breathless and tired at the hide before dawn, but the show put on by the Cocks of the Rock made the effort worthwhile. Maria, the Giant Antpitta then performed, justifying the superlatives conferred on both herself and the 'Paz' experience, but the Moustached and Yellow-Breasted Antpittas didn't appear. While we waited, an ominous loud creaking preceded a massive crash as a large tree broke and the crown and much of the trunk fell into the jungle only 30 yards from us. A slow and very fatigued walk back to the top of the reserve was rewarded with more good birds, including Red-crested Cotinga, Scaled Fruiteater, and a locally produced vegetable snack. The morning was totally unforgettable and extremely tiring, and would have been much less pleasant without good wet-weather gear and boots with excellent grips.

Elegant Swallow-tailed Kites appeared as we reached the metalled road near Mindo Loma and an excursion to the restaurant at Los Bancos with its excellent feeders made a gentle contrast, a Pale-mandibled Aracari ten feet away being an interesting lunchtime distraction. We completed the day in some productive bamboo habitat near Septimo Paraiso before another delicious evening meal.

Next morning we left Septimo Paraiso early and returned downslope to Milpe for some interesting foothill forest species though more heavy rain and mist made watching rather difficult. We then returned to Quito, and Charlie's house, and on to the Papallacta Pass for a brief stop before settling in at Guango Lodge, a pleasant stone building beautifully situated in a steep-sided valley a few miles downslope from Papallacta.

Next morning, in better weather, we birded the grounds of Guango Lodge before breakfast, seeing a rare family of Torrent Ducks on the river, before returning to the Papallacta Pass where we saw most of the high-elevation species. The cold final walk up to the radio masts was taken very slowly and breathlessly at 14000 feet, but near the top the Rufous-Bellied Seedsnipe was waiting for us only a few yards away. We then headed downslope in magnificent scenery, turning south at Baeza and birding as we travelled, before arriving at San Isidro late in the afternoon. San Isidro is probably the 'birdiest' of the lodges we visited, with resident guides and other birding parties arriving in coaches. The lodge consists of a series of scattered buildings which look rather prefabricated, but they were very comfortable and the cuisine lived up to its excellent reputation.

We explored the roads and trails around the Lodge the following day, enjoying some superb sightings in fine weather. We hit a good flock early on including migrant warblers and highlights of a more relaxing afternoon were pairs of both Highland Motmot and Powerful Woodpecker. The two 'tame' antpitta species didn't come to 'their' feeding stations - emphasising that they're not tame, but after dark the superb and, as yet, unidentified 'San Isidro' Owl showed beautifully on a bare tree stump. Next morning we birded the trail on the Cordillera de Huacamayos, which proved to be extremely slippery and pretty steep in places. All three of us fell over at some point, only our guide, Charlie, staying upright. An Andean Guan at close range was a particular highlight, while Charlie lured a Moustached Antpitta very close to the track by recording its own call then playing it back, but the bird remained hidden. We then said our goodbyes to San Isidro, returned upslope calling at Guango again, where we had super views of a feeding Sword-billed Hummingbird, then into the Central Valley and north to Otavalo.

We spent the night at the excellent Hacienda Mojanda whose kitchen garden grew very many familiar vegetables. The hacienda consisted of a series of impressive 'rammed-earth' buildings similar to farmhouses in Devonshire. It had superb views across the valley to Volcano Imbabura, and high-altitude overnight temperatures close to freezing point. The plan was to arrive at Otavalo Market early before the [other] tourists arrived, but we still had time for some early morning birding towards Lagunas de Mojanda where, amazingly, we saw two more Andean Guans. Otavalo Market was full of bustle and inexpensive and high-quality weaving and other local crafts produced and sold by 'Indigenas', local people of Indian descent. We visited nearly every stall in the market - there must be more than 200 - and bought mainly textiles from friendly, traditionally-dressed stallholders. Travelling around the district emphasised how much the locals were involved in the traditional crafts; we saw several women busily sewing outside their homes. In the afternoon we visited the waterfall at Peguche just outside Otavalo, and as this was the weekend of the Mardi Gras carnival the youngsters were squirting each other - and us - with either water or 'crazy foam' On the shores of Lake San Pablo we saw just about our first waterbirds of the trip, and plenty of communal washing of clothes in the Lake. We also visited 'Parque Condor' with birds of prey and an impressive falconry display, before crossing , via some pretty rough roads, into the neighbouring Zuleta Valley which is famous for high-quality embroidery. This is riding country as well and the historic Hacienda La Merced has horses for hire, a bullring, a chapel, a large dairy herd and an altitude that necessitates hot-water bottles and a wood fire in the bedroom during the evening. We awoke to the surprising sight of the dairy herd waiting silently in the farmyard prior to milking. After breakfast and a tour of the premises we were taken onto the Zuleta estate where shops selling woodcarvings and embroidery were open. The standard of the embroidery is superb, the designs clearly influenced by Western tastes; we bought a number of items. In a narrow side valley on the estate is an Andean Condor rehabilitation project, with three captive Condors inside a large enclosure, and to our delight, two completely wild Condors were perched on the outside. These huge scavengers are generally only seen distantly in flight and to see them at close range, and another individual perched on a cliff face not much further away, was really memorable. The morning would have been even more special had the three Spectacled Bears at the trout farm beyond the enclosure waited for us, but by the time we had puffed our way up the slope they had melted into the forest. In nearly 20 years in Ecuador, Charlie has seen Spectacled Bear only once. Next we called on a friend of Charlie's high on a hillside and observed a variety of mounds on the valley floor below, apparently evidence of a pre-Inca civilisation. We then returned to Hacienda La Merced for lunch before journeying to Quito via dirt roads to Cayembe, and the main highway south, across varied and generally arid landscapes crossed by deep river valleys. Next morning, after a quiet night in the comfortable Hotel Sebastian, we travelled to Antisana Volcano where we hoped the high paramo habitat would produce different bird species from those around Papallacta. We were not disappointed. A hummingbird feeder at approximately 12000 feet produced the endemic Ecuadorian Hillstar and we also saw Silvery Grebe, the endangered [in Ecuador] Black-faced Ibis, distant Andean Condors, and Cinereous Harrier. Sensational views of the steep and snowy volcano and other grand and rugged landscapes contributed to a memorable day.

After our last night in Ecuador at the Hotel Sebastian we said our grateful goodbyes to Charlie - who was straight back to work guiding a group of Taiwanese birders down the West Slope and had therefore met them in the hotel for a very early breakfast - and began our long but trouble-free journey home. Our last bird sighting was of a Ruby-topaz Hummingbird feeding on flowers outside the Airport Transit Lounge at Bonaire, in the hottest weather of the whole trip. Nine hours later we were back in cold, windy Amsterdam and we accompanied mainly business travellers on the early morning flight to Birmingham. Then it was home by taxi and we realised how tired we were, but with so many memories of a superb trip.

Our trip certainly lived up to expectations. The bird list of approximately 250 species was not particularly large but as the trip was not just about birding, and as we spent little time in the lowland and foothill forests with their abundance of species, the total was close to what I anticipated. The weather was mixed, to say the least, but because of the altitude during most of the trip, and the days of cloud cover, we were never too hot, even though we spent the entire trip within 100miles of the Equator. We saw no snakes and had no trouble with biting insects, and felt very safe among friendly people. Ecuador seems a country where experienced birders could easily visit and bird without a guide, though we found our guide absolutely invaluable. The newish roads around Quito and down the east and west slopes were very good though plenty of the unmetalled roads were very rough. Some of the driving was rather exuberant, but certainly no more irresponsible than one sees at home or in, for example, Portugal. The lodges and haciendas that we stayed in were excellent, all being highly individual and full of character and while they were not luxurious they were all clean and comfortable. We enjoyed the food which to some extent was geared to our tastes, but the emphasis was on fresh produce and we also enjoyed a superb range of exotic fruit juices. Ecuador is a brilliant first destination for neotropical birding. The density of different species and the short distances between birding venues make a productive trip easier to arrange than one in Columbia, Peru or Brazil, countries all with bigger bird lists but vastly larger land areas. While Ecuador's forests are in places disappearing at an alarming rate, using - and therefore supporting - the various lodges, parks and reserves will undoubtedly help preserve what is left. And visitors need look no further than 'Andean Birding' for a top quality trip.

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